Overcoming a Natural Tendency to be Timid

All the people in my life from the last few years would laugh hysterically if I told them I used to be a shy little mouse, consumed with anxiety and self-doubt. When I look in the mirror, I can see why. I have my physical flaws obviously — but the fact is that I now radiate confidence. Not the obnoxious kind that overpowers everyone in sight, but the quiet sort where I look comfortable with myself. And then I wonder what changed.

I had a quiet childhood — loving parents, a home filled with pets, toys overflowing from every crevice, books of every size and shape. I was very lucky, and I embrace that luck with all my heart. But I was lonely. Being an only child, with working parents, doesn’t really teach one the kind of social skills that life expects. I grew up a sheltered, shy and happy little mouse.

Then high school came along, and puberty was an unpleasant experience. It turned my classmates (and me) into teenagers. Except for a select fortunate few, many of us can vibe with the desire to ‘fit in’ and be accepted by the general populace of the popular crowd. Needless to say, it didn’t happen for me. Added to that, familial issues rocked our happy little boat, and the lack of understanding from my peers and teachers made me withdraw further into an already impregnable shell.

College wasn’t much different, because being different makes one stand out. And that’s the last thing I wanted. I wanted to blend in, disappear, melt into the surroundings. Eventually I managed it. Initially it was better than the constant glare of judgmental attention. But the crippling loneliness then set in.

It took a long time for the loneliness to become a solace; a comforting state of peace, where I could spend time with books and people I met online. My interactions became few but meaningful, and that’s when I started being comfortable with myself. Differences were celebrated and became the very foundation of my friendships. I learnt to have real compassion, and to truly respect people’s individual personalities and opinions. Those were the first flutters of my metamorphosis. I was finally comfortable with myself.

However it was work that healed my crippling anxiety. The fillip of becoming financially independent is tremendous. But that was only the first step. I always melded happily into my workplace, connecting with other colleagues easily and comfortably. I didn’t always like them, but I was nice (sometimes blandly so) and thus the equation worked. I became a people-pleaser.

This state of affairs continued for a while. It is only now I realised that the desire to please people stems from great insecurity. At the time, I was being ‘nice’. Upheaval in my home life and love life changed all that. Gone was the security of being in a relationship, albeit a terrible one. The rug had been pulled from under my feet, and I was stunned to see that I was happier. The confidence-draining parasite that was my ex had gone, and I was my own person. It was a liberating feeling.

I moved to different, much tougher metro city from a small, bucolic village town. The electrifying pace of life infused me with purpose — even though sometimes the purpose was to somehow survive the frenetic pace without being trampled underfoot. And slowly, I came to my own.

It was the commute that made me strong. Initially, I played nice here too, expecting people to adhere to the common courtesies I took so much for granted. That misconception didn’t last a day. Aggressiveness became my mien, born out of a primal desire to protect myself from a continuous onslaught. I became the very opposite of a people-pleaser.

Neither of the two extremes are healthy. My new-found aggressiveness didn’t sit well with my family. There were fights and arguments, and of course I saw that I had to change. So I did.

The final change came through when I stopped using any emotional crutches. No anger, no aggression, no timidity, no self-effacement. I made a decision to be calm, yet strong. To be kind, yet hold fast to my principles. To be open to ideas and thoughts, but to make up my own mind.

To answer my own question: I made a decision to change. Everyone else around me is just the same. They too are battling inner demons, worrying about problems and solutions, suffering the pangs of emotional turmoil. They too experience love and joy, happiness and contentment.

We are all perfect and flawed, and by accepting my frailties, I have learnt to accept those of others. Doing so has created kinship, and I can be myself with those I consider — so to speak — kin.

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