“Nothing gives a fearful man more courage than another’s fear.” – Umberto Eco
Growing up I was extremely shy. I didn’t have many friends in elementary and middle school and rarely opened up to anyone. I didn’t even ask my teacher questions in class. I was more than your average introvert, I was scared of the world and the people that lived within its parameters.
As a child I was scared to do anything without my parents mainly because I was afraid that I would screw it up. I was getting good grades and was well behaved, but I wasn’t happy. I had this belief that I was, for some reason, unable to do the things the others kids could do. I felt inadequate.
Elementary school was a nightmare. I would cry as soon as my mom left and would be anxious until she got back. I felt alone even when I was surrounded by kids that considered me their friend.
In middle school I was still just as shy and insecure. Despite going to a small school, I didn’t feel like I had many friends. I had this constant feeling that something was wrong with me. Some nights I would just lay in my room and cry, wondering why I was so miserable all the time.
This type of thinking continued through high school and even into college. I opened up more as I grew older, but the fear didn’t go away. I knew something was wrong with me, but I didn’t know what it was.
While in my second semester of college I stumbled upon some information on the internet about something called social anxiety. Because mental health was not something we discussed much growing up, I didn’t really know much of the disorder. I began to read some of the symptoms and realized that social anxiety was the thing that was hindering me so much.
I continued to do research on the disorder and began to discover more about what causes it. It is common knowledge that people with social anxiety experience nervousness in social situations. What a lot of people don’t know is that one of the main causes of social anxiety is negative thinking. People with the disorder of have a negative perception of themselves and often think that they are ugly or stupid.
I realized what I was truly afraid of: not being good enough. I was afraid that people would look at me and not like what they see. I was scared of rejection.
At an even deeper level, I was afraid to be truly known. I didn’t open up to people because I thought that I wasn’t good enough at a core level. I thought that if people truly knew me, they wouldn’t want to be my friend. I had this great feeling of shame towards who I was. I was deeply afraid that I people would see me as inferior.
To help cope with all of these issues, I began to practice meditation and other mindfulness exercises. I slowly began to change my way of thinking. On one particular day I was sitting in my room letting my mind wonder when I began think about fear itself. I started to ask myself, what if everyone is like me? What if everyone is afraid, maybe just of different thing or in a different way?
I realized that everyone, from star athletes to noble prize winners, experience fear in their lives. Whether people are afraid of heights, planes, spiders, or talking to girls, we all experience anxiety and fear. There is no reason for anyone to feel excluded or inferior because something scares them. People with phobias or anxiety disorders might have “issues” but there is nothing wrong with them as people. They are just as human as everyone else and should not feel any lesser than.
What if fear, the thing we all share in some way, could actually serve to unite us rather than separate us? What if we all came together and admitted that we are afraid? Wouldn’t that be empowering?
Once I realized that everyone was afraid of something, I began to feel less insecure about my anxiety disorder and started to be more open about it. I started to tell my friends about my struggles. I started to realize that there was nothing terribly wrong with me. I had a certain problem, but everyone had problems.
By admitting our fears, we can give each other strength in moments of anxiety. When we see someone else struggling it helps us to realize that we are not worse off than them. It helps us feel like we belong.
Have the courage to open up about our fears. Have the courage to be vulnerable. You will begin to feel liberated and others will be drawn to your courage.