So let’s get started on shyness, social anxiety and the problems you face as someone who has a hard time with social awkwardness! Maybe you find it extremely difficult to work up the courage to talk to people. Maybe you are confused about social norms and the unwritten, unspoken rules of social behaviour. Maybe you are shy because, deep down, you feel inferior and unworthy of being in the company of others. Perhaps you just missed out on the socialization process that often happens in your teen years and want to catch up. There are lots of different reasons to be shy, anxious and awkward in social situations.
I am no different in that respect. Despite being a Certified Life Coach and having a good understanding of Personal Development, plus having studied Counselling, Coaching, Mentoring and Spiritual Care at degree level, I still struggle mightily every day with social awkwardness.
You might think that a Life Coach ought to “have it made” by now and be totally free of these issues. However, that is not the case. A Life Coach can be fully committed to helping others with their lives and have an excellent understanding of what needs to be done, yet still struggle with actually getting out there and doing it. Indeed, it is that acute awareness of the struggle that makes the Life Coach able to understand the client, empathize and provide appropriate solutions.
So let me brief you on my situation at the moment: I am living in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, I’m British, 45 years old, married, with one son, aged 13. During the day, I work as a teacher at an English Center run by a national university. However, I struggle with social issues all the time.
At birth, I was normal but when I was 3 days old, I developed epilepsy. Until the age of 6, I was physically, emotionally and mentally abused by my father. I was also teased and bullied at school until I was 16. At the age of 11, I lost all my male friends for a reason I couldn’t fully understand either then or now. It seemed like I didn’t fit in for whatever reason. For the next 3 years I felt isolated and alone, even though I was living a normal life at home with my family. At the age of 14, I began having sexual feelings but it seemed at first that I was gay, since my mind filled with images of hunky guys with six-pack abs. This went on for 4 months before an interest in women started to kick in. 2 months of thinking I was bisexual went by before the images of men disappeared. Since then, I have considered myself straight.
With no boys to return to, I became interested in girls and so attempted to become friends with them. Nothing much happened until I was 19, when I kissed my first woman. She turned out to be a lesbian (how? Long story – I’ll have to tell it to you maybe another time!)
By this time, I was suffering from stress and would regularly feel nervous and anxious, dropping things and having a hard time controlling my emotions.
Then I discovered I was good at massage. In particular, although I was happy to massage anyone, I found that touching women was a great way to remove the stress. I wasn’t interested in doing anything sexy. If I had been, I would have been kicked out by the client, so it was important to be professional. I felt a lot better and my anxiety improved.
Later I travelled to Vietnam and got my first girlfriend, who is now my wife. Here in Vietnam, massage has something of a sexy image, so my wife asked me to give up that job when we got married. I thought that was reasonable, so I did. I then became a teacher and starting teaching English at a high school.
A combination of a language barrier and taking care of a young baby meant that I chose to stay at home. I didn’t go out with other foreign teachers, feeling that this wasn’t fair on my wife. I didn’t want to leave her at home alone, while I went out socializing with a bunch of casual work colleagues.
In this situation, the only people who were able to speak my language well enough were the teens and students I taught. So I began to ask them questions about puzzling behaviour that my wife sometimes did on a socio-cultural level. They helped me out a great deal and after a while, they told me about their problems, too.
Fast forward 10 years and my students now indulge in a range of activities their parents wouldn’t approve of. Having spent all this time being friends, I find it relatively easy to accept the changes but this puts me into conflict with other teachers, who never bothered to make friends with any of the students. They began to criticize my choices, mainly because they had not spent enough time to understand teen issues and the generation gap that exists between parents and teens in Vietnam today.
Meanwhile, my wife contracted lung cancer in 2012. At that time, she declared that she was bored in our marriage. I realized that, despite being a good guy and staying a virgin until my wedding day, I had not really learned how to look after her and make her happy in our shared life together.
In the last 2 years, I have begun trying to socialize with adults and have not done too well so far. I now realize that I have practically no understanding of how adults think, having spent most of my career hanging out with teens. In particular, I can identify some reasons why –
1/ As a teenager, while everyone else was learning social skills, I was isolated
2/ When every other teenager had a boyfriend or girlfriend, I was friendzoned
3/ In their early twenties, they were having sexual relationships with each other, while I was hanging out with lesbians
4/ When they were becoming proficient at adult conversations, I was silently massaging women – learning lots about women but not developing conversational skills
5/ After I got married, they were hanging out in bars and restaurants, while I was at home with my wife and son
6/ While they could speak English to each other in their free time, I could only speak with my teens at work
7/ Now, when I want to hold conversations, they know how to do that and I don’t
How about you? Can you relate? Do you feel like you missed out somewhere? Sometimes I think I made a mistake but I don’t want to feel too bad about what has happened in my life – I’m proud of my wife and son and I am glad I have a family that supports me and I am grateful for everything in my life. However, that doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t improve and get to where I need to be to be able to have the marriage with my wife I want and the lifestyle that I want to achieve. Let’s hope I can do that!