disheartening group social dynamic. I need practical guidance on how to "fix" the latest one, and maybe some suggestions on how to head these things off
To preface: yes, I'm on meds and in therapy
. Lots of them both. I am specifically seeking the kind of real-world "do this not that" advice which therapists are for the most part told not to give patients. And yes, I have read this question
; this is different (*)
Very, very, very short version:
I HAVE: A person ("Brad") who has made fun of me publicly so many times my self-esteem is in the toilet and I don't want to ever be in his company again; we're both in a social group I really need to be in and he has no reason to leave. This happens to me a lot, and has my whole life.
I NEED: Not being in a situation where I am constantly being made fun of.
I WANT: An apology from Brad for the most recent incident, a promise that he will stop making fun of me, and
Brad actually realizing why
he's wrong to have behaved this way. Also, a way of getting these situations to not get nearly this bad next
MAJOR COMPLICATION: I am actually in this social group because my therapist has given me an ongoing assignment
to be socially active; I'm there to get used to be people, become comfortable around them, and practice social skills. The group isn't meant for that - we picked something that involves an activity I enjoy so that I'd keep showing up even when things were uncomfortable for me. Making eye contact is uncomfortable for me, so you can imagine how "let's hold Fee up to be joked at in front of everyone including random strangers" feels.
OTHER INFO: I was recently absent from the group for over half a year due to a major depressive episode that incidentally kept me off work completely
. I know that this absence (amongst many other more minor things) has annoyed Brad greatly. He doesn't know why I was gone, just that I dropped the ball, as it were.
Much longer version:
I have been and will presumably always be "the weird kid." I have diagnostic labels to back me up on this one; my social cognition
and social skills are impaired, my interests don't match up with widely accepted social norms, I have lots of strange habits and only limited interest in changing or ability to change them, etc., etc. (**)
One of the more irritating and debilitating results of all of this is that I keep getting into situations where it is OK to consistently make me the butt of "casual, gentle, good-humored, innocent" public call-outs
. On a continuous basis, such that when one member of the group is called out perhaps once in a year, I am called out twice in a week. And yeah, I do count them now, because I'm very much beyond the point where I truly believed this was OK.
The pattern is pretty much always as follows, as I attempt to integrate into any new group:
Week 1: I am terrified and say nothing.
Week 2: I am terrified and say almost nothing.
Week 3: I am incredibly nervous and say very little, most of it apparently very strange.
Weeks 4-5: I am still pretty freaking nervous, but people are mostly responding to me as though what I say is both "really smart and interesting" and also "strange." I get compliments about my technical skills and the extent of my knowledge, and people ask me for advice about computers and history and other things which were always, always, always subjects in school.
Weeks 5-8: Same as weeks 4 and 5, except now a handful of people have added me to the "it's okay to make fun of her strangeness, all the time, and she's cool with it, we can tell that because of her nervous laughter and attempts to be nice to us" list. I am the only person in the group on that list.
Weeks 9-20: Same as weeks 5-8, except now I'm actually joining in and making self-deprecating jokes about the exact same things. I don't ever joke about or criticize anyone else, or mention how much this stuff is hurting me. Depending on my overall mental health and the amount of insight I have at any given moment, I tend to switch between saying to myself "why am I doing this to myself" and "I totally deserve this."
Week 21: I have a huge breakdown (public or private, it varies) and quit the group, possibly in conjunction with a "random" cross-state or cross-country move.
Week 463: I get a tragically heartfelt apology from the people who were making all those "jokes," because now they all feel really terrible about how they behaved back then. Approximately half the time, they will be so embarrassed that they route the apology through a third party. Sometimes they buy me things. I have an astonishing number of heartfelt apologies from formerly clueless tormentors in my possession.
The people who put me into the "okay to make fun of" category are almost always of the same personality type (this has been constant since I started elementary school, and I'm now in my thirties.) They're the people you always want to go get a beer with, the folks who organize the tailgate every single weekend, the guy who rents the hall and marshals the troops and hosts an AMAZING Halloween costume party annually and has since before anyone can remember. They are always the "cool" kids, even when it's in a room full of complete geeks (e.g., they're the guy who figured out how to get Ray Bradbury to come to our room party at the con, or the one who somehow got the very best score in the trivia contest despite being hammered...) They never, ever, ever "hang on" to anyone else.
It's fair to say that both my tormentors and I come across as having equally very-strong personalities, but I tend to try and hide socially, except
when I am completely confident because "I can do this!!!!!" in a technical or knowledge-based field of some sort - I'd make a great minister-without-portfolio, but a terrible agency administrator. I've never participated in any of the aforementioned tailgates, Halloween parties, hotel room gatherings, or trivia contests, largely because I'm terrified. It's also fair to say that few people know I'm terrified - I suspect they think I feel I'm above
all that stuff.
Every time that I'm aware of so far, the joking (and some rather less friendly commentary, including one remarkable case of outright plotting to drive me out of the group,) has also continued in private. On two occasions I found out out this entirely by accident (though I'm not sure how "accidental" someone posting their mean-girl chat logs on their personal website, and then someone forwarding me the website, really is.)
, I believe things are still at the open mockery stage. However, this group is a lot more prone to criticizing anyone who's not there, and being nice to their faces when present, than I'm used to. There's a very large amount of "uncomfortable laughter and hoping Roger can be redirected" in smaller strategy type meetings.
Now for the solution part:
The stuff I want
to say (or want
to want to say) to my current focus subject, "Brad," includes:
- I found your "joke" the other day to be really hurtful and also confusing. It felt humiliating and disrespectful, and I am having trouble seeing what you might have wanted to get from it other than to make me feel bad.
- I think the rest of the people in the room were confused, as well - and I'm pretty sure you made a lot of us really uncomfortable.
- The pattern of jokes and references to my past mishaps or "funny moments" in public is really not fun for me, and I'd like it to stop immediately.
- If you can't refrain from making these jokes, please let me know now so I can leave the group before being publicly humiliated again.
- I don't particularly care if you meant to "hurt my feelings" or not. Your intent is really not the point as far as I'm concerned.
- If I do something that upsets you or that you think was inappropriate, please tell me in private and refrain from making it a part of the group's acceptable set of stereotypes about me.
- What you said was pretty clearly out of line by every standard of decency and civilized behavior I can think of, particularly given your status as an elected leader of our group actually in charge of the meeting. I think it was, in fact, an abuse of power.
- I struggle to understand how to reconcile your behavior with your stated goal of getting more people to join our group, particularly in light of the fact you said it in front of people who are prospective members!
- I am disinclined to attend another meeting of the group where you are in charge. I also don't want to be put in a position where you're in authority over me.
- Is this the part where I point out that you have actually asked me to put in a good word for you with people on a hiring committee????
Some of that stuff is obviously just venting and doesn't belong, but I can't tell if any of it is right. I'm severely tempted to include a link to some kind of website about non-violent communication, being supportive and non-crappy to others in general, or something. I'm also tempted to delete all of this stuff and let myself be abused, or alternatively to quit, block everyone in the group on email and Facebook, and pretend I don't know any of them even though I know I'll run into them all constantly for the next decade at least.
I also will not be saying any of it in person. It's bad enough dealing with the apologies in person; I can barely talk when that happens, and actually criticizing someone is most definitely beyond me. I'm in tears trying to write this question out, for heaven's sake.
Things I've thought
- Telling "Janet," another member of the group who I am much closer to (and whose body language and nervous laughter makes me think she's going to be somewhat on my side on this,) some of the things above, such as "What Brad did is really unacceptable to me, what do you think I should do" or "I'm thinking of leaving the group, in large part because of Brad and the constant jokes about me," or "What do you think the best way is to get people in the group to stop making fun of me like they have been," or "I thought Brad was way out of line the other day; what do you think?"
- Putting all of this off indefinitely so that I can do things like bring this up with my therapist or EAP counselor, read "How To Talk So Others Will Listen" or "Difficult Conversations" (both of which I own and have skimmed through but not studied in depth with a specific scenario in mind,)
- Making this more public, either in a relatively passive or active way (we have an opportunity for people to give brief random statements or express their opinions in front of the group, so I could do anything from "Ten Ways To Not Be a Jerk" to "This is something I've really got to get off my chest about how this group functions and how it affects me as an individual.)
- Sending Brad an anonymous note.
The trouble I have with going through Janet or my therapist or the rest of it is that I'm supposed to be working (really hard) at being less avoidant and passive, and more direct and assertive. I'm supposed to not use anonymous notes pretty much ever (not that it'd exactly work this time,) and I'm supposed to be trying to assertively confront people. This is also why I don't like the idea of putting this off to read, etc., though there's also more than a hint of "this is really excruciatingly painful and taking a genuine step to actually resolve it is likely to provide real psychological relief in a way that just studying some more is not likely to do." Oh, and I hate getting Janet involved. I hate making anyone uncomfortable or put out in any way ever; it's like drawing teeth getting myself to ask for help from doctors and therapists, let alone people who "don't deserve and haven't asked for this at all" (in my head.)
I'd also appreciate advice on (or references/books about) that transition between week 5 and week 21 in the pattern described above. I know that I make myself the Scrappy(***), the weird kid, the one it's safe to criticize and mock and so forth. I just never seem to catch myself before I've turned into that, or successfully undo it before I really do honestly reach thinking about suicide, running away from it all, etc. The percentage of my time devoted to thinking about the dynamic in a particular social group has made me feel like crap lately just goes up and up and up, until I hate myself and them and pretty much want to die all over again.
My #1 priority at this point has to be, by the way, protecting my emotional stability.
If staying away from a deep depressive episode (and thus keeping my job, health insurance, etc.,) means quitting this group and pretending I've never met Brad, Janet, or anyone else there, then that's what I'll do. I'd rather not, though, because at some point I'm going to be in a new social group and suddenly find myself dealing with Barry and Susan, Brad and Janet's respective long-lost identical twins.
In case it matters: none of the people involved (should) know about the nature of my medical conditions, and certainly they don't know that I've been driven to serious despair over this kind of stuff by these recent incidents or the stuff that happened back in school. They do
all know that I'm a serious advocate for mental illness awareness, treatment, and anti-stigma stuff.
(*) This is more about long-term "Fee is now the person we repeatedly make the same handful of jokes about and is the designated person about whom all jokes are invariably made, at a rate typically exceeding one per gathering." Also, these aren't typically "take the Mickey out" jokes where you can say "yeah and" - this is repeatedly "we don't dare bring cupcakes because Fee will eat every last one of them harharhar," every week for going on 87 weeks straight due to one day when I ate three cupcakes in two hours.
(**) My diagnoses include but are not limited to Avoidant Personality Disorder/Social Phobia, Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, ADHD, and Panic Disorder w/Agoraphobia. For example, I put my hands over my ears when people in the group all clap too loudly for me to take, I remind them that we're required to follow such-and-such law in order to avoid such-and-such consequences from the IRS, etc. - I'm a weird pest, and I know it. I also often don't go to things because I can't get myself out the door at all that day, or I have to bow out because a panic attack or med side effects keep me from doing anything. My social skills issue specifically isn't "not knowing what" so much as "not knowing when/how/why," and getting over the hump to "actually doing." There is also, however, a bit of "look, I'm OK with how I am, and really at this point, I'm not in the mood to try and force myself to be different;" in high school I deliberately tried to dumb-down my vocabulary, in college I forced myself to become interested in college football, etc.; I'm not doing that kind of stuff anymore just to "blend in" better. In any case, the many-many-many-thousands of dollars spent on my treatment, the hundreds of hours spent in therapy and in doctors offices, and the insane amount of work I've done, are why I'm asking this question instead of one about making a new life in Alaska or something.
(***) More in the sense that it's OK to belittle me than in the sense that I'm hated. I'm actually pretty sure that most of the time, people don't really hate me. They don't act like they hate me - they act like I don't mind getting kicked in the face a lot because it doesn't hurt people like me, and that I'm part of the segment of society that it's 100% OK to mock... up until the precise moment when you cause a complete emotional breakdown, at which point you feel bad and buy them cookies. Like how they treated Screech in Saved By The Bell, except everyone in the current scenario is over 30. I'm more of a "not-person" rather than a "bad person."
So That You Don't Need To Scroll Up:
- What should I say to Brad? Which of my ten line items are brilliant, terrible, usable, usable-with-some-edits...?
- Should I involve Susan? What about my counselors? Should I put this stuff off to do research? Just quit altogether?
- Any information about (or resources for) the "don't be That Girl anymore" thing?
- All of this is in the context of my permanently impaired social abilities/awareness/etc., and the related fact that in a very real sense I'm giving them legitimate reasons to mock me. They're being rude, and that's not OK, but they're not being rude at random, and I handle all social stuff poorly.