(Ask Sami) Confidence

It’s so hard opening up to people who have a reasonable amount of confidence when I have very little. We just don’t think the same way and it feels…embarrassing. I’m not saying I’m an introvert idk. I think my confidence is lower than average. Like, self-hatred isn’t really being an introvert.

College Area

Hey friend,

I know we don’t know each other, but I say “friend” because I read your words and I feel a little closer to you. You are afraid of opening up, but with the shield of anonymity, you do so beautifully. I want to hear your feelings.

I took on this question as a challenge, because I think I come across as someone with “a reasonable amount of confidence,” most of the time. (Also related, my blog post: You’re not introverted, you just have problems.) You’re describing feeling lower than average while I feel above average, in confidence.

Let me reach a little toward the limits of my understanding. I recently went on a boat ride where I knew only one person: one of the two birthday honorees. I was excited, until I met everyone. I didn’t look like them. I looked from my over-zealous rain boots to their flip flops, my argyle sweater to their sweatshirts, my neon-orange side panel to their bleach blonde symmetrical haircuts, my drugstore shades to their Ray Bans. I felt like a nerd. I felt like the only gay in the village.

I actually thought about the confidence I usually have, told myself to count on it, and didn’t find much. Part of my confidence, I realize, is constructing a world around myself filled with people like me, doing things I like to do. It’s the key to how I survive San Diego. Anyway, I am not an unchanging and resilient goddess; I am a dynamic, sometimes vulnerable, human being. In this case, I was not confident.

A young woman with short hair who made my gaydar go “PING!!!” showed up, and I felt a little relief. By the end of the ride (alcohol helps), I felt a bit better and by the end of the “after-party” (cute dogs help) I didn’t feel glaringly out of place. Overall, I had a good time. I mean, boats are awesome. BOATS. Still, I took the experience as a validation that I should continue to nurture the environment I already love, and venture out of my comfort zone only sometimes (for example, when there are boats).

I see, however, my ability to empathize with you has limits. I don’t feel what sounds like a pervasive, low self-esteem. Even in my depression days I refused to turn my self-hatred inward. I didn’t dwell on insecurities, but rather, the way I felt — if that makes sense. I didn’t think, “I hate myself,” but rather, “I hate how I feel.” My therapist would have liked me to say it’s because I have a powerful streak of self preservation. At the time, quite honestly, I was just desperate to give my sadness purpose. If it wasn’t about me, if it was out of my control, if it was pure, then it was beautiful.

You say you have a hard time opening up to confident people. If I was at a party, doing my confident thing, this is what I’d want you to do. Ask me, “You seem so confident. Are you always so confident?”

Depending on my mood, I might respond with honest gratitude for this flattering question, or a playful, “Yes, 100% I am the most confident being. It is because I wear very tall shoes with spikes on them.”

Then, you could reply, “I’m not confident at all. Like way below average.”

Already, I would want to know more about this person who knows themselves so well, like that. And that is the most advice I can give, from my limited experience. I might even have more to learn, from you.

All my best,

Sami

P.S. Does anyone else feel similarly to the person who wrote in? Add comments below.


 

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What I do on My Blog v. What I do In Real Life

So it seems like every time I say to myself, “Whatever, I need a week off from blogging, no one will notice,” I invariably go to a party or parties and 2-4 people will tell me they’ve been enjoying my blog. OKAY SERIOUSLY I FEEL GUILTY NOW GOOD JOB. One friend even said that when I miss a week, I often make up for it with a great post the next. JEEBUZ PRESSURE ON AUGH.

Anyway, it seems like a good time to give you a little Superman vs. Clark Kent insight on Sami the Blogger vs. Sami the Human. Also I need to point out it’s uncharacteristic for me to make a geek pop culture reference (even as obvious as this) and I’m pretty jazzed for myself.

A blessing for continuity (and my own sanity): my two personas subscribe to many of the same mantras. Yet, due to their different superpowers (or lack thereof), they wield these edicts differently.

Sometimes it’s Less Important to be Accurate than to be Kind

sometimes-its-less-important-to-be-accurate-than-to-be-kind Sami the Blogger: Yeah, okay, you’re trying to impress people with your brain and word powers and everything, but don’t fail to acknowledge those who disagree with you with compassion from time to time. (At least from a practical standpoint, you’re going to lose readers.)

Sami the Human: What better way to show I respect someone than to support their ideas? At times it verges on enabling, the way I cater to people’s fantasies, but I’d rather do that than be a source of discouragement for the people I love.

Intent isn’t Magic

intent-isnt-magic Sami the Human: I know that a person’s motivation for an action is somewhat unknowable and for the most fun I should give people, as much as possible, the benefit of the doubt. But if someone is bothering me, occasionally I have to let go of empathy and protect myself. E.g. stop worrying so much about why someone is doing something, and just think about if I want to be a part of it.

Sami the Blogger: People’s motivations are somewhat unknowable and I am more interested in examining the ramifications of their behaviors or mindsets which allow the behavior to continue. It doesn’t matter if someone was just trying to be nice, really likes me, or is socially awkward. If their actions have sexist or homophobic effects, then I will examine them.

 Perspective. Perspective. Perspective.

Perspective Blogger Sami: Taking the time to micro-analyze a behavior in a blog essay brings me great pleasure. I enjoy exploring the implications and subtleties of human behavior. Maybe I over-think things, but it helps me.

Human Sami: Time to zoom WAY out. I need to stay focused on the big picture. And the other picture. And the other, other picture. I will immerse myself in as many perspectives as possible so I won’t be phased by the strange or uncomfortable. Or so I try.

Holy Crap. I’m Actually Happy

actually-happy Human: As I sit on the glittery seat of my roommate’s red, diner-style bench, having just finished a meal of microwaved hot-dogs and fresh-picked arugula salad, my eyes unfocus and these words float to my consciousness, “I’m happy.” I am utterly incredulous that I am happy. After a history of depression, I still feel so strange and grateful that my default emotion is positive. Sometimes it makes it hard to be productive, because I don’t feel like I should be doing anything at all except basking in this hard-earned light. Yet it also means I am pretty damn free to do whatever my whims mandate.

Blogger: Doesn’t really matter what I write, if I do a good job, what people think, because at the end of the day I’m pretty stoked about how I feel and how well I’m doing mentally. Might as well keep trying to meet that weekly deadline and see what happens next. (Watching the views grow, well that doesn’t hurt either.)

You’re not introverted, you just have problems

Based on Eysenck's personality theory (I didn't make this up) -- click for larger view.

Based on Eysenck’s personality theory (I didn’t make this up) — click for larger view.

I don’t think I took much issue with the idea of a person calling themselves introverted until an infamous comic told me that (as an extrovert) I’m basically a predator trying to steal energy juice and don’t take it personally, it’s just that interaction is expensive and introverts don’t want to spend it on something wasteful. Excuse me, but sorry for annoying you with my friendship.

A few of my introvert-identified friends also took offense to this comic, so it isn’t just obnoxious-extrovert-me who doesn’t get it.

I strongly identified as an introvert when I was young (years 5-19). I had the “running monologue” in my head at all times. I needed copious amounts of alone time to “recharge.” My bedroom door was always closed, and I taught my brother to knock so I could be alone with my books, drawings, and thoughts. Of course, during most of this time I also “hated humans,” suffered severe major depression, and had general anxiety disorder.

Now that I identify as an extrovert, I find that I’m not sure if I love myself or people better. I default to a sense of contentment or even happiness. Alone time is not painful or anything, but no longer all that necessary. Oh and that running monologue goes away when I’m around people.

It has been my belief that I was a “false introvert” and that aligning myself with that personality type was a source of unhappiness for me (or just indicative of my crippled emotional state), and that is why being an extrovert feels more natural and comfortable.

So, for personal reasons, when I meet an unhappy introvert, I suspect that they are not introverted. They just need therapy. Happy introverts (and it seems like they do exist: study 2001) can carry on, this isn’t about you.

Introversion/extroversion is frequently tested on the Eysenck personality questionnaire, which just seems to allow a lot of people to self-select for social anxiety disorder if you ask me.  You’re asked to rate how well you identify with personality statements, which are testing for both introversion/extroversion and emotional stability.

If you’re emotionally stable, you can be on the more sociable/carefree/easygoing side of things, or you can be on the more thoughtful/calm/peaceful side of things. There’s not really a huge difference in the “introversion/extroversion” personality traits, except that extroverts are “more social.”

Non-emotionally stable people are divided into two groups, which seem to be overly-social verging-on-being-a-sociopath for the extroverts (“I would like other people to be afraid of me”) and severe anxiety for the introverts (“I fear for the worst” and “I am very moody”).

Extroverts, of course, are the strong majority.  So much so that introversion was considered for inclusion in the DSM-5 (Psychology Today 2010). In other words, for a hot minute we were going to call introversion a personality disorder. There’s definitely a trope of “I am an introvert, therefore I have a social disadvantage.” In an extroverted, highly social world, this feeling makes a lot of sense.

However, humans are and always have been social beings. It doesn’t make sense to me why this commonly accepted test focuses so much on sociability. You have to admit that even introverts are decidedly social, suffering when there is a lack of human interaction, otherwise the world would have a lot more hermits.

While I don’t doubt that introversion/extroversion are legitimate ways to describe a personality, the fact that there is not a reliable standard to measure, and that the accepted standards center too much on “being social,” you end up with a strong dividing line in the types of people who consider themselves an introvert. Some focus on their inability to be comfortable in social situations (Eysenck introverts). Others prefer a more nuanced understanding of introversion (focusing on communication and relationships styles, preferences for certain types of activities and ways of relating with the world).

Further muddying the conversation about introvert v. extrovert personality types is the idea that it is a spectrum, and fluid. This of course has to be considered, because most human attributes work this way. Still, what this means is that people can self-define their own style of introversion, and I have seen so many custom definitions that the dichotomy frequently fails to be relevant.

What I am seeing is a lot of self-proclaimed introverts excusing their anxious behavior on a tenuous label. “Big crowds are just too much for me, because I’m an introvert,” or, “I just can’t keep up in conversations because it takes me longer to process in social situations…and extroverts have no filters.” I’m seeing people I care about diverting attention from overcoming their social anxiety by excusing it due to introversion.

If you are terrified by a crowded party, overcome with worries and insecurities, frozen by your inability to talk to people…. you can’t ask me to respect that as just a part of who you are. No one should be expected to cope with that lifelong. I will give space and I will assist people who are struggling with anxiety, but I’m not doing it because I accept the anxiety. You’re not introverted, you just have problems.

Yes, the Eysenck test divides emotional instability by introversion/extroversion. But I won’t accept cherry-picking the emotional problems you identify with as a valid “diagnosis” of introversion. Perhaps, like I did, you have a secret extrovert inside of you who is trapped by feelings of moodiness and pessimism.