On Self-Consciousness, the Fear of Being Judged, and Struggling to Write

I’ve been having a hard time over the last couple of weeks mustering up the energy to write. The struggle is not new; I get hit by this every so often.

Emotional and physical fatigue is my biggest culprit. I experienced extreme highs and lows over the last couple of weeks that included a death in the family. I don’t sleep as much as I should on normal days, so the last couple of weeks have taken a bit out of me.

The other block is a renewed self-consciousness. I’ve received only support and encouragement ever since I posted about my experiences with anxiety, and friends are now even forwarding articles to me on being good to myself. But in the aftermath of those personal posts are the uncomfortable feelings of having said too much. Do my friends look at me differently now, even though my achievements have not changed? When I meet people, are they smiling at me out of pity or judgment? One friend confessed quietly that she had suffered from depression as well, but added, “But I’m not about to go around telling everyone about it.” Though she was speaking only of herself, I couldn’t help but wonder if she was also making a statement about my choice.

How do writers balance authenticity and vulnerability?

There are two sides in me, constantly, that either fuel or drain my motivations to write. There’s the side that expects the best in others – their open-mindedness, their compassion, their acceptance, their lack of judgment. And then there’s the side in me that fears the worst. My culture has instilled in me the importance of keeping secrets and keeping face; the reality of my life has shown me the toxicity of holding everything in. Since I started writing almost five years ago I’ve been gaining strength in my internal battle against the needless shame of being human. I had made the decision that having a voice outweighs the fear of being judged. It’s a seesaw I ride on every week that I write, and I hope that in time the nobler side wins.

Image courtesy http://www.ynaija.com

 

 

 

40 comments on “On Self-Consciousness, the Fear of Being Judged, and Struggling to Write

  1. [ Smiles ] Always do your own thing and never be afraid of criticism!

  2. whatmeread says:

    I don’t think anyone is looking at you differently after you revealed more about yourself, Cecilia. I am so sorry to hear about the death in your family.

    You write a different kind of blog than I do because yours is self-revealing, while mine really isn’t as much. So, that’s a lot harder to do. Still, if I ever thought about blogging before I got the idea of a book blog, I would have said I wouldn’t be able to think of things to write about. So, I think I know a little bit what you mean.

    Sometimes in regard to the writing, you just need to write something, almost anything, to keep it going. It doesn’t have to be personal. Maybe something you heard or saw on the news gives you a stray thought. Maybe you tell about something you did. The biggest thing that keeps you writing is just doing it. I know that sound easier than it is. If you can’t think of anything to write, maybe write about what’s going on in the most recent book you’re reading, even if you haven’t finished it yet. Maybe it’s not thinking but the actual doing that’s the problem? I’m not so sure what to say about that.

    • Cecilia says:

      Thanks, Kay. I agree that it’s a good idea to just keep writing as opposed to disappearing or shutting down, which I have done many times in the past. I’ve seen some bloggers who will even just write about the fact that they can’t write, or that they’re tired…I think I get so introverted sometimes and have a tendency to withdraw when I get tired (whether physically or emotionally). You wrote some good ideas for topics. Thanks.

  3. There is a risk, always, but there is a freedom in no longer being hidden. I have lost friends when I began writing of depression and suicide. One, a neighbor, said, “You’re not depressed! Look how funny you are ! Stop saying you’re depressed, it depresses me!” No longer friends. But I no longer have to stop myself from saying “hey, i’m having a tough day today.” Thinning the herd and also, finding your tribe. It’s worth the risk, Ceci.

    • Cecilia says:

      Oh, thank you for this, Alexandra. I’m sorry to hear those comments you’ve gotten and to know that you have lost “friends.”

      I’ll never forget this: “Thinning the herd and also, finding your tribe.” I thought about this as I was writing my post…it could be a painful way of finding out who your real friends are but in the end wouldn’t I just be doing myself a favor? You’re my mentor in this. I love you so much. xo

  4. Emily J. says:

    I go through this every so often as well. I mostly fear the people I know in “real” life, who might try to hold me to cultural standards and thinking. I often think differently from those I associate with, and that’s hard. I recently confessed to my husband that a lot of what I write about feminism on my blog has been toned down since having a negative experience with a friend challenging my ideas. He told me to stop it and be true to myself. That’s easier said than done, but it does seem ridiculous to censor my thoughts based on one person.

    • Cecilia says:

      It’s so hard, isn’t it, to blog…there’s a fair amount of confidence and courage in us that allows us to put ourselves out there and yet at the same time we are so very sensitive to others’ reactions. I also fear non-internet friends the most. I guess to them our blogs reveal the real us, whereas friends we have met on-line always knew the real us. Ironic, isn’t it, that we often don’t call our on-line friends “real life” friends when they are, in fact, just that.

      • Emily J. says:

        Right! I feel more comfortable with some of my online friends than I do “real” friends. I sometimes fantasize about unfriending everybody on Facebook except for those I’ve met online and who I know accept me and my opinions. Thanks for being one of those people!

  5. Justine says:

    Cecilia, that freedom from no longer having to hide is huge! And like you, I’d once struggled with being too honest, yet when I did “come out” about the things that I’d been shamefully hiding, a brand new world of light and love also opened up to me. From there, people reached out to me because of their own fears and struggles, and I keep reminding myself that therein lies the authentic connections, which makes the discomfort of opening up totally worth it. I bet your voice gave comfort to those who suffer the same, knowing they’re not alone, knowing that they have a safe place to talk about their own anxieties.

    And if my words aren’t enough to convince you, here’s Brene Brown’s, who, as you may know, did a lot of research on shame and wrote “The Gifts of Imperfection” – a book I adore:

    “Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”

    Here’s to light and love, my friend.

    • Cecilia says:

      I thought of you when I wrote this post, Justine. I remember so well the posts in which you had opened up, and memories of that help encourage me to keep writing my own stuff. I appreciate everything you wrote here, and in particular this: “I bet your voice gave comfort to those who suffer the same, knowing they’re not alone, knowing that they have a safe place to talk about their own anxieties.” If I can know that my words are not just self-serving, then I can feel good about having opened myself up. Thank you for writing the wonderful quote here too!

  6. YOU ARE WHO YOU ARE – EMBRACE HER Sweetie :) I talk about Creating Your Story and a big part of that story is being true to who you are and living the life you want. There are going to be judgers, trolls, naysayers just do not give them an audience – to each their own! I am a human being and I am not changeable every five minutes or so to suit everyone else around me. You either like me or not and if you don’t I do not want you in my life. I wish the “girl drama” would go away and more than likely it will not because I know women in their 60’s that still are involved in it – YIKES! Build Up NOT Break Down :)

    • Cecilia says:

      Amen to that, Renee! I felt like a chameleon all the time when I was younger, and I hated that…hated not being comfortable enough in my own skin and not trusting others to like me the way I was. Thanks for this!

  7. Naomi says:

    Wow. Everyone commenting have said such great things that I don’t think there can be anything left for me to say. That quote from Brene Brown has me all choked up!

    How do writers balance authenticity and vulnerability? Such a great question. Sometimes when I am reading I wonder that myself. I think writers are so brave, even when they are not writing about themselves.

    Don’t let one person’s point of view cloud your own. It’s okay to take a break, but don’t give up. We’d all miss you too much. :)

    • Cecilia says:

      Aw, thanks so much for that, Naomi! Yeah, I can’t give up. This is my refuge and I think it always will be, even if I just need a short break :-)

  8. I’m truly sorry to hear about the loss in your family.

    I understand your feelings of self-consciousness and anxiety. Thankfully I am managing my anxiety pretty well at the moment (I think!) but I’ve had some horrible experiences with panic attacks in the past. And I know it is very easy to feel like people are judging you behind your back: I empathize with that feeling. But, as people have said in the comments already, the most important thing is to write what you want to write and say what you want to say. There will always be people who are judgemental of others but that is a problem within themselves and they are merely projecting their feelings of unhappiness and inadequacy outwards. It’s strange, isn’t it, that sometimes the people who are the most judgemental are the people who feel the most inadequate on the inside? It would be better to build each other up with mutual encouragement.

    Keep writing! :)

    • Cecilia says:

      Oh yes, exactly! Thanks for mentioning that, Grace. I agree that others’ harsh judgments say more about what they feel about themselves. We should always keep that in mind whenever we start letting others’ comments bother us. I appreciate your condolences and your encouragement!

  9. Hello, Cecilia. First, let me again extend my condolences for your loss. Secondly, I think this pull between authenticity and vulnerability is something that most writers struggle with. I think you, and all writers, must always ask, in writing: What do I hope to gain with my writings (x topic)?. If you hope for just cathartic release, I say “go ahead…” in your journal. But for writings in which you hope to do more, to teach, to open up yourself to connect with other human beings who in seeing your words can know that they, too, are okay, not alone…To them, I say “write.”

    I suspect that your beautiful writings on your struggles with anxiety are the latter. I think in reading them most will look at your words and see parts of themselves. I, for one, am one of those people. In seeing your words, I was reminded of myself and was thankful that you could put words to a struggle that I think many of us grapple with on, at least, some level.

    I think writing like that takes courage and while some will, inevitably, judge you for sharing your truth, you must remember that many others will not.

    I have, for most of my life, had multiple identities. I have struggled with “being authentic” in all moments out of fear that people would judge me or think something was wrong with me. I did this for so long that I lost who I was. I am working on finding me, again, however, and that has meant being myself in all moments.

    I do not share all of me online, but I do believe that being vulnerable in our writings, and in our lives is essential to living authentically. So if people judge me for that, hate me for that, then that’s their right. That’s their life. And this is mine, and this is how I chose to live it.

    • Cecilia says:

      Thanks for writing such a thoughtful comment, Jessica. This really struck me: “I did this for so long that I lost who I was.” Even at this “late” stage I am trying to find or maybe even build my sense of self…like you I’ve acted as a chameleon in the past, changing myself in the hopes of pleasing. Did we get messages early on that we are not good enough the way we are? Why does our opinion of ourselves depend on others’ opinions of us? I think it’s wonderful that you have this self-awareness, and that you are developing the strength to be authentic.

      And I will keep these words at the forefront of my mind whenever I write: “I think writing like that takes courage and while some will, inevitably, judge you for sharing your truth, you must remember that many others will not.” You’re right; many are *not* judging.

      Thanks for all that you wrote here, Jessica!

  10. My favourite quote on writing is from Stephen King. I’m sure you’ve heard it before. When asked, how do you write? He replied, “one word at a time.” Keep it simple sister and all will fall into place. (I know hard for us cerebral types to overanalyze everything) ;)

  11. Akshita says:

    “How do writers balance authenticity and vulnerability?” This is a question that I’ve struggled with too. I’m at a time in my life when whatever I put on the internet is going to come back to me. And I’ll be expected to answer. Hence, I have to put great thought in whatever I write; so that it doesn’t sound like an emotional rant. I try to be as honest and authentic as possible. But sometimes, I suppose the positive attitude is only a little better than a white lie.

    However, I think you are brave to talk about your anxiety. I’ve not been able to comment on your past few posts because of a hectic semester. I was also afraid of commenting on something that I did not know well about. But this is something I can relate to; culture playing a role in handling emotions. I, too, come from a culture which does not encourage venting out negative emotions. I’ve seen my mother bottling up her problems. And I’ve also seen her losing her health because of it. It is only recently that she has started speaking about negative thoughts, and I can see that she is happier because of it.

    Therefore, I think you are right to open up about your problems. I can see why doing so makes you feel vulnerable. But I’m sure that opening up and consequently watching other people open up to you felt good.

    • Cecilia says:

      Thank you for sharing, Akshita. I’m so glad that your mother has started to open up more, and that it’s been helping. Yes, our cultures don’t make this easy…your mother is very brave.

      I think you always write the most thoughtful comments, so you don’t ever have to worry about whether or not you’d be able to contribute something meaningful. :-) I totally understand about your having been busy and no worries at all. I hope you’ve had a good semester! It is always nice to hear from you.

  12. Carolyn O says:

    What everyone else, especially Kay, said. I think you’re doing the right thing, and that people who value you and love you will be completely supportive.

  13. This is a great post and a great conversation. It’s also the theme of my life lately—in so many ways, I’m finally learning to stand up for myself and be who I am, without apologizing or pretending to be someone I’m not in order to fit in, to not be judged, to make other people feel more comfortable, to avoid conflict, etc. (I can relate very much to Emily’s experience of fearing friends’ judgment most of all.) It’s incredibly freeing!

    I am so glad you are finally claiming your autonomy and sharing who you really are with us, especially since a lot of us—me included—also struggle with anxiety and self-consciousness and can relate so deeply to what you say!

    I also love that quote shared by Justine. I’m going to look up that book.

    • Cecilia says:

      Hi Sarrah, Thanks so much for your comment and I’m sorry that I only saw it now! It was sitting in my “pending [for approval]” folder and I had missed it.

      Your comment here too is very comforting and validating – YES to all those things you have been making an effort to do less of, like apologizing excessively, pretending to be something/one else to fit in, etc. I have definitely done a lot of that. I guess many women have and I wonder how along the way we became like that. I think it’s great that you are taking steps to change. And thanks for letting me know I am not alone!

  14. First, of course, I am very sorry to hear about your loss. I usually tend to react to those kind of things by bottling them up for a while — holding them apart from myself, if you will — and then slowly allowing them to bubble to the surface. I’m not sure if that’s the most effective coping mechanism, but it’s just the way my memory works.

    I relate to your struggle to post content: sometimes I’m overflowing with ideas, while other times I second-guess my posts. But then often the posts that I expect people to deride (like yesterday’s, about hair) end up resonating with a lot of people. I forget sometimes that I’m only one side of an equation.

    As for people perceiving you differently, I do think there is something to that. But I don’t necessarily think it has to be a bad thing. I appreciate people who reveal themselves little by little, especially if I can’t anticipate each piece. Your anxiety is a part of you, not necessarily greater or smaller than any other aspect of your personality. So, yes, people may perceive you differently — but that does not necessarily mean that their perception of you has worsened. It’s more like it’s just been fleshed out a bit.

    • Cecilia says:

      Thanks, Alina, for your condolences and words of encouragement. I’ve had the same experience of worrying about posts and then finding that some of those are the ones that resonate most with readers. I guess we don’t realize how much other people also think about some of the same things we do. I also like that about being fleshed out more – yes, people will see me differently but more in that they know more of me. We become more real that way.

  15. Lee-Anne says:

    Cecilia, I am so sorry to hear about your loss. Sometimes, I think, our subconscious mind diverts energy to what we really need to work through. I think that is why it can feel so hard to focus on things we’ve not found hard to do in the past. It’s good to give yourself time to work through things – whatever it is that your brain wants to focus on. It’s a way of listening to your body. It’s easy to forget that even as adults we sometimes need times to adjust to transition, whether it is acceptance of death, or accepting that you’ve just “outed” yourself – adjusting to a new reality. So, go easy on yourself. If something is hard to do and it’s supposed to be fun (like blogging, presumably!) give yourself permission to go easy. Maybe I’m totally off the mark here, and it’s more a case of fear driving avoidance. I’ve been thinking a lot about the Slow Life lately and I feel the urge to tell everyone to SLOW DOWN, so forgive me :)

    My other thought when reading your post was the memory of when I finally found that I was brave enough to talk about my father’s mental illness. It was such an enormous issue for me that I had built up many crazy notions about how people would react. I thought my boyfriend would dump me. Honestly. I thought friends would avoid me. I thought people would be gossiping about me and giving me wary looks. The reality was so different. It didn’t seem to make any difference to the way anyone saw me. Friends were kind and understanding and sympathetic and treated it just like I’d said he had a history of cardiac trouble. And this was years ago, before mental illness was really being discussed openly. What was a big deal for me, and a huge part of my identity, was just a little piece of what they saw when they looked at me. It’s probably the same for your friends :)

    • Cecilia says:

      Oh, that’s a wonderful story, Lee-Anne, about how warmly your friends received your father’s mental illness. It’s a sign that you were with good people all along, and after seeing that you could be confident in that knowledge. I have mental illness in my family as well, but I haven’t yet been brave enough to really talk about it. When I do, though, I hope to get the same reactions as you did.

      And I appreciate all that you wrote about slowing down and going easy. I’ve learned over the last few weeks that I do feel very strongly and get depleted easily, whether it’s physical or mental resources. I’m still doing a bit of recovery, but logging in and seeing all these wonderful words is giving me a strong surge of energy. I am so grateful for everyone’s words!

  16. rudrip says:

    Cecilia,

    I am so sorry for your loss.

    This is a question that I often ask as a writer and in my personal life. How do we navigate vulnerability and authenticity? I’ve learned that I cannot exercise my vulnerability with everyone. Some are not prepared for that level of honesty or they are not comfortable revealing their multiple layers. In my personal life, there are probably a handful of people that form my tribe and who listen, do not judge, and offer their advice. Online, I agree, it is harder to charter a course of what you should and shouldn’t reveal. We must remember that we are writing to share our truth and should always continue to do so. Writing is cathartic only if we can disclose our genuine selves. Cheryl Strayed ( in her book Tiny Beautiful Things) touches on this subject in several of her essays. It really motivated me to push the envelope in my writing.

    I think it is even more important (given our backgrounds in the culture of secrecy) to embrace the freedom that comes from writing. We all struggle with the ebbs and flows of waning inspiration, but I’ve found that it eventually boomerangs back.

    xoxo

    • Cecilia says:

      As always, Rudri, it is comforting to read your words and to know that they come from a place of mutual understanding. You’re right about our purposes as writers – to share our truths – because what would be the point otherwise? That’s a wonderful reminder.

  17. I think free writing helps especially if the plan is just to create and vent. Maybe it will set you free and you can then go back and be selective in what you want to post.

    • Cecilia says:

      That’s a great idea. I have a journal which I only write in a few times a year. But it would probably be cathartic to do quick free writes on a regular basis. Thanks!

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