Less introversion, more openness
August 6, 2016 12:01 PM   Subscribe

I've solidified some tendencies over the last 10 years or so that I wish I could dissolve. It looks like introversion, but that's not a perfect label. It is not coping strategies that I seek, but ideas to really effect change, and any hope you can give me that such change is possible.

Can a person go from being intensely private, rigid, easily overwhelmed and exhausted, and just generally antisocial, to being less of a wet blanket?? This is who I am/who I wish to be. I'd really appreciate any guidance toward change. I wasn't always introverted and anxious, but it's my new norm. Can I beat it without meds?

The following read is a downer, but here are some examples of me being me:
(1) I'm put off by most people asking me anything remotely personal. The company I work for gave us a questionnaire to help them figure out how to reward us for good work. I found the whole idea condescending; my favorite color? Favorite candy? Restaurant? Am I more of an indoor or outdoor person? Do I prefer public or private recognition? Etc., etc., etc. To which, feeling a sense of violation, I responded, None of your business [repeat...] Let's just fulfill our contractual obligations to each other and leave me the hell alone. :) Sweet. When people ask me about what book I'm reading, or where I got X thing, I usually tailspin into a jangle of wrecked nerves and it stays with me all day.
(2) I have a list of things I won't do/businesses I won't give my money to/places I won't support. This has to do with how they've procured their goods, how they treat their workers, or otherwise affect society. Anyone could make a case that I am hugely hypocritical (I'm pretty sure this laptop I'm typing on was not made with love by someone earning a living wage, medical benefits, and a matched 401(k) plan...) but that doesn't stop me from holding my opinions, expressed or not, and it's a sticking point at times: Explaining to someone that X product isn't my thing is no big deal. Explaining to the same person how LOTS of stuff is not my thing makes me a lot less fun to be around, less relatable, hard to please. Plus it's stupid and doesn't make sense. I say this with real sensitivity, but I wonder if it's something like OCD where I just cannot [do X] for reasons I can't logically define.
(3) I'm fine with public speaking and crowds of strangers, but, happy, familiar faces really overwhelm me. If I could share their joy as a fly on the wall I'd be OK but I want to hide under a couch rather than have those faces pointing at me, searching me, exhausting me. I go to a UU church every week and split right after the service even though I'd like to catch up with friends/acquaintances. Or, at work there are two offices I can report to. The one that is fun, welcoming, casual, and close to my home is the one I avoid in favor of traveling some ways to more seclusion and being able to wear headphones and not talk to anyone. It works well, you see, no one complains about my work, but I do feel like a freak, like I need to be handled with kid gloves, and I just want to 'get over' my introversion and awkwardness.
(4) I'm antisocial in that I'm the worst around holidays and certain other rituals. I opt out and I feel tired just thinking about it. Like a total misanthrope. Like omg who f cares about your kid's eighth grade graduation did you think they would flunk out before ninth grade. Etc. I get excited about a beautiful sky, nature, music, beauty. And I have a long list of things for which I wear a Scrooge-face.

There are coping mechanisms: finding my tribe of misfits, telling little white lies to fit in better, using alternate means of communication rather than face the crowd, nurturing 1:1 relationships and smaller get-togethers, taking baby steps outside of my comfort zone. I am in therapy, and I am trying all of the things, but it feels more like treating the symptoms of introversion rather than slaying the beast. Has anyone slayed the beast?

More background: my interactions with people are largely positive. I asked a related question last year about cultivating niceness, and now, niceness is not my problem. I'm decently nice in spirit and in action; well, because I avoid people and situations, so no one knows me. My interactions with others are pretty limited.

Here's the thing: I haven't always been like this. I became 'this way' in about my mid/late 20's when life was hard and then it got harder: financial difficulty as per usual and a loved one's near-fatal illness, and "full schedule" is an understatement. Things went from dark to darker, and I was rude and angry; wanting to rip the head off the bank greeter for wishing me a nice day, wanting to ruin Christmas for Black Friday shoppers... I was not pleasant, and people would then react to me like I was a jerk (because I was) and it made the world seem cold and unforgiving. The cycle would perpetuate with increasing misery.

These days things are WAY better and I am always, always filled with gratitude but socially? I have a long way to go! I wonder if I've got the anxiety/depression disease, but if I do, it's not the kind of depression where I feel sad. I normally wake up early and joyfully leap out of bed! Kinda. And, it's not the kind of anxiety that prevents me from going to events populated by strangers, anyway.

It's my ego, isn't it? -- And, similar AskMeFi questions do not quite get at my particular, special circumstances. Do I sound at all like you? And you overcame acting like a scared, awkward, bitter wallflower? Omg how. Who wrote the book on embracing one's self, embracing life, not being such a downer?? Fear? That I will be judged, ostracized, exploited, hurt, abandoned-- Yes, fear might be at play, but I'm not 100% sure it's what's behind my hangups. So I come to you.

tl;dr: Saying YES to life leaves me shivering in the fetal position. I'd like to overcome this and return to the fun, care-free days before I became uptight and distrustful. Please advise. Huge thanks!
posted by little_dog_laughing to Human Relations (22 answers total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
 
Sorry for the incoming cliche, but I felt like this when I was depressed once, not the time I was depressed almost physiologically (or maybe then, too; I can't recall), but the time that I was overwhelmed by a certain stressful situation that took forever and tons of work to dig myself out from.

Sounds almost like this, no? "I became 'this way' in about my mid/late 20's when life was hard and then it got harder: financial difficulty as per usual and a loved one's near-fatal illness..."

But you say that these days things are way better, so I'm wondering what it would take for you to bounce back. For me, $AwfulTime was followed by an intense and happy time, so I got a massive influx of feeling cared for and smiled upon. Not sure how you could replicate that strategy, though. Sorry... I'll try to think about it...
posted by salvia at 12:14 PM on August 6, 2016 [7 favorites]


I don't think your problem is introversion. Introversion just means that you need time alone to re-charge; introversion itself is not a problem to solve.

You talk about a crowd of happy faces being overwhelming to you. What about one happy face?

Could it be that you are hesitant to trust other people?

Do you believe that you deserve connection and love?
posted by bunderful at 12:23 PM on August 6, 2016 [4 favorites]


It's my ego, isn't it? -- And, similar AskMeFi questions do not quite get at my particular, special circumstances. Do I sound at all like you? And you overcame acting like a scared, awkward, bitter wallflower? Omg how.

I'm sort of like that but especially in some ways (the personal questions, the OMG I DON'T CARE response to things, the fleeing after an event) and I guess I have a few more questions for you.

- Have you tried stuff for anxiety, either meds or stress-combating stuff. Do you drink or smoke weed? Does it help? I ask because for me that was THE thing, that I was hanging on to a lot of anxiety and always feeling pressured in these sorts of situations and found, however, that when I was fighting the anxiety better (either meds or, for example, a lot of exercise, staying well-fed) I hated everyone less. Imagine! So I work on that, think about HALT stuff, and it helps.

- Did you have a home life when you were a kid that was suboptimal and you're accidentally "performing" like you were still not in control but you really are in control? Like, I got pushed around as a kid, my parents were one drunk and one narcissist which means everyone got kowtowed to except me. Sucked. I hated it. However now I sometimes don't implement better boundaries, as a grown-up, with other grown-ups, because I literally don't know I can. Shit like "Don't talk to me that way" or even (politely) "I don't really need to see another picture of little eggbert's soccer game but thanks for showing them to me"

- Have you tried any mindfulness stuff? I know it sounds like woo! But the two most useful things I did to stop hating everything were 1. taking 40 minutes in the morning where I could do anything but INTERNETTING/SCREEN stuff and 2. daily meditation, even like five minutes. Learning to find space in your life so that your only useful option isn't "flee!" can be helpful. Like maybe you can sit with that weird feeling but not have to run? Like you can be like "I want to go, but I want to say hi to Alan. I'll say hi to Alan, then flee"

And some of this builds on other stuff. Like maybe you don't have to tell people about your opinions on XYZ thing that doesn't fit your values system and just be like "Eh not my thing, MY THING IS...." and then you've made it positive again. Or you can be a little more tactical. Like, I decided I'd rather be a good dinner guest than eat exactly what I wanted. So when people ask about food (unless it's a meal in my honor or something in which case I ask for what I want) I just say I can't eat seafood and vow to pick around anything else on my "nope" list that shows up. Take one for the team, as it were. As I've said here before "Even the Dalia Lama eats an occasional yak" because he can realize that sometimes you make compromises in the interests of longer term goals.

So it seems like you've made some good progress and being nicer to other people. Now you work on being nicer to yourself. Hold your negative ideas less tightly, let them go. You still have them, but they're not pressuring you to do things. Can be useful. Best of luck.
posted by jessamyn at 12:49 PM on August 6, 2016 [19 favorites]


You say you have solidified in the last 10 years but was there EVER a time when you were a social butterfly, truly and deeply interested in and moved by other people's lives or keen to meet new people and form connections? Were these tendencies always there? Because we ALL solidify as we get older!

I am a parent with children on the spectrum and wonder if you are on the spectrum. You sound like my dad (an aspie) when he was aged 25ish, or like my daughter (also an aspie) now (she's only 10 though), or indeed my ex, he has ADHD and PDA. In all cases the inner motivation to be sociable and social is strong but the ACTUAL interactions leave them completely exhausted and pretty cold, and without the feedback of meaningful reward it's really hard to keep trying. A bit like wanting desperately to have a good discussion about politics but the only people available to talk to are all 8 years old or only speak Japanese and you don't or something.

IDK, i sometimes worry i see everything through the autism filter nowadays, so i could be miles off the mark. But if this DOES sound possible then yes, change can happen. To get good at small talk my Dad does voluntary work in a customer-facing role. It has taken ten years of practice but he is now good at and able to enjoy small talk, as long as it is within clearly delineated roles (so he is rubbish at parties still, but fine at work because he knows exactly the sort of things a bookshop staff member might say to and hear from a bookshop customer). It took him different strategies to, as you say, give a f about someone's kids' 8th grade graduation. He had to grow up and have kids and experience those things himself before he was even slightly able to relate, and then the relating was an intellectual exercise because he doesn't get the feedback people expect or seek when actually having these discussions with people. A lot of empathy, understanding etc. arises automatically in response to the other person's body language, tone and expression. He is good at tone of voice, but not at the other things. My daughter is poor at tone of voice too. For both of them these interactions are a conscious search through their catalogue of experiences to find something similar, a revisiting of their own emotions (hard for my girl, she struggles to name her emotions) and then an intellectual bridge building to understand the other person's perspective. This is exhausting! Anyone would find it so! And she needs a lot of down time to recover. My dad is better at it, with 70 years practice under his belt.

Anyway not sure how much if at all this could apply, but worth a thought anyway.
posted by intergalacticvelvet at 1:07 PM on August 6, 2016 [2 favorites]


Haha I am you, sort of. I too am super-sensitive to condescension, don't linger after events, hate smalltalk, am reflexively kind of misanthropic, prefer being alone, and have no emotional connection to holidays or rituals of any kind. Hello :)

Honestly this is introversion, and more specifically you are probably an INTJ. (The tell is your sensitivity to condescension.) INTJs are problem seers and fixers: the good news is that we are great at designing systems that work; the bad news is that we lean dark and private.

But you can totally course-correct. Intergalacticvelvet is right that we tend to harden/solidify as we age, but we don't have to. It just takes some deliberate practice. It's like if you're right-handed: you'll probably never achieve awesome penmanship with your left hand, but if you practice of course you can write legibly.

Here's what works for me.

-- I've cultivated little habits that make me feel, for lack of a better description, warm and soft and open. Like cute cat videos, or the Buzzfeed video about staffers being surprised by puppies. I watch them regularly, on purpose.
-- I avoid stuff that makes me feel cynical about people. It is bad for me to watch, for example, The Thick of It or the RNC. There are books I can't read. If I do, I am a jerk for days afterwards.
-- On the flip side, I try to include in my media diet stuff that makes me believe in people's essential goodness, even if it is a little earnest/corny. The West Wing, stuff like that.
-- I regularly reread David Foster Wallace's This Is Water.
-- When I catch myself feeling mean about other people, I make fun of myself in my own head: my own hypocrisy and affectations and ridiculousness.
-- I make mental lists of people I know and what their good traits are. This sounds dumb, but it makes me like them.
-- I try to be grateful for the good luck I've had, and aware that many other people had much less good luck than me.

Last thing. You describe your post as a downer but I don't think you're that unusual. You are probably pretty dark, but not dramatically, hideously so. Honestly I think that if you make some tweaks at the level of daily habits, that might be all you need. Good luck :)
posted by Susan PG at 1:56 PM on August 6, 2016 [21 favorites]


Why wouldn't you try medication? I'm someone who takes medication for anxiety and depression. Medication has not changed who I am in the slightest, but it has given me the ability to cope with things I couldn't otherwise cope with because my scumbag brain was doing its best to isolate me and make me anxious over every. Last. Thing.

I'm not saying at all that your personality is something that needs to be medicated away. I'm saying don't dismiss out of hand one of the biggest, most helpful tools in the arsenal for those of us who have brains that need it. You may not turn out to be one of those people at all, but what's the harm in discussing it with your therapist, especially in relation to possible OCD?
posted by MsMolly at 2:35 PM on August 6, 2016 [1 favorite]


I share some of your issues, like the personal questions and lack of shared interests with many of my peers, and a tendency toward misanthropy at times.

For me, it turned out that a big part of the issue was that other people were imposing their perspectives onto me. Trying to get me to go out and do things I didn't want to do, or inappropriately speculating about my motivations and stuff, or trying to 'cure' me to make me more like them. And because of that, a big chunk of my interactions with people at some point were getting unpleasant, for me and them.

And that was my fault. I do have friends somehow, and they're important to me, but when they're planning get togethers, of course they're going to choose things they like to do.

So I started planning things much more often. At least once a week, I have dinner at my house for several friends, on a weeknight so it doesn't end up going too late. (Not regularly, anyway.) That way, I do more of the work, and I have more control over the activities. I do things with friends individually and in smaller groups as well, but the weekly thing is important, and keeps me from slacking.

I am still fussy about a lot of things, and I still really don't like people disrespecting my boundaries, and there is only so far I'll accommodate things in those areas.

Social disclosures, where you talk about your interests and things, will come naturally in a normal relationship. All those pushy 'ice breaker' questions beg a pretty big question about the value of ice. I have little tricks for being polite but evasive, but if someone is persistent, I will be a little rude and I will resent them putting the burden of rudeness on me.

And I stopped letting people push their interests onto me when they don't take any interest in mine. I always seemed to be hating on things, and was starting to kind of buy into the idea that maybe I was a big mean hater, but in some cases, it was more that my tastes were maybe a little further out from the mainstream, so I was just encountering more things I hated. Nobody ever seemed to have any compunctions about talking shit about the things I liked. It was just that the things I like didn't come up as often.

And sometimes, even with really good friends, there are whole topics that we don't bother with because there just isn't overlap in our interests. That's fine. We're grownups and have plenty of varied interests, so if my friend wants to go shopping recreationally and I'd rather do almost anything else, we can meet up later.

Sure, you need to compromise sometimes, and tolerate some amount of stuff you don't like. But if you're the one doing all the tolerating, of course you're going to be crotchety.

So in short, find some compromises and middle grounds when you can, tolerate people being boring or annoying as long as they tolerate that from you too, and take an active role in planning things to do.
posted by ernielundquist at 2:46 PM on August 6, 2016 [4 favorites]


Yeah, what you describe sounds really, really familiar. In contrast to what Susan PG describes, for me, it wasn't about my introversion, and I'm an INTJ whose introversion is super-marked. (Also, the usual pile of salt grains about Myer Briggs.)

Generally, for me, what you describe was a sign of emotional exhaustion/low-grade depression with a side salad of still having some growing-up to do -- sure, I was still excited about the things that I always loved, but I was much less receptive to new things and new experiences, and much, much, much less forgiving towards people than I should have. Your strong reactions to work socialization and condescension jumped out at me as being AHAHAH WAIT WERE YOU IN MY HEAD.

I'm better these days, though I still have work to do. What has helped is shifting my thinking. Specifically:

1. I thought through my misanthropy, and realized that a lot of it was just plain old unjustified snobbery. Who was I to look down on other people? Why did I think that my instincts in a social situation (KEEP YOURSELF TO YOURSELF WHY ARE YOU TALKING TO ME???) were so much stupider than mine? I also realized that some of my contempt for other people was learned behavior from my father, who is a huge snob and a really unpleasant person in many ways. Did I want to be like him and spend my life looking down on people? No.

2. I realized that at least some of the time, condescension happens when I've failed to communicate my expertise/situation clearly, and the other person genuinely wants to help me. Therefore, taking out my irritation at being condescended to on other people who want to help/because of something I've failed at is just sheer, plain rudeness.

3. You mention still finding beauty in nature or things. That was something that rung bells for me in your question, because one of the keys in pulling out of my most intense scared, awkward, bitter wallflower shell was to see the beauty in things that I didn't care about -- sure, most American kids will graduate eighth grade, and the ceremony itself would be stupid, and most of the time the kid wouldn't care, but there could still that moment right afterwards when everyone is walking out of the auditorium, and the parent looks at this kid they raised up from being a yelling, pooping, helpless baby who still had an umbilical cord hanging off them, and now baby was walking, talking, and going to high school in the fall.

And I'd find beauty in the parent's expression, or the shy, kinda embarrassed way the kid smiled after being hugged by the parent. Or something else.

I couldn't do it for everything and every situation, but even the exercise of finding beauty in things I didn't want to do/didn't care about helped me loosen up in general.

tl;dr: getting rest helped the most, but consciously reframing my kneejerk assessments/reactions helped a lot.
posted by joyceanmachine at 2:59 PM on August 6, 2016 [11 favorites]


"Can a person go from being intensely private, rigid, easily overwhelmed and exhausted, and just generally antisocial, to being less of a wet blanket?? "

I think so. I become extremely irritable when I'm depressed or anxious, which leads to me behaving in the manner that you describe. In those periods I don't have the mental energy to spend on things that are a bit exhausting (e.g., listening to a co-worker ramble on and on) so I get snappish and start hiding. Usually someone trusted tells me I'm acting like a butt, and then I work on becoming happier overall, if possible. What will make you happier I don't know. MeFi has tons of prior questions about depression, feeling overwhelmed, and happiness in general. It depends on your circumstances and who you are. What works for me is drugs with cognitive therapy techniques.
posted by Stonkle at 3:15 PM on August 6, 2016


I had an idea about Black Friday. I wanted to buy a bunch of gift certificates for like the local about-to-flop coffee shop and the little independent bookstore still hanging on somehow that I love and will miss and then get up at 4 a.m. and go to the dumb bigbox stores and wait in the dumb lines and buy some dumb tiny thing, a pack of gum, and while I'm at it give the checkout clerk one of my gift certificates: "Here, this is for you, happy Black Friday." Do this all day long. I thought of this like five or 10 years ago. Have I done it, no, because I'm a misanthrope and lazy, plus I hate crowds and waiting, but having had the idea makes me feel better about Black Friday. I could do it. Or somebody else might do it. Or not, doesn't matter, the idea exists, so therefore the human race is not entirely despicable just because yet again it's goddamn Black Friday.

Seconding SusanPG's recommendation of "This Is Water." Inestimably valuable for surviving things like: the laundromat.
posted by Don Pepino at 3:49 PM on August 6, 2016


2nd salvia - you sound stressed, ground down. I definitely have felt that way (kind of recently!) after bad times.

And, I just looked at your last question, where you mentioned that your job is "improving the experience of life for some of society's most vulnerable people". And I thought, "this person sounds like they are suffering from occupational burnout", and it turns out I did actually answer and wrote that.

(Some symptoms: withdrawal; depersonalization, i.e. "It is possible that they no longer see themselves or others as valuable. Their view of life narrows to only seeing the moment and life turns to a series of mechanical functions.[7] " ).

And with this question now, I think you've got burnout squared, so I suggest looking at help for that and any kind of stress relief you can get (at work and home). More time spent on "selfish" things. Maybe changing jobs, even.
posted by cotton dress sock at 5:21 PM on August 6, 2016 [1 favorite]


I am a middle of the road extrovert and I generally like people and tend to see the best in most people, most of the time. But:

1) Work grilling you about your preferences is a diabolical plot to manipulate you. There is no reason to comply with their bullshit.

2) There are 7 billion people on the planet and we live in The Information Age. It is exhausting to explain your reasoning to everyone you meet -- and you do not have to. Learn to make polite noises and stop explaining. This level of explaining is for, like, your fiancée, not every person who rudely comments on your life.

3) Most people aren't actually deeply happy people. Happy shiny types are often bullshit facades. These are often emotional vampires. You have my permission to avoid them.

4) I dropped out of holidays years ago. At the moment, I have the easy excuse of being homeless and too dirt poor to impose on. But I used to take my kids to Halloween parties on Halloween to avoid trick or treating, then let them buy whatever candy they desired at half price on November first. When they got old enough to appreciate my loathing of modern Halloween, they voluntarily stopped participating entirely and we just continued buying candy on November 1st.

I like my kids. They still live with me. We eat real meals together daily and talk daily. We do not need a holiday or a turkey to eat together and have meaningful conversation.

I am an extrovert and I loathe a lot of the shallow social bs of the modern world. I have spent years arranging my life so I can simply opt out of a lot of it. I am much happier that way and much more able to keep liking most people and seeing the best in them, most of the time.

My kids are Aspie and I pulled them out of a toxic school situation in elementary school. With not having to put up with horrible, negative social crap all day, every day, their ability to socialize dramatically improved.

Introvert or extrovert, putting up with awful social experiences takes its toll. Humans were not designed for modern life. We were designed for small, close knit communities of people who knew us well and were personally invested in our welfare. Being a cog in the machine is something you cope with because you have to. But it isn't deeply personally satisfying.

Older cultures that have had large, dense populations a long time tend to be a lot more formal than America. That formality helps protect people from invasive prying by people we have to deal with but who are never going to be part of our personal tribe. They will never understand us. They will never share our values. We do not owe them a justification for being unlike them.

I think you need to adopt some better boundaries. Feel fine about it. Getting acquaintances out of your hair who should not be all up in your business will likely help you enormously.
posted by Michele in California at 5:57 PM on August 6, 2016 [4 favorites]


Please remember that there's actually nothing wrong with who you are and what you like. These are all good hacks to get along with other people - more tools in the toolkit - and you can take them as such.

Fun story - I was talking to a close longtime friend the other day, and at one point he said "oh, I just said that because it makes for a more exciting discussion!" What a revelation! I had always felt that personal integrity means to say something only if I personally felt strongly about it (if it's an opinion), or if I have good evidence that it is likely to be true (if it's a fact). Up until then, I had often wondered why people were being so argumentative or insincere. I can see now that for other people, who think discussions should above all be fun and exciting, I might come off as serious and boring. I think this realization will help the way I see and interact with people.

Anyway, you like what you like. Adopt some habits and hacks to enjoy spending time with a broad range of people, and to adapt to the prevailing extraversion that is oh so very American. (The other thing that is very American is to despise weakness.) The point is, you need never feel like you have to apologize for yourself!
posted by metaseeker at 7:19 PM on August 6, 2016 [2 favorites]


Hmm. You don't *not* sound depressed. However, what is coming across to me in your post is ANGER. Lots of it. So much about so many things for so long that it has receded into the background noise of your worldview and is seeping out into all kinds of other situations and interactions to the point where it's become a habit.

You said you went through a really hard, stressful, scary, sad time. Did you allow yourself to feel anger at your situation? It sounds like you have gotten into the habit of projecting your internal feelings about this situation outward, at safer targets. No one can be angry at a loved one for almost dying. But that doesn't mean you aren't angry. When life shits on us and we can't point the finger of blame at something concrete, it can be very frustrating.

I really recommend that you sit down and have a think about your anger, and what forgiveness means, and maybe talk some of this through with a therapist to see if you can let go of whatever it is you're holding onto that creates these kind of responses in your life nowadays.

This is fixable. And please understand, *you* are not broken. You are more than your thoughts, more than your feelings. The way you are thinking and coping could use some tweaking, but you as a person? You are fine. You are here, you are asking for help. It may take some work and some time, but resolving this is totally possible. I promise.
posted by ananci at 12:37 AM on August 7, 2016 [4 favorites]


Some of your post resonates with me. It feels like you just want to hide and not be judged. Not just from strangers, but also from family or friends. I get this way sometimes; I grew up in a very judgey, prying, boundary pushing culture. Add to that societal judgment of a physical nature, and I felt constantly judged in every single facet of my life. This was really stifling for me. It made me socially averse in a lot of ways, even though I can fake it well in public and I don't appear socially awkward to most people.

Even now, I get overwhelmed easily, I hate being the center of attention, I hate people prying in my business. I am ridiculously private. I seldom let anyone really in. I don't use social media hardly at all, and every time people ask me to keep in touch with them via it, I say; "Oh yeah I should totally do that," and I never do. Yes, it extends to even events I enjoy and people who are my friends. Even though people tend to like me, there's a sense of detachment I sometimes exude, which pushes people away. Sometimes my internal monologue feels like it's screaming: Just leave me alone.

I'm doing a lot better now, but those things still get to me sometimes. Partly this is due to depression and low-self esteem. Secondly, it is fear.

But what about being judged bothers me so much? Why do I care? That's a good question. For me, I think it's a few things. I'm sensitive, a perfectionist, and I've been shamed in my life and my choices before. It is a fear of being seen, of being vulnerable. I don't like being looked down on, or as if my way of life is 'wrong' -- as if I am wrong. Putting oneself out there is scary. I've been burned before, so to protect myself, I am averse to it. After a while though, its not even people judging me-- its me preemptively judging myself-- presuming everyone is eyeing me with a critical eye when this is not the case.

Inversely, in judging myself so harshly, I also judge others to the same standard. This makes me look down on people sometimes. I am fairly empathetic but I have to constantly check myself on being judgmental to others. I'd never do it externally, but I would do it internally, and that is still damaging.

No, I haven't quite slayed the beast, but what helped me a lot was Brene Brown's TED talk about vulnerability. It really helped me be brave about opening myself up to people. It also helped me be more empathetic to others; to view them with kindness. To say to myself, 'okay, well you obviously care about your kids 8th grade graduation, it's important to you and you're a friend and I value you, so I care about your story because I care about you." This is a hard thing to do, and its much easier to be selfish and think 'ugh who cares,' but it is more rewarding to be a good listener. And if it isn't a friend, it helps to reframe it. Like a stranger telling you their life story at the bus stop. Even if she's rambling. My interest is a gift; its a way of contributing to society. By listening I make her day better, and that in turn makes me feel good about myself and my day.

You want to detach so much from your work life that you don't even want to tell them your favorite color. You have put up an insurmountable wall on no-one can climb over. In answering the way you did, you basically have said you don't want anyone to get to know you at work. At all. In any capacity. Not even a little bit.

Ask yourself, what's the worst that can happen if you had answered truthfully? What's the worst that can happen if you let people in? The biggest thing you have to lose? What's so scary about it?

The worst that can happen is people judge you for your choices and preferences. The worst that can happen is people dislike you for those reasons, and perhaps they won't be your friend. So? So what. So you lose a friend. So you get judged. Do you really want to be friends with judgmental people anyway? Are they of value to you? If you tell people the truth and they decide that based on your favorite candy, restaurant or color that you are not worth being a friend with, then that is their issue. You're not missing out, and it's better to know than not know, really.

And whats the best thing that can happen if you open up? The best thing is, you'd develop bonds with people. You might have a voucher to your fave restaurant or gift card. Perhaps next time someone asked you what you were reading, you would have gained a friend with the same taste in books. This might become a good friend, someone you really resonate with. You would not have that opportunity if you just deflected their question and withdrew into yourself some more. You have much more to gain and a lot less to lose by opening up to people.

And yes, you will be hurt by others sometimes, and yes it will suck. It'll hurt. But you can endure that. You are stronger than you know. But the alternative; keeping everyone at a distance, hurts you more in the long run. You don't necessarily need to be an extrovert you know, there's a difference. But you do need to be brave about letting people in more. Be scared more. You lose 100% of the risks you don't take.
posted by Dimes at 2:13 AM on August 7, 2016 [13 favorites]


Maybe look up therapies for sensory processing disorders. If you are overwhelmed it could be because of sensory issues.
posted by Jane the Brown at 4:49 AM on August 7, 2016 [2 favorites]


1) I hated those, too. Just answer a couple questions so your boss can buy you a gift card you don't hate. Or ask for cash. You prefer private recognition, probably. Try to look at this as part of the admin time for your job.

2) As long as you're suggesting alternatives when someone wants to do something you don't do and not suggesting they're awful for doing x, this is normal and fine. Briefly explain, suggest something else in line with your values. I do this sometimes and it's not a big deal. If someone gets offended, then pick a different social activity to do with them that won't bring up the issue.

3-4) I deal with the social overwhelm by planning ahead and giving myself permission to leave when I'm tired. Also seeking out structured interactions with smaller groups. So, at UU church, volunteer to count money out something after the service, so you'll be working with a couple other people and you have something to talk about. Have an excuse planned at work for when you want to get back to your desk, and allow yourself to put on headphones if you need to. Offer to help in the kitchen at holidays, get people drinks, set up the music. Give yourself permission to hide in the bathroom for a couple minutes or take a walk. You don't have to be a perfectly performing social robot, just be a reasonably kind version of you.
posted by momus_window at 8:43 AM on August 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


I came in here to reply but realised that Dimes answer was better than anything I can write
posted by moiraine at 10:04 AM on August 7, 2016


There are such good answers here, and maybe especially what Dimes wrote. Like, your story about your workplace questionnaire, which you took as invasive and over-personal? It might be worth rethinking that.

Your frame makes sense if you imagine the questionnaire coming from a cynical corporate overlord that is prying into your innermost secrets in order to more successfully exploit you.
But the reality is, it probably came from some low-level HR person, who is maybe kind of clueless, but was genuinely trying to figure out what would make people happy. Maybe that person's boss was told to "fix morale," and they don't have much budget for it and ran a survey to figure out what they could best do with the money they have. Maybe someone in HR has an undergraduate degree in psychology and knows that most people, when asked about their preferences, feel more warmly towards the asker. My point is, your frame is the most negative one possible, and the reality is probably muddier and more complicated.

I also feel like your frame unconsciously assumes that your information is valuable and worth keeping private. Whereas really it's just your favorite color and stuff like that.

I have a tendency to want to keep that stuff private too. In my case it's a combination of competitiveness/perfectionism ("if I can't have a really AWESOME favorite color I won't have one at all"), a hard-to-shake desire to be special ("everyone has a favorite color and so I reject this game"), and a weird instilled-from-childhood belief that it is selfish and attention-seeking to talk about personal preferences. (I feel like you might have that last one, especially, because of the type of work you do.)

Anyway for all those reasons self-disclosure pushes a bunch of buttons for me. But I know I'm a huge outlier in that regard, and so I try to practice it even though it doesn't come naturally to me. I do it because I've learned that self-disclosure of even trivial things makes us feel more connected with other people. So in practice, the upside is real and the downside is not.

(Red. My favorite color is red.)
posted by Susan PG at 10:31 AM on August 7, 2016


Seconding Mindfulness Meditation
'cause the universe (and your 'self') really exists in your mind.

Perhaps look into these folks and their wisdom:
John Kabat-Zinn
Joseph Goldstein
Bhante Henepola Gunaratana

This has been totally fixing me. Amazingly simple (not easy, at first). Practice a little bit regularly.
And you don't need to become a Buddhist to do it.
posted by Dr. Robert at 1:25 PM on August 7, 2016


Just as a practical first step type thing - I challenged myself to tamp down on verbal negativity around movies, books, and media with my friends. Discussing a new book or movie or event? Say what you liked first. Try (try!) to skip the what you hated part, even though for me that is always the longer list. Then the next step is to practice being open about things you love. Display enthusiasm, be goofy, be self deprecating. Like oh I know I'm so not hip, but I cannot help loving [guilty pleasure]. Tumblr / fandom is a great place to see this attitude.

I found that practicing these two things (1. positive things first and 2. open enthusiasm) made a big change in how I felt, eventually. Acknowledging and emphasizing the things I have enjoyed makes me feel more joy in general. Good luck, fellow grinch.
posted by skrozidile at 2:45 PM on August 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


I get the sense that you’re feeling exhausted. And, that you’re over-thinking things a bit, which tires you more. So the last thing you need is more work to do, or a big self-improvement project.

So my suggestion is small and easy, but has a big pay-off. It’s just simply to consciously make yourself smile. A real smile, with your eyes crinkling and your cheeks pushing out. You don't have to be thinking of something nice. It only takes one second.

So: before you get out of bed in the morning, do a deep breath and smile. Smile to yourself on the bus or as you’re walking down the hallway to your desk. When you walk into a room, make eye contact with someone and smile. When someone comes to your desk, smile at them first, then speak. Do it a lot. Aim for a hundred smiles per day.

The reasons are: 1) there’s some good evidence that the physical act of smiling makes us feel happier inside. 2) Smiling changes subtle interpersonal dynamics, something that you’re probably quite good at reading (even unconsciously). You may find that your interactions just seem to go better when you ‘seed’ them with a smile. And that may then provide you with some reassurance that will make participation a bit easier.
posted by oceanmorning at 4:36 PM on August 8, 2016


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