Look at Me! Look at Me!
When I’m nervous, I talk - a lot. I can’t seem to stop talking about myself, telling stories, and interrupting people without even noticing. I’ve heard it called “verbal diarrhea” but that’s pretty gross. I like the term “babbling” better.
But whatever you call it, I am usually embarrassed of myself later. As a result, it has become a subject of contemplation. I always hope that if I analyze something long enough I can break it down, thresh it, until it just blows away, right out of my life.
So, when I dissected this phenomenon, at the core is something pretty simple. It is pride. It is self-centeredness. I am interested in pride, in a morbid, car-wreck kind of way. It is strange to me how it spans such seemingly opposing emotions. It is like the worst of both sides of self-esteem, the ego-maniac and the paranoid introvert have a doomed love-affair and their child is pride. Sometimes I feel like it’s me.
Most of my problems are when I am around people I don’t know well. I desperately want to be liked, and I can barely stand not knowing what people think of me. High school was only bearable for me because I never went to a single party (that I hadn’t thrown myself with one of my best friends at my side) and I went on very few dates. When I did go outside of my close group of friends I was physically sick with the anxiety. It wasn’t unusual for me to spend the entire event in the bathroom.
I was disappointed to find that I didn’t outgrow those kinds of feelings. When I married a professional I found myself invited to cocktail parties and other events that I couldn’t escape without making my husband look or feel bad. So I went, and stood around with strangers vacillating between utterly uncomfortable silence and spilling out my whole life stories, to people who just wanted to talk about last night’s ball game.
The strangest part of those moments were the crazy thoughts inside my head. I would start a story because it seemed like a connection to something someone had said and it would pull me out of the silence. I hoped it might be witty or relatable, but usually less than half-way through I would suddenly feel like a fake or a bore; I sensed that they were looking around for someone more interesting to talk to, wanting to escape me. In these situations I would often panic and then keep on overcompensating for my insecurities.
But I think the biggest wake-up call for me, was when I realized that I couldn’t blame it on my surroundings, that it wasn’t only at parties that I could avoid. One time a few years ago, after one of my brother’s birthdays, my mother gently approached me. I can’t remember exactly what she said, but the gist was that when I was around, I always demanded attention, and my brother was less comfortable with the family than me and much quieter, so he just didn’t open up at all. She didn’t want to have to leave me out so she could get to know my brother. I was shocked to find that she felt this way!
I was convinced that she was right. At home with my brother, in classes, at church, there were other people with insecurities just like me, who went unnoticed in the background because my fears made me jump around waving my arms screaming: “Look at me! Love me!”
It still brings me to tears as I consider all of the people who I was missing and causing other people to miss, because all I could think of was myself. And it seems that the easiest remedy for my disease is to make up my mind to pay attention to others, to listen when they talk, notice those who don’t talk and ask them questions, and sometimes just be quiet because maybe someone else needs the “uncomfortable” silence to push them into saying something that will be amazing and insightful. And when my energy is redirected into looking for the interesting and good in the people around me, I don’t even notice that I’ve forgotten to worry what they might be thinking about me.
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