Nic spent most of her childhood avoiding people. She was raised by a volatile father and a mother who transferred much of the trauma she’d experienced onto her daughter. The combination left Nic fearful and isolated. “My primitive brain was programmed to be afraid of everybody, because everybody’s evil and they’re gonna hurt you,” she told me. (Nic asked to be referred to by only her first name to protect her privacy.)
Nic’s fear isn’t uncommon in a country where valid lessons about “stranger danger” can cast all people you don’t know as threats to be feared, but she recognized it was unhealthy, so she took steps to engage with the world. As she grew older, she began to travel to seek new people out. At 17, Nic visited Europe for 10 days with her high-school classmates and noticed that people began starting conversations with her. “If people in Europe randomly talked to me, then maybe I’m not so bad,” she figured. “Maybe I’m not gonna die if I randomly talk to them.” So she took more trips and connected with more people. She was anxious about these encounters, wired for fear and expecting the worst, but they always went well. She found that, contrary to what she’d been raised to believe, these strangers weren’t dangerous or scary. They were actually sources of comfort and belonging. They expanded her world.
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