help me get close to others
April 9, 2012 7:25 AM   Subscribe

I really shine in social situations that are light and superficial, but I feel uncomfortable with deeper connections. How can I fix this?

I really shine in social situations that are light and superficial. I like going out with groups of people and I like people in general. My phone calls always get returned and people text me/write on my Facebook wall. Old friends who haven't seen me in a long time get really excited when I walk into a room. However, I don't feel like I'm really close with anybody. I haven't had a best friend since high school/college. How can I fix this? I get nervous when I get 'close' to people. I don't feel like I am truly likable when others get to know me--I feel like my personality thrives on shallow social connections and dies with deeper ones. I can't really feel comfortable with a person unless I've known them forever and ever. I do have serious trust issues--my family was really abusive and I haven't talked to either one of my parents in years. I also moved around a lot as a child. I feel so uncomfortable with deeper connections that it's hard for me to look at people in the eyes. I often feel as though I need to hide my true self and always make others feel comfortable. How can I fix this? Is this normal? Do I need to start reaching out to others? How can I tell if my true personality is actually unlikable? I am in the early half of my 20s, so I hope that I can change. Ideally, I'd like to have deeper friendships. I want to have people that I'd include in my wedding party and vice versa (obviously not a final goal, but just an example of the deepness of it all).
posted by 200burritos to Human Relations (6 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
You're astute to have noticed this and identified it as an issue. Building the self-knowledge and -acceptance to have real intimacy is in many ways a lifelong journey.

In therapy or through some kind of compassionate self-exploration, (or hey, via follow-up comments!), one next step might be to explain what about your personality you think is unlikable. If you're like everyone else (which you are!), it is probably likable to some people and unlikable to some others, and the real question is developing the skills and courage to reveal enough of yourself that you can start figuring out who you click with more, then develop deeper relationships with them.
posted by salvia at 8:44 AM on April 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

*whom you click with
posted by salvia at 8:44 AM on April 9, 2012

You are a brave person to ask this question because admitting that we feel lonely or that we are unsatisfied with our relationships is perceived by many as embarrassing or a bad reflection on us as individuals.

I think that most of us feel lonely and alienated from time to time. We feel lost in our big and anonymous cities and the narratives that we are told (be popular! be successful! be real!) start to crack as we grow older. So we become disillusioned and find it difficult to connect with other people.

But what you are describing is beyond this, yes?

To me it sounds like insecurity and that you believe that you're not good enough as you are, that you need to please people by wearing a mask that projects an image that you think other will find more favorable over you. Obviously these things are completely and utterly false but the underlying thoughts can be so deeply ingrained in our psyche that we believe that we are dealing with permanent personality traits.

You seem to be aware of these issues and that they might be rooted in your childhood and family dynamics. But at the same time you ask if these thoughts are "normal" and frame personality in terms of likability. To me this emphasizes just how much you associate personality with being liked by other and to fit in.

If someone would say to you that likability is not a good and just measure of our worth as human beings, how does that make you feel? Does it seem obvious both rationally and emotionally? Or do you feel that the rational part of you agrees but the emotional part doesn't?

What if someone close to you claimed that in order to feel closeness to others, we need to like and feel close to ourselves? That by accepting ourselves as we are, flaws and everything, we can accept others under the same conditions and can therefore easier feel connected to them? Do you rationally and emotionally agree with these ideas or do they sound like new-age nonsense cliché or nice ideals that just don't work in the real world?

I think you know where I'm heading here. As for whether you can change the answer is: hell yes you can. You just need to work on this in a structured way, preferably guided by a professional because changing deeply ingrained behavior and thought patterns can be incredibly difficult by yourself (it can take you years or even decades of trial and error).
posted by Foci for Analysis at 8:54 AM on April 9, 2012

I'm almost twice your age, and have the opposite problem; shallow connections are difficult for me to sustain, but relatively intimate ones are often easier. So, I'm not sure how insightful I can be about your situation.

I think it's normal to feel some discomfort with the thought of being "seen" in the context of any sort of intimacy, because one imagines that his worst fears and insecurities will be confirmed. Those fears certainly get in my way sometimes, but not always. I don't try to force close connections all the time; I just take the opportunities when they present themselves, when it's easy. I don't always know why it's easy, but sometimes it is.

It might help you to consider how irrational those fears about being "unlikable" are. You are literally making shit up. You don't know what other people think or feel about you. In the absence of actual information, instead of accepting that you are ignorant about the other person's thoughts and feelings, you're filling in the blanks with descriptions of your worst fears. Then you're prone to confirmation bias; you readily accept any evidence that seems to confirm your suspicions, and discount that which contradicts. This is a habit you've got to find some way to curtail, because being open to other people's thoughts and feelings is a prerequisite to any sort of intimacy.

Don't rush it. Make tiny steps in the right direction. Try to stay with it even when it's a bit uncomfortable. Forgive yourself when you have to break away. Come back to it and try again. Try and remind yourself that even if someone genuinely doesn't like you, it's not the end of the world. It's not your abused childhood replaying itself. It's a new thing, unique among other new things.
posted by jon1270 at 8:55 AM on April 9, 2012

Superficial connections are easy. Deeper connections are hard. Perhaps you associate deeper connections with pain and loss, due to the family situation and moving around.

The short answer is that you may not have a 'deep' connection with yourself. You moved around, you became what you needed to become to make friends.

Is your base personality unlikable? It doesn't sound like you like it, thus you hide it from others. Thus, they never get to know the real you.

A nice course of CBT is a good starting point, it will help you seperate what's in your head from what's outside.

The shortcut is to just love yourself for who you are. You can start by going into a pub, sit down next to someone, start a conversation, and then say, "You know, I find it so easy to talk like this, but I find it hard to go deeper. What's up with that?"

The responses may surprise you.
posted by nickrussell at 9:00 AM on April 9, 2012

I'm very similar (minus the abusive family, but plus some other childhood trauma) and I've dealt with the same issue, right down to the difficulty with eye contact. Kudos for identifying the problem and possible cause when you have - it took me quite a bit longer.

Really, the answer is therapy. Find a very accepting, compassionate therapist. One of the things that I didn't really expect about therapy but was really happy about was that it gives you the opportunity to develop a close, trusting relationship where you share intimate, scary things about yourself. Obviously, it's not really a "friendship," but it gives you the sort of muscle memory for sharing intimate parts of yourself with someone else.

But also, please make sure to honor what's good about you socially. It's actually such a gift to be able to make people light up, to get along so easily in social situations. I never really appreciated that about myself (I thought it meant I was somehow shallow) until therapy. Also, you say you haven't had close friendships since college - but if you're in your early twenties, that's not a long time ago. Many people have trouble forming close relationships in that transitional time after college. So don't be hard on yourself.

But still, I think therapy would be really helpful for you. Good luck!
posted by the essence of class and fanciness at 9:02 AM on April 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

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