Help me become a nicer person
April 14, 2017 2:23 PM   Subscribe

I'm extremely standoffish and I have a hard time getting along with others. I often find that many people dislike me initially after meeting me. I miss a lot of social cues. I'm starting to feel frustrated and shut down completely on meeting new people.

I am very socially anxious and often people tell me that I look grumpy or that I don't want to be there. It's hard for me to emote clearly and I don't get excited by anything. I feel I'm completely disconnected from people in general. Sometimes I realize that I'm being inconsiderate but being open feels foreign to me. I'd rather push people away then let them in.

Some of the things that I do that I want to change:

- I never say hi to others first. Sometimes I will avoid the person so that I won't have to speak to them. I just don't know what to say to them.
- When someone does something nice for me, I have a hard time looking grateful. If I were to be perfectly honest, I would feel better if people weren't being nice to me. I would rather they completely ignore me. Is that strange?
- People have noted that I have strange mannerisms. I come off as timid while also somehow being hostile.
- I will accidentally be too honest. I have too many examples of things that I have said which have hurt people. Once after a friend asked me how I liked the expensive present he gave me, I asked him where he got it because it didn't work as well as I thought it would. Another time while at the end of a volunteer position, someone asked me in front of my manager if I would do it again, and I said that I would not. I felt very guilty for both of these instances.
- I question my sincerity all the time. I could use the excuse of anxiety and being oblivious. Acting this way makes me feel like I'm actually a terrible person underneath it all and that I don't have that much empathy.
- My personality changes depending on who I am with. I have low self esteem which comes out sometimes with my shyness. Other times I will seem overly conceited or self confident. I just don't seem very sincere at all and I'm not really sure who I am.
- Often I will spend hours replaying events in my head over and over again. Then I will beat myself up for being so oblivious and inconsiderate. I feel way too self absorbed and self involved even thinking about this.

Honestly, I don't really blame people for disliking me because if someone treated me this way to me I'd dislike them too.
posted by sheepishchiffon to Human Relations (32 answers total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
 
Well I hope this grabs the 'ask' attention, you're far from the only one that's working on this. One somewhat mechanical effort I'm finding helps is when puttering along the bike path I try to greet with a goodmorning to everyone I pass. It's "safe" as there's little chance of uncomfortable "what to say next" moments as it's on a moving bike. Funny, "good morning" works much better than afternoon or gets more responses, well or people with headphones.

Do stop doing the "replay's". Just stop. Start counting. 1,2,3,4,5 sammyo sez stop, 6,7,8,9

(dunno if that'll help, it grabs hold of the mind and can be crazyfying(is that a word?) and perhaps there are better techniques than sammy sez but who knows it might help someone, I'll try it myself)
posted by sammyo at 2:43 PM on April 14


This sounds a lot like people I've known on the autism spectrum. I don't really know how they address these issues but it seems like it's worth talking to a specialist.
posted by AFABulous at 2:48 PM on April 14 [15 favorites]


Oh god welcome to my world (I think the MBTI is balls but the INTJ description resonates with me and I'm socially anxious). Since I do have people who seem to like me, here's what I've found helpful, but you may want to get more in-depth advice from someone who is socially more astute.

I'd rather push people away then let them in.

First question: Do you want friends? When you push people away, their first reaction will be 'This person doesn't like me, I'm not going to bother.'

I never say hi to others first. Sometimes I will avoid the person so that I won't have to speak to them. I just don't know what to say to them.

Sometimes that's all you need. I say 'hi' first and nothing else a good chunk of the time because I'm busy. Saying more to them takes small talk skills, but a shared endeavor (for example, I and my social circle are all graduate students, so we ask each other how classes and research are going) is good.

When someone does something nice for me, I have a hard time looking grateful. If I were to be perfectly honest, I would feel better if people weren't being nice to me. I would rather they completely ignore me. Is that strange?

I have a hard time sounding grateful, myself. I'm not naturally effusive. But I'm sure you would probably want someone to thank you if you did something nice for them and you probably like it when someone does nice things for you. An adequate response here is a (sincere!) smile and a 'Thank you.'

I will accidentally be too honest. I have too many examples of things that I have said which have hurt people. Once after a friend asked me how I liked the expensive present he gave me, I asked him where he got it because it didn't work as well as I thought it would. Another time while at the end of a volunteer position, someone asked me in front of my manager if I would do it again, and I said that I would not. I felt very guilty for both of these instances.

What might help you in the first instance is learning the fine art of sugarcoating. Bitter medicine goes down better with it, both literally and figuratively. I might have said 'I appreciate that you got me this, it was definitely what I needed! I tried to use it the other day to fiddle this thingamabob and unfortunately it looks like it didn't have the right torque/fit/blahdeblah though, so I think I'll get another one of the same brand that's more appropriate.'

In the second instance, you should probably couch that in 'I enjoyed working with you very much, and feel that the experience will help me in my future endeavors.'

I question my sincerity all the time. I could use the excuse of anxiety and being oblivious. Acting this way makes me feel like I'm actually a terrible person underneath it all and that I don't have that much empathy.
- My personality changes depending on who I am with. I have low self esteem which comes out sometimes with my shyness. Other times I will seem overly conceited or self confident. I just don't seem very sincere at all and I'm not really sure who I am.
- Often I will spend hours replaying events in my head over and over again. Then I will beat myself up for being so oblivious and inconsiderate. I feel way too self absorbed and self involved even thinking about this.


I think this is the crux of your problem: you have low self-esteem and social anxiety and a poor grasp of who you are. You probably do have plenty of empathy, otherwise you wouldn't be so upset about this.
posted by actionpotential at 2:49 PM on April 14 [3 favorites]


Do you have any opportunities to practice customer service, either in a paid or a volunteer environment? Consider looking into it - this will give you repeated opportunities to practice greeting people in a structured and semi-predictable environment. Which in turn makes it easier to do those practice elsewhere.

Some people love that trait of too-honest. It takes the guesswork out of figuring out what you're thinking.
posted by aniola at 2:57 PM on April 14 [2 favorites]


There's a very realy possibility that you're somewhere on the autism spectrum. If this is something that's bothering you and you want to change it, I would see a psychologist for an evaluation.

Here's what I'm picking up on:

I miss a lot of social cues. Very common with autism.
[I] shut down completely on meeting new people. "Shutdown" is a way many autistic people describe their responses to new people and new situations.
often people tell me that I look grumpy or that I don't want to be there. It's hard for me to emote clearly This is very common in autism. Facial expressions and other emotional cues don't come naturally and they are often accused of being grumpy.
I never say hi to others first. Sometimes I will avoid the person so that I won't have to speak to them. I just don't know what to say to them. While this could be social anxiety, it sounds very much like the autistic experience of not understanding how social interaction should go. It seems like you're anxious not because you're afraid they'll think badly of you, but because you just don't know what to do. This is a very autistic experience; in response to this, many autistic people find they need to develop "scripts" for how interactions are supposed to go. You might want to search "autistic scripting" to learn more.
When someone does something nice for me, I have a hard time looking grateful. Again with the difficulty with facial expressions.
People have noted that I have strange mannerisms. Very common in autism.
I will accidentally be too honest. Again, very common--to the point that there's the (untrue) stereotype that autistic people don't know how to lie.
My personality changes depending on who I am with. Can also happen a lot with autism.

I agree with actionpotential that it sounds like you also struggle with low self-esteem and social anxiety. These are often comorbid experiences with autism. I don't want to push this condition on you or insist that you must be this, but if you have never thought about it before, I would look into it. It's important to figure out what is the core issue; if it's social anxiety, you'll need to work on your fear of how other people see you; if it's self esteem, you'll need to work on accepting yourself for who you are; if it's autism, you'll need to work on your understanding and managing of emotions and social situations. This is something you could probably figure out yourself with a lot of introspection and research, but if you have the resources to go to a specialist, that would probably be quicker and less stressful to do that. It doesn't sound like it's serious enough that I would insist you see a psychologist, but if it's bothering you, that means it's a big enough issue that you would be justified in doing so.
posted by brook horse at 2:59 PM on April 14 [6 favorites]


For those of you saying that I have autism, I scored a 20 on psychcentral's autism/aspergers screening. A score of 20 indicates no autism.

https://psychcentral.com/quizzes/autism.htm
posted by sheepishchiffon at 3:04 PM on April 14


I'm autistic in a way that I learned to camouflage growing up, and yes, I agree with AFABulous's assessment that you should look at whether you're on the autistic spectrum. I don't know how would be best for you to do this where you are, but I'm guessing from your use of the tag bitchy that you're a woman, so maybe look at a few things in this post, and read around. Here's one good blog to start with and see whether you identify.

In terms of advice, I'd say that you need to
  1. Look at all the social maintenance things like looking grateful when someone's kind to you and stopping yourself saying what the first thing that comes into your mind as things you do to make other people happy.
  2. Evaluate the cost/benefit ratios of this kind of social maintenance. Work out how to do the friendliness as effortlessly as possible and how to let being friendly to people feel kind and generous and good for your self esteem.
  3. And then work out your escape scenarios for when people actually say hello and then want to socialise when you're not ready for it.
  4. The replay stuff is fine and normal and healthy for autistic people (and probably plenty of others). Don't suppress it, engage with it and work out how you could have done it better, then work out how you'll spot it coming next time and how you'll apply your learning. Then you'll lose the urge to replay.
That's what springs to mind to start with. I'd not seek diagnosis until you've got a better idea of how to deal with your own introspection and how to describe it, because you'll be too good at blending in to make the job easy for the psychologist.

I'd go so far to say as I'm pleased with my diagnosis, and proud of my autistic characteristics. They make me more empathic, generous and kind, not less. And yes, I can be a bit confusing in what bothers me sometimes, but no one needs to make any more allowances for me than they do for anyone else. And if I'm relaxed enough, I normally remember how to smile and make good eye contact. And if I'm not, then, well, everyone has bad days.

So don't be afraid of looking seriously into it, whether you decide the syndrome fits you or not in the end.
posted by ambrosen at 3:12 PM on April 14 [5 favorites]


From your question about being treated differently from men, I assume you are either a woman or at least female-presenting. Autism presents very differently in women than it does in men and most autism tests are based on studies done on autistic boys. Autistic women are often underdiagnosed and require someone who specializes not just in autism, but in diagnosing autistic women. Autistic women are also often misdiagnosed with ADHD (and previous questions indicate you have been diagnosed with ADD). Here's a pretty in depth article on the subject.

ambrosen's resources are really good too. Again, not trying to push this label on you, but I would suggest doing further research before dismissing the possibility out of hand.
posted by brook horse at 3:13 PM on April 14 [7 favorites]


I also find this very reminiscent of many of my autistic friends' concerns. I count myself as an autistic "cousin", having some similar challenges and related brain stuff, and it's tremendously interesting to talk about the differences between us all.

One thing that happens a lot is autistic people will experience tons of social anxiety, not because they are unfriendly or closed off but because social interaction is so dependent on people having similar experiences of the world and often autistic people don't have those similar experiences. There are a lot of different techniques and suggestions targeted towards autistic people who have social anxiety that can also be very helpful to other people experiencing similar areas of social friction. You might also try purposefully befriending some folks on the spectrum and see if maybe you jive together, because we tend to be accommodating of many of the things you say you stress about like facial expressions and being "too" honest and not being sure of others' motivations.

I'm not saying that you're autistic and boom there you have it problems solved! I'm saying that your problems are common among a subset of people and the techniques used to help that subset might be very helpful to you regardless of how you identify neurologically. It certainly sounds like this is affecting your life enough to motivate you to see a therapist or counselor of some sort, and from there you can seek diagnosis with a psychiatrist, or however your mental health care is structured. Look into occupational therapists to help you with things like gaining confidence in greeting and smalltalk and seeming friendlier/tweaking your mannerisms to make others comfortable. You might get a lot out of CBT techniques for helping your cyclical thoughts and feelings of guilt, or you might find that focusing in on a diagnosis will help your confidence overall. There are people whose job it is to help you overcome the challenges you're having.

Ah, so, on preview I see that you are saying you are definitely not autistic. Neither am I! But I do have a sensory processing disorder, which shows up often with autistic people but also in people like me who are not. I still find lots of things intended for autistic people to be extremely helpful to me, and autistic people in general to be really easy to befriend and relate to. Anyway, try not to create barriers for yourself. We don't at all understand autism - it's a combination of different things... we think?? Your concerns are real and ones that many other people have, many of whom are autistic, and their experiences shouldn't be discounted because of that when they could help you, too.
posted by Mizu at 3:14 PM on April 14 [9 favorites]


Do you have any opportunities to practice customer service, either in a paid or a volunteer environment?
I could have written this ask and people are different and all, but I worked in a store for years that didn't help me much because the moment I went through the door, I was like an actor playing a role, even if effortlessly. When I tried to play that role outside that environment I ended up feeling more an asshole than usual, so...
posted by lmfsilva at 3:19 PM on April 14 [2 favorites]


I don't think you have autism or sound autistic at all. This reminds me of me when I had severe social anxiety. Do you feel anxious or a sense of dread about having to socialize with people? Do you feel actual nerves about it? It might just be more than your personality at play here.

For me, my social anxiety was coupled with depression. I was in therapy for a while, eventually started anti-depressants and then when the social anxiety was still holding me back, I took medication specifically for the social anxiety. That combination worked to pull me out of my funk and socializing got a lot easier.

I'm still not a social butterfly. In my building's elevator, for instance, I don't say hello to people who step on and I don't feel the need to say "have a good day" when I step off. I avoid acquaintances I don't feel like making small talk with. I'm not super emotive. Sometimes I'm too honest and say something I regret. However, I don't feel a sense of dread about talking to people. I don't play awkward moments in my mind over and over the way I used to. Stuff like that can definitely still pop up again, but when I was dealing with social anxiety and depression, it overtook my life.

Practice does make perfect. The more you can interact with people, the easier it gets. One of the hardest things for me, especially when I was depressed, used to be people asking how I am. I never knew how I was supposed to answer -- honestly, or lie? How much detail? -- and I always wasn't sure if I was supposed to ask them back. I don't care how the person serving me coffee is, to be honest, but then I felt rude when I didn't ask. But I learned that if I just say, "Good, how are you?" every single time, it tends to cut out small talk and I don't feel like a dick for not returning the question. They usually just reply, "good." I also had a hard time with insincerity -- someone would ask me how I liked something and I thought it was ugly, and I had a hard time pretending I love it. I learned to just say "nice" and return a question. "Nice, are you thinking of buying it?" "Nice, where did you get it?" And so on.

Not everything works the same for everyone, but my antidepressant was Celexa and the thing I took for anxiety was Neurontin, which is apparently for epilepsy -- I don't know how my doctor chose that. I also was determined to not be depressed, and as I felt better and was able to get out of the house more, I made sure I did it in situations where I was comfortable. It was the only way to feel like I was getting out of my funk. It's been at least a decade or so since I was crippled by these problems. Like I said, I'm not a different person now or anything, but everything is much easier than it was at my worst since I got my severe social anxiety taken care of.
posted by AppleTurnover at 3:41 PM on April 14 [6 favorites]


I think it's worth it to explore therapy to work on some of these things, and possibly medication.

Also - I haven't realized this until recently, but social etiquette is intended to ease some of these things. It took me a long time to realize that it's okay to just follow the script in certain situations - "Hi, Bob!" is a lot easier than trying to come up with a completely original and authentic way to interact with Bob every time I see him in the copy room at work. I've found it helpful to read etiquette books just so I have some kind of idea of how to handle certain situations when they come up, and don't get stuck in my head thinking "oh my god what do I say to x person in this situation??"

As I work on this stuff I've slowly realized that I was imagining to be true something that is not true - which was that I was surrounded by social geniuses who were all a million times more advanced than I am. Actually, a lot of people struggle with shyness, social anxiety and other issues.

If you can cross over the threshold of being curious about/ interested in other people instead of worried about yourself, you can start to have a lot more fun. I find that challenging myself, but now and then it clicks, and it's pretty great.
posted by bunderful at 4:48 PM on April 14 [4 favorites]


Tbh I had this problem and it got way better when I started Zoloft. I somehow felt that my entire brain had quieted down, so that I could "hear" social cues better, and also somehow that time was longer in my head, so I could hear a greeting, process it, think of the appropriate response, and then say it, and yet, no time had passed outside of my brain.

I don't know if you are on medication or even considering it, but it made so many of these problems just disappear for me.
posted by chainsofreedom at 5:16 PM on April 14 [1 favorite]


Re: the overly-honest thing, do the words just tumble out of your mouth, or do you think it then say it? It your style is more towards the latter, then it might help to check what you plan to say against the questions:
- Is it true? (there's a spectrum from the socially lubricating fib, which is pretty OK, and lying, Not)
- Is it necessary? (in one sense, you can think of this as "is my input something that helps the other person reach their goal/understand the situation better". Another way to think of it is "will $statement help keep the conversation going")
- Is it kind? (this is the part that stops you before complaining about a less than ideal gift).

If your statement doesn't meet all three with Yes, is there something else you could say that would? Go with that one. You don't need to optimize it to be the *best* solution to the three questions, just to get any solution that ticks the boxes.
posted by janell at 6:19 PM on April 14 [2 favorites]


Have you seen Brene Browns TED talk about vulnerability?
posted by SyraCarol at 6:28 PM on April 14


A test of this might be if you're more socially savvy when you've had alcohol. If you do better socially when a bit tipsy, you probably don't have autism.
posted by actionpotential at 7:10 PM on April 14


Can you have autism if you don't really have any obsessive interests?
posted by sheepishchiffon at 7:43 PM on April 14


I miss a lot of social cues. Very common with autism.

Also can happen with ADD. I missed a lot of social cues because I couldn't pay attention to them.

[I] shut down completely on meeting new people. "Shutdown" is a way many autistic people describe their responses to new people and new situations.

Or she could be overloaded. Again, it's hard to tell.

often people tell me that I look grumpy or that I don't want to be there. It's hard for me to emote clearly This is very common in autism. Facial expressions and other emotional cues don't come naturally and they are often accused of being grumpy.

Again, not necessarily. I have the worst case of resting bitch face ever and I don't have autism. People tell me I look aloof, mad, or depressed when I'm not.

I never say hi to others first. Sometimes I will avoid the person so that I won't have to speak to them. I just don't know what to say to them. While this could be social anxiety, it sounds very much like the autistic experience of not understanding how social interaction should go. It seems like you're anxious not because you're afraid they'll think badly of you, but because you just don't know what to do. This is a very autistic experience; in response to this, many autistic people find they need to develop "scripts" for how interactions are supposed to go. You might want to search "autistic scripting" to learn more.

This honestly does sound as much as like social anxiety if not more like it than autism to me.

When someone does something nice for me, I have a hard time looking grateful. Again with the difficulty with facial expressions.

Sometimes people just aren't aware of what their face is doing, really.

People have noted that I have strange mannerisms. Very common in autism.

This is possible. However, autism spectrum conditions have very specific kinds of strange mannerisms.

I will accidentally be too honest. Again, very common--to the point that there's the (untrue) stereotype that autistic people don't know how to lie.

Or they just never developed the skill. I'm a terrible liar myself and really don't like it.

My personality changes depending on who I am with. Can also happen a lot with autism.

Never heard of this happening with autism.

I am getting a very 'have a hammer so this problem looks like a nail' vibe here from the people saying it's autism. It could be an autism spectrum thing, in which case OP should look at the *specific diagnostic criteria*, in addition to the social aspects of it, and see if it fits. It could be ADD, in which case OP should review her life and see if she was kind of a hyperactive or absentminded or disorganized kid or can't concentrate. It could be just social anxiety. It could be a sensory processing disorder, in which case OP should think about what sort of sensory processing problem it is. This needs to be dealt with by a professional.
posted by actionpotential at 7:50 PM on April 14 [4 favorites]


Can you have autism if you don't really have any obsessive interests?

Very likely no.
posted by actionpotential at 7:53 PM on April 14


I am a woman with Asperger syndrome. I was diagnosed as hyperactive as a child. I have a couple odd or quirky interests but am not obsessed by them.

Here is information on the criteria for autism and for social communication disorder:
https://www.autismspeaks.org/what-autism/diagnosis/dsm-5-diagnostic-criteria

A couple options you might consider:
* Groups for adults with autism or Asperger syndrome. You might find these through meetup.com or autism organizations in your area (NOT Autism Speaks).
* Group therapy. These vary a lot but sometime focus on improving social skills.
posted by maurreen at 8:08 PM on April 14 [2 favorites]


Looking at your question again, the headline struck me.

There are a lot of ideas in this thread for you to explore, and you definitely should.

But just know that you are acceptable and lovable as you are. While there are almost certainly solutions that will greatly ease your path, you do not have to become completely non-awkward/face-always-showing-the-right-emotion/always-saying-the-right-thing to be a nice person, and for other people to recognize that. When the right people see that you care about them, they'll focus on that and the other stuff will go into the background.

There is no one on earth who deserves peace of mind and happiness more than you do.
posted by bunderful at 8:20 PM on April 14 [10 favorites]


Given this and all your past questions, I really think you need to be working with a mental-health professional. Not because you're "crazy," but because you have a lot going on and you deserve to have professional guidance about the best treatment plan for you. People on the internet can't really help you or diagnose you based on a few paragraphs of text. Do you have access to a therapist or psychiatrist? If it were me, I would start with a therapist.
posted by lazuli at 10:25 PM on April 14 [4 favorites]


Hi sheepishchiffon, this sounds so hard to deal with. I had a look at your previous questions, do you still feel you might be depressed? Did you see a therapist or talk to your doctor about medication? I genuinely think both options would make a huge difference, as clearly you're a nice person or you wouldn't care about your interactions with other people. Take care.
posted by ellieBOA at 10:34 PM on April 14 [2 favorites]


I feel that it bears mentioning that social skills are skills, which are subtle and nuanced and which used to be formally taught. You may suck at these things because you just never had, or took, the opportunity to develop those skills.

If you're not autistic, if you are socially anxious, and if the areas of focus in which you want to improve fall mainly in the realm of "act appropriately in social occasions", then I think I would work on role-playing. Like, literally practice in the mirror, or watch a TV show and pretend to react to the characters. You can change your resting facial expression, you can practice your responses. People do this all the time in tons of situations (for example, rehearsing for job interviews, or giving opening remarks in a presentation, meeting a VIP during a business lunch, etc.) and there's no reason you can't do the same for regular interpersonal interaction. The purpose is to make the desired response come forth more naturally.

If you want to acknowledge people without necessarily saying hello, you can always do the "up-nod" or give a small wave or say "Hey there". Everyone has a "howyoudoin" kind of reaction and, if you observe, I think you'll find that a lot of people don't always say hi either.

If you have issues with emoting during an appropriate response (like, someone tells you that they had a fender bender), then just use words. You don't have to convince people that you're sorry enough, just tell them, "Wow, that sucks. I'm glad you weren't hurt!" Don't worry about whether you *feel* an emotional up-swelling of sorry-ness at the moment you tell somebody you're sorry. That's not an indication of how capable you are of empathy anyway (even people who are directly affected by an event have all sorts of reactions). It doesn't mean you're not sincere.

But even if it did...a repertoire of canned responses are perfectly acceptable in many instances. Someone asks how you're doing, you say "I'm good, how are you?" Someone announces that they're experiencing Good Thing, "Hey, that's great! Congratulations." Someone announces that they're experiencing Bad Thing, "Wow, I'm sorry you're dealing with that! That's rough." You know? And honestly, when you are able to respond appropriately without thinking very hard about it (which will come with practice), I think you'll find that your natural emotion will also come through, because you won't be trying to make the calculation of "Okay, what's the right thing to say? Do I sound sincere enough? Did I say the wrong thing?" in the moment.

Keep in mind that a lot of these things are simply social graces. People say them to politely acknowledge others, to have a pleasantly civil exchange, and to enhance the social atmosphere. If you say, "I'm good, how are you?" you don't actually have to BE good. You don't necessarily need to genuinely CARE how the other person is. You're saying something nice, to be nice. That's the point of it, not to investigate whether someone is actually fine. It doesn't mean you're insincere, it's just part of being in close quarters with other people, so you smooth the atmosphere to make it a pleasant experience.

In regard to being inappropriately honest, taking a beat to formulate your response before you say it is also a good thing to practice.

I don't even know if this is something that would fit within your schedule, but honestly, if you want to become reasonably competent at small talk and idle social patter, I would recommend getting a part-time retail job for a few months. There really is nothing like saying, "Hi, how are you? Weather looks nice today. That'll be $14.76, would you like a bag? Thanks! Have a great day!" a gazillion times, to people of all temperaments, to make you good at that kind of casual verbal exchange. After a few months of that, even if your brain is saying, "Go away and leave me alone!", your face will say, "I'm a nice, approachable person! Ask me anything!" and your mouth will graciously and convincingly tell them to have a nice day instead of to go fuck themselves. I have many of the same difficulties that OP mentioned, but boy, I can patter with perfect strangers like I was born doing it. Ironically, it's with people I see regularly that I struggle the most, but that's where you just have to realize that everyone's human and nobody says hi or reacts the perfectly appropriate way all the time.
posted by Autumnheart at 11:29 PM on April 14 [7 favorites]


I love Autumnheart's response above me. BUT.
My gut reaction: don't try to change all your bullet points at the same time - that's too hard! Set yourself up for success by starting small.

The main thing you can do is your first bullet point, saying "hi" first.
I'm not sure what your block is here exactly so not sure how to help. But it's a good thing to practice when you walk into any shop or when you see an acquaintance that hasn't noticed you yet. Walk up, say "hi" loudly and assertively and - this is key - don't care if they say "hi" back. You're not greeting to get a response, you're greeting because it's the socially correct, polite thing to do! That means that if you managed to say "hi" audibly, you've already won! Regardless of if the other person replies politely or remains impolitely silent (in which case you still won and they lost - ha).
Next step, smile. You'll have way better response if you add a smile to your "hi", even if it feels ridiculously fake to you. Practice a smile infront of the mirror.
Next step: say " hi how do you do".
("Fine, thanks, how are you?" - "fine". End of conversation.)
posted by Omnomnom at 11:45 PM on April 14


One thing I wanted to add is that I have a hard time following or reacting to social cues at the moment but I can remember a facial expression or something that was said hours later. By that time it's to late for me to realize that I said or did something offensive.
posted by sheepishchiffon at 4:51 AM on April 15 [1 favorite]


When I think I've said something offensive, apologizing usually gives me peace of mind and smoothes over the incident with the other person.

Formula: Acknowledgement of incident + clarification of your appreciation/care for the other party + optional conciliatory gesture if it's feasible for you and appropriate for your relationship.

"Hey Syd, I'm sorry I said what I did when you mentioned your operation - I realize now that may have come across as uncaring. I hope you feel better soon. I'd be happy to help walk your dogs while you're recovering, just let me know."

An apology shouldn't place a burden on the other person - listening to someone beat up on themselves is really painful. It should briefly reassure the friend that you realize you made a mistake and you care about them.

The right therapist could really help.
posted by bunderful at 8:20 AM on April 15


Yeah, my overall gist wasn't to change a bunch of things at once, but to recognize that practicing these things will go a long way, and maybe achieve the desired results. And to not feel like these skills are innate, because they're totally not.
posted by Autumnheart at 8:24 AM on April 15 [2 favorites]


Can you have autism if you don't really have any obsessive interests?

Yup. It's not a required criteria of autism, and I know quite a few autistic people who don't have them. Also, people often don't view their own interests as obsessive. I used to think I didn't have a special interest until I realized that I've been working on the same creative writing world/characters for a decade, and think and talk about them multiple times daily. Normal writer behavior? Sure, it could be. It could also be I happened to find an "acceptable" special interest.

I don't think anyone is saying it has to be autism, just that it's a possibility to be looked into. Sure, all of the symptoms can be explained by other things. They can also be explained by autism. But they could also be explained by ADD, or social anxiety, or low self-esteem. Thus, the suggestion is you look into all of these things carefully and not dismiss them based on preconceived notions of what it means to have that condition. Which is probably best handled by a professional. This isn't because you're crazy, or broken, or there's something wrong with you. This is because you sound like you better want to understand yourself, and a psychologist may be able to help you with that.

One further thing I'd like to note is even if you don't have autism, the autistic community and autism resources may be very useful to you. The "canned response" people have talked about sounds like what autistic people refer to as "scripting." This blog may be useful to you. Real Social Skills may be as well. They're designed by and for autistic people, but many other people have found them useful.

That said--I agree with bunderful completely. You are under no obligation to change. It doesn't sound like this is significantly impacting your life, and you aren't hurting anyone else (occasional bluntness is a fact of life, and not necessarily a serious character flaw). You seem to be fairly distressed by the way you are, so these are suggestions for if you want to change that aspect of yourself. But don't believe you have to. You deserve happiness and friendship and acceptance as you are.
posted by brook horse at 9:30 AM on April 15 [5 favorites]


- My personality changes depending on who I am with.

I am not autistic at all and I am like this. It has nothing at all to do with being insincere, unauthentic, etc.

I also can be excessively honest. Some people hate my guts and think I am the rudest person ever. Others find me refreshing. This seems in part to be an Ask vs. Guess culture thing. Bluntness is perfectly acceptable in many Ask cultures. It is horrifying in Guess cultures, and how dare you! Then they "nicely" accuse me of being autistic as their idea of excusing it based on assumed impairment on my part because they are assholes. Among other things, I have been around the military my whole life. It is very Ask culture.

Also, when I was in San Diego County, saying "hi" to random strangers was not a thing because, oh, god, San Diego has issues. I moved. People here are much friendlier and people say "hi" or similar here because it is a different culture.

This may not be all you.

Some best practices:

1. Get enough sleep. It is much easier to effectively socialize when you are well rested.
2. Look into upping your nutritional status. Mild nutrient deficiencies can impair your functioning in some of the ways you describe.
3. Figure out what you want out of social contact. It is much easier to be "nice" when it is a mutually beneficial arrangement and you aren't feeling crapped on.
4. Try to find one to three people you get along with well and really like and work it out via those relationships. Lots of people are straight up assholes, there is no right answer with them and they don't really deserve your best.
posted by Michele in California at 12:39 PM on April 15


I am a long term sufferer of social anxiety.

Sometimes I am like you, and will take occasionally ridiculous care to avoid interacting with people--things like leaving a store without getting what I came for because I saw someone I know in the produce section and I would rather escape than say hello, etc.

Other times small-talking with a stranger for 30 minutes feels natural and enjoyable.

What makes the difference? How good I am feeling physically. When I am anxious I have a constant unpleasant physical sensation on my gut--angry butterflies, basically. In those times I act about as friendly as I would act if I were waiting for a judge to sentence me for crimes against humanity because that's exactly how my body feels. Like the other shoe is about to drop, on my head, and it's a shoe made of granite with spikes all over it. That's anxiety.

When I am not anxious, by virtue of medication or lucky happenstance, these interactions are a cinch.

So, two things:
1: if you can find some way to treat the anxiety, either though medication or therapy, you might find the barriers to human interaction lower or disappear (some of the time, anyway.)

2. You are not likely to find medication or therapy to completely eradicate symptoms, which means sometimes you may have to act as if you feel okay when you don't. I suck at this, from lack of practice and also because I'm pretty sure the feelings of discomfort are somewhat stronger for me than for others, but I ahave come to understand that it's true.

You're not a monster, your body just literally goes into a flight response when confronted with social situations. If you're like me, you're not ungrateful when people help you and it's not true that you just don't want friends. What's true for me is that when I consider whether or not to open up with someone my anxious mind is frantically computing whether I'll then be obliged to be friendly in the future and what will happen if I'm not feeling well when that time comes? In order to avoid the awkwardness of a future interaction while I'm feeling shitty my anxious solution is to not set up expectations that I will be open with someone in the first place.

This is all really difficult, but as a first step try treating your anxiety and it may help loosen the screws. The ultimate solution, as others have said, is practice. Which totally sucks but probably sucks less than constantly feeling the way you seem to be feeling now--lonely, self-loathing and alienated.
posted by TheRedArmy at 1:02 PM on April 15 [2 favorites]


I highly recommend you check out James Clear's articles (JamesClear.com - Self Improvement Articles)

I specifically put in the link to his "self improvement" posts, but look around all of them. They range from mindfulness practice to creating better habits to becoming more self aware.

I hope this helps!
posted by kidushka at 12:07 PM on April 16 [1 favorite]


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