This weekend, I spent a wonderful time with some of my favorite women on the planet. It was fun all around—a truly incredible time. But, on more than one occasion, and entirely against my conscious will, I found myself shutting down. It wasn’t what I wanted to do, but it was as if I didn’t have a choice.
The group was made up of friends I’ve made through social media. We all found each other on TikTok and Instagram, and over the course of several years (basically since the pandemic began) we have been forming a profound bond. Some women in the group had met in person before, but it was my first time being around everyone in real life.
As you might imagine from a group of people who use social media as part of their job, we all have very big personalities. The entire weekend was made up of spirited conversations, laughter, and a kind of chaotic energy that comes from a group of people finally uniting from all over the country to be together in person.
It was incredible!
It was also incredibly overwhelming.
I have severe social anxiety. I have learned how to cope with it and, for the most part, I can operate around other people without giving even the slightest hint of my discomfort and anxiousness. However, I do occasionally find myself so overstimulated by the crowd, the noise, the energy, that I find myself completely shutting down. Rather than saying something like, “hey everyone, I’m getting overwhelmed and need to step away and take some time to myself for a bit,” or, “Listen, I’ve been trying to say something for a while but everyone keeps speaking over me, and I’m getting discouraged,” I root myself in place and sink into silence.
If simple communication is the key to freedom, then shutting down is the cage.
I shut down for several reasons.
Because I think I’m being selfish.
Because I tell myself my needs are a burden.
Because I think no one would care about what I need anyway.
So, in light of all those beliefs, I tell myself that the best thing I can do for me and for my loved ones is to just shut up and shut down. Everyone carries on with their own conversations, their own lives and interests. And as for me? I look around at everyone enjoying themselves and feel utterly alone. I get confirmation of the very things I told myself.
But this weekend was different. I was surrounded by women who care, women who see me, women who love me. And when I shut down to avoid making myself a burden or a nuisance, they noticed. They asked what was wrong. They took note, and then took action.
It was such a strange and incredible feeling to be disallowed from slipping silently into the background — to have friends who were willing to gently nudge me back into the present. And it taught me something.
The people who love us want to give us what we need to be happy. They want to help meet our needs. When we shut down and refuse to tell them what we need, we rob them of the chance to do that. And, in so doing, we rob ourselves of the change to be cared for and loved.
The right people will always want to show up for us. When we speak our needs, we teach them how to do that. When we shut down, we teach them how to make us feel more alone.
Finding the courage to speak our needs is the magic that unlocks connectedness, nurturing, and love from our friends. It allows us to feel seen and understood. It shows people how to be the kind of friend we need. They will gladly become that kind of friend because they are our people.
Yes, having the courage to speak our needs will also reveal to us the people who don’t care. As we speak up, we will find people who treat our needs like a burden or a nuisance. All we can do in that case is fortify our spirits against it by reminding ourselves that those aren’t our people. Our people would never treat us that way. What we do with that knowledge is up to us. Do we walk away from those people? Do we keep them around but choose not to consider them as one of our core friends? Whatever it is, we need to make the decision because their disrespect or disinterest in our needs says something about them, not about us.
It’s time to stop shutting down.
We are people of worth, people of value. We deserve to speak our needs and to watch to see who meets them. We are worth showing ourselves and others that our needs matter.
Stop shutting down, and watch how people show up.
Amber Wardell is a doctor of psychology and author who speaks on women’s issues related to marriage, motherhood, and mental health. Subscribe to the free newsletter to get exclusive content delivered to your inbox and to never miss an upload.