It never ceases to amaze me how much the experiences in our childhood shape our behaviour even as adults. I was a naturally shy child. Although I’ve always felt quite confident within myself, many of the kids in my childhood, and even some adults when I started working, gave me the message loud and clear that I was not ‘okay’, I wasn’t ‘normal’ and it was always based on how I looked. I came from a naturally thin family and we were all very, very thin. All day, every day for God knows how many years I was the butt of kids and adults jokes, constant teasing and the delightful power game that 9 to 13 year old girls play so well we could call ‘exclusion’. I know all of us have horrible experiences as children but when it happens so frequently it can’t help but shape how you behave. I was basically nervous the whole time I spent at school, I would even laugh along with the jokes sometimes as I noticed that anyone who reacted badly when teased just got it worse. I learned quickly that some kids will do anything if they know they have the power over you to make you cry. So I developed a poker face, no one could tell, probably my family included, what I was thinking and feeling most of the time. I kept most of it to myself, even if I was feeling happy I would keep a straight face. In my head I would be thinking “yeah, I’m thin, get over it” but outwardly I kept my poker face for protection.
This has caused me problems to this day, I still get very nervous with people I don’t know well. It even affected me on my wedding day – the thought of walking up the aisle in front of 100+ people many of whom I didn’t know very well scared me so much that I hyperventilated while walking up the aisle! Until someone says out loud something like “I really miss you” or “I really love spending time with you” I don’t truly believe it. It has to be a really obvious statement or behaviour for me to ‘get it’. And I really appreciate those gestures when they happen because I now have many good friends and a few truly wonderful close friends, the sort of friendships I only dreamed of when I was at school. And a huge part of this is due to my Dearest Husband (DH).
So imagine, I’m in my early 20s when I meet my future DH and although I wasn’t much of a talker (because of my shyness) we got along really well and after 3 weeks he confronted me one night with: “I feel we are at a crossroads” this was news to me – I thought everything was fine. “We can either take this casually. . .” with an unspoken sub-text I was hearing loud and clear! “or we can take this more seriously and see where it takes us” with an unspoken potential marriage sub-text that was half freaking me out and half exciting me. He went on “but if we are going to take this more seriously. . . . you’ve got to start communicating” Oh my God! I realised he had seen straight through me. This was possibly the scariest moment of my life, in an emotional sense. No one had ever made it clear that they wanted to really get to know me properly, what I thought, how I felt.
So what happened? I took on the challenge of communicating with my future DH as I had a gut instinct that he might be right and maybe this could lead somewhere. However, every time I opened my mouth to tell him something remotely personal I would start crying. I felt ridiculous. Even if I was trying to say something as easy as “I think I’m coming down with a cold” I would cry. I felt so vulnerable opening up to him, I was worried he’d leave once he got to know the real me. But I was wrong, the more he got to know me the stronger our relationship grew. I found saying things as simply and as honestly as I could my future DH responded in the gentlest manner and was nothing but supportive. Everything I understood and experienced about people was being turned on its head and as much as I cried for those next 12 months, I relished the opportunity to become a better version of myself, the one where the layers of protection and shyness were falling away to reveal the confident one underneath. The strange thing was that over time I found people started treating me differently, much more positively and accepting and so much more interested in who I was.
Still it took many years before I could open up more to family and friends but the relationships I have experienced in the last 7 years or so have been so much more enriching and stimulating than ever before. During this time I learned that the number one topic people like to talk about is themselves. So when I’m feeling nervous I just start asking people questions and then it takes the pressure of me having to think of something to say. I also learned how to re-animate my face! This must sound strange but I realised that women respond much better if you show how you’re feeling, not masking it. I still find myself producing my poker face sometimes but only when I’m unsure how someone feels about me. Once I’m confident that people are open to me and interested in me I find it much easier to be open and be my authentic self.
That’s what I love about life – the constant opportunities to grow and improve. I hope I never stop. Getting over my shyness has been a painful but truly rewarding experience.