I recently had the privilege of listening to a woman share about her journey as a shy person. In her mind, she thought that if she just smiled at everyone – saying very little – people would think she was nice, and would find no reason not to like her. In her younger years she was riddled with insecurities, fear and worry about what others thought of her. As she spoke my eyes welled up with tears because I felt like she was describing me – or at least, who I used to be. It moved me so much that she was able to articulate almost exactly what I’d felt growing up. It certainly brought back some memories of the pain of being ‘shy’.
I don’t know where my shyness began, but like many shy people my social hesitance stemmed from a lack of self esteem. If every experience from birth tells a child something about the world, then one lunch-time in primary school taught me a lesson I’ll never forget…
As I walked out of class I saw some kids throwing basketballs into hoops, and it seemed fun. I was nervous about approaching them but I decided to take a risk and join them. The ball was passed to me, and I aimed, then shot for the hoop. I missed. My turn came again, and I missed – again. They started to snigger to themselves, then laugh – and as I kept trying, and trying, it was like I was destined to fail every time. Inside I felt something inside me close up. I silently vowed to myself: ‘Never again’. In my young mind I ‘taught’ myself that I was bad at sport – destined to fail at it – and even if I tried my hardest, people would laugh at me. So as much as I could, I avoided any form of sport from that moment on. And on the occasions sport was compulsory, I’d become so anxious that failure seemed inevitable. I continued to fail at sport – many times. Sometimes failure begets failure because of the crippling fear that comes if we can’t rationalise the experience well.
Anxiety has characterised a large part of my life. God blessed me with several close friends and wise family members throughout my teenage years – but when it came to new social experiences, I would freeze up inside. I didn’t realise it was a problem til I was older however. I guess I just thought it was who I was – and I wasn’t going to change.
I remember visiting a relative once – one we hadn’t seen in a while – and he was asking me lots of questions about myself – how I was enjoying life, and school – the normal kind. I felt like I was watching myself from above, saying “Ali! Say something!” But I just couldn’t, and didn’t. All I could stammer was one-word answers and short, polite responses. I was filled with this agonizing fear – it was like I was paralysed emotionally. I just didn’t believe I had anything of value to offer. I was convinced that anything I tried to say would come out wrong.
I think a large part of ‘growing up’ is finding the confidence to address issues within yourself that as a child, you don’t have the knowledge or awareness to confront. Thankfully God provided many people along my journey that helped build my confidence and show me the truth.
As an adult, I remember expressing to my husband on our way out to a dinner party that my heart couldn’t stop pounding. My breathing was rapid and I told him I was terrified. As he talked me through this, it occurred to me it wasn’t all that normal.
From there proceeded a series of attempts to get to the bottom of my social anxiety, and I am so grateful for the friends and professionals that helped me in this process.
God has been so good, and some of the Bible verses that have helped me are as follows:
“Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)
“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (I John 4:18)
“The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.” (Zephaniah 3:17)
What a loving, confidence-building God I serve. Time and time again he has reminded me that he is with me. He will never leave me or abandon me. He will never look down on me or ridicule me. He will always love me. I am his precious daughter, and he has a wonderful, purpose-driven plan for my life. I don’t need to stay shut-down in fear and anxiety, because his love gives me the strength to face whatever ‘giants’ stand before me. He is bigger than any giant in fact – emotional or otherwise.
Once I allowed these truths to really sink in, knowing that I didn’t need to be ruled by my emotions anymore, I felt I was soaring – invincible. Of course, this little bird has fallen to the ground many times since. But she knows that her Heavenly Father will always be there to scoop her up again, and set her on a path of confidence, boldness and wisdom. She knows deep down that because she is loved eternally and unconditionally, anything is possible!
Today, dinner parties no longer scare me! (and shooting hoops ain’t so bad either ;))
“Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.”
(Isaiah 40: 28-31)
PS If you’re looking for some great techniques for managing emotions, I thoroughly recommend The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris. The advice and strategies it gives have really helped me to stop ‘fighting’ with my daily emotions, thoughts and feelings.