Hello. I have been having some internal conflicts and do not know how to resolve them/cope with them properly. I put up a so-called "wall" to please people and make me seem happy, and I keep people at a happy distance. I am a happy person, but I want to be real. I am very shy when it comes down to it and sometimes have social anxiety as well. I try very hard to please people and make them happy because for the most part it makes me feel good that I can help others, and partly because it makes me feel accepted because people always say "she's so nice." I don't really even know who I am even, and have a hard time actually saying what is on my mind b/c I am afraid of offending others or something like that. This year I want to try to break out of my shell but every time I tell myself that I am going to I just as easily crawl back into it and hang out alone because it is just easier for me to be by myself. So, I guess I am just asking if you could please give me some useful advice on how to deal with this? Thank you so much.
Signed: Longing to let go and be happy
Dear Longing, Hello to you. Charlie hears your concerns. You characterize yourself as someone who is shy or socially anxious, has a desire to speak your mind but worries you will offend, and would like to “break out of my shell” but has trouble doing so. You also mention internal conflicts. You explain that you try to please others and seem happy yourself but add, as a result, that you feel “I don’t really even know who I am”. You are asking for advice on how to deal with these issues. Charlie will try to provide some suggestions. It sounds like you may be introverted. Charlie wants you to know that, for introverts, it is normal to go through some of the things you are experiencing. Introverts are naturally more comfortable with themselves or with one or two other people. It is typically more difficult for introverts to reach out to others and make connections. So, for starters, Charlie wants you to know that there is nothing wrong with being introverted or shy. The other issue you mention is wanting to appear happy and to always please others. The payoff for this is that you like helping others and that it helps you to feel accepted. Charlie wants you to know that there is nothing fundamentally wrong with being, as you put it, “nice”. The problem appears to be the extent to which you do this-- which creates the “so-called wall” between yourself and others and makes it difficult “to be real”. The solution is to try to create a balance between pleasing others and being yourself. As you note, part of being yourself is speaking your mind. In this context, Charlie wants to acquaint you with the concept of assertive communication. To begin with, it helps to differentiate between being aggressive and assertive. Aggressive behavior is typically selfish, involves stepping over others to get what you want, and can be mean-spirited and hurtful. By contrast, assertive behavior typically involves asking for what you want, standing up for yourself, and setting healthy boundaries. Whereas aggressive behavior is rarely good, assertive behavior is almost always good. A simple technique that goes hand-in-hand with assertive communication is using “I” statements versus “you” statements. “You” statements tend to be blaming or hurtful and are aggressive in nature. They invite a “you” statement in return-- which often escalates into an argument. By contrast, “I” statements enable us to own and share our feelings, ask for what we want, and set good boundaries. They are a form of assertive communication and set the stage for healthy interpersonal interactions. When we learn and practice assertive communication, we learn how to find our voice without fear of offending others. This then helps us to find the balance between “being nice” and speaking our mind and also helps us to learn that one is not exclusive of the other. Charlie wants you to know that the issues you name are all part of a normal developmental process. Some of them have to do with being introverted and some of them have to do with how we are socialized to interact with others. Nevertheless, making some of the changes you mention, such as “coming out of my shell,” can feel a little daunting at times. If this is the case, Charlie suggests that you consider seeking some help. My friends at the Counseling Center are good listeners and easy to talk to. They are skilled at helping people with shyness, social anxiety, assertive communication, and with finding themselves. In addition to individual counseling, the Center offers group counseling. The appropriate group for you would likely be the Understanding Self and Others (USO) group. This type of group is an excellent venue for practicing assertive communication skills in a safe and supportive environment. If you are interested in either individual or group counseling, Charlie encourages you to call 285-1736 or stop by the Counseling Center (320 Lucina Hall) to make your first appointment. Hoping this helps you along the road to happiness, Charlie
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