Why do I get self-conscious around close friends?

Dear Edahn,

I wanted to ask you about friendship, platonic friendship between guys to be precise. Recently I spent a long time with one of my oldest mates on holiday. I’ve known this guy since the first day of high school, and consider him still one of my best friends - we were in the same class since day one, come from similar backgrounds, and have shared so much and basically grew up in each others’ houses.

The issue is we seemed to have lost the easiness and closeness one has with one’s best and dearest mates. You know, the easy banter and great chats, and the being able to hang out effortlessly and unselfconsciously for hours. Instead, it was awkward and self-conscious at practically every interaction. Our conversations had no natural flow for the most part, and I realise from my side that I was worrying constantly about what and how to say things to him, how to be funny around him, and generally contorting myself in a bloody ridiculously contrived manner now that I think about it.

I know it’s a bit naive to expect us to be as tight as the day we left school all those years ago, seen as we have obviously led different lives in different places, but what I can’t abide is my own reaction to the whole thing: that I feel I am at fault by being so self-conscious around one of the people I should be the closest to in the world, which in turns seems to drive me further away in my own mind, and become more distant from him - something he noted about this and some previous occasions, when we finally broached the topic one drunken evening.

I suspect a lot of the problem (if it’s even helpful to call it that) lies with me in any case, as he is not the first person dear to me that I’ve felt self-conscious around. There have been a number of times when I feel on reflection as if I’m putting up some kind of facade in front of my genuine self, upon which I project what I think people might like to see - which is utterly nonsensical, as I am fortunate to be a very well-liked person for who I actually am.

Thanks for your other posts by the way - a lot of stuff on this blog makes a lot of sense. 

I'VE GONE THROUGH THIS same sequence with some of my closest friends and I myself was (and in some situations, still am) a very self-conscious person. 

I'm not sure I'm really satisfied with the words social anxiety, shyness, or self-consciousness. I think what we're really talking about here is apprehension about losing connection to someone when they find something they stop enjoying us and turn off or turn awkward. Some might say it goes back to your attachment to your mother, but I think that's narrow-minded. I think it has more to do with a universal need to belong to a group (after all, we're tribal animals) combined with a genetic proclivity towards sensitivity and high levels of empathy. So underneath all this lies some real beautiful qualities that you shouldn't forget about.

I think people can sometimes get into a trap where their apprehension about the loss of connection makes them feel distant and act different, which increases their apprehension because they think no one wants to be with someone like them. Part of the reason they feel so distant is because the apprehension makes their mind work in overdrive and they become severed from their actual thoughts, moods, feelings, and body. And so, their apprehension of disconnection turns into real disconnection, both from themselves and from others.It's a horribly painful experience that a lot of people aren't enough ready to admit, acknowledge, or experience. Those are 3 separate "stages." 

It sounds to me like you're doing all 3, but having trouble making room for the experience because it's risky. And it is. It's risky to let yourself experience the full extent of your disconnection, because, well, it's not something we typically do in our culture. We're used to masking our fears, rather than revealing them. That has to do with the shame we store about being weird and different from everyone else.

Here's my take, because I think everyone's got this all fucked up. I think everyone experiences this. I mean everyone. It comes out in a lot of different ways, and at different times. A lot of people have developed strategies for avoiding these feelings, but they're there; I just think that we, as a society, haven't really done a good job of recognizing it. For example, sitting to my left are 3 girls who are talking shit about a guy who just came here and tried talking to one of them. They're not just having fun--they're strengthening their own feelings of being normal by identifying him as abnormal. And I'd bet this is a pretty common activity for each of them. (BTW, I'm at Starbucks. BTW, you should never sit next to me at Starbucks.)

This apprehension that you have--painful as it is--is expressing itself in a very beautiful way. It's not turning into hatred or anger. It's not being suppressed. And it's not turning into blame. It's actually bubbling up to the surface in a pretty pure form, which is exactly what you want so you can do the only thing you can do to bring peace to your situation--allow it. Allowing it doesn't mean you lose your shit and start crying in your bro's arms. It's more of a dignified, genuine, compassionate acknowledgement. 

That kind of acknowledgement isn't manufactured from your mind. It's not forced into your perception with a mental crowbar. It's not a trick. It comes from wisdom and insight, and the insight is pretty simple: this is hard for me, but I'm a good person, and it's okay to love myself.* 

Again. This is hard for me, but I'm a good person, and it's okay to love myself. Again. This is hard for me, but I'm a good person, and it's okay to love myself. When that starts to sink in, your discomfort may not disappear, but it stops running the show and becomes a little more tolerable. Your heart opens up a little bit and makes more room for yourself and your struggle--the universal struggle. Remind yourself as often as you need to.

You, me, and the rest of us people are all good people. When all the bullshit is cleared away, we just want to smile beside people we love, and help others smile too.  It's shared peace, and it's a beautiful thing.

Thanks for writing in. I mean it.


* Ah fuck now I'm crying too.