Over the years I've been asked to participate in various social activities. I've gotten Facebook event invitations. I even had a therapist suggest that I should be more socially engaged. Throughout it all I usually & respectfully decline. Why?
Well before delving into the pop psychology of it all, first and foremost I am always grateful whenever anyone thinks to invite me to their party, event, etc. Sometimes, on rare occasion, I even accept and show up. It takes some effort though, and I find that for the most part I'll go out of respect to the person who invited me.
Last December, for example, I attended a post-wedding party for my friend Leigh. For me it was the perfect storm of stress: I really didn't know anyone at the party (outside of Leigh and her husband) and it was something of a trek to get there, but I still went out of respect. Leigh has been a good friend for a number of years, and I was genuinely glad for her on this occasion. What's more, the wedding cake was awesome.
I could add the two blog-fest events as other examples of my discomfort in social situations. Now I did have a good excuse for not attending the last blog-fest, as I had just dropped my youngest daughter off at school. However, as the brilliant Ms Rivers stated to me after the fact, "you really didn't want to go, did you?", to which I copped a reluctant "yeah, you're right". She was right, and although I would know a few people there (Gort, Tom Borthwick, and others) and I genuinely enjoy some of the conversations that come with these kinds of events, I never the less feel this reluctance to put myself out there in a crowd.
Work-related social events are probably the worst of this sort of activity for me. In part it's because, I suspect, the fact that I have a "work" persona that I'd like to think is different than my "personal" persona. The melding of the two is incredibly difficult for me, even in small doses. Now I never hesitate when I need to talk to groups of people, as this is an important part of my job. Never the less I was very tense when, at the beginning of a recent meeting, we were all told (as part of a ice-breaker activity) to share something with the group that we no one knew about us. What did I share? That I had my own URL (that would be THIS site). I could feel the tension though as I thought of what to say.
So what is the "why" to all of this?
Well on one hand, I suspect the quick-n-easy answer has something to do with self-image. Maybe I lack a positive self-image and this is manifest by fear of being exposed for all my supposed flaws in social situations. For the record, I'd give this one only a so-so nod of acceptance. Yes, I don't always think that I have what I would call a healthy self-image, but I don't think it is debilitating either. What's more, at least professionally I think I have a fairly healthy self-image. The dirty little (not so) secret is that I have been successful professionally, and in fact I've already gone further in my career than I ever thought I would when I started out in the workforce a quarter of a century ago. So while there may be some element of poor self-image in this pop psychology mix, it's only a minor ingredient, if at all.
On the other hand, Myers-Briggs tells me that I am a dyed-in-the-wool introvert. Among other things, I've learned that I don't get a lot of energy from being around others. My energy...and my best work...comes from more individual interactions. Yes, I can "do" social situations, but it probably takes more of an energy toll on me than it does for someone who is very extroverted. Interestingly enough, I really do enjoy facilitating in front of groups of people, but I also realize that it takes a lot out of me.
In the final analysis, pop psychology can explain some things at a point of time, but the stark reality of life is that very few things stand still (least of all in our heads). I am, in fact, evolving. That's as instructive a point as I can make about myself, and I'm sure that it is equally true for most others as well. As humans we are given this almost miraculous ability for introspection. We can question who and what we are, and we can, if we feel the need, change. I know real, substantial change doesn't come via fiat, and sometimes that change never comes at all. Never the less it's comforting just to know that we can evolve. As for me, well I'm certainly okay with questioning my discomfort with some social situations, but I'm not all that interested in drastically changing. I basically like who I am. I am, it seems, alright.