A question for you: What is the thing you are most worried about, in terms of how others see you? What do you think that others think is your worst trait?
For me, it's being annoying. I guess that's a bit vague. I'll try and pin it down. Whenever I meet new people, I'm convinced that the majority of them find me annoying. Mainly because I have very few powers of self-censorship. I open my mouth, and stuff comes out. Loads of it. Constantly.
It's not that I'm particularly offensive. I do possess some powers of tact, some social skills. But there are two problems: (a) I get terribly enthusiastic about things that I've thought of, and once I've thought of them I have to express them. And I have no self-consciousness about speaking up in the presence of strangers. (b) The whole thing is magnified when I'm nervous. If I'm new to a bunch of people, I want to impress them, and I feel like I should do this by saying lots of stuff. And I forget to stop talking.
I do it in print too. If I join a new internet forum, for instance, rather than doing what most people do - which is to lurk for a while, get to know the feel of the place, build up the confidence to say a cautious hello - I just jump in with both feet and write a million long posts in quick succession.
In one spectacular recent example I alienated a whole internet forum, and my name is still quoted as a prime example of their worst member ever (I can't help it, I still lurk there - and recently someone said of another annoying member "He might be a bit bad, but he's no Beleaguered Squirrel"). It wasn't quite that simple - it was actually rather a horrible place, with a nasty culture, and I got picked on by the resident bully. But if I hadn't done that thing of leaping in at the start, shooting my mouth off and not censoring myself, it never would have happened.
Recently I've started a new job, and the usual paranoia is kicking in. In lots of ways it's gone really well. I've made several friends, who seem to genuinely like me. But I have this lurking suspicion that the majority of my colleagues regard me as intensely annoying. I don't even have any proof for that, apart from one email. I tried to organise a Friday night curry, suggesting that it would be nice to meet up for food and a natter - and got one response which simply said, "What's the point? You'll be the one doing all the talking." And then when I asked to join a Facebook group several colleagues belong to, I didn't get an instant response (by email) and was suddenly thinking, "Oh no, they don't want me to join because they've all been using it to moan about me!" Of course I then got the email inviting me to join and was obviously wrong about that.
But the worst thing about this kind of paranoia is deciding how to deal with it. Sometimes I tell myself, well duh. Rather than constantly agonising about this, why don't you start censoring yourself a little better, and remove the issue altogether? But other times I think, it's just paranoia. You're irrepressible, it's who you are, and it would be a shame to take that away from yourself. Yes, there'll always be people who are annoyed by you, but that would be the case whoever you were. Most people don't find you annoying, or not unbearably so, and those that do are obviously not the best choice of friend for you. And anyway if you were to ask people what they hate about you most, they'd probably come up with something completely different, that you hadn't even thought of.
The problem is that, as long as I keep vacillating between these two mutually-opposed positions (change yourself, accept yourself), nothing will ever be resolved.
So what about you? What is the thing about yourself that makes you wince, when those unwelcome memories pinch you in the small hours?
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