I have no social skills, and no self confidence. I need to do something.
May 24, 2013 10:17 AM   Subscribe

I'm 30 years old, and am basically incapable of functioning in social settings. Can't make conversation. It's long since gone past awkward. It's embarrassing. I need to change. I don't know how.

I'm not sure how to post this in a short, coherent, and understandable story. There are so many random details, but I'll try:

I'm a 30 year old guy, and my social skills and communication skills are not what they should be. Now. I guess there are two parts: social skills, and my lack of self confidence. So first, social skills: I do have some good friends. But I struggle to make friends. I struggle to talk to people. I struggle to hold conversations with people I do know. I get along with most people. But I REALLY struggle to take things past surface acquaintances and form real friendships.

Here is my key issue (I believe): I just never have anything to say to people. Or know what to say. Or how to make conversation. Partly, I wonder if it is because I have a bad memory. Somewhere, years ago... I feel like I just lost the ability to think. And I feel like there isn't a lot going on in my head anymore.

Here are some examples: I just moved to go back to University. I get along fine with everyone in my class. However, like I say - it's all just surface stuff. Most of them have made really good friends with a few people in the class, and they go out and do stuff together; but not me. They're happy to talk to me there, but I never know how to take it further.

I have a tendancy to show up to things... and just sort of stand around on my own because I don't know how to make conversation. I can say hi. I can say how is it going. How did you go on that test. But other than that... I really, really, struggle. So often, we all show up for a class... we'll be waiting around together, people talking... and I'll be standing aloof in a corner. I can approach people; but for the most part I don't have anything to say or to ask... so I can't.

Another example: get togethers with people. Say, christmas time with the family: I just sit there, and say nothing. Because I don't know what to say. I don't have anything to contriute to most conversations. I don't know how to start them. I don't know how to join in on them.

I don't know how to joke around with people.

I live on campus at Uni... and I stop and have chats and stuff with the people I'm sharing with; but I often struggle to maintain the conversation.

One really awkward thing is that if I do ever manage to spend time with a person... it falls really flat. I don't have anything to say. Driving in my car... I'll sit there in silence, feeling awkward, because I have nothing to say.

I've noticed this and it's a key problem I have: other people usually make the conversation, and topics, and I respond. It's the same with good friends, close family members. I can't make communication. It's like... I speak if spoken to. Otherwise... I don't know what to say. Like... LITERALLY THERE IS NOTHING IN MY HEAD. NOTHING.

I used to have to go to work conferences and they were the worst. I'd end up standing there on my own.

I've noticed it may be a group things. If I am with a few friends I am close with, I can sit around and talk and laugh (though still less so than the others) but as soon as there are more than a few there... I just completely close up.

I also am developing an alcohol problem. Because after a few drinks, I can talk anyones ear off. And I wish I was like that all the time. It's amazing. I make friends with so many people when I've been drinking. I'm funny, I'm engaging, I'm confident, they like me, they respond to me.

Then when I'm sober... I'm this meek, self conscious guy that has nothing to say.

I don't know if this is all related to self confidence - because I used to have self confidence, say 10 years ago, but I still had poor social skills then. But if I think back... I remember when I was in school, I used to always get in trouble for talking too much in class. Now... in class, I sit there in silence... wishing I could make conversation with the person next to me... but I have nothing to offer.

I could go on and on, but onto the self confidence thing: I have basically, none whatsoever. I always think, "Why would that person care what I think" "Why would that person care what I have to say" "Why would that person care who I am". I don't think I'm capable of anything, I don't think anyone likes me, I can't think of any reason why they should, I don't think I have any charisma or personality that people would like, I don't feel like I have any use that can contribute to anything or anyone.

I basically feel like I'm nothing.

Sometimes I feel like if I had self confidence (ie, I'm a superstar when I get drunk) things might be different; but I think I used to have self confidence and I still couldn't make conversation.

It's also a phone thing as well. I literally cannot make conversations on phones. And I should because I moved away for University. But say, if called my brother who I love so much... I have nothing to say to him. "Hows things?" "Hows school?" "Cool".

And I wonder... if its because my memory is so bad? I never recall stories or anecdotes to tell people or to share, or to contribute to conversations .

I just don't know. But I do know that I'm sick of being in social situations where I stand around on my own looking like an idiot; or say a few boring, uninspired words to the people around, then nothing else. Sometimes I put off catching up with people I've met that are willing to catch up with me again, because I know I'm going to sit around in awkward silence and not say much anyway.

I really don't know what to do or where to start. Help, please?
posted by anawesomeguy to Society & Culture (21 answers total) 43 users marked this as a favorite
A great place to start is Toastmasters, or something like it. You show up, and they do all the work in finding things for you to say for you. There's a path you take, where you're given subjects and a length of time to talk about them, and then "table topics," where you may be called upon to speak extemporaneously on an unknown subject.

It's very low-stress, because you're with the same group of people who are all there for the same (or similar) reasons in a non-judgemental (but constructively critical) environment. It lets you meet people and learn to talk and think about what to talk about all at the same time.
posted by xingcat at 10:23 AM on May 24, 2013 [6 favorites]

OK, the depression and the alcohol dependence need treatment. They are co-occurring issues and they are all linked -- your bad feelings about yourself and hopelessness (the depression), your worry about social situations (anxiety) and the alcohol use (which I'd call abuse.) I'd add that you may perceive yourself as interacting well with others when under the influence, but that's not usually how people who drink too much are seen by others.

So, the first thing I'd do is find a sound counselor who resonates with you.

As for the question about how to make conversation which you posed -- the big secret is almost always to ask people about themselves. Their work, their studies, their relationships, their families, their hopes, their take on recent events and pop culture . . . . and keep asking questions and responding to what you are hearing to keep the conversation going. But I don't think this is truly the problem here. I think you are so locked up right now in sadness and anxiety that the noise in your own head is interfering with your ability to interact.
posted by bearwife at 10:25 AM on May 24, 2013 [8 favorites]

To add to bearwife's suggestion of asking people about themselves: it's not just about shooting questions at them. It's about taking a genuine interest in others. Only when you are genuinely interested in others do you not need a script and your questions and responses generate naturally in your mind. I agree that your anxiety is preventing you from switching focus from yourself to the other person, and that is something you need to deal with first.
posted by Dragonness at 10:36 AM on May 24, 2013 [5 favorites]

Other people can give you better advice about therapy—which you'll need in the literal-definition sense, whether or not you seek it from a licensed "therapist"—and different ways to identify and work through the underlying issues. You're describing something that requires effort and a learning process, and it's probably better to hear from people who have gone through that. But one thing you wrote stood out to me.

I also am developing an alcohol problem. Because after a few drinks, I can talk anyones ear off. And I wish I was like that all the time. It's amazing. I make friends with so many people when I've been drinking. I'm funny, I'm engaging, I'm confident, they like me, they respond to me.

You are like that all the time. Alcohol doesn't create a new personality; it lowers, weakens, or removes inhibitions. So while your alcohol problem (I'm taking your word, here) does require attention and a solution, I would encourage you to see one silver lining: If alcohol helps you to be the person you want to be, then you are that person. That's great news. Now it's a question of figuring out how to unlock those attributes through another means, and more often.

Good luck. Your question comes off as intelligent, thoughtful, and articulate. I'm sure you'll get there.
posted by cribcage at 10:37 AM on May 24, 2013 [5 favorites]

I think I kind of understand what's happening here with the blanking out. It's not because your memory is bad. Rather you've developed a pattern of internal criticism in which every impulse of self-expression is met with self-hate ('why would anyone care what I have to say') and you feel shame and guilt. Maybe this is learned behavior because people in your life made you feel small in formative ways. In any case, there's conditioning at work: self-expression = shame and guilt = pain. To avoid those feelings, you stamp out the self-expression, until what's left is just the blank nothing. You search for things to say and your mind is afraid of being hurt so it refuses to co-operate. You're up inside your castle, where you're safe from ridicule (either from other people, or from your own internal persecutor), but in social situations, all you present to other people is a blank smooth 50-ft wall.

Therapy has been unbelievably helpful for me in getting past similar issues. I promise your internal views of your own worthlessness to other people are not true -- you already have the evidence of how people respond to you when you are not caught in self-critical loops, i.e. when the alcohol removes your inhibitions. I had to learn how to make room for my emotions and allow myself to be vulnerable with other people. It's a frightening and sometimes intense process, because while there is great happiness in connecting with other people, there is also the possibility of pain that comes from allowing yourself to want things. But it's infinitely better than the long suffering of avoidance.
posted by PercussivePaul at 10:53 AM on May 24, 2013 [17 favorites]

This is what worked for me in terms of a) getting past my fear/dislike of small talk b) having conversational fodder. Having an ulterior motive that wasn't me-centered.

After a super awkward time in university, I ended up getting a job at a nonprofit that was putting together their first emerging artists festival, and my job was to recruit people to submit artwork, music, zines, whathaveyou. I didn't have anything interesting to say about the festival per se, it was brand new, and I didn't have anything interesting to say about me, I was a total noob. But I had a ton to say/ask about them, and a reason to do so. It was liberating to feel utter license to talk to anyone - they might be an artist, they might know an artist. I made some great friends in this process, but I also learned that if I have a mission that was not me-centered, I actually really liked talking to people. I've had to repeat this lesson each time I move to a new city because I fall back into my "ick, I don't want to network, I'm terrible at it" but give me a project I'm trying to help with and I can talk to anyone.

Later I met some journalists who mentioned that they too were shy and awkward, but in the context of trying to learn something about a topic or researching a story, they were fearless.

Good luck.
posted by spamandkimchi at 11:22 AM on May 24, 2013 [7 favorites]

The longer your question went on, the more it seemed you got closer to what you wanted to say:

I basically feel like I'm nothing.

Well you're not nothing, I just wanted to let you know that first off. For what it is worth too, I and a lot of people are drawn to those with a sensitive disposition as you have shown in your question so:

I don't think anyone likes me

is also not the case. I like you, that is my default setting and we have never met.

I think you hit the nail on the head with your diagnosis of low self confidence (and it sounds rock bottom so I really feel for you). It is standing in the way of you relaxing and being yourself around others. A good sign of that is how alcohol frees you up so easily, you lose your inhibition. I agree with those saying that you can foster an approach to be genuinely interested in others but don't assume others aren't genuinely interested in you either. That means each conversation you have doesn't have to dazzle and impress the other person but rather be an honest expression of who you are and how you feel. Humans come in all shapes and sizes and sometimes they are shy and introverted. It is actually a very cool personality trait to have but not everyone gets to know that secret.

If phone calls with your brother are awkward then let him know. "Hey bro, I love you and all but I really struggle to know what to say, phones really aren't my strong point so give me a text or email in the mean time and we can save the phone for any really big news ok?" If he feels the same about you he'd be happy if you are happy I reckon. As for around campus perhaps you can say to yourself: "I am no different to anyone else, why wouldn't they want to hear what I have to say?". If you can start to fight the idea that you are nothing and begin to turn it into you are something then that might be a start. Look for the positives and don't give in to feeling you are worthless, you are not.
posted by 0 answers at 11:46 AM on May 24, 2013

It sounds like maybe you're a bit depressed and so when you make efforts to get outside of yourself, instead of spontaneity and creativity and happy-affect, there's just a lack of things to say. One way to be able to really connect with others is to really connect with how you are feeling at the moment.

I think instead of dealing with the finding something to say part, you should deal with the depressed and unconfident part, and when you do you'll suddenly find that things flow much more easily. I'd start with connecting with and naming what you are feeling in any given situation, internally. Bored? Awkward? Often in situations like that, you're not the only one who feels that way, and it can be a great ice-breaker to say, "Standing around before class can be so awkward, can't it?" Everyone loves the guy who says the thing that everyone else is thinking but not saying. It's about being willing to be vulnerable.
posted by mermily at 11:55 AM on May 24, 2013

This sounds exactly the way I am (or was, I'm working on it). All the standard advice to ask questions and be interested in people helps, but it would still feel like an interview and that I have nothing to contribute. The Succeedsocially.com website has some good articles [1,2,3,4] on conversation and why just asking questions is not always enough. What I've found helpful is to actively cultivate topics and stories from my day-to-day life and bring them up in conversation.

A useful end-of-the-day/journaling activity is to think back on the events of your day and single out anything interesting or funny or controversial that happened to you. Try shaping that into a quick story that reveals something about yourself or that leads into a question you could ask someone about their opinion or recommendation. If you do this prep work consistently, eventually you'll have a bunch of short conversational stubs from your recent life ready to pull out at any relevant time (or awkward silence). Then when someone asks "how's your day?" instead of just answering "good" you can expand it some and say "good, but I've got this problem and don't know what to do..." or "good, I saw the funniest thing yesterday..." Do the daily prep work and you'll feel a lot more confident in conversation!
posted by Durin's Bane at 12:00 PM on May 24, 2013 [9 favorites]

I've posted this before, but FWIW, here's what worked for me.

Right out of college, I got a job working in a call center, the 800 customer service # for a major corporation. Unlike the situation today, where call centers are crap jobs with crap pay, this company took it very seriously. The phone reps were seen as the face of the company, the primary point of contact for potential and current customers, so we were invested in. We had decent salaries, fantastic training on not just our product but on communicating with customers via phone, and were encouraged to move up in the company (no lie: I know several call center alumni who now hold executive positions).

What I learned most from the communication training was the importance of listening to people as they talk. Not anticipating what they might say next, not guessing what they might not be saying, not planning what I will say when they were finished speaking. Just listening, responding to what was being said, and asking questions if I didn't fully understand their needs. I was taught that what a customer might say could change if he was upset, or confused, or eager to buy--what kinds of cues to look for in their word choice, and how to respond to those cues in ways that would help the caller.

The call center required me to do this for an average of 70 callers a day, and it was the best training I could have had for learning to have conversations with anyone, and in turn for building my own confidence.

There are certain small-talk techniques that, IME, are pretty much bulletproof:

(1) What's the local sport team (or teams) that everyone follows? Is it a pro team? The local university? Keep up with that team's performance even peripherally, and you'll be able to have a conversation with just about anyone within a hundred mile radius. Even a simple question like "So who won the game?" or "Didn't the Yankees play last night?" can kick off an hour's worth of enthusiastic conversation.

(2) If the folks have kids, ask about them. Parents LOVE to talk about their kids. You don't even have to know a lot about the kids in question--I'm constantly saying things like, "How old are your kids again, Liz? I can't ever keep their ages straight" or "Now your son is doing sports again this summer, right? What's he into this year?" The parents take it from there. And if you listen close, you'll find opportunities in the conversation to ask questions that make the speaker feel like you're engaged: "So Josh decided to switch to baseball this year? How's that commute working out for you?"

(3) The random, brief compliment will brighten someone's day, make you look observant, and requires little effort on your part. You: "Nice shirt, Bill." Bill: "Thanks. It's new." You: "Yeah? It suits you."

(4) Recall previous conversations with the person, and follow up on previous topics. Ask how their vacation cruise went, or what ever happened with that car repair. Making small talk is a lot easier when you build on past conversations.

(5) Ask open-ended questions that require an explanation. "How are you?" isn't as effective as "Whatever happened with '__________' you were dealing with?" ('__________' could be anything: business deal, family problem, you name it). Remember that just about is a potential topic of conversation (except the Big Three: religion, sex, and politics). You can even talk about how uncomfortable you are making small talk – and ask others how they do it.

(6) Read everything: cookbooks, newspapers, magazines, reviews, catalogs, web sites. Everything is a potential topic for small talk (except the Big Three: religion, sex, and politics). You have no idea how many great conversations I've had because of something interesting I saw on the front page of Metafilter.

(7) Practice. Talk briefly with everyone you come across: cashiers, waiters, people you're in line with, neighbors, co-workers and kids. Chat with folks unlike yourself, from seniors to teens to tourists. You don't have to dissect American foreign policy or anything, just a brief little thing that lets you get used to the quick, small-talk interaction with strangers. You (checking out at the grocery): "You're lucky to be working in this air conditioning, 'cause it's hot out there!" Cashier: "Ha-ha! Yeah, I guess. But it'll still be hot when I leave work in an hour." You (grabbing your bags as you leave): "Well, enjoy it while you can! Have a good one." And you leave. That's it--you just made small talk.

(8) Remember that it's not all about you. Conversation requires back-and-forth, give-and-take, to work. Sometimes people talk so much, in a effort to be liked, that they talk over people and drive them out of the discussion. Don't do that--listen and observe and when folks behave like they want to say something, let them. And if you stumble, be polite about it: "I'm sorry, Kathy, you were about to say something and I talked over you. Please go ahead." Kathy, "No that's fine, I was just reminded of...."

(9) Listen, listen, listen, listen, listen to others.

Good luck to you. Definitely give the small talk thing a try, see if maybe it helps.
posted by magstheaxe at 1:11 PM on May 24, 2013 [32 favorites]

IANAD, but I would recommend at least going to see your primary doctor and discussing your memory problems. You didn't indicate clearly if they exist just in social situations or in general. If it's just social, then I agree with what others have said. But a few times you came across as indicating that this loss of recall came upon you at a specific point. I'd have it checked out, just in case.
posted by Fukiyama at 1:12 PM on May 24, 2013

#1: You're not a superstar when you're drunk. In fact, you're probably (unintentionally) obnoxious. You just don't know it because you're drunk. And what about the people who think you're awesome when you're drunk? They're drunk too. If they were sober, they wouldn't want anything to do with drunk-you.

I'm not saying "Don't drink." I'm saying Don't Be A Drunk. And while you're at it, Don't Use Drinking As A Crutch.

#2: You probably have nothing to say in many situations because you have nothing in common with the people you surround yourself with.

I grew up in the country. Nothing really clicked with me until I moved to a big city. I don't even relate to people in my own family. They're chain smokers and sloppy. I'm stylish and urban. They're Bud Light. I'm red wine. Find your people. It gets better.

#3: You may not have discovered who you are.

Here's a test: If you knew no one was around at all, what music would you listen to? What TV show would you watch? Do you like photography? Do you paint? Have you ever thought about walking into a hardware store and buying random parts to build a toy robot?

Surely, things inspire you. But you probably shut those ideas down because you think you're not supposed to like them, or because you think someone else would think it's uncool... or whatever. You need to let go and just embrace being you.

Good luck!
posted by 2oh1 at 3:21 PM on May 24, 2013 [5 favorites]

I struggle a lot with this myself, but the common advice to ask questions / "be a good listener" is for people who have the opposite problem from you. Most people have plenty to talk about, but clearly that is not your problem. You can't only ask questions or nod your head and listen; you have to contribute something about yourself or make some declarative statement or express an opinion of some sort, otherwise it becomes a one-sided interview and you eventually hit a dead end. The problem people like you and me have is the constant self-filter/self-questioning, the constant "oh I can't say this because it would be boring" or "oh I can't say this because someone might make fun of me." That's why the alcohol helps so much because it turns off the self-filter, and it dulls your anxiety/pain response to awkward silences. I also think that everyone is like this to a small extent, otherwise why would so many people's social lives revolve around consuming alcohol?

Have you ever had the opportunity to observe someone else like yourself in a social situation? I think this helped me a lot, just noticing other quiet people who rarely said anything, observing my own opinions and takeaways of them, and realizing that other people probably felt the same about me. Did it seem from their facial expression and body language that they were approachable/wanted to be talked to? Did it seem like they had any interest in the discussion or people around them?

I like to think of it in gambling terms. People like you and me behave as if we have a high risk of loss for little gain. We're worried about losing face, we over-interpret awkward silences and utterances that fall flat. We just want to fulfill our social obligation with minimum pain until we can get out. "Normal" people behave as if meeting someone new is like buying a lottery ticket. You spend time and energy, and there is a high probability that basically nothing happens, but you have the possibility to gain - whether it be a new friend, contact that leads to a job, romance, whatever.
posted by pravit at 3:37 PM on May 24, 2013 [5 favorites]

Taking notes on this thread, lots of good ideas.

1. spamandkimchi makes a really good point that has proven true for me. Give yourself a job to do - volunteering is one way to do this. You can also give yourself the job of meeting every person at an event. It's ok to tell people you are doing this.

2. It's ok to be more comfortable in small groups or one-on-one. Make sure you get your social needs met in the way that works best for you, and stretch your boundaries with occasional forays into larger groups.

3. Toastmasters really is great. Many people join because they want to overcome shyness or difficulty with public speaking, so you won't be alone.

4. Know what you like in terms of movies, music, podcasts, books, etc. If what you like is really out there, make an effort to familiarize yourself with more mainstream culture. Sure, How I Met Your Mother isn't terribly highbrow, but you can get a lot of mileage out of it at a party. Just in case you are like my younger self, I point out that it's much easier to connect with people if you do not sneer at the things they like :)

5. Therapy

6. So where are you from? Where did you go to school? Does your family live nearby? How long have you worked for Xcorp? How did you wind up turning widgets, did you go to school for widgetry? Or, for people you already know - How was your day? Did you have a good trip? How is your family? What are you doing this weekend?

People used to ask me these questions and I would answer them and then FINALLY it hit me that they were making conversation. I started using these questions too. They really do help.

7. Have your own story. You may have read about elevator speeches. I'm not suggesting that you memorize a speech about yourself, but answering the basic "who are you" questions gets a lot easier after the first few times you've done it, because you've thought through the kinks. "Don't mention my sister's affair with the city councilman or mom's meth habit, do talk about how I fell in love with economics in 7th grade ..." Some journaling might help with that. Ask yourself what you want people to know about you, and prepare yourself to tell them those things.

8. Maybe tell your friends you want to work on your social skills. If you were my friend, I'd be happy to help you "practice." I'd do something silly like set a timer for 5 minutes and see if we could keep a conversation going with no pauses longer than 10 seconds.
posted by bunderful at 4:46 PM on May 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

The people who are most fun to talk to are people that are really excited about things. What are you excited about? Where would those people be? If you're not excited about anything in your whole entire life, you should see a doctor for depression and/or get some new hobbies and interests.

The bigger problem is your self-talk. The reason you have no inner voice is you've ruthlessly crushed it because you think it/you are stupid and you hate yourself and can't think anyone would possibly be interested in you. What you're doing is projecting your self-loathing onto everyone else, then feeling bad about it, then loathing yourself even more and your self-talk is just this constant barrage of blows. So ask that inner voice why. Challenge it. Call it out on its bullshit. Why are you uninteresting? Do you not do interesting things? Fair enough, but what interesting things would you like to do? Okay, now you have a solution rather than HATE HATE HATE. One of the biggest pieces of office advice I got, and one that's really stuck with me, is don't only offer criticism or a complaint, offer a solution. Apply that rule to yourself, too. You're boring. Okay, if you accept that, how could you not be boring?
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 5:35 PM on May 24, 2013 [4 favorites]

I can totally relate to the blanking out, and most of the other stuff you've mentioned. I have struggled with this for ages and only recently started to improve after hanging out with / observing a new friend who is an amazing conversationalist.

My biggest take away was to try to be more curious about people. I find that "be curious" is actually a pretty focused and actionable plan/mantra, way better than "be interested." It makes me listen actively instead of interpreting every gesture as disinterest or inwardly berating myself.

Durin's Bane's ideas for having more to say sound great too, I'm going to steal them. I also realize I need to say more / more interesting things about myself to really connect with people, but end up blanking out. I often wonder if depression actually gets in the way of our laying down memories about our own experiences, or at least gets in the way of recalling them. I have no problem with facts, but ask me what I did last weekend and I will probably have forgotten.

Best of luck, comrade!!
posted by blu_stocking at 6:53 PM on May 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm kind of surprised that no one has yet mentioned introversion. I freely admit that having read Susan Cain's Quiet, I have started seeing the world through an introversion/extroversion filter. But it's a pretty common problem amongst us introverts. I'm a lot like you in terms of behaviour, and the larger the group, the worse I do. Up to about 6 people I'm ok, over that (like at a conference) I would be fighting you for the best position to stand on the margins feeling awkward.

Anyway, I haven't got any brilliant suggestions for you except check out Quiet if you're interested, I found it fascinating. It was very validating to know that there are lots more people like us out there! I really like the suggestions above from Durin's Bane and magstheaxe; I will be trying to put them into action myself. Oh, and drinking to cope with social situations is fraught, but you know that already. Be gentle on yourself and think about your strengths rather than your weaknesses, at least with your self-talk. So if you managed a little bit of small talk, congratulate yourself on that rather than beat yourself up for not having kept it up for 15 minutes. Gradual progress. Good luck!
posted by Athanassiel at 12:47 AM on May 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

I don't know what your life situation is like, but consider just picking up stakes and going somewhere new for a while, maybe someplace you don't even speak the language. There is nothing that will force you to get out of your shell faster than that. Three months in a foreign country got me out of a rut like you had just described that had gone on for four or five years and kept getting worse and worse.
posted by empath at 3:20 AM on May 25, 2013

It sounds like you may have social anxiety disorder, which can be treated with prescription medication. Take the meds for a few months, have a few successful exchanges, and then get off the meds.

Another option is to remember some of the things that you discussed while drunk and try to say them sober.

The key is to be engaged- to be plugged in. Read the local papers, ask people questions, read lots of books and develop opinions on them. Stop looking at yourself and how you are behaving and start focusing on how others are behaving.
posted by myselfasme at 4:45 AM on May 25, 2013

It's interesting how self-talk defines us, isn't it?

To show you how it works, here's some guesses/assumptions I made about you, following some of the ones you made about yourself:
- bad social skills but at uni = nerdy and introverted?
- bad at small talk = better at in-depth talk?
- nothing to say/no real thoughts = brain damage? mild retardation? severe anxiety?
- chatty while intoxicated = inhibition/self-awareness problem?

My point is that it's interesting how I went from guessing high to low intelligence based solely on your self-description; the words we use and the thoughts we think to interpret situations largely define reality. You can believe you're so intelligent you can't be bothered to interact with lowly mortals, or you can believe your brain leaked out your ears at an early age and even homeless drug-addicts are more 'with it' than you are, and on some level (while both are maladaptive) you will become these things.

I recommend Cognitive Behavioral Therapy-- it works with precisely this sort of problem. How to retrain our brains to stop thinking largely illogical and unhelpful and just plain misleading stuff.

I mean, if your head really is empty, why are you in Uni? Why are you capable of writing this post (with good grammar and complex sentence-structure and evidence of self-awareness?). Your head is not empty. If it is only 'empty' upon casual interaction, then it must be that interaction makes your brain 'freeze' or become 'emptied'-- most intelligent people will recognize this as a fight/flight response. When we are uncomfortable and feel threatened, we either get angry or energetic (some people babble or say totally random things), or we are afraid, and so mental processes freeze. Anxiety like this cannot be reasoned away or self-medicated; you don't necessarily need drugs, but you do need a licensed practitioner to coach you to rewire your brain. Ask.mefi will not be enough; your efforts alone are also not enough, because you lack the tools you need.

Anyway, it seems oddly correlated that highly intelligent or nerdy people (usually male) complain of feeling a lack of 'thereness' or suffer from some form of uncontrolled brain shut-off, often to do with communication. People call it anxiety, they call it the autistic spectrum, they call it nerdiness... it doesn't really matter what you call it, but this is not unusual. Aside from finding a counselor, I would recommend you talk to more people online, where you can take your time and write out your responses. If this post is anything to go by, you can write coherently; communicating with more people (online) successfully may help you with your self-confidence.
posted by reenka at 9:30 AM on May 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

Hey! If you've ever seen any of the problems but trust me, I can relate. And you sound really self-aware and intelligent, like you are thoughtful, and have a lot of interesting things to say. Like you, I used to be pretty confident as a kid, and then self-consciousness hit me like a tsunami, and then I fell silent, and started feeling worthless, but would feel ok whenever I was drunk.

But I have been working on it! On askmefi, and through self-help books, and I get therapy too for my depression/anxiety, and here's what has been really helping:

1) Vlogging/talking to yourself
This seems super weird, but one thing which helped me find my 'voice' was by talking to myself on camera about stuff. I used to write in a journal, but this helped me learn to talk aloud in a 'safe place'. You can go to toastmasters or you could start doing a quick 5 minute vlog everyday saying a story about your day, or about something you have been thinking about. The first few vlogs might seem weird but I found myself feeling a lot more comfortable talking, and having more things to say ever since I started.

2) Confidence gap
This is a book my therapist suggested. I really like it and have been reading about 1 chapter every day. Check it out! Also maybe get a therapist that works for you. I know that therapy can be pricey, but your mind is like your body, you need to look after it properly and it's one of those costs that are worth it.

3) Eye contact+ body language + jumping in
In group conversations, if you are feeling self-conscious, try to look at someone who is doing really 'well' in the conversation and try to channel them! Also make eye contact with people and start contributing at an early stage of the conversation. Even if you're just saying like 'yea I know what you mean,' or laughing and saying 'mhm' once you establish that you are interested in the conversation, it makes it easier for you to talk later on.

Another tip: I didn't realise how serious I looked before, but remember to smile and laugh sometimes, it helps a lot in showing that you are approachable.

4) Asking thoughtful questions and sharing
There are hard and fast rules, like asking about peoples' kids, or FORD (family, occupation, recreation, dreams).. But I think if you really stop thinking and engage with what other people are saying then you will naturally have really thoughtful questions. And also, share things about yourself which are personal, but not too personal.

5) Expect awkward conversations, but don't give up
Probably the most important thing though is to go out on the field and actively try these tips and keep putting yourself out there. Avoidance brews anxiety like bacteria on a petri dish... Put yourself out there! Don't be perfectionist and be okay with messing up 5 times, or 50 times in the next couple of days or weeks or whatever it is. But keep trying and if there is a choice between hiding and exposing yourself to the harshness of rejection and despair, take a leap of faith and choose going out and spending time with people! I know first hand that it is difficult, but I read so many self-help books and articles which actually kind of re-affirmed that I was self confident and 'abnormal'. It wasn't until I risked rejection and came to terms with messing up that I realised that we were ALL weird and that it was ok and I started finding out who I was, and making more friends.

I think for me the alcohol thing really stopped after a few REALLY embarrassing episodes, and now I can't wake up after night out without being covered in a thin layer of sadness and shame. Don't let it get to that phase, just be ok with messing up and embrace (and keep a healthy level of detachment) from not doing thing right the first time but keep trying and making an effort and talking to people.
Good luck! :)
posted by dinosaurprincess at 5:14 PM on May 25, 2013 [5 favorites]

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