I want to want to express myself.
May 13, 2012 12:01 PM   Subscribe

I have nothing to say. Almost ever. How does one go about getting used to the idea of expressing oneself?

So, yeah. This is very related to another question that I've posted here, about being boring, untalkative and weird. Others posted advice about getting more involved with what others around me were interested in, explained that small talk was important because it developed rapport, I should try to talk to a spectrum of people, etc- very useful advice happening all over the place.

The very slight issue that I'm dealing with now, that I may have overlooked before, is that even when it moves past talking about the weather, I feel no deep need to express myself. I don't care that much about my own opinions or making them known.

I don't mind other people talking to me. I just don't have anything I sincerely want to contribute. I am capable of faking it- talking about these things in spite of not being invested. But I think the process of getting to know other people or somehow becoming 'close' to other people would run a lot more smoothly if I had more of my heart in it. The real deal is most likely better than the act.

How can I become more enthusiastic about talking about things with others?

Can anyone relate or offer any suggestions?
posted by jumelle to Human Relations (19 answers total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
i find this interesting in light of the fact that you are going to school for graphic design. to be an effective designer, you must have a point of view and be able to express it. i can't help thinking that maybe this lack of interest in your own opinion or the need to make them known to others as well as the inability to do so is one of the reasons you've been having problems with regard to your design work.

that said, i would look into the fact that you don't even care that much about your own opinions. i think that says a lot, mainly that you might not think your own opinions or viewpoint is worth having or conveying to others. if you have so little sense of your own worth and viewpoint, then it would follow that you wouldn't be capable—let alone interested—in expressing it to others. people establish relationships through interaction, communication, and exchange of ideas, opinions, experiences, and outlook. people look for friendships mainly with others who share those things in common with themselves.

the obvious answer is to develop opinions and viewpoints about things, big life questions, small things, current events, etc. ask them what they feel about X topic and then share your own opinion about it. but i don't think you can do those things without first examining why you don't even really give a shit about how you yourself feel about things. if you have to fake it, people can sense that and the likelihood that they would want to engage with you beyond superficial small-talk is zero to none. because, to be honest, it's incredibly boring talking to people who have no strong opinions about anything.
posted by violetk at 12:25 PM on May 13, 2012 [4 favorites]

I'm like this. Unless I'm in a work environment, I don't have anything to say. It took me a while to realize that people think I'm a great listener. People will probably think you are a great listener too.
posted by andreap at 12:28 PM on May 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

This won't be particularly helpful, but just wanted to say I am like you, but unapologetic about it. Especially social situations, with more than two participants, are excrutiatingly boring to me. So I avoid them and find my friends in other situations (mostly online).

the obvious answer is to develop opinions and viewpoints about things

I think the OP does have opinions, she's just not too fussed about shouting them out to the world, see

I don't care that much about my own opinions or making them known.

You can get around that by actively listening as andreap suggests. Stuff like making the appropriate "mhm" and "really?" noises. And, rather than imparting your own opinion on issue X, you can ask others about theirs (why do you think that, what made you come to that conclusion, etc).
posted by ClarissaWAM at 12:33 PM on May 13, 2012

Maybe the wrong people are talking at you. What do you care about? Anything? Start with that list and find people with similar interests. It's okay to not want to talk to everyone. I do this and I suspect we are not alone out there. You like expressing yourself on here, yes? You are not opinion-less.

I second ask more questions as well. You don't have to always have something to say but you can improve relationships through active listening if that better suits situations.
posted by MyMind at 12:35 PM on May 13, 2012

I think the OP does have opinions…

i didn't say the OP doesn't have opinions. in fact, the OP says she does. the problem i was pointing out was that the OP doesn't even care about her own opinions. that is what i was stating could be the crux of the problem.
posted by violetk at 12:43 PM on May 13, 2012

Response by poster: violetk,

I'm not having trouble with my graphic design work anymore, or at least not at the moment. Since making my previous topic, I've been able to manage my work load a lot better and still keep my grades/quality of work at the same point...if not improve them altogether. I've accomplished quite a few major achievements and that I'm pretty excited about. I have opinions about things, I'm just not enthusiastic about expressing them. So, I want to change that.

ClarissaWAM, andreap,

I think that's what I've been doing, as andreap suggested- I just focus on listening the majority of the time. But the result is that I wind up knowing a lot about the other person, but not really contributing anything of myself in turn.


This is the thing that interests me. It's easy for me to find people with similar interests, but I typically find that this doesn't play too large of a role in how well we can get along. I do better in interactions with people who have a particular kind of temperament, but these people are incredibly difficult to find. So I have to get along with 'people in general' too. I don't know if the problem is that I'm too particular or what.
posted by jumelle at 12:46 PM on May 13, 2012

I have opinions about things, I'm just not enthusiastic about expressing them.

*sigh*. this is my whole point. you need to figure out why you don't care enough about your own opinions to share them with ppl—bc the reason you're even writing this post is that you seem to want to.
posted by violetk at 12:49 PM on May 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Fake it till you make it. It's only been, what, a month and a half since that question? And you are talking about some significant differences in how you interact and communicate. If you continue to talk about things, you will likely find that you are more and more comfortable with it and enjoy it.
posted by J. Wilson at 1:48 PM on May 13, 2012

Ask very simple questions until you find something you disagree with and then state your opinion. Don't debate -- just make it interesting enough that you want to add more.

If you know of a shared interest, go straight to that topic after the preliminaries. "I saw those blue icons you made on dribbble. How'd you make that shadow?"

When you are not talking, enjoy the silence with the other person rather than trying to think of words to fill the gaps.

If you find yourself unable to contribute to topics you are supposedly interested in, then you should be creating and reading more things during your alone time. That will provide you with plenty of conversational fuel for weeks. The deeper you dive into a topic, the longer you can talk to one person who shares your interest. The wider your reading and creating, the more people you can easily talk to.
posted by michaelh at 1:56 PM on May 13, 2012

You don't need to care to say something... I see this as a filter issue. Like, I have the opposite problem since I have ADD, and I blurt things out often when the thought strikes. Sometimes I don't feel like saying anything 'cause my mind/mouth filter is at a high and I just feel myself internalizing all stimuli. All in, very little out. I think that pondering how interesting or not-so-interesting your thoughts are is beside the point, since most of the things people say aren't all that interesting, you know, nor are they important. People just say shit 'cause it's the way they get stuff done, get closer to others, get their needs met-- lots of people don't bother to express themselves, really, and do fine. Expressing yourself is a high-order concern and isn't strictly necessary for human interaction success. In fact, in my experience, ummm only certain kinds of people react well to certain other kinds of people expressing themselves. Maybe I'm bitter.

Anyway, does your filter get lower when you're tired? A little buzzed? In a happy mood on a picnic? High on sugar? You could experiment. The first step is not to think about what you're saying and just connect thought to speech. Your brain goes 'beep', and you go 'beep'. I mean, obviously this has risks in that you may offend people, but on certain subjects at least, I think it's reasonably safe. I think babbling is underrated, though certainly it makes me embarrassed. The alternative is being dead silent (for me).

In any case, speech doesn't have to be all that meaningful, and mostly isn't. It doesn't need to be evaluated on a meaning-based scale at all. It's just bullshit, most of the time, and yet people bond over it, sort of like how monkeys bond over licking the bugs off each other, you know. Sometimes you meet people who just click with you and then it's meaningful, but as you mentioned, that's rare. The rest of the time, it's bullshit. That's ok, it's normal. Bullshit is 97% of human interaction, that's just fine.

So yes. You think blue cars are sexier than yellow cars (right now, you may change your mind in two seconds)? Say so. You think that black skirts should only be worn on official holidays? Share your feelings. And so on. Ahh look, it's an imaginary butterfly. Ah, it's gone.

Anyway, I'm certainly not the world's greatest conversationalist, and in fact I'm pretty antisocial and don't feel like talking to most people (I'm also shy), but you're everyone's favorite person if you just agree with people while adding your own anecdotes to the mix. Like, agree but expand. 'The weather sucks!' -- "Yes, it's awful, my dog cried today'. Only not so lame. People tend to provide clues as to what they want to hear. Their body-language, the things they say about their feelings, the emphases they make on certain subjects-- if you run with it, that's all they want. Say someone's sitting quietly and seem a bit sluggish in body language, maybe tired. 'Are you feeling okay?' --'Yes, let me tell you all about my day while you nod and make sympathetic noises.' Not that easy, but close.

There's a reason expressing yourself is the province of the arts-- usually done in a solitary creative act-- or with close friends. It's not really what gets people talking.
posted by reenka at 2:02 PM on May 13, 2012

I think that expressing yourself more might not be the best way to make friends. Most people are unconsciously self-centered; if you want to get them to like you, you need to encourage them to express themselves more. Say something about yourself only when it relates to something they said, and try to keep your comment short. If you treat conversation as a game where the goal is to figure out the other person's personality, I think you'll have an easier time.

Also, taking an improv class might be a good idea. Since improvisors have to have to make up believable and interesting dialogues with each other on stage, it teaches very good conversation skills.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 2:43 PM on May 13, 2012

"I just don't have anything I sincerely want to contribute"

Maybe it's better that you stop trying to force anything until you do. Seriously, if you "don't care that much about your own opinions," why should anyone else? Being around people who insist on talking for the sake of talking-- or "babbling bullshit" in the words of a poster above--can be profoundly uncomfortable. If you're not genuinely enthusiastic and engaged with your subject, it's going to show: everything you pretend to gush about will ring false. What good is going through the motion of "making friends" if you ultimately have nothing in common?

Maybe the real answer is to work on discovering what you're passionate about. It's been my experience that once you genuinely get excited about something, you radiate energy and confidence and people flock to you. In other words, be your best self-- i.e. truly engaged with life-- and without even trying, you become the kind of person everybody wants a piece of.
posted by doreur at 3:01 PM on May 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Like a few other posters here, I'll chime in and say I can relate with usually having nothing to say in social situations.

I have plenty of opinions and value them dearly. For me at least, that's not the issue.

My observations of charismatic people: They tell good stories, with good timing and witty punchlines, they contribute something to every conversation regardless of topic, and they thrive as the center of attention. My brain is just not wired like theirs.

When interesting things happen to me, I'm not cataloging the details to relay an interesting story later, I'm just there taking it in. It takes extra effort for me to remember the details and the order things happen, and that's not what I'm thinking about at the time. I also don't store things that other people will find interesting in the front of my mind, ready for sharing -- I organize my thoughts more selfishly, for my own little projects / goals / puzzles I'm trying to sort out.

I don't care about being the center of attention. When something happens that I do want to tell the story to someone, I'll tell it to one person or maybe two -- I get nothing out of telling it again. After that, regardless of how interesting the events were, my lack of enthusiasm for re-telling the story makes it a bad story.

Perhaps the biggest issue: I'm just a tick slower to process and respond in a conversation, so when multiple people are involved, someone else has started talking before I've had a chance to finish processing what the first person said.

I've tried at several points in my life to be more talkative and charismatic. This is just the way I am. It feels natural this way. The downsides are obvious, though I do have plenty of good qualities and sufficient self-confidence to be okay with it. I do sometimes feel like it doesn't matter to most people whether I'm around or not, which has been difficult for me at times. But a small number of people know that I have far more to offer than the near-zero I give in group social settings. Conveniently, these are the people I find most interesting.

So, I don't know if any of that will resonate with you or not... your question is very general and it's not clear to me exactly what you want to change in your life. In particular, my advice for this statement:

I have to get along with 'people in general' too.

would be that you can "get along with people in general" saying as much or as little as you want, and the opinions of "people in general" aren't worth stressing about.
posted by Vampire Cat at 5:03 PM on May 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

I have this problem when I'm depressed or bored. Are you either of those?
posted by mleigh at 5:19 PM on May 13, 2012

Wild guess here, but do you feel like you have a persistent inner monologue that really aims at formulating verbal opinions? My wife claims she does way, way more emoting/perceiving internally than she does speaking/rehearsing things to herself, where I'm so much the opposite she often catches me composing random lectures internally when I make telltale hand gestures and whatnot. Perhaps not by coincidence, she has an issue like yours, and I seriously don't, but in my case, it's basically thanks to continuous internal practice with expressing anecdotes, academic points, opinions, etc. I don't actually care that much about making other people hear it--most of it goes to waste--but that stuff is all pretty much ready to go when an appropriate conversation comes along. So I don't have to care, but expanding on something volubly is maybe too easy for me.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 5:25 PM on May 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm this way. I spent lots and lots and lots of time alone growing up. I've realized, as an adult, that the reason I'm so quiet most of the time is that I almost have to remind myself to say thoughts out loud. For many people, thoughts are for sharing. For me, they're not. It's just not a reflex to blurt things out. I can almost liken it to when you're learning a foreign language and you have to translate from English to French in your head before you can verbalize the French sentence. I feel like I have to translate from thought to speech in my head before I can speak out loud. Like I'm not fluent in speech.

I have no solutions. Except maybe to just internally tell all these extroverts to back the fuck up out of your business.
posted by thebazilist at 6:54 PM on May 13, 2012 [8 favorites]

Best answer: One small piece of advice that might help, or that helped me: Don't think of a conversation as a place to prove yourself or convince somebody else of something; think of it as a venue for refining and developing your own thoughts. Imagine the other person not as a competitor but as a partner in thinking. What are you curious about? What are you interested in learning about? What issue do you have a question or concern about? Use your conversations as a place to explore those issues/concerns/curiosities. (Certain statements help encourage this: "So what do you think about...? So could we say that...? But what about...?")

Obviously not everyone is prone to these conversations or able to have them, but plenty of people are, and once you find those people, I think you'll find the conversations rewarding, and those people, people to stick by. At least that's my experience.

If, on the other hand, you don't have questions about the world/aren't interested/aren't excited (which I doubt since you are on Metafilter), then that's another issue, and where you should be putting your attention.
posted by vecchio at 10:49 PM on May 13, 2012 [4 favorites]

You might want to try watching some Woody Allen movies. Now that's a guy who shares every opinion he has whether it's interesting or not (it usually is!). Do you like comedy? Because finding something to laugh about can often be a good way to have a genuine conversation. I suggest developing your sense of humour by watching Woody Allen, Seinfeld, Louis C.K. and there are many others which I don't even know.

Also, if that doesn't work, I agree with what thebazilist says about getting those extroverts to back the fuck away. I've learned recently that one can find a lot of strength in scorning those who oppress. Develop your unsociability into a sexy, hipster swagger. Smoke cigarettes and don't look anyone in the eye. When extroverts get all up in your introvert business, scorn them gently with a piercing glare. This strategy will allow you to be in control of who talks to you.
posted by costanza at 7:31 AM on May 14, 2012

I liked this TED talk Brené Brown gave called The power of vulnerability. I just finished her book The Gifts of Imperfection. Both helped me be less self-censoring, which involves making yourself more vulnerable. I'm more willing to talk about myself -- the good, bad, and ugly -- and people are actually more willing to talk to me and ask me questions, which lifts some of the burden of thinking of stuff to say.
posted by tenaciousd at 4:59 AM on May 15, 2012

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