Confessions of a Black Sheep: my theory on social anxiety
Psst... Over here. Sitting in the corner, looking in.
That typically feels like that's where I am. Not all of the time, no. And far less often, these days. (Praise be). But for a lot of my time growing up, I felt like the one who didn't quiiiiiite fit in.
Social outings can feel tricky. I enjoy conversation, but there's a background calculating of what I can't or can say. There's an anxiety around sounding dumb. There's an under-the-surface knowledge of what is acceptable, what makes an interesting person, what is clever, what is witty, what is entertaining, what isn't too personal, what isn't too revealing, what doesn't strike a nerve. What isn't too hippie/crunchy/cheesy/woo-woo/insert your adjective here. Top it all off with a fear of sounding self-indulgent... "Don't talk too much Laura. Shut up, Laura. You're rambling, Laura." It's exhausting.
When my passions are triggered, when I am excited or enraged, I can go from wallflower to Energizer Bunny on a soapbox. Verbal throw up. It allllll comes out. And it can look like Ms. Superiority. In truth, it's a mask for fear, a defence mechanism.
Ever had that feeling following a conversation or speech or a published blog post that feels like a hangover? Brene Brown calls it a vulnerability hangover and her terminology and explanation are spot on. This article does an excellent job breaking it down, too.
I dove deeeeeeeep into the depths of my younger years in this post, so I won't recap it in this post. Suffice to say that I seemed to always be either be scrambling for approval, or numbing myself out so the anxiety of the scrambling was dulled as well. I'm relieved to say that the self-destruction of my past is... well, in my past. But I'd be lying if I said I'd cured myself of all of my social anxiety.
I have a theory about social anxiety as it relates to archetypal stories and our spiritual senses.
I think that many of us who experience that paralyzing-over-thinking-heart-race-inducing fear in public do so for a couple of different reasons:
1). Rampant empathy and clairsentience.
2). Black sheep archetypal patterns and stories.
We all have the capabilities to tune into and feel what another is feeling. We read body language, between the lines of what someone is saying, vocal tone and speech patterns, facial expressions. We feel the energy coming off of another: their discomfort, anger, sadness, etc.
This is empathy. It is the most obvious tool that we have for remembering and tapping into our interconnectedness.
It is also called clairsentience, which is the psychic sense of clear-feeling. Basically, this is feeling energy, feeling what is not felt by the physical or tactile senses. It can manifest as physical sensations, however. Knots in your stomach, unexplainable chills or shivers in an otherwise warm room, tightness in the chest, an overly-elated feeling that can't be explained.
When someone in your vicinity (either with or without a physical body) feels deeply, you are tuning into their emotions and energetic experiences. Clairsentience. Empathy.
Now, imagine that you have this capability, but you're not aware of it in the moment. Or ever. You walk into a party, and someone there is feeling nervous because their ex-husband has shown up with his new wife, but you have no idea. You've just arrived, minding your own business. BAM! Suddenly, you're feeling fearful, sick to your stomach, there's a headache coming on, and the space feels too small. You're quick to blame your social anxiety, but what you're not aware of is the reality that your anxiety is actually someone else's energy. Of course this energy can trigger anxiety of your own, but if you knew the onset wasn't yours, it sure would be a whole lot easier to stop the train safely before it derailed in misery, right?
The second part of my theory, the black sheep archetype, has to do with stories we tell and labels we give ourselves. It has to do with pieces of the collective unconscious that we all tap into every now and again, but some of us tend to really identify with.
Do you tell yourself you're different? You're the weird one in the family? The one who doesn't quite fit in?
Has this been a feeling you've carried with you your whole life? A feeling of simultaneous resentment and arrogant pride?
The expectations of the family- or of other authoritarian roles in your life- you've never quite been able to meet them?
You either completely rebel against what is expected or asked, or you can't get there authentically no matter how hard you try?
In psychology, the black sheep is seen as the scapegoat of the family or social circle. The belief here is that, rather than deal with their own personal woundings and pain, family members team up on and focus on the black sheep's seeming misgivings. It allows for a certain amount of bonding between all members of the circle, save for the outcast. The black sheep takes on the disappointments, worries, and judgements of everyone, rather than each individual dealing with their own sh*t.
Clairsentience and empathy actually dovetail quite well with the black sheep theory because sometimes, the black sheep absorbs the energies, expectations, emotions, and disappointments of the group. They carry the pain (perhaps unconsciously), either to honour the road the family has travelled, so that no one else has to feel it as deeply, or because they don't want to let anyone down. There really can be any number of reasons to explore why the outcast carries the pain energy of the whole.
Now, where I believe there to certainly be some truth to the above, I also believe that there is nothing empowering about victim consciousness or blaming others for our stories.
In other words, if we identify as a black sheep, blaming our family for our playing that role is not the road to healing. We need to take responsibility for the stories we've told ourselves, or the stories that we've chosen to believe.
There comes a time in life when realizing that no one has the power to decide who and what we are is incredibly liberating. Crying "woe is me," is self-defeating. Rise above the disempowering position by conscious choice.
Further more, finding a sense of forgiveness for the "white sheep" is healing. Oftentimes these dynamics run unconsciously in groups. It isn't as if families sit down and talk about who is going to be the outcast or scapegoat. Who can blame them for wanting to avoid their own pain at all cost? It's human, right? You could have just as easily been born into the inner circle.
Lastly, we are all so much more than our labels, stories, and roles. "Black sheep" was a label we chose to keep on. It's a story we've allowed to run, however unconsciously. It may contribute to our anxiety, but it isn't actually us.
And we can choose another way.