I was that person on social media who was always lurking in the shadows. The person who sometimes liked posts, rarely commented but never posted. I never thought much of it until I realised that my approach to social media was also reflected in how I approached in-person conversations. I realised that I held a belief about myself that was holding me back from contributing in social settings. I believed that I had nothing worth saying.
The social settings where I were in my element were work meetings and one on one conversations. At work I had no trouble speaking up in meetings. I was confident communicating to people at all levels of the organisation because I was confident in what I knew and its importance to be communicated. I also enjoyed one on one conversations because I could hold a conversation by asking questions about the other person. This made me a good listener and people generally liked me because of this. In this setting I was also more comfortable to share my thoughts, especially when talking to family or close friends.
Where I really struggled was talking in social groups of three or more. What could I possibly say that would interest everyone listening? Definitely nothing about myself. Maybe sports? The weather? I envied people who could just say whatever came into their head. The people who got the conversations rolling in groups. I was much too concerned about what people might think of me based on what I said. This made me over-analyse my thoughts every time I was tempted to speak. Whenever I did have something meaningful to add to a conversation, by the time I opened my mouth to speak, the conversation had already moved on to another topic. So I sat at social gatherings, silent, lurking in the shadows.
On the odd occasions when I did try to speak up in a group setting I often felt ignored. The truth is that I was probably not heard, since I’m usually quite softly spoken, but it felt like I was ignored nonetheless. This further reinforced my belief that I had nothing interesting to say.
I think many people, especially introverts, struggle with this. I am not a psychologist, but from reflecting on my own experience, I think that this limiting belief stems from a fear of rejection (which is probably due to a low self-esteem in this area).
If I remained silent then no one would know that I’m not enough. People would not be able to judge me based on my beliefs, interests or quirks. I could keep pretending to be smarter than I really was by keeping my mouth shut. The problem with this approach was that I was becoming increasingly hesitant to attend social gatherings and my sense of connection to my friends was shrinking. The behaviour of remaining silent and withdrawn also became a self-fulfilling prophecy of the limiting belief that I held. If I did not say anything, of course people would not find me interesting.
I won’t lie, I still struggle to connect in large social groups, especially with people I don’t know very well. And COVID has been great for me – it gave me a perfect excuse to avoid social gatherings (and all the introverts say… I mean, nod their heads in agreement). But over the last few months I’ve been giving more thought to how I can overcome this limiting belief. So I set myself a challenge: start posting on social media.
Posting on social media was extremely daunting to me. I completely over-analysed it. I would think to myself: “of all the things that I could be saying, why am I saying this? What would people think of me for choosing to say this instead of the million other things that I could be saying? What does what I post, say about me?”
The more I challenged myself on this, the more I realised that I was actually so self-obsessed and worried about approval from others that I avoided posting altogether. And this was the same mechanism that prevented me from speaking up in social settings.
I pushed ahead. I challenged myself to post something on Twitter (to my entire fan base of 6 people!) every day for a week. I then pushed myself to post something on LinkedIn at least once per week. The first few posts were the hardest. Some posts got no reactions at all. Some posts seemed to resonate with quite a few people. I started to think that maybe I had something worth saying after all.
I was more comfortable posting something without over-analysing it. And it felt liberating. I was more confident to be seen for who I was, whether people liked me or not. Forcing myself to go outside my comfort zone really helped to challenge this limiting belief I held about myself.
This experience was a valuable lesson to me. It showed me the importance of reflecting on the root causes, the underlying beliefs that drive my behaviour. If my beliefs are causing me to behave in ways that undermine my need for love and belonging then I should challenge these beliefs by forcing myself to do the things that make me uncomfortable.
If we don’t push ourselves physically we do not get fit and strong. If we don’t step outside our comfort zone socially we do not grow our connection with others. If we do not challenge our limiting beliefs we do not grow as humans.