I hate talking to people.
March 10, 2012 1:26 PM   Subscribe

How do I become less of an extreme introvert/misanthrope? I've barely had any social contact in the past three years, but this is not how I want to live my life.

After college I fell completely out of touch with my group of close friends because I moved far away and our differences became more apparent. Since then I have not made a single new friend, and I've come to relish my solitude. Conversations bore me immensely, and I'm very awkward and socially unaware to boot. I actively resent being around other people. I've recently moved in with my parents and am living on my substantial savings while I half-heartedly search for a job. My only routine is going to the gym every day. What are some baby steps to make me less of a misanthrope and introvert?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (25 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
This may sound a silly question, but why do you want to change? It sounds like you don't like other people, so what do you want to get out of being more sociable? Is it just because you think you should? It might be worth stating what you feel you are missing, as that might help people give more useful answers.
posted by KateViolet at 1:28 PM on March 10, 2012 [4 favorites]

What is it that you want to do with other people? Ponder this.
posted by oceanjesse at 1:31 PM on March 10, 2012

Anecdata: I became less of an introvert when I took a job where I had to interact with a lot of coworkers, and the general public. I'm a misanthrope, and the contact with the general public only reinforced that, but I did learn the art of small talk while conducting business. I came to appreciate my coworkers because they had to deal with much of the same nonsense I did, and made some lasting friends.
posted by ThisKindNepenthe at 1:33 PM on March 10, 2012 [6 favorites]

Join some kind of club or group that meets regularly.

Also, therapy. (I'm guessing that some sort of depression or anxiety is going on here.)
posted by callmejay at 1:34 PM on March 10, 2012

You go to the gym every day, you say. You could join a spin class or similar. You may not make any great friends that way, but you will likely see the same people in each class, so you will become familiar with them at very least and maybe have a few incidental conversations here and there.
posted by chiefthe at 1:36 PM on March 10, 2012

Ponder whether you actually want to or not - it's unclear from your question. Some of us need different things at different times in our lives and we don't all fit into the same mould.

If you do want things to change you have to find your people - through classes, groups, hobbies, etc.
posted by mleigh at 1:39 PM on March 10, 2012

In my case, volunteering helped - seeing how abjectly difficult some other peoples' lives are (esp. in comparison to mine), through no fault of their own, started me down the road to being less reflexively judgmental. The old adage that "you never know what other people are dealing with" is true.

The kindness of some of my fellow volunteers also chiseled away at my misanthropy.

This is an ongoing process - I'm 39 now, and mistakes, bad luck, and being bailed out a few times have also helped to make me a much humbler, more social person that I was in my 20s. I'm more aware of the necessity of having meaningful connections to other people. So, aging and life experience may help, too.

In the end, there are plenty of good reasons to be a misanthrope, but there are also many exceptional people out there - the goal, I think, it to be smart enough not to let broad generalizations cut you off from the people that will make your life more full and interesting.
posted by ryanshepard at 1:40 PM on March 10, 2012 [5 favorites]

Being an introvert is one thing. Being a misanthrope is another.

My guess would be one of two things is happening to make you believe you're a misanthrope. Either you're not talking to people who are passionate about what you are passionate about, or you're very insecure and uncomfortable around most people, and are choosing to take refuge in superiority by being resentful and bored. Or maybe a bit of both.

Everyone Most people need common ground to really become interested in another person. I believe introverts even more so. It's hard to be bored in a conversation when you're talking about something you love or enjoy doing. This gives you an automatic reason to respect the other person--of course they have good taste--they love the same books or art. Of course they deserve respect, they are one of the top para-gliders in the region, as you aspire to be.

Get out and do something that interests you, and meet the people who have the same interests.

You say you're insecure and uncomfortable--there's your instant conversation starter, and they will then love you for being a good listener.
posted by BlueHorse at 1:51 PM on March 10, 2012 [8 favorites]

Take up gardening in a public garden. Apply for work at an NGO that does something you think matters. Learn to play the type of music you like, and join a small group.
posted by ead at 3:34 PM on March 10, 2012

What was it that attracted you to your old group of friends? What did you all have in common? Perhaps once you answer these questions, you can better position yourself to meet similar people. One of my best experiences was working as a part-time bank teller. I had a chance to meet people from my community in a superficial, yet friendly way and have a form of interaction without making friends. Going to a metafilter meetup might produce a similar effect.

Also, now that you live with your parents, do you feel obligated (at all) to just hang out with them?
posted by nikayla_luv at 4:08 PM on March 10, 2012

You asked for "baby steps", so I've tried to think of ways to change variable at a time -- being with people but not talking, or talking very briefly, or chatting online, from the comfort of your room.

-find a Zen meditation group to practice sitting (or walking or doing manual labor) in silence with strangers. Your non-chattiness will be admirable.

-Experiment with affectionate interaction and chat with non-human animals. No-kill animal shelters can often use volunteers to play with, groom, and exercise the animals. If that's too complicated, throw peanuts at squirrels.

-Look up people on Facebook: your former friends, or your relatives, or classmates. If any of them are on line at the same time as you, try live chatting with them. Maybe set a timer for five minutes, and when it rings, tell them you have to go. If chatting in writing becomes routinely comfortable, consider experimenting with voice or video chat.

-On your way to and from the gym, or while in the gym itself, make a game out of finding things to admire or enjoy about the people around you. Count the number of positive judgments you make. Try to improve your score. After a week or two, start counting the number of brief interactions you have with people (e.g. compliments on gear, or asking for directions) and try to increase that score. Reward yourself with a post-gym smoothie.
posted by feral_goldfish at 5:16 PM on March 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

A book you might find useful is The Art of Civilized Conversation by Margaret Shepherd. It has solid, friendly advice.

Classes are great, especially sports or activity classes, and many people sign up for these not knowing anyone. Also, I'm atheist, but joining a church would give you a sense of community (if you can restrict yourself to only saying nice things).

What do you do all day? What did you major in? What do you want?

When I can, I try to honestly share my goals and inner thoughts with people. This way, I find people who can inspire me and help me.

If you pass your time playing RPG's online, and want a heroic mission, consider this: the world is in danger. As technology improves, innumerable crises caused by human dominance of the environment continue to multiply, at the same time as the potential to solve all remaining human ailments is being unlocked. We need good people who understand the newest and most powerful technologies to conquer the unknown. Your task is this-- Pick a field: computer science, chemical engineering, or neuroscience. Pick a challenge: automating all work, stopping death, or understanding consciousness. The path is so hard that few take it-- a decade of difficult, brain-stretching study during which you earn A's but constantly feel stupid and weird, then a decade of work during which you do original research but constantly feel hopeless. At the end, you will have changed what it means to be human, and saved us all from a great evil that is ending lives at this moment as we sit at our computers. I believe you have this potential to do good. Will you answer the call?
posted by sninctown at 5:38 PM on March 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Sometimes, all you have to say is "Hi, how are you?" I usually don't want to make small talk in the elevator of my building, but I am trying to break out of that rut by saying just that. Then I can vanish into my apartment and be cocooned away from the world (except for this Metafilter thing).
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 5:53 PM on March 10, 2012

I'm not saying this as one who has succeeded at it, but I know that you must apply yourself and withstand discomfort to improve your social life in just the same way that you apply yourself and withstand discomfort when you exercise at the gym. Assuming you exercise pretty hard, which, if you don't, you should consider starting to do because that is an extremely powerful weapon against depression and anxiety, which you may or may not have had experience with.

You can use the power of thought to develop a plan for the improvement of your social life, but you can not use the power of thought to improve it. You must DO, and ignore your thoughts. Then, when it's over, doing won't seem so hard. Or so I conjecture.

Read a book about social anxiety, see if it rings any bells. Go to therapy and be absolutely honest (because otherwise you are wasting your money), and develop a plan to get yourself out of this situation you hate.
posted by TheRedArmy at 6:26 PM on March 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

David Burn's book Intimate Connections is a good read. One of the simple things he suggests is smiling and saying hello at strangers, which is actually pretty hard for an introvert. But if you take these simple steps, you'll find that meeting people becomes easier.

I think I understand you- I am also an introvert and I value my alone time and my routines, so sometimes I don't think I need to hang out with others. However, I think that by asking this question you are recognizing your need for more social contact. As for me, one I started smiling and saying hello, I starting accepting social invitations more- a lot of introverts get left out because people think we don't want to be bothered. And sometimes we don't. But I found that arranging some social time with casual acquaintances eventually blossomed into meeting people I could really connect with. I still really value my alone time but have realized I also love participating in a few social gatherings a week (YMMV).

Everyone's social needs are different, but most people have some that need to be met. Ithink for introverts the tricky issue is that we need to be around people less, so sometimes more extroverted people think we don't want to hang out at all. Maybe you can start by inviting someone you know for coffee, to show that you are proactively looking for social opportunities.
posted by bearette at 6:42 PM on March 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

Also- if you have a very routinized life, changing that routine a little can lead to new experiences and meeting new people. You don't have to change it a lot- maybe take a new class at the gym, go to coffee at a different time you normally do, etc.

Good luck!
posted by bearette at 6:45 PM on March 10, 2012

Lots of good advice here. The medical side of things (whether you have social anxiety or depression) is certainly worth investigation with a doctor, etc.

You say "conversations bore me immensely" and "I actively resent being around other people." Yet, you open your post with "I've barely had any social contact in the last three years." So, to clarify:

1) Do you think that the fact that you haven't had a lot of social contact in awhile makes you dislike the idea of being around other people and having to chitchat?
2) Or is it repulsive to you to be around others in and of itself (I'm talking about while you are actively in conversation with people, and not just the idea of it)?

If it's really the misanthropy that's getting in your way (2), volunteering for a good cause is a great idea (it's great even if it's not!).

But if the root cause of not seeking social contact is because it's intimidating as you haven't done it in a long time (1), then perhaps making yourself do it is the key. When I was in my major anti-social funk some years ago, I realized it was the idea of talking to others that I dreaded with my entire being. So I wouldn't do it ever, and then I would dread it even more. When I actually made myself do it, it was still nerve-wracking, but not as bad as I thought it would be, and the more I did it, the less frightening it would be.

Below is what worked for me. (I don't know if you are depressed, but it sounds a lot like my own experience. I was on Celexa for a couple of years per my doctor, but I needed this other stuff too to get through it.)

1) Going to cultural/arts events in town by myself, like small concerts, lectures, or poetry readings. There was a focus point for everyone's attention most of the time, and no one thought I was weird if I never talked to anyone (hey, I'm there for the band). But there was room to smile vaguely at someone (we are all enjoying __________ together as strangers, cool!) and make a passing comment about the event itself, but no absolute pressure to talk to people if I didn't want to. I could also approach the band, the lecturer, the poet afterwards to say hi and thanks-for-doing-this, chitchat, then bail. And when I started going to enough of these, I started recognizing the same faces, and they started recognizing me, and it was easier to be casual-friendly, and go from there.

2) Being on Facebook. It can become a huge, unhelpful timesuck if you allow it, but it can also be specifically useful in slowly reconnecting with people. Commenting and liking things that people post is one step towards the idea of hanging out with them feel more natural. Again, it may center around mutual interests. I found that asking someone to hang out with me at X event or to grab a coffee or drink with me through Facebook messaging less anxiety-inducing than through text/calls/even emails.

3) Taking walks outside by myself when the sun was out. It would make me feel miles better, and make me WANT to do stuff and be interested in stuff. When I didn't do this, I would just want to sleep.

4) Jotting down things in a notebook. Rather like journalling except NOT directly about my emotions/mental state i.e. "I feel horrible, everybody sucks, I hate talking so much". It was good to get that stuff out of my system, and lord knows I had a lot of those types of entries in my actual journal, but I made an effort to focus on the external too: here is one thing interesting that I noticed today, this is what I think about a movie I saw or a book I read recently and here are a couple details why, or this is what I think/what I wonder about a news story I heard. Nothing intense, but it was practice for talking out loud to others.

IN GENERAL: Being interested in anything other than my own depression and then acting interested (in writing to myself, then in talking to other people and asking questions to get THEM to talk) helped a lot, even if sometimes I had to fake it.

I hope this helps in some way. Good luck.
posted by phonebia at 6:53 PM on March 10, 2012 [5 favorites]

Honestly, I would not jump straight to 'I need to interact with others in real life', or 'I need to be good at small talk' or 'I need to be a productive member of society'. None of that would have really helped to hear when I was in a misanthropic phase, especially if I was low-grade pissed off at everyone most of the time. If I went a soup kitchen in such a state or joined a club, people would probably actively avoid my soup and I'd spend the club time sitting in a corner, not talking and spending every moment no one talked to me telling myself, 'see! see! I shouldn't have come! see! all those people on the internet were wrong!'. I mean, people avoid you if you look like you wish they sunk through the floor (just going on personal experience here).

Anyway, so what helped me was joining online communities. For one thing, you can lurk and like, not say anything (possibly ever). For another, you get to pick and choose and only talk to people you've seen the writing of, and know to be cool/intelligent/of similar interests in conversation. Finally, you can control your interaction and frame your response to be what you want it to be, for as long as that takes you before you hit 'post'. I can't believe I'm saying this, but join WoW or something. Kill things with complete strangers, and y'know, maybe talk to them someday. Or if you're not into video-games (I'm not, actually), join a forum for whatever subject you're into. Join a forum full of other misanthropes who spend their time bashing lesser mortals and being sarcastic (why not-- it's a start). Join a forum where you only talk about the microbiology of algae. Join a forum on gun cleaning techniques. Whatever. Baby steps, you know.
posted by reenka at 7:07 PM on March 10, 2012

Conversations bore me immensely, and I'm very awkward and socially unaware to boot.

Okay, so it's often said that people who watch tons of porn, and have problems becoming excited enough during actual sex, should cut way down on the porn and jacking off to make that problem go away. If you have millions of images at your fingertips, each wilder and crazier than the next, and you can find exactly what you want to see in seconds, you're conditioning yourself to need that unnaturally high level of stimulation and variety, and exactness of matching to any whim you have.

Therefore, I think you should try going cold-turkey on all media for at least 2 weeks minimum, and see if you don't become more interested in conversations with other humans. You don't say what you do there in your solitude in your room, but I'm going to take a wild guess that it's mainly high stimulation things like internet, computer/video games, and videos and movies. Rather than lower stimulation things like knitting and gardening. I think you are conditioning your brain to need a feed of super interesting things all the time, and the freedom to jump away instantly to something else when whatever's in front of you becomes slightly less interesting. I think you can totally uncondition this. If I were you I would give up all the forms of media I listed above (internet, video games, etc.) plus TV, radio, and even books, magazines, newspapers. Do only activities that were around before the 20th century and don't do anything unnecessary that involves extended reading or artificially hearing the human voice. Hearing the human voice in person is okay. Two weeks and see how you feel then.
posted by cairdeas at 8:07 PM on March 10, 2012 [10 favorites]

This is vastly oversimplifying, but if you live in an area where you able to, go to a meetup! At the very least, it's good conversation practice and you have a whole Blue full of topics you might all find interesting.
posted by maryr at 8:20 PM on March 10, 2012

And it's also possible that since you're around so few people ever, the few people you happen to be around are just not ones that you would click with or want to be around even if you didn't feel like a misanthrope.

Several years ago when I was still a student I had a boyfriend, and I got to feeling that way around him. He would just ramble and I tried to listen. He would ramble for a while about guitars... he would ramble for a while about sports. He would inform me of all the most random facts about sports. I would feel bored, then annoyed, then I would feel like panicked like I needed him to shut up about sports now or I was going to knaw one of my limbs off in frustration. I have always been plenty social and never all that misanthropic, it was just that I didn't click with him conversationally.
posted by cairdeas at 8:25 PM on March 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Well, quick term definition for you. Introversion has nothing in common with being misanthropic so if you're both, well, they're unrelated. Introversion relates to how you process social situations and relationships; misanthropy is disliking humanity. Wanting your alone time does not mean you dislike people when you want to be alone. Similarly, you can be a misanthropic extrovert.

I've come to relish my solitude. Conversations bore me immensely, and I'm very awkward and socially unaware to boot. I actively resent being around other people.

Based on how you phrased the question, it sounds like you don't want to change but at the end you throw in seeking out baby steps. Do you instead want to make peace with feeling this way? It's cool, not everyone needs people.

Now maybe you are seriously misanthropic. Cool, whatever, not for most people, but it could work for you. Or you have issues you need serious therapy for.

Either needing to make peace with yourself or figuring out why you feel this way and working on solutions would both probably require therapy.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 12:14 AM on March 11, 2012

Do you resent being around other people because they are infringing on your personal time/space/energy, or do you resent the people themselves? Do you dislike or look down on some common trait in these people?

I think that before trying to make any steps towards being more social, it would help to make sure you have these things a bit sorted out mentally. If it's something specific to the social scenario that you dislike, it may help to brainstorm social activities/interactions that are less of a burden in whatever way most irritates you; or, conversely, find "balancing points" to even out the burden. For example, if it bothers you to respond to light-hearted chit chat when you would prefer to be thinking your own thoughts, try to make a bargain; completely set aside your personal musings/resentment/irritation for a small, set amount of time (five minutes) and focus ALL your energy on absorbing/taking in the other person, the conversation, the physical surroundings and nonverbal cues and so forth. As an introverted/analytical person it can be extremely hard to function "in the moment" socially, so doing so in small, measured bursts with the mental permission to revert to your own world afterwards can be a useful way to experiment with it. Then, do so - exit the chat/scenario politely (but initiate it yourself if you want) and go straight back into your own comfort zone. Use this as a sort of mental exercise: you're warming up your "social awareness" muscles in small doses, which you can afterwards inspect objectively for growth and improvement. Challenge yourself.

On the other hand, if there are qualities about the people themselves that you resent (and heck, it can be hard to tell the difference between what is irritating about a person themselves vs. an undesirable interaction) - think about this. Make a list of the traits that most bother you, and why; but also make a list of traits EQUALLY AS LONG of human traits you find positive, interesting, noble, respectable or whatever.

Then make another challenge to yourself to specifically seek out and search for those (positive) traits. It may not be easy. But that's why it's a challenge! For every person who gets on your nerves and prompts you to hate humanity, go through your entire mental rolodex and find someone who exemplifies a trait you admire, in however small a way. Then take a deep breath and apply Challenge #1 to Irritating Person for as long as necessary until you can move on. Take internal notes, and strategize more ways to surround yourself with people who have more positive attributes than negative.

Again, it won't come naturally at first, but consider it a personal project, an exercise in self-improvement and awareness. The key I think is to gradually (A) expand your ability to read people and function in social situations in a way that works for you, and (B) expand your view of people to encompass positive as well as negative qualities, and learn how to purposefully seek those out.

Oh yeah, and therapy would probably help too.
posted by celtalitha at 12:48 AM on March 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

watch this: http://www.ted.com/talks/susan_cain_the_power_of_introverts.html
posted by anewnormal at 2:17 PM on March 11, 2012

You mention in your posting that you fell out of touch with your college group of friends. I’m sure this must have been hard to take, unfortunately, your experience is pretty common.

I also think this indicates a good place for you to start: find a class or activity or coffee house or bar and go there on a regular basis. (I’m suggesting this because it seems to me proximity played a role in creating/maintaining your relationships with your college friends. And when you moved a part, your differences became apparent, and the glue that held you together—being in the same location—wasn’t there any more.)

The posters above gave you lots of ideas on what to do, but I wanted to add a few points once you choose your activity/coffee house/whatever.

Because you are an introvert, don’t expect to make good, lasting connections immediately. You need to give yourself time to warm up, and time for people to warm up to you. It’s going to feel awkward. Expect it. Embrace it. Eventually, those feelings will pass.

Next, as you start making connections, pick a few people out, and invite them to do one-on-one activities. I would suggest starting with short, simple activities. Try getting a cup of coffee with someone or going out to drinks. As you get to know people, invite them out to more complex, longer activities (like dinner or a hike). This will give you a chance to warm up and also to decide which of these people you want to be friends with.

I’d also like to add my voice to the chorus of suggestions for therapy. It sounds like you may have an underlying mental illness, such as anxiety or depression.

Good luck!
posted by emilynoa at 7:19 AM on March 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

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