How to be comfortable?
June 5, 2008 7:43 PM   Subscribe

How do you learn to feel comfortable with yourself?

(Anonymous because of family on Mefi.)

I'm never really comfortable. I always feel like an outsider, or that I'm doing something wrong... I can just never relax because of all this.

I have low self-esteem, it's true. I also just tend to assume I've screwed up somehow and work from there. It drives some of my friends batty, but it kinda works. It keeps things steady.

Part of all of this not trusting myself is that I assume that I have to keep myself restrained. Can't let myself go, or I'll start acting on all my other problems--start confusing sex with love, start acting out, start doing all these things. Like if I let myself go, my little box of a life will just crumble and everyone will see how fucked up I am. This, plus my natural introversion, results in a lot of automatic repression, which means a lot of things just... bubbling over suddenly. I've gotten better at not talking about my feelings too much, though... which is probably part and parcel with the problem of not feeling comfortable, but it keeps me from causing unnecessary problems for anyone else.

Oddly enough, all of this came to a head in a club. I couldn't make myself dance. I was tipsy, even,which helps, but I felt so horrifically uncomfortable... I just couldn't relax. I physically couldn't. I couldn't make myself feel comfortable. Friends and acquaintances were trying to get me up and dancing, but that only made me feel worse, like I was screwing up their night slightly just by being there.

It's not that I was stressed about work or anything... I have all the free time in the world and still feel like this.

One restriction: I have no money to spend on the favorite AskMe answers of improv classes, or therapy, so those don't really work as solutions.

I know this is all kind of vague, but it's the best description I can offer. Thanks in advance.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (18 answers total) 56 users marked this as a favorite
Having all the free time in the world is terrible, if you're prone to overthinking, and overthinking makes you feel worse/defective/out of place. Getting a bit more busy, a bit more away from the computer or other quiet reflective places, might be good for this. Could you spend some time volunteering or doing something physically demanding?

Not wanting to dance in a club is ok. There are plenty of situations in life that are not everybody's cup of tea, and part of being comfortable with yourself is allowing yourself to say "no" to things that are supposedly Fun but which you don't find to be fun. I always feel out of place in clubs. Focus on what you do like to do, what situations you do feel comfortable in. What activities give you good energy? Try to do more of those.
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:57 PM on June 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

I feel like I was in your shoes in the not-so-distant past. And I can offer two things that really form the foundation of my confidence, which isn't unshakable, but is still much better than it ever was.

1) The obligatory MeFi answer: eat well and exercise. It seems that comes up for every question on here. (Q: My computer is making a weird noise. A: Have you tried eating better and yoga?) But there's a reason it's constantly suggested, because it's CRUCIAL to feeling good.

Get up, eat some good cereal, milk and fruit. Enjoy it. Plan your lunches and meals to include as much real, non-processed goodness as possible. And remember to savor every bite. Can't afford a gym membership? Jog or walk outside EVERYDAY.

Knowing that you are taking steps to take good care of yourself will make you feel good, which is really the core of having confidence.

2) Journal. If you don't think you have the inspiration, try 40 Days and 40 Nights: Taking Time Out for Self-Discovery or Journal to the Self: Twenty-Two Paths to Personal Growth - Open the Door to Self-Understanding by Writing, Reading, and Creating a Journal of Your Life. They are both "self-discovery" guides, which sounds hokey, but can help you figure out why you're feeling the way you are.

Creating a ritual where you can vent all the anxiety on paper can really relax you and get rid of some of the negative feelings that are squashing your self-confidence.

I hope this helps, good luck and take care.
posted by als129 at 8:02 PM on June 5, 2008 [8 favorites]

Whoa...get out of my head! (except for the dancing thing...I like to dance).

This has been a problem for me for my entire life, and the only solution that I've found so far is to go out and really get to know people. Everyone feels this way from time to time - some of us more often than others, obviously, but it's a common complaint. Once you've seen enough people make a total ass out of themselves, you tend to stop thinking that you're the lone freak in the world.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 8:28 PM on June 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

1. No one is paying as much attention to you as you think they are. People are naturally self-absorbed and they don't really care if you don't dance or if you dance badly.

2. Give yourself permission to fail, and to fail spectacularly. Being comfortable with yourself also entails being comfortable with your own human imperfections. You will fail at a lot of things you try, especially the first time. I am terrible at cooking, and you know, so what. I'm good at a lot of other things.

3. If you're under 25, you may just grow out of this. I thought it was All About Me until I was 30ish, when I realized that sane people don't notice my imperfections, or realize that they have enough of their own.

4. My favorite motto: fall down 7 times, get up 8. Keep trying. You will not crumble, and even if you do, the process of putting yourself back together will make you stronger than you could ever be.

5. I don't know why I'm writing this in a numbered list.
posted by desjardins at 8:36 PM on June 5, 2008 [10 favorites]

What helped me get over my own self-consciousness was to start ignoring the negative, self-deprecating voices inside my head and to realize that in the grand scheme of the world and the billions of people in it, I'm pretty much inconsequential. So I figure I might as well have fun and do things that make me happy and feel good, as long as I'm not hurting anyone. In 50 to 75 years, most of us are going to be dead and nobody is going to remember any of the stupid or awkward stuff we've done. We are all allowed to make some mistakes.

Pay more attention to your surroundings and to the people around you. Get our of your own headspace as much as possible. Once you really start watching people, paying attention to their body language and the things they say, it becomes clear that plenty of other people are as self-conscious and awkward. Watch a bunch of stranger dancing somewhere and you'll see what I mean. Most of the time, other people are too worried about how others perceive them to pay much attention to what everyone else is doing. If I'm feeling nervous or awkward, I find it helps to channel that energy into something positive, such as doting on a friend or really listening when someone else is talking. Also note that not everybody is wired to be a social, party type person. There is nothing wrong with hanging out at the table at a club while your friends hit the dance floor.

Do some stuff to boost your confidence. Become more comfortable with your body through exercise, practicing a martial art, yoga or dancing in the privacy of your home. Start and complete some projects that make you happy. Treat yourself kindly and with love and respect.
posted by pluckysparrow at 8:53 PM on June 5, 2008 [7 favorites]

I think a lot of the answers seem to just be pulling out the standard answers to "help me not feel unhappy" but your situation is a little more specific than that and it's one I can identify with.

Something I realized was that part of the reason I expected others to be so judgmental of me was that I was silently doing the same thing to a lot of the people around me. I am not saying you are or you aren't projecting in this way, but perhaps it would be easier to learn to be accepting of yourself by practicing on other people first. Little things like paying no mind at all if my carpool mate starts to hum a little too loudly to a song on the radio, and being more patient when a family member calls to see how I'm doing and just asks the same usual questions that I had been getting tired of. That's not to say let people walk over you, but just realize that as their flaws and shortcomings do you no harm, in the same way the way you act isn't causing anyone else any real damage either, to the point that they probably aren't noticing it while you are worried sick about their perceptions.

Of course the opposite of judging others too quickly, putting them on a pedestal, won't help you either. If someone makes you feel nervous or inadequate.. well, one time this really gorgeous girl who had come up to me at the bar and wanted to talk to me was causing me to stammer a little, and I just on a whim decided to say "OK, I'm going to admit right now that I'm finding you a little intimidating". She thought that was very funny but it made her relax herself and the conversation after that was completely fluid and easy. So honesty sometimes is the easiest solution.
posted by Space Coyote at 8:55 PM on June 5, 2008 [6 favorites]

I didn't really read through the other anecdotes (heh..., sorry). I just wanted to say that the way I finally ended up feeling comfortable with myself was by no longer caring what other people think of me, but not in an arrogant way. So basically, if I feel like going and playing on a play structure (I'm approaching 20 and still have a tendency to do this), then I will, and I don't give a shit if other people think I'm weird because of it. However, I do mind if people think I'm mean or something, and I don't want to hurt them. I suppose it's not the best description of how to not care but yet not be arrogant, but it's the best I can do.

I found that as soon as I figured out that my happiness depended on me being real to myself (about half way through grade 9), my life got a whole lot better. My friends became closer to me, because I wasn't trying to be someone I wasn't, and I found it easier to make new friends. Also, it really helped with social situations. Who cares if you can't dance when you'll never see the people again? Dance for yourself, not for them. Have fun!

I hope you figure this out... I didn't need to spend money on my epiphany (thank goodness), so it's for sure possible. I swear.
posted by Planet F at 9:04 PM on June 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

I've gotten better at not talking about my feelings too much, though... which is probably part and parcel with the problem of not feeling comfortable, but it keeps me from causing unnecessary problems for anyone else.

You sound like you may be a little anxious and catastrophizing things somewhat. I felt like this all the time when I lived in Seattle. I had a group of friends that I liked and I did things that I enjoyed and it was really a great place to live, but I also sort of felt that the people I was with were able to "let loose" and I wasn't, or if I did there were terrible consequences (in my mind, I can't point to anything bad that ever really happened). I felt like I sort of debugged this a little and here were some things that helped me.

1. I had a period of recreational drug use that I've talked about here. That thread is about pessimism but I think it's really similar. The upshot is NOT that I am saying that you go do drugs, but sometimes being able to observe your mind when it's not anxious or making you feel stupid about being you is a good way to help realize that it's anxiety making you feel that way, not your natural clumsiness or stupidity or whatever your brain is telling you. It's a weird distinction but I find it really helpful.

2. The curly/straight thing (people with straight hair often think curly hair is the best and vice cersa, there is no "right" hair). It's easy to look at other people and think "oh they are doing what they want to, they don't feel like me..." but it's good to have a few people in your life who are good enough friends that you can open up with them "yeah I have this secret fear too" because not only does it put yours in perspective, it helps you see everyone as a little awesome and a little broken and then see yourself that way too [as opposed to ALL broken and NOT awesome, for example]

3. what I did was moved. I decided that city life and culture and people were giving me a terrible case of "keeping up with the joneses" and that at the end of the day, I did not share enough of the city values to feel at home there. I moved to a smaller town where I knew more people (not like knew ahead of time but like got to know as I lived there) and hung out in more diverse groups [i.e. we weren't all the same age and dressed the same etc] and I felt more accepted for the good and bad of me. Like people KNEW I was a spaz, or a little rude, or slept til noon and they didn't care and it was really freeing.

I also have to stress what desjardins says, it's really easy to put of your own feelings as "caring about the feelings of others" until you cease to exist, but it's a good idea to keep perspective. At some level people don't care about you. Not in a bad way but just that everyone is in their own head an awful lot and what may seem like glaring horriblenesses to you are just non-issues to nearly everyone else. If your friends make you feel horrible though, you may need new friends.

If I were you, I'd cultivate a real or imaginary secret life to have something that is just yours and that you are good at and that helps define you outside of all your traditionally felt roles that make you feel weird and twitchy. And good food and exercise [seriously, just getting outside and moving your bones] is a good way to step outside your head a lot too. Good luck.
posted by jessamyn at 9:16 PM on June 5, 2008 [9 favorites]

All of this advice seems excellent to me.

I've recommended this a million times but that's because it's helping me very much in the same arena.

The classic Feeling Good by David Burns

Ignore the part about it being for clinically depressed people. It works amazingly for that as well but it also provides a step by step guide on techniques to foster a healthy self esteem and combat feelings of inferiority/negativity/anxiety/pessimism etc etc etc.

It's the closest to therapy in a book you'll get.
posted by Defenestrator at 9:53 PM on June 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

Have you thought about seeing a psychiatrist? Maybe you have social anxiety, which can be medicated.
posted by delmoi at 9:56 PM on June 5, 2008

My gf and I call this "taking responsibility for the heat death of the universe". If I had to guess, when a song comes on the radio that someone thinks is silly -you- have the impulse to change the station and -you- are embarrassed, even though it might not be your radio or your choice of station.

There are ways of living with this problem. For me, I found myself under such pressure at one stage of my life that I had an epiphany while sick enough to hallucinate at work: "some things are not my fault". I would not wish the -circumstances- of that epiphany on you but I think the pressure of the moment was what allowed it. After that, life seemed unimportant and delightful and it has remained like that. The sense of humor I had and the chatterbox nature my mother avers I had until about the age of six returned. If someone thinks a song is silly on the radio now, I sit and wait for -them- to change it. It's their issue, not mine.

For my gf, she finally decided her consciousness was not going away, and she decided that even though she -feels- responsible she's under no obligation to -act- on that feeling; and she doesn't. I think she has a hard time a lot of the time. She is accomplished at public speaking (lecturing) and she carries it off well, but she doesn't internalize the accolades she gets for her lectures. She solves the radio problem by sticking to her taste. She listens to a lot more radio now.
posted by jet_silver at 10:00 PM on June 5, 2008 [3 favorites]

It's very very difficult to just think yourself into being comfortable. The thinking itself focuses your attention inward, which naturally is going to make you more self-conscious, and the positive thinking you do can easily be shaken by a few moments of negative thinking. I suggest doing something - something with some kind of permanence - that makes you feel proud. What do you admire about other people? Do it. People who excel in one area of life generally feel less anxiety about the other aspects of their life, because they can say to themselves, "Well, I may not be the best flute-player, but I am a damn good gymnast."

You don't have to be a good dancer, you don't have to be a good talker, but you're not going to solve that self-esteem problem unless you can think of yourself as a good something. Learn to cook - added benefit of healthier eating and impressing company. Make a giant painting and hang it on your wall. Be amazing at surfing, or have great running stamina, or just be an amazing friend or son/daughter or employee so that the next time you're not feeling quite sure of yourself, you can just think about things that you can do and tell yourself, and believe it, that it doesn't matter if this one guy thinks you're weird or no fun because who cares? You still make a mean ratatouille.
posted by reebear at 12:49 AM on June 6, 2008 [2 favorites]

I also just tend to assume I've screwed up somehow and work from there.

There's self-examination and self-blame. Making that assumption can help with humility, but it sounds like you may be taking it too far into self-humiliation.

t drives some of my friends batty, but it kinda works. It keeps things steady.

A few things:

1) it drives them batty because it gets tiresome to hear someone constantly say "oh, no, it's my fault". It can sound like your fishing for compliments, or that you really do think you're no good, and I know I hate to see my friends be down on themselves.

2) It kinda works because you are in a position to listen if there's a misunderstanding, and that can calm someone down if you've made them mad. The flip side is that a bully could feel fee to take advantage, and that's something that a real friend would also have a problem with.

3) "It keeps things steady" - Well, there's the meat of the problem. Self sacrifice is much easier than self-understanding, and that's what's lacking here. If all you're worried about and working toward is "steady", then you're going to focus on what everybody else thinks of you and how you're perceived, and that way lies madness.

So now you're all locked up and unable to let go, and when you do, you go nuts. All or nothing thinking is a cognitive distortion, and it's a big part of what's holding you back. Just telling yourself to "stop it" isn't going to cut it. You have to substitute positive thoughts for the negative ones. And even that's not as simple as it sounds. It involves knowing who you are, what you want, and what you're going to do about it.

What's also missing here is what you want out of life. Clubbing is fun, but not your reason for existence. Work gets you dough, but here I'm guessing that you live to work rather than working to live. All of that's going to continue until you figure out what you really want.

Something I try to live by is a principle I found in a Project Management book, of all things: The Principle of Self-Mastery. Remember this formula:
SM = SY + BY + AY

SM is Self Mastery
SY means to See Yourself in terms of what really motivates you.
BY means to Be Yourself. That is to bridge the gap between what motivates you and actually living it.
AY means to Assert Yourself, which I am defining here as staying true to yourself.

See Yourself
Who are you? A good place to start is to understand your own personality style or temperament.

Be Yourself
It’s one thing to see yourself. But how to make the leap from seeing yourself to living what you see?
Create a Personal Vision
Take Action

Assert Yourself
The demands and stress of extreme projects can push us to our emotional, mental and even physical limits. Not only do we run the risk of neglecting those closest to us, we will neglect ourselves if not careful. Not being good for ourselves leaves us with nothing to be good for others.

Assertiveness can be focused outwardly as well as inwardly. To achieve a state of self-mastery, you need to practice both forms.

From here. (free registration required.)

One last thing:
One restriction: I have no money to spend on the favorite AskMe answers of improv classes, or therapy, so those don't really work as solutions.

Not everything costs money. Look around at community centers for low cost or free activities. Check out the churches. Ask your friends. Look for volunteering opportunities - nothing gets you out of self-pity faster than helping others. If you have all kinds of time but no money, there's plenty to do.

Good luck!
posted by lysdexic at 4:00 AM on June 6, 2008 [2 favorites]

Easy answer- live a life that you are proud of.

How to do that, of course, is the hard part. Always meet your responsibilities first. Don't take on responsibilities that you know you won't be able to meet, just to please others. If someone asks you to do something that you think you won't be able to do, make sure you tell them that at the outset. "Sure, I'll try to fix your computer, but I'm not too familiar with that problem, so I'm not sure how much I'll be able to do." Now you aren't saddled with the stress of potential failure- everyone knows where you stand.
posted by gjc at 8:28 AM on June 6, 2008 [2 favorites]

When you have too much time on your hands, you think too much.

Get a job or two, volunteer somewhere, enjoy.
posted by sondrialiac at 9:43 AM on June 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

Read eastern philosophy. Helped me a lot. Makes you realise what's important in the world and what isnt. Took me years to get over feeling out-of-place and being different (an outsider). These days I much more embrace it.

Introverts tend to be deeper thinkers, much more aware of all your failings. I never met a person that wasnt a bit f**ked up, most tend to be unaware of it. They blunder from one disaster to another without any inkling why. You've got a distinct advantage in the f**ked up stakes. You've got self-realisation. You can't think yourself better on your own willpower though. if that was the case you wouldnt be in this position. You need external influence to direct your thought patterns. I read Taoism. Which is quite a lot about living in harmony with nature and people and the nature of people. When you're stuck with your own thoughts it's too easy to get trapped by them. You need to be able to see things in different lights.

The simple fact that you've got the power to help yourself, when a lot of other people havent ought to illicit the smallest amount of hope.

I also found understanding people helped me a lot too. When I understand how other people are I don't seem that bad. Lots of other people hide their f**kedupness behind facades. It's like online dating. You think you're meeting a fairly sound person and it turns out to be far from the case and they're completely unaware of it.

By your very nature if you're aware you start doing all these things you can deal with it. So maybe you wont get it quite right to start off with, you can't learn how to deal with stuff if you dont do it. I used to be kind of nervous about dancing eventually I got to the realisation if I'm having fun it doesnt really matter what anyone else thinks. The fact that thinking is a minority activity means chances are no one else cares anyway. The irony is it doesnt matter how rubbish you might think you are, looking like you're enjoying yourself carries far more weight.

for a kind of shy person, I been as far as....dancing in a trendy pop club full of trendy people with colleagues from work...oh and I looked about as far out of place as humanly possible. There's me 6'4 long hair, wearing black, new rock boots, dancing away to trendy dance music, haha. its not like I can hide in the corner. Helps I suppose I can dance differently to different music and I actually like some of that stuff but still....
posted by browolf at 1:47 PM on June 6, 2008

I recommend that you pick one goal that you think you could never accomplish. Like climb a mountain. Or raise $1000 (or more) for charity. Or learn a new language. Put a lot of energy into it. You will surprise yourself. Even if you don't achieve that goal, you'll meet new people, give yourself some direction, and get out of this self-defeating rut.

If you want to dance, do it when the mood strikes, when you hear a cool song on the radio, on your iPod. In the office, on the subway, at the grocery store. Even if it's just for ten seconds. It'll feel totally freeing. Like on the street yesterday, two girls were doing that popping thing; they were just doing for each other and I felt really privileged to get this little glimpse into their inner lives.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 6:52 PM on June 6, 2008

(Anonymous because of family on Mefi.)

Just picked up on this. Talk to your family.
posted by desjardins at 12:08 PM on June 29, 2008

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