I went to a church function this week. It was a ladies evening. The church that I have been attending for about one year now, is dynamic in their productions. The theater of the night was incredible. The message was strong, uplifting, and spoke to my soul. And yet, I came home empty. Why? I felt completely alone in a mass of women and activity.
I don’t know many people at the church, but I do sort of know a few. This evening I saw a couple of people. We said hello and briefly smiled at each other, but it was awkward and uncomfortable. In my mind they all seemed to fit, and I simply didn’t. Now mind you, I didn’t jump in and interact either, so I’m not blaming anyone. It takes tremendous courage for me to jump in and join conversations. It is much easier when others invite me in. But this night, that didn’t happen. It was painful, awkward, and made me want to leave.
As I was walking into the church, when the doors opened, the pastors mom, one of the first people I met at the church, came up to me, hugged me and started a conversation. Just as she did when I walked into the bible study last September, she warmly greeted me and engaged me in conversation. She made me feel like I should be there. Oh, how I wish I could be like her. I wish I had the courage and the ability to see an opportunity where someone looks alone and awkward and engage him or her, welcoming him or her into the space. It makes all the difference.
Most people are like me. It’s awkward to venture into the conversation that is uncomfortable. It is much easier to engage in the conversation we know. But like me, others feel alone because we don’t reach out. Today I was listening to Brene Brown talk about her book, Rising Strong, and her words hit me like they always do. She was saying that when an awkward nonverbal situation occurs, an odd glance, an unfamiliar action, we tend to take the situation as somehow being related to us. We create a narrative to fit the situation. It is how our brains are wired.
This is what I do! This is what my brain did that night. I created a story that fit what I perceived. I only received shallow greetings from people. Therefore, I assumed a couple of scenarios. First, they don’t like me and don’t want to be near me. Second, they heard my podcast and now they really don’t want to be associated with me. And third, they are upset with me because I somehow offended them. Even when the pastors mom came to me, I told myself, not only does she feel sorry for me, but also she likely didn’t listen to the podcast and as soon as she does, she will be offended too.
Writing this down sounds so far fetched and ridiculous, but I’m not kidding.
This is the story I told myself. The problem with this is it sticks with me. I marinate in this false narrative and the next time I see these people, I will act weird in front of them. I will assume they don’t like me so I will keep quiet making the situation even worse. My staying quiet is likely a trigger for them to go further in their narrative and on we go on the crazy machine.
So how do we break free? According to Brene Brown, we rumble. We need to get curious and decipher why we jump to these narratives. We need to figure out our core concern and then we need to actually ask the people if our narrative is accurate. Yikes! I mean how could I possibly ask these people, whom I barely know, if I somehow offended them or if they just don’t like me? I don’t see myself doing that.
But, at least I can put words to feelings. I know that I twist things into stories that then effect how I act in the future. If I can recognize that and work on the reason behind the narrative, I am on my way to living the life I want.
In this situation for example, I can recognize that I can’t read people’s minds. I don’t know what their reasons are for the cool reception I perceived. Perhaps they saw me and didn’t recognize me or didn’t remember my name and were embarrassed? I don’t know. My jump to the narrative is my own insecurities.
I am new to Texas. I am awkward and quiet. I don’t easily navigate small talk. But I’m kind. I’m open and I’m trying. I’m going to these social events rather than hiding at home. That is a step.
My podcast is in its infancy. I know it has lots of room for improvement. But I am doing it. That action counts. It may not be much, but for me I am enjoying it and I’m doing it. I am stronger than I know, and I’m braver than I realize. Step by step… I’m getting there!