Shame, embarrassment, shyness, fear of rejection: these are the components that have been putting me in quarantine long before it was “in fashion.” On the other side of the boxing ring lies the fear of missing out and the desire to have meaningful and true friendships. Who wins this fight?
For years I’ve been struggling with shame.
I wanted to feel like I belong. I wanted to interact with people more and ditch my stupid shyness. I wanted to erase all tracks of embarrassment and really not care about what people might say. I wanted to tear down my Heart Wall of shame, create new friendships and claim a part in other people’s lives. But it all feels impossible. I’ve spent a long time behind a wall and I have no idea how to destroy it.
In some ways I feel like, long before it was “in fashion,” I’ve already been living in a quarantine of my own making: I work from home; I don’t feel I’m succeeding in creating meaningful friendships in America; There are days when the only people I talk to are my husband and my kids. But don’t get me wrong: it’s not like I’m comfortable with it. It’s a constant struggle with whether I’m good enough. I bully myself about how much I need to be out there and interact more, enjoy what life has to offer. The fear of missing out is always there, lurking. I don’t want to be isolated.
But now—now It feels like the whole world has given this lifestyle of isolation its stamp of approval—so now I just feel I’m in my comfort zone.
Coming Out Resolved Only a Tiny Part of This Shame
It would seem logical to imagine that coming to terms with being gay would turn shame to pride but surprisingly, coming out, in some ways just did a lot more to unveil shame than erase it. Until then I guess it was hidden shame, I didn’t even know I had it. I kept thinking I was not good enough, feeling I was not worthy of love of any kind, and developed a victim-like point-of-view in which I belonged to the lowest level people of the world who are destined for eternal failure.
After breaking up with my boyfriend at the age of 27, I began to dig up the buried shame, and though I was very comfortable being gay by then, many issues were revealed to me and most of them were the result of compulsive comparison and self-judgement with other people: I’m not beautiful enough, I’m not smart enough, I’m not funny enough, I don’t hang with the right people, I don’t know what’s the right thing to say, I don’t want to seem stupid, I don’t want to get hurt, I don’t want to be disliked.
The result was that shame had built a wall around my heart. I started feeling like I’m always on the outside looking in. I found it hard to trust people and that made it hard for me to make new friends.
The irony of my life is that while I’ve been struggling with communicating with people—I’ve always worked in communications! The contrast between my work and my personal life has only resulted in more judgement and more shame and it forced me to be aware of that shame all the time. Only in the past decade have I been forcing myself, brutally, to deal with all that: I beat myself up for my fear of talking to people at the gym, or at a bar, or even when we meet in an extended group of friends. I am constant thinking of where I should be, what I should do and who I want to become friends with.
‘Look at the biceps on this guy,’ ‘look at that guy—he went out with his friends’, ‘this guy does marketing so much better than you’, ‘she’s getting so much business’ – the voice in my head doesn’t let go. It’s always there, always tries to push me, and as the years go by it seems as if the voice just gets louder.
And yet the truth is that I am the most comfortable sitting in front of my computer working from home, preferring emailing over talking on the phone to people. I don’t want to live a lonely life – but I also feel most comfortable just like that.
Who is the Judge?
My therapist says that it seems like my life goal is to figure out self-acceptance, and I grabbed this challenge with both hands. But then came the coronavirus and the self-quarantine and here I am, at home. I’m not alone now, I’m surrounded by my husband and kids all day long. The fear of missing out is gone. I’m finally comfortable in my skin. I’m more afraid of going back out there as soon as this is over, and maybe facing more rejection from people I want to get close to.
It took me some years to figure out the relationship between shame and judgement. My ‘you’re not good enough’ habit of thought that caused me to judge myself harshly resulted in judging other people harshly too. I am programed to feel that other people are in constant judgment of me like I am judging me, so I’m ashamed to do something that I potentially can be judged for. How do I break this cycle?
I believe I’m not the only one. I believe that there are people out there in the world who are in hidden quarantine and have been trying to break out for years, but the fear of rejection compels them to stay put. It’s like we’re waiting for someone we see as an ‘authority’ to come and say ‘you’re ok. You can come out now’. But who is the authority?!