Do you keep to yourself a lot?
Do you think if people knew what you actually did 24 hours a day, they would look down on you?
If so, then you’re not alone.
Back when I had social anxiety, I remember being very secretive about my life and what I did in my spare time.
I thought if someone found out about me having no friends or no social life, they wouldn’t like me anymore. I thought if a girl I liked found out about my lack of past relationships and experience, her interest would disappear before it even started. Basically I thought if people found out about “the real me,” then they would instantly reject me.
This caused me to become secretive and withdrawn around people. If someone asked me “what did you do this weekend?” I would try my best to dodge the question. Even though they only asked to try to be friendly, I didn’t want them to know I had spent it alone keeping myself amused.
After a lot of time working on my social anxiety, trying to find ways to cure it, and studying the psychology behind it, I figured out the cause of these secretive behaviours.
Being secretive and withdrawn comes from having a belief that says…
“I Am Inferior”
Most socially anxious people feel they are inferior in some way to everyone else, and if this inferiority was discovered by someone, then it would mean instant rejection.
This feeling of inferiority could come from:
- a lack of friends or social life,
- “ugliness” or a physical flaw,
- or a dozen other things
When you feel that you are inferior in some way, then you’re going to try to find ways to cover up or compensate for that feeling of inferiority. Usually this happens through trying to create a certain IMPRESSION on someone.
Think about this carefully, because it’s important.
Trying to Make “Impressions”
Instead of expressing your personality freely, inferiority makes you carefully monitor how other people see you. You spent a lot of time and mental energy trying to make certain “impressions” on people to make them like you.
In psychology, this is called impression management. Impression management is the reason why you try to be seen as someone you’re not in front of certain people.
For example, around some guy or girl you like, you may try to look more popular and social whenever they walk by. Or, if you are walking alone, then you may try to avoid them so they don’t see you by yourself.
It’s all about you trying to make them see you in a certain light.
Here’s how the process works: “People can’t like me because I’m ugly/loner/pathetic, but if I can create a good impression in their minds, then maybe they will like that impression.”
In essence, you’re trying to “trick” people into liking you…
- If you feel too ugly, you’ll only let certain people see you with lots of makeup on and constantly check your appearance in the mirror.
- If you feel you are a loner, you’ll avoid running into people when you’re by yourself — you may see them in the distance walking towards you and avoid them.
- If you feel like people don’t like you because you’re too quiet, then when someone you want to impress comes by, you’ll try to be louder and more social.
Okay, this is all interesting, but what does it have to do with being secretive and withdrawn?
A lot, actually.
When you are acting secretive and withdrawn, you basically don’t want people to find out about the “real” you.
You don’t want them to know about your bad parts. You don’t want them to know about the things you are ashamed of. You don’t want them to realize that you are actually inferior.
Because you think when they do … POOF! They’ll be gone!
- when they find out you have a boring life, they’ll won’t accept you
- when they realize you have no friends, they’ll lose respect for you
- when they see you’re actually shy, introverted, and insecure, they’ll want to have nothing to do with you.
So you become secretive and withdrawn to avoid being rejected. You may not have any friends if you are this secretive, but you also don’t risk losing people’s acceptance.
The Problem With Impression Management
Right now you may be thinking: “Okay, I now realize I’m trying to create an impression so that people will like me. But what’s wrong with that? Is it bad to want to be liked?”
And no, there’s nothing wrong with trying to be liked.
But trying to create impressions is simply the wrong way of doing it.
There are many flaws with trying to create impressions on people…
First, when other people find out you were putting on an act the whole time, your friendship or relationship will crumble. That’s because it was never a real relationship in the first place. It was just you playing a game to get the other person’s acceptance and approval.
The most miserable and tortured people in the world are those who are continually straining and striving to convince themselves and others that they are something other than what they basically are.
– Dr. Maxwell Maltz
And thirdly, impression management makes you self-conscious and inhibited around people. You don’t feel free to express yourself because then you would lose control of the impression you’d make on others.
So What’s The Solution?
Is there an alternative to impression management?
Yes, there is.
The solution is self-acceptance. Self-acceptance means accepting and coming to terms with yourself just as you are now, with all your faults, weaknesses, shortcomings, as well as your assets and strengths. Accept that you will always be imperfect, just like everyone else.
Self acceptance is the cure to feelings of inferiority, and curing inferiority will make you stop trying to create impressions on people.
Once you accept yourself, you’ll stop being secretive because you’ll think “what’s the point?” If you truly believe that people can accept and like you just for you, then there’s no point in wasting so much time and energy trying to make them to like you.
Dr. Arthur W. Combs, professor of educational psychology and counseling at the University of Florida, says that the goal of every human being should be to become a “self-fulfilled person.” I think this is even more applicable to people with shyness and social anxiety.
What is a self-fulfilled person?
A self-fulfilled person sees themselves as liked, wanted, acceptable and able individuals. They have a high degree of acceptance of themselves as they are. They have a feeling of oneness with others.
Accept yourself, and become self-fulfilled, and you won’t feel the need to be as secretive and withdrawn.
And, even better, you will start to open up to people more, which is what creates truly fulfilling friendships and relationships. When you open up and share yourself people will feel comfortable around you and like you. Being secretive and withdrawn instead of open, honest and authentic is one of the main reasons why shy and socially anxious people have trouble making friends.
Right now you may be thinking: “That’s easy to say, but how do you apply it?”
This post is already getting too long, but I dedicate a whole section of my ebook to ways of gaining rock-solid self acceptance, self esteem, and self-fulfillment. This isn’t the typical new-age soft stuff you’d expect. It’s based in real-world psychology and my own first-hand experience overcoming social anxiety and shyness. Check it out here if you want.