A nod of the head and an acknowledging smile. The exchanging of pleasantries. “How are you and how about the weather?” Surfacy. Simple. Small talk.
Once I began my journey of figuring out who I am and what it means to be true to myself, I dreaded small talk. Instead, I craved deep, meaningful, connected conversation. I’d run into an acquaintance and think, Oh no, must we discuss the weather again? Booooring.
I especially avoided small talk when I was feeling down. Because, let’s face it, the road of self-discovery comes with twists and turns. There’s identifying limiting thoughts and habits and then breaking them. There’s a parting of the ways with relationships – some that you walk away from and others who walk away from you. It’s not always a straight and easy path. Sometimes you have to pull over for a bit. Refuel, if you will, before continuing on.
For many years, refueling for me, or self-care, equated to staying home where I could be with myself. I preferred to interact with those closest to me whom I could share this process with. The thought of being around those who didn’t know me well was nearly intolerable. I felt phony navigating through forced smiles and “I’m good, how are you?” while Snarky shouted in the background You’re not ‘good’ and you don’t feel like smiling, so why are you pretending?!
For years now, I’ve thought of quiet time spent in my safe sanctuary – a place to work through thoughts – to be the main definition of self-care. But, I’ve recently learned that there are times when quiet solace turns into a holding cell of unhelpful thought loops. This happens when I’ve become too engrossed with what’s going on with myself.
Eventually, self-consuming thoughts become tiring, and all I really want to do is absolutely nothing (even if that’s not a feasible option). Being around those who know me best only perpetuates the problem – because I feel safe enough to express the inner workings of my life, I’ll want to do so. The thought loops repeat again and again.
I’ve found one counterintuitive action that frees me from this pattern: Getting out of the house and interacting with others, preferably acquaintances.
A familiar face greeted with a friendly smile. An authentic, friendly smile. The exchanging of pleasantries, which in and of itself is pleasant. That reliable old companion, the weather. Lighthearted conversation. Snippets into another person’s life. More surface conversations? Yes please. They force me to move my thoughts away from myself.
Sometimes, somehow, small talk and smiles can help breathe life right back into me. Which makes me think that small talk – that I once so dreaded – is actually a wonderful measuring stick for self-care.
Not sure of what to do for yourself? Might I suggest going out into public and making an effort to say hello to an acquaintance. If your reaction is to run and hide, it’s time to go home for some quiet, tender loving self-care. If, however, you’re disappointed that the hellos and how-do-you-dos are over, then you’ve been home long enough. It’s time to plug yourself back into the world.