Thursday, 11 December 2014

Shrinking violet

Carla Bruni may have a compulsive need to exhibit herself and be in the public eye, but I'm the exact opposite. I crave anonymity and invisibility and avoid public scrutiny wherever possible.

I know that if I come to other people's attention, sooner or later they'll be judging me and maybe finding me wanting. Simply by noticing me, they make me self-conscious, self-doubting and abruptly shy. Even being publicly thanked for something is mildly embarrassing.

I'd hate to have a job where I'm regularly exposed to large numbers of people, or even worse to have to make speeches or presentations to them. I'd hate to be a celebrity or someone suddenly thrust into the limelight by some newsworthy event.

But it's not fashionable, not "normal" to be so reticent. It's supposed to be natural to want attention, to want an audience, to want others to recognise you and appreciate you. We all love someone who's the "life and soul of the party". Or do we?

Some people (like Carla Bruni) don't feel they really exist unless others are acknowledging them and referring to them. Without that constant attention, they feel incomplete, insubstantial, vestigial.

I have no doubt at all that I exist. To me, my identity is as solid as a rock. I don't need others to convince me of the fact, or to turn me into flesh and blood. I see no need to display myself to the rest of the world. What I see in the mirror is good enough for me.


  1. Nick sometimes the 'noisy bunch' who always want centre stage, are very lonely in real life or have a life long emotional wound that they cannot heal. You know, if we were all of that ilk, who would do the listening? Life is like a box of dolly mixtures, each adding flavour and colour to our lives. Once you are happy in your own skin, that is all that matters.

  2. Grannymar: Indeed, I'm a good listener. Much better at listening than talking. I'm very curious about other people's lives.

    There's certainly an emotional wound in Carla Bruni's case. She says she was the bastard child of an affair between her mother and a grocery magnate.

  3. I'm the same. All my life I have just wanted to be one of the crowd. I never desired to be at the front, a leader of men. Even at school I always tried to sit at the back of the class so that the teacher wouldn't notice me and ask me awkward questions that I didn't know the answer to, and feel that all eyes were on me.

    Even in the Army I remained a private and resisted all attempts to promote me.

    I like to watch, and not be watched. So I understand how you feel Nick.

  4. "It's supposed to be natural to want attention, to want an audience, to want others to recognise you and appreciate you."

    I totally disagree with that statement Nick. I've been thrust in the public eye and hated it. I am, as I've said before a gregarious loner. Very happy observing but sharing and listening in equal measure. Others open up when we are open with our lives.


  5. Keith: Me too re sitting at the back of the class trying to avoid the awkward questions!

    Susie: That's good to know. I was starting to think maybe I was exaggerating and over-dramatising....

    Fly: Me too. I prefer to see others in the hot seat fielding all the bolshy and malicious comments.

  6. www: Hey, I did say "supposed to be natural". I don't think attention-seeking is natural at all, it's just the general expectation of our celebrity-obsessed culture.

    True that if we open up, then others open up in return.

  7. i'm a born extrovert which means that i tend to process externally (talk through things) and also to like external motivation. that doesnt mean i have to be on centre stage but it does mean i do better when i am noticed.
    some of the commenters here seem to be deeply intolerant of anyone who functions differently to themselves, it would be great if everyone could do more than pay lip service to diversity

  8. Then there are people like me, who like you prefer to stay away from the limelight and just live their lives quietly but are unable to because attention keeps searching them out! If like me, you are a good listener, you will be surprised as to how many Carlas will search you out to just talk to someone!

  9. Kylie: Absolutely, there's a big difference between being an extrovert and wanting to be the centre of attention. And yes, people are still too ready to dismiss other people's lifestyles or preferences as less valid or worthy of respect than their own.

    Ramana: As you say, people seem to seek you out for advice all the time! But better that than being totally ignored, I guess.

  10. Some people seek us out not for advice, but just for attention, an audience. I used to overdo it on the listening --- I understood the need, and for a long time I was happy to do it. But eventually it became unbalanced. What I Learned From Being a Listening Post.

  11. PS I think it's great to enjoy attention, as long as it's not always one-sided.

  12. Jean: I like listening to other people's back stories, but as you say if clearly all they want is an audience I have to start edging away....

  13. Jean: Just checked out your link. It must have been so frustrating simply listening for hour after hour without being able to make any contribution of your own. I don't think I could have kept it up, I would have made my excuses and left.

  14. I am very annoyed this minute. Not least at Cheerful Monk's comment.

    Straight through the middle, addressed to all of those who consider themselves "good listeners": You aren't. Just because you have nothing to say, are shy, and generally a "shrinking violet" does not make you a GOOD listener. In fact, it makes you a terrible listener. Because you don't actually listen. You protect yourself. Or satisfy the curtain twitcher's curiosity.

    Back to Cheerful Monk and the link she gave to one of her previous posts:

    "I didn’t expect it to be like that. I assumed she would be thinking on her own and wanted someone to bounce ideas off of. That’s what works for me. I find changes are more fun when I try things and share the results with someone else. When I discovered she didn’t want that, I did try to make the interaction less mind-numbing for me. I actually brought a timer and suggested we take turns talking and listening. That idea lasted about ten minutes. Then she ignored the timer and kept talking."

    It's all about you, Cheerful Monk aka Jean, isn't it? Counselling is not about "interaction". It is not about your idea of "fun", Jean. What fun? And please do count the number of your sentences in the above quote and how many of them contain I,I,I,I,I and I again.

    I once was sent to counselling by my GP. This was in face of deep grief over my sibling-gate. A grief even my sunny self could not get over. You know what, Jean: I was horrified how little the counsellor said. In a fifty minute session he may have interjected a couple of QUESTIONS (not an interpretation or your idea of "fun"). I was baffled. And do you know what I came away with? A Heureka moment. I heard myself talking out loud. To another human being. In fact it was immaterial whether he was "listening" or not. For all I know he might have switched off. But, by golly, did I hear myself.

    I see you as extremely selfish, Jean, and not for the first time. It's all about cost/benefit to you, isn't it. Well, stick to your art and your colours whilst wearing your gray T-shirts, and do not waste any of your time being sucked dry by listening. One wish, from the bottom of my heart: Not that you'll ever spill the beans, but should you, I dearly hope someone will LISTEN to you without being eager to make their own presence known.

    And before I forget, Nick, and this lengthy comment already outstaying its welcome: One observation I have made is that among all my acquaintances,friends and family the loudest often make the best and TRUE listeners.


  15. Ursula: Blimey, what got into you? Even for you, that's pretty vituperative.

    I'll let Jean answer for herself, but I'll also make a few observations of my own.

    I totally disagree that being a shrinking violet makes you a bad listener. They're two completely different things.

    There may be plenty of Is in other people's remarks, but maybe that's because they aren't busy criticising other people and going you, you, you, you.

    I also disagree that the loudest people make the best listeners. I can think of several people who listen to me very carefully and are not in the least bit loud.

  16. That's interesting. I couldn't make out what the number was on the robot-check so I just typed in "robot" and it was accepted. Not much of a check.

  17. "I know that if I come to other people's attention, sooner or later they'll be judging me and maybe finding me wanting. Simply by noticing me, they make me self-conscious, self-doubting and abruptly shy. Even being publicly thanked for something is mildly embarrassing."

    This makes me feel sad for you. Maybe you need to surround yourself with nicer people?

  18. I think of myself as a sociable introvert. I re-fuel in a solitary way, but still love being around people. I neither seek the spotlight (usually) nor run from it. I sure don't feel bad if someone thanks me and don't mind attention on occasion. But then again, I don't spend a lot of social time with people who aren't nice. Why would I?

    As for listening, I don't think there are any hard and fast rules about what sort of person makes a good listener. But as someone who has a career requiring lots of it, I will say that therapy really isn't a reciprocal relationship. It isn't meant to be. There are times when you have to not only be largely silent, but really tuned in, letting go of judgment or the need to give advice or offer opinions.

  19. Bijoux: Oh, don't feel sad, that's just the way I am, I guess. And I am surrounded by nice people, by and large. People who do in fact appreciate me. I'm just over-sensitive to the possibility of unspoken criticism.

  20. Agent: I'm fine socialising if I can find someone who clicks with me and we can have an interesting chat. If I don't feel any connection with anyone, that's when I start to get self-conscious and shy.

    I know what you mean about listening. I went to a therapist myself for a while and she was exactly what you say - just listening sympathetically without trying to direct me.

  21. I am not attracted to being well known but I think that I might be in a bit of a minority, along with you, Nick

  22. Jenny: We are a bit of a minority, I think. So many young people seem to dream of being a celebrity. Unfortunately a dream is what it will usually remain.