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Paralysis by Analysis
October 23, 2009 9:48 AM   Subscribe

Has anyone gone through a period in their life where they've just become too overanalytical and serious? I started therapy a little over a year and a half ago and it has been great. I've gained a lot of additional understanding of myself which has been helpful but at the same time I think it's actually detrimental in other ways.

I've discovered a lot of positive aspects of my personality but I tend to focus on the deficiencies. I've been diagnosed as having some Asperger like traits (not the full blown Syndrome), ADHD (inattentive type), and a large amount of social anxiety. I feel stuck right now due to the fact that I don't know how to grow relationships with people that I'd like to have.

Before all the therapy, I would have described myself as an introverted, calm and empathetic individual. I struggled socially, but I always seemed to get by. I've always had a handful of friends to hang out with and that seemed sufficient for me (quality over quantity). The problems with these friendships is that most of my friends are now married and they're on a different course in life right now while I'm single and I need to find friends with similar interests that are single.

The problem with the therapy is that I'm so focused on all of my weak areas. I'd love to become a social butterfly, but I don't think that it's a realistic goal. I've read several books on conversational skills and social anxiety and they are interesting but I have a hard time implementing them into my life. I get into conversations and I am polite, I listen well, I ask people all sorts of questions about themselves, but it lacks the fun factor that I used to have in conversations. I don't know how to explain it, it just seems like I'm following too much of a script and it lacks spontaneity.

Does anyone struggle with this in conversations? I find myself thinking all the time what should I say? Sometimes my mind just goes blank and other times I just beat myself up. The weirdest part is that when I'm with friends or family I'm fine with the conversation. I can talk about anything with them. When it comes to meeting new people or people that I know only a little, I really struggle.

The other aspect of myself which has changed for the worse is that I'm pretty serious all the time and I hardly laugh anymore. I'll laugh if other people are laughing at something but it's not really heartfelt. I've asked my therapist about this and he says that once I relax and start enjoying myself that laughter will return and that I'll be less serious as well. I don't know, I feel stuck right now. I'm doing the things that I need to do, but I'm struggling with them.

I just think too much these days. I sit there and analyze everything and start reading about whatever I'm thinking about. For example I'll start reading about mindblindness as it relates to Aspergers Syndrome or theory of mind. Anything that I think about psychologically, I'm reading it.

I'd love to start some new hobbies, but I'm not even sure what would be a good hobby to start as my only goal in doing a hobby is having a shared interest with other people so as to facilitate better friendships.

If anyone has any advice about these issues or of some other time in their life when they've experienced similar issues, please let me know. It would be reassuring to know that I'm probably just going through a stage.
posted by Garden to Human Relations (12 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
 
You're just halfway there, that's all. This was likely all underlying what you were before, but you were running from it. Now you face it. Just keep digging and come out the other side.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:55 AM on October 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Just a data point, for me the therapy/therapist that has helped me the most has been a process of identifying and building on my strengths (sometimes unexpected-to-me strengths) as much as grappling with limitations. Which has made the process more joyful and empowering for me. You mention your close and comfortable relationships with friends and family -- don't know if that is a place to start.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 10:14 AM on October 23, 2009


Yes, you're in the middle of something dynamic and thus inevitably confused. As an old friend of mine used to say, "Confusion is not all bad, particularly if it's due to change you've chosen to make in your life. It's often a sign that things are changing, that you're on the way to some new, improved ground. Just stay the course."

(or words that effect)
posted by philip-random at 10:14 AM on October 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Does anyone struggle with this in conversations? I find myself thinking all the time what should I say? Sometimes my mind just goes blank and other times I just beat myself up. The weirdest part is that when I'm with friends or family I'm fine with the conversation. I can talk about anything with them. When it comes to meeting new people or people that I know only a little, I really struggle.

I struggle with this very much. The irony is that in work situations, I'm very articulate and composed, and together. This is also true around close friends. Unfortunately, I don't have many close friends, and the ones I do have live far away. In social situations, such as a party or a date, I tend to become a wreck. It takes a long time for me to become comfortable around strangers, so I end up saying nothing, or just leaving to alleviate the anxiety. I'm trying to work through it by exposing myself to social situations. Sometimes I'm more successful than others. It's a very difficult process, at least for me. The only thing you can do is keep trying.
posted by dortmunder at 10:43 AM on October 23, 2009


Hi Garden!!

Funny you should bring this up. A few years ago I participated in a twelve week program for the ladies, sort of like a therapy/support group type thing led by professionals. Damn interesting.

There was this one super cool woman in the group - I sure liked her! Throughout the twelve weeks, she slowly disclosed that she had been diagnosed with some serious mental ailments. But you know what? I thought her biggest problem was that she accepted her family's and doctor's diagnoses.

Honestly. She was fine. And very very smart, I bet smarter than most of the folks she was dealing with. (You'll have to trust me when I tell you she could not have some of these mental ailments she had been labeled with. Sadly, I had extensive experience with folks who really were afflicted with some of those things, so I was 100% sure.)

I was just wondering about her the other day, so I'm glad you posted this question! I wondered how things were going for her. I wondered if she ever realized that she needed to stop listening to people who had an agenda concerning her "ailments." I hoped she's happy.

I could definitely espouse on this experience and my impressions in another venue. MeMail if anything I mentioned thus far has any relevance for you:)

Overall, what I am getting at with my brief example is this: Even if a medical professional thinks you have a mental affliction of some kind (and these things are notoriously difficult to pin down) or you scored xyz on some test -- SO WHAT? Does that really devalue you? Make you unfit for human interaction? Of course not!

You are not some label. Put the label down.

I find therapy tends to be useful in cycles. At some point, you have to stop with the introspection and nit-picking of yourself and go out there and LIVE.

In another post someone mentioned geocaching as a fun activity. Triathalons are good, folks meet up once a week to train together. Hiking groups, walking tours, museums. Volunteer work! There's literally tons of things you can do to meet people and be active, and for most of these activities, the things you've been diagnosed with will not hinder your participation. ..

Except for the anxiety. That's a tough one, I know from personal experience. My only suggestion for you there is to be super careful about who you spend time with and who you share emotional intimacy with. Looking back, I realize the times in my life I was filled with the most anxiety always coincided with unhealthy relationships I was involved in. In that sense, the anxiety was acting as a "general warning system," and I just wasn't getting the message! You live, you learn -- you know?

I wish you the best. Thanks for asking this question and good luck on your journey!
posted by jbenben at 10:44 AM on October 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


The other aspect of myself which has changed for the worse is that I'm pretty serious all the time and I hardly laugh anymore. I'll laugh if other people are laughing at something but it's not really heartfelt. I've asked my therapist about this and he says that once I relax and start enjoying myself that laughter will return and that I'll be less serious as well.
You've been entrenched in therapy for a year. Of course you are "overthinking" your social interactions. You've let another person inside your head and are now grappling with a new running commentary. I agree with Ironmouth to keep doing what you're doing. It seems like you are actually in a pretty healthy place. When you interact with your friends and family, take note of your body language, how you interject into conversations, how you end conversations, etc.

(You'll have to trust me when I tell you she could not have some of these mental ailments she had been labeled with. Sadly, I had extensive experience with folks who really were afflicted with some of those things, so I was 100% sure.)
This rubs me the wrong way. I understand and agree that medical conditions do not define a person, but you were not her doctor. The persona she presented to you could have been a small slice of her being.
posted by pintapicasso at 11:09 AM on October 23, 2009


pintapicasso - Agreed.

I knew that statement was going to be exceptionally controversial and I am very sorry if it offended anyone. I absolutely do not mean to come off as flippant, or label myself some sort of an expert.

In that particular case I mentioned, wow, there was so much going on. It would be difficult to explain it all and defend my statements without going off-topic.

Suffice it to say, I really felt for the woman I referenced. I offered up her situation as an example of a vastly different perspective on diagnoses and labels.

If I worded it incorrectly or described the situation poorly, I am sorry. I really was wondering about the woman I referenced just the other day. Some things are striking and you don't forget them easily. I thought it worth mentioning on this thread, even if I went about it in a clumsy fashion.

I Hope that clears up a few things and puts the thread back on track.
posted by jbenben at 11:33 AM on October 23, 2009


Take this or leave it, but I think you really need to "get out of your head".

The way you describe it, therapy has turned life a 40,000 step self-help program.

To put it another (plagiarized) way: "You're not OKAY, I'm not OKAY, but that's OKAY."
posted by Spurious at 11:59 AM on October 23, 2009


You are in therapy. What goals have you set? Therapy without goals can lead you down a painful rabbit hole, because its not trying to do anything except find problems. Therapy with goals does not have to be

You mentioned that being "a social butterfly" didn't seem like a realistic goal. OK -- what would be a realistic goal? Can you define tangible things that you can work towards? "Be happier" is not what I'm talking about; something like "talk with 1 new person a week" or "go bowling every Thursday night". I'm not trying to suggest that these goals are right for you, but I'm trying to suggest that there should be goals that you can see, yes or no, that actually happened. Then once you're achieving these goals, consider if these goals are helping you build the life you want. If not, make some different goals. If they help, keep up the good work and add some new ones.

Is there something you want to do but are not doing? Maybe that's a goal. Determining tangible goals is something important to talk with your therapist about. Without them, you're missing a great opportunity to enable positive change as a fruit of your therapy work.
posted by buzzv at 8:30 PM on October 23, 2009


My old friend Donna told me on one of the last visits I had with her that "I miss my old friend, you're so serious now, where'd you go, when are you coming back?" and I told her that it was easy, that I could be right back, just toss me a beer and the whole show would begin again, and I could be all happy again, Mr. Jovial, Mr. Festive, Mr. Party. I also told her -- and not kindly -- that she clearly didn't know much about me and she didn't understand what I'd been through nor what I was going through and hey, that's okay, but do not fuck with me, this is not negotiable, that I was only trying to save my life, if that was okay with her.

You're changing. It's a process, not an event. It takes time. It's really important work, and valid. You're brave to enter into it, braver still to stay with it as you have. It's awkward sometimes, it's uncomfortable sometimes, sometimes both of those at once, plus a lot more besides. You're essentially learning a whole new language or at the very least a whole new way of using the language you've got.

Keep on keeping on.
posted by dancestoblue at 10:20 PM on October 23, 2009


I don't have any words of wisdom to share with you unfortunately. I just wanted to let you know that I understand. I could have written this myself. Good luck to you.
posted by iabide79 at 11:13 PM on October 23, 2009


Does anyone struggle with this in conversations? I find myself thinking all the time what should I say? Sometimes my mind just goes blank and other times I just beat myself up. The weirdest part is that when I'm with friends or family I'm fine with the conversation. I can talk about anything with them. When it comes to meeting new people or people that I know only a little, I really struggle.

Yes, I think most (all?) introverts do. And despite the cultural emphasis on extroversion, there *are* a lot of introverts out there.

I find the best way to conquer the struggle is to meet or interact with people in situations where there's *already* a clear topic to discuss, so a hobby is right on point.

(And I wouldn't worry about undertaking a hobby only to meet other people who've joined to meet other people. Many (most?) folks take up hobbies for exactly that reason, and it's certainly as good as any other.)

As for what hobby, obviously, choose something you like. If you don't know what you'd like, take a stab and then graciously back out if it doesn't suit. Then try again. All of that is perfectly fair play and perfectly normal, too.

Anyway, hobbies and conversation go hand in hand, because a hobby gives you something to talk about, which makes thinking on your feet a lot easier.

EXAMPLES:

* So if you're traveling or have just moved, you can talk about the new place you're in and how it differs from wherever you've come from.
* If you like languages you could take a language class, and then start conversations by comparing X language to English.
* Or you could join a Meet-Up, or a town committee (Like books? Library; Like architecture? Zoning; Like politics? Political campaign). In these situations, you could ask people what books/buildings/candidates they like and why. That alone should get you over the conversational hump because they're the kind of questions that tend to get answers and then similar questions as a response. If that doesn't work, try asking questions or commenting by comparison, i.e. I like that building because I think it looks like this one. You? Etc.

In all these situations, you will have an automatic topic to ask questions about/comment on/compare and contrast to other things. A little bit of this for a shy, introverted person goes a long way, and can help you feel more confident. A fair amount of this and you might even get mistaken for an extrovert.

On a related note, I've noticed time and time again that overanalysis of one's own negative qualities tends to be both causative and symptomatic of unhappiness. Simplistically put, you do when you're happy; you self-chastise when you’re not.
posted by Violet Blue at 10:50 PM on September 12, 2010


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