Hi, other moms. It’s me. The “quiet one,” the one who shows up to a mom group meeting and then sits without saying anything for a solid hour while you wonder why I bothered to come at all. The one who hovers on the edge of the talk at the playground, obviously listening but too anxious to jump in.
You might be wondering why I don’t just say something. How hard can it be, right? Why do I have to sit there and listen in like a tactless in-law eavesdropping on a phone call? It might even annoy you, having me floating around the edge of the group but not engaging.
It’s a stereotype to say that all introverts are anti-social, but it would be true to say that a lot of introverts are not secure in their social skills.
Trust me; the last thing I want to be is annoying. Ironically, it’s the reason I’m not speaking up.
It could be that I feel like it’s rude to shove my way into your talkative group. Sometimes it could be that I’m already sure I won’t be welcome. You can’t see them, but the ghosts of every failed attempt at joining in are following me, sharpening their teeth to gnaw away on my self-confidence and giggling at my lame attempts to be social.
What seems like an easy thing to you is a complicated process full of trick-stairs to me. Jumping into a group with a conversation starter or observation is a no-brainer for you. For me, it’s like that scene from Disney/Pixar’s Inside Out where the alarms are blaring and all of the emotions are curled up in a fetal position.
I didn’t rehearse this conversation in my mind. I have no appropriate replies stashed on the tip of my tongue, ready to trot out for the correct social moment. I’ve got nothing. If I don’t say anything I’ll look rude, but if I blurt out the first thing in my head I’ll look like an idiot.
It sounds overly dramatic, I know, but it’s what being socially anxious is like.
There are different degrees of this anxiety and it’s not always connected to being an introvert, I have to add that disclaimer.
For me, as an introvert with a big personal bubble and anxiety in social situations, that really is what it feels like. It’s safer for me to hover and smile when you say something funny than it is to take that scary step of joining in.
There are a few things you can do for me that will let me feel like I’m safe trying to make some sort of connection with you:
First of all, don’t assume. Please, don’t assume that I’m snotty, superior, or stand-offish. Give me the benefit of the doubt. I’m anxious but I’m not a snob.
Second, if you’re comfortable with it, smile and try to include me with an easy question or an observation. (“I love that sippy cup, I use the same kind. Where did you get yours?”) I don’t know how to slide into your conversation without that opening. Believe me; I understand that after 30+ years I really should know, but I don’t.
Third, smile. You have no idea how welcoming a simple smile can be. A friendly smile signals to me that it’s OK to talk to you, you won’t brush me off or laugh at my anxious attempts to talk.
I can promise that if you give me that chance, I will be as talkative and friendly as you could wish. I just might need a little nudge to get there.