I read often that social media is killing relationships and genuine social interactions. I disagree. For me, social media has opened doors to a whole new world of friendships with like-minded people. You see, I used to suffer from social anxiety, and the mere idea of face to face interactions was debilitating and paralyzing to me.
As a child at school, I shied away from other kids. I was extremely self-conscious; a loner. In kindergarten I sought out my older sister, squealing to get into her classroom, as she brought me a sense of security. I had a nagging feeling of inadequacy, and a constant fear that I would be left out, laughed at and ultimately, abandoned. I figured that the best way to avoid rejection was to stay away from others emotionally. While this may have somehow worked for me as a kid, it was a major hindrance in adulthood. But even when I discovered that my symptoms had a name, knowing it and even seeking therapy did not help me overcome it. Then, along came social media and with it, a safe way for me to reach out.
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When Facebook emerged, I timidly started sharing pictures, status updates and slowly adding friends. From that secure place behind the screen, I felt less vulnerable. I began to open up a bit, but it wasn’t until I started contributing to an online news platform that I was forced to use Twitter. At first, this was a baffling experience in which I blindly met and followed people I knew nothing about. We shared stories and interests in fast-paced, short tweets and I felt safely connected to other individuals all over the world. From then on, I became immersed in online “imaginary friend” land, from a distance.
As a member of a private Facebook group, I started to feel I wanted to meet my online peers; a team of amazing bloggers and writers who shared their stories, tips, fears and frustrations, which in many cases resembled my own. I felt like part of a community, perhaps for the first time in my life. I felt that they accepted me for who I was, social anxiety and all. I even managed to build up the courage to eventually meet some of them in real life. Having already connected online made it so much easier for us to seal the deal face to face.
Facebook, Twitter, blogging, writing and sharing personal details through social media has helped me overcome my extreme shyness and become more open to meeting new people. I don’t believe I could have made these friendships had these connections taken place in real life and not the other way around.
I still have moments of debilitating shyness but they are short-lived. Social media has made me open up to people online and off-line. As it turns out, this was the therapy I really needed to overcome my social anxiety. I am grateful for my new friends who accept me as I am, even before meeting me in person, and I can’t wait to make more connections as the new social woman I am today!