Socially Anxious to Quietly Confident with Guest Stacie Clark

In this week’s episode the Mental Health Mamas are joined by Stacie Clark, director of Quiet Connections and self-proclaimed highly sensitive introvert who is on a mission to help others grow in quiet confidence. Listen in as Stacie shares her story of struggling with social anxiety and how she became the quiet, confident person she is today.

Notes and Mentions

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Transcript

Serena: Hey Everyone, I’m Serena.

Tina: And I’m Tina and we are the Mental Health Mamas.

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Serena: Welcome to No Need to Explain, we are so glad you’re here.

Tina: First, as always, a quick disclaimer.

Serena: We come to you NOT as mental health professionals or experts in the field, but rather as the parents of kids who struggle with their emotional health.

Tina: If you or someone you love is experiencing a mental health crisis, please seek professional support. You’ll find a variety of resources in our show notes and on our website, NoNeedToExplainPodcast.com.

Serena: A quick content warning for you. The topic of suicide is mentioned briefly in today’s episode. Please take extra good care of yourself while listening. Tina, you and I work really well together even though we tend to be quite different when it comes to how we approach the world.

Tina: That is true. And as my mom says I can talk to anyone, anywhere anytime, just like my dad! In fact I remember a story, just a quick little story. I remember when we were doing the job in schools that we were doing together and you said, “Do you know those people?” And I’m like, nope. I do not know them but I’m just greeting them because I can. So anyway, I am very energized by connecting with people. And that sometimes means people close to me and sometimes just even random people!

Serena: Right. And I really like to connect with people as well, but I’m a lot less likely to engage with people I don’t know. I think we’re on pretty opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of how we find ways to gain energy or renew. Which is interesting because, as you’ve mentioned, we’ve done the same kind of work for many years, yet I would say we do our job in different ways. Over the years I’ve really had to learn to value my skills as an introvert. In some ways it seems like the extroverts have a bit of an advantage, at least in terms of being seen and heard.

Tina: Yes, I see your point. And I would say at the same time, there are many things I value about you. You know, your ability to be quiet (and I don’t mean that in a weird way) and you don’t have to talk in every situation which is often how I find myself. I’ve really had to come up with strategies on how to not talk in certain situations. You have that curious observer ability that I very much have leaned on to learn how to do the kind of work we do together.

Serena: Yes, I think we really complement each other in that way. Today we are excited to bring you a guest who is an Expert by Experience on this very thing. Stacie Clark is a highly sensitive introvert on a mission to help others grow in quiet confidence. She is a director and coach at Quiet Connections which is an organization that works to help people show up confidently as their true selves, feel a sense of belonging and grow to love their true quiet nature. Stacie, welcome to the podcast!

Stacie: Hi Serena and Tina! Thank you so much for inviting me to speak on your show today!

Tina: We are honored to have you. Stacie, let’s start with a bit of your story. Tell us about your journey from socially anxious to quietly confident.

Stacie: Of course! So, I remember feeling shy from a young age - I would feel uncomfortable talking to people I didn’t know very well, I didn’t like the feeling of people observing or watching me, I didn’t even like answering the register in class as a child! My school would put me forward to do these poetry reading competitions, which of course I never won, because I was always so terrified standing up there in front of a room full of people - and the girl that did often win was very expressive and vibrant in how she delivered her poems, which was the complete opposite to me! I was more quiet, and I didn’t want to be the center of attention, and it would take me some time to feel comfortable enough around others before being able to speak to them. I remember for quite a few years in my childhood, I used to speak in a fake voice, which, as I grew up I then later came to learn is quite a coping strategy for children when they’re feeling anxious. It also caused some embarrassing moments for me as well as a child when people would realize.

So I grew up with labels such as ‘shy’ and ‘too sensitive’, and just this fear of people not liking me. I always felt like I was a bit of a tag along, and that I didn’t quite fit in. But I would also have these moments of being louder as well, and that also didn’t appear to be acceptable either, so in general I just felt very confused as to who I was meant to be! Just all these mixed messages I received from those around me. And I carried all of this from childhood into my teenage years, where I then started using self-harming, alcohol and drugs to help me cope, and by the time I was 14, I felt so unworthy and broken, that suicide felt like the best option available.

Tina: Wow! That is a lot for a young person and being an introvert you likely felt like you were shouldering all of this alone. And by the way, I would say, I don’t think your coping skills as a teenager were all that unusual. So I’m curious if there was anyone you could turn to?

Stacie: Well, there wasn’t anyone that I felt like I could directly turn to but as fate would have it my mom actually found my diary when I was 14 which led to us having a conversation about how I was actually feeling. And it was at this point I did start receiving some professional help. I went and had counseling which was really helpful in terms of helping me with the self-harming and with the alcohol and helping me move away from feeling suicidal but even after that, the challenges of shyness felt more prominent again, and I continued to feel like I was not good enough, I still thought I was unlovable, and I still didn’t really know who I was or how I was meant to be.

My first turning point was in my early 20’s when I met my partner and then started university. It was really the combination of these 2 things that led me through a process of beginning to reconnect with who I truly was - to start seeing myself and what I had to offer but also allowing other people to start to see me too. I slowly started to learn how to express myself, how to accept myself, how to play and make mistakes, and see beauty in imperfections, and to have the courage to start putting myself back out into the world and receive positive feedback from that.

This growth continued as I went through my 20s. So I was actually one of Quiet Connections first clients, when Hayley, who is the Founder of Quiet Connections, was just starting out - I started having coaching with her, and then we started working together, and then I officially came on board as a Director in 2018, and trained as an NLP Practitioner myself. And I’m not ashamed to admit that the majority of my healing has actually been the result of this process of working within Quiet Connections. It’s been within this space that I’ve leaned deeper and deeper into self-acceptance, and recognizing my self-worth and my value, how to use my voice, stretching my comfort zone, and experiencing challenges that continuously challenge me to keep growing and keep healing. And a lot of that has been down to embracing those more quieter parts of who I am.

Serena: Thank you for sharing all of that. I want to read something from your website that really resonated with me. “We know your pain, because we were the quiet ones too. The ones who would freak out whenever someone would talk to us. We know what it’s like to feel unable to ask for the help you need, and instead pretend to be okay. We've felt the fierce panic that the mere mention of the words ‘presentation’ and ‘interview’ can trigger.

We were so embarrassed about how ‘flawed’ we were, we just wanted to hide ourselves away. So we did everything we could to avoid speaking in front of people or being the centre of attention; from declining social invitations to the point we stopping getting asked, to sabotaging job applications making sure we didn’t get an interview, and pretending we had no dreams of our own we wanted to follow to avoid the risk of judgement and criticism.

We spent years of our lives rejecting ourselves so that other people didn’t have a chance to.”

So I have to say, reading this I feel a little bit like maybe you were spying on me when I was younger? I can recall so clearly sitting in class and just dreading being called on by a teacher. I feel that feeling now just thinking and talking about it in the pit of my stomach. Clearly I am not alone in my experience and I can imagine there are a lot of people out there listening who might resonate with this as well. Tell us about Quiet Connections and how it helps people who might be feeling this way.

Stacie: I think many people feel as though we’ve been spying on them when they read that! I’m starting to hear that a lot. And that’s because it’s shining light on how many of us are actually feeling and what we’re experiencing beneath the surface - but what is often still left unsaid. So if any of your listeners are relating to that, please know that you’re really not alone, and what you’re experiencing is actually far more common than we tend to think it is. In fact, I believe it’s the 3rd most common mental health challenge, and can often precede other mental health issues such as depression.

So as an organisation, at Quiet Connections, we work with people to Connect, Stretch & Grow. Which, of course, isn’t a linear process like it sounds! We address Social Anxiety really from 4 different directions, which are looking at the Body, Mind, Connection & also Knowledge.

The Body is all about reconnecting with the feedback from our bodies, and feeling & releasing emotions. It’s learning calming techniques that help regulate the nervous system and that help move us out of anxious states into more calm & confident states.

We address the Mind to help challenge unhelpful thought patterns and beliefs, and challenge the stories we tell about ourselves. Quite often turning stories of pain into stories of empowerment.

And then we create safe spaces for people to gently experience positive connections with others, because, as Brene Brown who is a researcher that we absolutely love at Quiet Connections, she mentions a lot about how we’re wired for connection and as we know from our personal experience also the research that we’ve done, when we experience social anxiety, connecting with others often feels threatening for us! So that’s the reason why we quite often avoid it. So we need to have those new experiences that help to overwrite that. As my colleague Hayley likes to say, “We alone didn’t get ourselves into this. We alone can’t get ourselves out of it”. So support and connection is a critical aspect when we’re working with social anxiety.

And then finally it’s very important that we share information because it’s helpful to mindfully educate ourselves on where these fear responses come from - it helps us to understand and see that we’re not broken, and this isn’t just who we are - which is quite often what we tend to believe. So once we start recognizing that we can make those changes that help us to live more authentically and to achieve the fulfillment we want in life.

So just to touch on the actual services we provide, we do offer a safe online community, which is free to join and can be found on our website. We run local in-person Quiet Gatherings which we do in Cornwall in the UK (which might be far for some of you to travel to!) - we also do 1:1 Coaching, and we run a 12-week group programme called Socially Anxious to Quietly Confident.

Tina: So believe it or not, some of our listeners are really not that far from you actually!

Stacie: It’s good to know.

Tina: Yeah. I’m curious about, just to clarify a little bit, do you offer online support individually as well as group support?

Stacie: We do but we’re not insured to offer one-to-one coaching for anyone in the US. So anyone in the UK will be able to access those services and we can do those via phone calls or via Zoom. But anyone in the US, unfortunately, we’re not insured to cover you.

Tina: OK. Alright. So individually, just to clarify, individually if you are in the US you cannot connect. Group-wise you can connect?

Stacie: Group-wise, yes. Anyone from anywhere in the world can join our online community and can also join our group programs Socially Anxious to Quietly Confident. In fact we’ve already got some members from America on there so it’s lovely to see.

Tina: Nice. Excellent. So what about extroverts like me? What do you have to offer me? I know Serena’s already signed up. I just need to know.

Stacie: Lovely. So first of all, I feel like it’s important to highlight that social anxiety and introversion are not the same thing! There’s a lot of information out there regarding introversion and extroversion, and it can be a bit of a minefield to navigate, so I won’t go too much into that now - but if for the purpose of our chat today, we stick to a simplified idea of introversion representing an individual who appears more quieter in nature, and extroversion as an individual who appears more outgoing in nature - both can of course experience social anxiety! And they do!

There are many people who use, what we might consider to be more extroverted approaches, actually as their way of coping with the anxiety they experience in social situations! And we’ve had clients that fall into that category, who have also picked up on that message, as they’ve grown up, that it’s not okay to be quiet, and so they learn to overcompensate, rather than us quiet ones who tend to retreat more into ourselves. That’s what we can feel like is the more acceptable thing to do within our society is to quite often make ourselves louder as opposed to just embracing those quieter moments.

But they do, the more extroverted people, they do come to us because they still relate with all those underlying feelings and that sense of shame that who they are is not enough, and they’re also seeking that permission to accept those quieter parts of them.

Which is really, what our true message is here, at Quiet Connections. We need to recognise and celebrate the value of our quieter qualities, to really appreciate and accept the totality of who we are, and what it is that we have to offer. Because we’re all to some degree a combination and mix of, in air quotes, more ‘introverted qualities’ and more ‘extroverted qualities’.

That being said, we will still, more than likely, continue to choose to identify ourselves as one or the other - I choose to identify more as an introvert, but without the need to really pigeon hole myself or dismiss the other parts of my personality.

Serena: Yeah. Thanks for clarifying all of that. I think you’re right that the feelings of “not enough” are universal among introverts and extroverts alike. It’s certainly something we hear a lot. We know from a previous conversation with you that you are incredibly creative and that creativity has really helped you on this journey. So I’m wondering if you can share with our listeners what sort of things you create as well as the connection between creativity and self-acceptance?

Stacie: Yeah, of course! So in general, I just love to make things! What I make isn’t always good, but I do adore the process! And I will come back to that in just a moment.

But to answer the first part, my heart belongs to crocheting. I absolutely love crocheting- and for the last couple of years I’ve been really into crocheting poems and words. That’s been a really lovely personal project of mine that I’m working on quietly in the background. I also love to paint, and bake, and cook, and take photos, and occasionally jot down a terrible poem or 2! But to me there is a difference between making things, which I sometimes do as part of a mindfulness activity, or for contemplation because it can help me access the deeper more subconscious parts of my internal landscape, and sometimes it’s just because I’m practising a new skill that will enable me to later express myself more creatively - so there’s different things to explore within each of those aspects, but there’s also a difference between doing an activity and engaging in creativity.

If we look at the word ‘Create’ and where that comes from, it’s root word is -Ker, which means “To Grow”. And this really is what I love the most, and where it really comes back to really being about the process!

When I go through that process of taking an idea and creating it with my hands, for me it’s this reminder of our ability, as humans, that we can bring into reality something that doesn’t exist yet. Or take something in its current form and transform it into something else. I mean, I find that pretty magical. It’s like this beautiful metaphor about the nature of living. Life is constantly growing, and changing and transforming.

I’ve spoken a lot about growth already today, about personal growth and personal transformation, and to me that’s also a creative process.

There’s this wonderful quote I love from the Poet, Lemn Sissay, and he says “To be more, is first to imagine more”. It all starts as an idea. We imagine what else something could become… what could this piece of yarn become, what could this courgette become, what could my life become? And then we take inspired action towards creating it. So when I make things, I make things because it helps exercise that ability within myself. It reminds me that I’m capable of creating more for my life.

I mentioned earlier that the first turning point for me involved going to university. I studied Fashion Design at university, so I spent 3 years immersed in this creative environment, and it was there that I really first started to learn, and was actively encouraged, to explore, and to play, and to make mistakes, to try things out, see what works and what doesn’t work, learn new skills, how to plan and improvise, to get curious about the world, and embrace my perspective, my uniqueness, and to tell the story that I wanted to tell. Now that’s the same process that I use with my clients when I’m coaching them. And it can really be applied to anything we choose to do in life.

It’s that process - the growing process - and what that entails, that can help support the process towards self-acceptance. Having those opportunities to re-engage our exploratory nature, our playful nature, and use that to explore ourselves and what’s around us, and express ourselves in different ways and perhaps, you know, ways that feel more authentic to who we are, and all of this is helpful, and for me personally, that’s what’s been most beneficial to me, and what I continue to gain from art projects and craft projects, so you can of course use those to nurture that, but truth be told, we can also experience that process in any activity that we enjoy doing, or that we’re interested in, or engaged with. Something that we choose, that we choose to do. But it does need to be nurtured with compassion, encouragement and empathy as well - which unfortunately can often be ingredients that can be missed in our surroundings or within ourselves.

Tina: So what about the people who feel like they’re not particularly creative? How would you coach them to, you know, kind of tap into that part of themselves?

Stacie: Yeah that’s a great question! So I think first, it’s important to ask ourselves what we believe creativity to be? What are we associating creativity with? Are we only seeing great artists, musicians, writers, designers, scientists or craftsmanship, and limiting our perception to that?

Or are we confusing a lack of creativity with what is actually a need to learn, develop and hone a practical skill that actually might enable us to express our creativity more easily?

Or is there a deeper block there? Is shame getting in the way? Is a memory of someone telling you that you weren’t creative, and are you holding on to that as truth? Or perhaps there’s a fear that you won’t be able to create what you want to set out to do? And as for many of us, the fear of failure can really hold us back.

There can be so many layers to this! And the starting point, no matter what you’re looking to cultivate, is always to bring into our awareness where that thought is coming from, where that belief is coming from, and what’s getting in the way of tapping into that part of ourselves.

And unfortunately I think creativity is a shame spot for a lot of people - so I really do want to emphasize that we’re all creative, in our own ways! We’ve been studying a lot on strengths lately within Quiet Connections. The VIA Character Institute, actually classes Creativity, along with other qualities that I see as being mixed into the overall creative process, they class creativity as 1 of the 24 universally accepted strengths that we all possess! So just throwing that out there, you are already innately creative.

You can have a go at reflecting on the small ways in which you’re already expressing that and that can be really helpful, so that you can recognise it within yourself. Or something that I personally love to do when I’m feeling creatively blocked, is to write myself a permission slip and give myself permission to play. I quite often find what blocks me creatively, is a fear of getting something wrong, but there’s no right or wrong when you’re playing! That’s always a good tip to share.

Serena: I love the permission to play! You have certainly been on quite the journey and while your journey of course continues, I love the idea that you’ve been able to find a place of quiet confidence. Knowing what you know now, what might you say to your younger, struggling self?

Stacie: Oh my god! I would like to say many things! But what’s coming up most for me right now, and it’s a quote from Brene Brown again…

Tina: Love her!

Stacie: Yes, yes! Love Brene Brown! I recommend anyone to read her work. Yeah this lovely quote of “True belonging doesn't require that we change who we are; it requires that we be who we are”. And I believe that comes from her book, Braving the Wilderness, which was a massive game changer for me. But that’s what I feel my story is truly about - it’s been this journey of getting to know who I am, embracing who I am, loving who I am, and most importantly, cultivating the courage to actually share that with others. At its core, social anxiety is often caused by a sense of shame about who we truly are. In our attempts to protect ourselves from the pain of potential rejection, we tend to drive ourselves further away from connecting with ourselves and with others - and yet it’s the very thing we need to heal, and to enjoy life!

Tina: Mmm. Yeah. I’m just thinking so critically right now about the fact that so much of what you’re talking about and this shame around creativity is about the product, right? And I feel like…I kind of think of it like dancing, right? If you are so focused on what steps you need to do to dance, you’re not feeling the music and isn’t that the point? Right? To feel the music?

Stacie: I love that.

Tina: Anyway Just a moment. Just a moment for me.

Stacie: Something to reflect on.

Tina: Yeah! You have helped me to be super thoughtful. So I’m curious if there’s anything you would like to add for anyone out there listening who might be struggling with social anxiety or that feeling that we hear so often from parents, that “not good enough” feeling, right?

Stacie: I know there are so many others out there experiencing just how you’re feeling. Also for you to recognize there are others out there who are experiencing what you are right now. Our quiet community is really evidence of that! I know it can feel super tough right now, but you are already worthy of love and belonging, and you deserve to feel that. You really do. And sometimes we just need to breathe into that and give ourselves a moment just to hear those words and I also know that it can be really uncomfortable to hear that and to accept it as well but if you can take a moment just to remind yourself that you are already worthy of love and belonging. And just tell yourself that you’re capable of so much more than you might imagine you are, and I truly believe that we all have so much to offer.

Tina: So I can imagine after this episode that there are people who want to know more and are interested in connecting with you. So what is the best way for them to connect with you?

Stacie: You can find out more about Quiet Connections by visiting our website which is QuietConnections.co.uk. Or you can email me directly and my email address is stacie@quietconnections.co.uk - and you can also find us on Instagram and Facebook.

Serena: Thanks. And we will share those links in our notes for all of those listeners out there who would like to reach you. Stacie, thank you so much for joining us today and sharing about your journey. As a fellow introvert I really appreciate the support and services that you are providing to everybody.

Stacie: Thank you so much! It’s been absolutely lovely speaking with you both.

Tina: We are lucky that we got connected so thank you. So podcast friends, we are, as always, grateful for all of you listening and supporting us. You can help us out by visiting Apple podcasts, leaving us a review, subscribing and please share with others. You will find lots more content on our website, NoNeedtoExplainPodcast.com. You will also find an email address there and we would love to hear from you.

Serena: And this is your gentle reminder to take good care of yourself while you are also taking care of your people.

Tina: Thanks again for listening!

Serena: Bye!

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