During my early years of schooling, I didn’t consult or enjoy the other children as I had been suffering the debilitating pain that social isolation inflicts. People around me knew tips on how to talk with others. I continually asked myself, why couldn’t I? The stage was set for me to shell out solitary decades.
I spent many years writing a memoir, Brave: A Painfully Shy Life (2015), about how precisely I combated social isolation. Then I read some recent research on toddlers. The reason for my debilitating condition became clear: Toddlers create and groom the peer-self in one another. Without the self-confidence and self-esteem that shapes the peer-self, you’re considered a nobody on your own and by your peers. Beyond the era of three or possibly even longer, a catch-22 is. You have no sense of self-esteem, so you can’t make peer friends since you haven’t developed a sense of identity.
I was seeing that my attempts throughout the years at talking to others failed because I was not being genuine. I did not employ a self for being genuine! All I knew was, I was tremendously lonely, and I would like to discuss that. And so, without needing thoughts to express, when I met someone I brought up what I believed that person would choose to hear. People quickly saw through me and searched for someone else, leaving me perennially alone, lonely and feeling isolated from others.
When I was 45, I stumbled upon a manuscript about building self-knowledge. It asked doubts about favorite colors and favorite frozen goodies. Then came doubts about worldly beliefs. I knew the best colors and soft serve ice cream, but I discovered I actually had no universal beliefs whatsoever. In that moment, I discovered what I was required to do: to take into account myself, who I was, what I supported, and who I wanted to get. I realized I had spent my wellbeing perplexed by others. That realization provided me the motivation I needed to stop centering on my isolation and instead carry out the daunting, yet healing work of beginning to uncover myself.
It took almost twenty years of doing brave, creative activities to know as well as feel comfortable with myself. Although it was largely challenging, many years were also fulfilling because each and every step from the journey, I felt joy in increasing my self-knowledge. I discovered that self-knowledge builds self-esteem, which allowed me to blossom and flourish.
Eventually I learned to socialize with others—once I knew I was somebody, nearly as much as anybody else. And soon, I finally made a friend! And then another … and another. My circle of friends has enhanced my feelings and knowledge of self unlike anything I could ever have imagined! I’ve also seen that almost everyone constantly strives to change to get better and also to have loving friendships. It just takes longer to get started on.
I do believe I have developed a feeling of self-long ago, in pre-kindergarten, if I received opportunities to be with other toddlers. The pain from social isolation, particularly is what I felt during early childhood. However, the direction to healing has given me great optimism and joy in living.