It'd be improper to tell him his joke made me suicidal, I guess.
June 22, 2013 12:58 PM   Subscribe

I keep finding myself in a peculiar and incredibly disheartening group social dynamic. I need practical guidance on how to "fix" the latest one, and maybe some suggestions on how to head these things off before we get to Suicidal Ideation pass.

To preface: yes, I'm on meds and in therapy. Lots of them both. I am specifically seeking the kind of real-world "do this not that" advice which therapists are for the most part told not to give patients. And yes, I have read this question; this is different (*)

Very, very, very short version:

I HAVE: A person ("Brad") who has made fun of me publicly so many times my self-esteem is in the toilet and I don't want to ever be in his company again; we're both in a social group I really need to be in and he has no reason to leave. This happens to me a lot, and has my whole life.

I NEED: Not being in a situation where I am constantly being made fun of.

I WANT: An apology from Brad for the most recent incident, a promise that he will stop making fun of me, and world peace Brad actually realizing why he's wrong to have behaved this way. Also, a way of getting these situations to not get nearly this bad next time.

MAJOR COMPLICATION: I am actually in this social group because my therapist has given me an ongoing assignment to be socially active; I'm there to get used to be people, become comfortable around them, and practice social skills. The group isn't meant for that - we picked something that involves an activity I enjoy so that I'd keep showing up even when things were uncomfortable for me. Making eye contact is uncomfortable for me, so you can imagine how "let's hold Fee up to be joked at in front of everyone including random strangers" feels.

OTHER INFO: I was recently absent from the group for over half a year due to a major depressive episode that incidentally kept me off work completely. I know that this absence (amongst many other more minor things) has annoyed Brad greatly. He doesn't know why I was gone, just that I dropped the ball, as it were.

Much longer version:

I have been and will presumably always be "the weird kid." I have diagnostic labels to back me up on this one; my social cognition and social skills are impaired, my interests don't match up with widely accepted social norms, I have lots of strange habits and only limited interest in changing or ability to change them, etc., etc. (**)

One of the more irritating and debilitating results of all of this is that I keep getting into situations where it is OK to consistently make me the butt of "casual, gentle, good-humored, innocent" public call-outs. On a continuous basis, such that when one member of the group is called out perhaps once in a year, I am called out twice in a week. And yeah, I do count them now, because I'm very much beyond the point where I truly believed this was OK.

The pattern is pretty much always as follows, as I attempt to integrate into any new group:
Week 1: I am terrified and say nothing.

Week 2: I am terrified and say almost nothing.

Week 3: I am incredibly nervous and say very little, most of it apparently very strange.

Weeks 4-5: I am still pretty freaking nervous, but people are mostly responding to me as though what I say is both "really smart and interesting" and also "strange." I get compliments about my technical skills and the extent of my knowledge, and people ask me for advice about computers and history and other things which were always, always, always subjects in school.

Weeks 5-8: Same as weeks 4 and 5, except now a handful of people have added me to the "it's okay to make fun of her strangeness, all the time, and she's cool with it, we can tell that because of her nervous laughter and attempts to be nice to us" list. I am the only person in the group on that list.

Weeks 9-20: Same as weeks 5-8, except now I'm actually joining in and making self-deprecating jokes about the exact same things. I don't ever joke about or criticize anyone else, or mention how much this stuff is hurting me. Depending on my overall mental health and the amount of insight I have at any given moment, I tend to switch between saying to myself "why am I doing this to myself" and "I totally deserve this."

Week 21: I have a huge breakdown (public or private, it varies) and quit the group, possibly in conjunction with a "random" cross-state or cross-country move.

Week 463: I get a tragically heartfelt apology from the people who were making all those "jokes," because now they all feel really terrible about how they behaved back then. Approximately half the time, they will be so embarrassed that they route the apology through a third party. Sometimes they buy me things. I have an astonishing number of heartfelt apologies from formerly clueless tormentors in my possession.
The people who put me into the "okay to make fun of" category are almost always of the same personality type (this has been constant since I started elementary school, and I'm now in my thirties.) They're the people you always want to go get a beer with, the folks who organize the tailgate every single weekend, the guy who rents the hall and marshals the troops and hosts an AMAZING Halloween costume party annually and has since before anyone can remember. They are always the "cool" kids, even when it's in a room full of complete geeks (e.g., they're the guy who figured out how to get Ray Bradbury to come to our room party at the con, or the one who somehow got the very best score in the trivia contest despite being hammered...) They never, ever, ever "hang on" to anyone else.

It's fair to say that both my tormentors and I come across as having equally very-strong personalities, but I tend to try and hide socially, except when I am completely confident because "I can do this!!!!!" in a technical or knowledge-based field of some sort - I'd make a great minister-without-portfolio, but a terrible agency administrator. I've never participated in any of the aforementioned tailgates, Halloween parties, hotel room gatherings, or trivia contests, largely because I'm terrified. It's also fair to say that few people know I'm terrified - I suspect they think I feel I'm above all that stuff.

Every time that I'm aware of so far, the joking (and some rather less friendly commentary, including one remarkable case of outright plotting to drive me out of the group,) has also continued in private. On two occasions I found out out this entirely by accident (though I'm not sure how "accidental" someone posting their mean-girl chat logs on their personal website, and then someone forwarding me the website, really is.)

Right now, I believe things are still at the open mockery stage. However, this group is a lot more prone to criticizing anyone who's not there, and being nice to their faces when present, than I'm used to. There's a very large amount of "uncomfortable laughter and hoping Roger can be redirected" in smaller strategy type meetings.

Now for the solution part:


The stuff I want to say (or want to want to say) to my current focus subject, "Brad," includes:
  1. I found your "joke" the other day to be really hurtful and also confusing. It felt humiliating and disrespectful, and I am having trouble seeing what you might have wanted to get from it other than to make me feel bad.
  2. I think the rest of the people in the room were confused, as well - and I'm pretty sure you made a lot of us really uncomfortable.
  3. The pattern of jokes and references to my past mishaps or "funny moments" in public is really not fun for me, and I'd like it to stop immediately.
  4. If you can't refrain from making these jokes, please let me know now so I can leave the group before being publicly humiliated again.
  5. I don't particularly care if you meant to "hurt my feelings" or not. Your intent is really not the point as far as I'm concerned.
  6. If I do something that upsets you or that you think was inappropriate, please tell me in private and refrain from making it a part of the group's acceptable set of stereotypes about me.
  7. What you said was pretty clearly out of line by every standard of decency and civilized behavior I can think of, particularly given your status as an elected leader of our group actually in charge of the meeting. I think it was, in fact, an abuse of power.
  8. I struggle to understand how to reconcile your behavior with your stated goal of getting more people to join our group, particularly in light of the fact you said it in front of people who are prospective members!
  9. I am disinclined to attend another meeting of the group where you are in charge. I also don't want to be put in a position where you're in authority over me.
  10. Is this the part where I point out that you have actually asked me to put in a good word for you with people on a hiring committee????
Some of that stuff is obviously just venting and doesn't belong, but I can't tell if any of it is right. I'm severely tempted to include a link to some kind of website about non-violent communication, being supportive and non-crappy to others in general, or something. I'm also tempted to delete all of this stuff and let myself be abused, or alternatively to quit, block everyone in the group on email and Facebook, and pretend I don't know any of them even though I know I'll run into them all constantly for the next decade at least.

I also will not be saying any of it in person. It's bad enough dealing with the apologies in person; I can barely talk when that happens, and actually criticizing someone is most definitely beyond me. I'm in tears trying to write this question out, for heaven's sake.


Things I've thought about doing:
  1. Telling "Janet," another member of the group who I am much closer to (and whose body language and nervous laughter makes me think she's going to be somewhat on my side on this,) some of the things above, such as "What Brad did is really unacceptable to me, what do you think I should do" or "I'm thinking of leaving the group, in large part because of Brad and the constant jokes about me," or "What do you think the best way is to get people in the group to stop making fun of me like they have been," or "I thought Brad was way out of line the other day; what do you think?"
  2. Putting all of this off indefinitely so that I can do things like bring this up with my therapist or EAP counselor, read "How To Talk So Others Will Listen" or "Difficult Conversations" (both of which I own and have skimmed through but not studied in depth with a specific scenario in mind,)
  3. Making this more public, either in a relatively passive or active way (we have an opportunity for people to give brief random statements or express their opinions in front of the group, so I could do anything from "Ten Ways To Not Be a Jerk" to "This is something I've really got to get off my chest about how this group functions and how it affects me as an individual.)
  4. Sending Brad an anonymous note.

The trouble I have with going through Janet or my therapist or the rest of it is that I'm supposed to be working (really hard) at being less avoidant and passive, and more direct and assertive. I'm supposed to not use anonymous notes pretty much ever (not that it'd exactly work this time,) and I'm supposed to be trying to assertively confront people. This is also why I don't like the idea of putting this off to read, etc., though there's also more than a hint of "this is really excruciatingly painful and taking a genuine step to actually resolve it is likely to provide real psychological relief in a way that just studying some more is not likely to do." Oh, and I hate getting Janet involved. I hate making anyone uncomfortable or put out in any way ever; it's like drawing teeth getting myself to ask for help from doctors and therapists, let alone people who "don't deserve and haven't asked for this at all" (in my head.)

I'd also appreciate advice on (or references/books about) that transition between week 5 and week 21 in the pattern described above. I know that I make myself the Scrappy(***), the weird kid, the one it's safe to criticize and mock and so forth. I just never seem to catch myself before I've turned into that, or successfully undo it before I really do honestly reach thinking about suicide, running away from it all, etc. The percentage of my time devoted to thinking about the dynamic in a particular social group has made me feel like crap lately just goes up and up and up, until I hate myself and them and pretty much want to die all over again.

My #1 priority at this point has to be, by the way, protecting my emotional stability. If staying away from a deep depressive episode (and thus keeping my job, health insurance, etc.,) means quitting this group and pretending I've never met Brad, Janet, or anyone else there, then that's what I'll do. I'd rather not, though, because at some point I'm going to be in a new social group and suddenly find myself dealing with Barry and Susan, Brad and Janet's respective long-lost identical twins.

In case it matters: none of the people involved (should) know about the nature of my medical conditions, and certainly they don't know that I've been driven to serious despair over this kind of stuff by these recent incidents or the stuff that happened back in school. They do all know that I'm a serious advocate for mental illness awareness, treatment, and anti-stigma stuff.

(*) This is more about long-term "Fee is now the person we repeatedly make the same handful of jokes about and is the designated person about whom all jokes are invariably made, at a rate typically exceeding one per gathering." Also, these aren't typically "take the Mickey out" jokes where you can say "yeah and" - this is repeatedly "we don't dare bring cupcakes because Fee will eat every last one of them harharhar," every week for going on 87 weeks straight due to one day when I ate three cupcakes in two hours.

(**) My diagnoses include but are not limited to Avoidant Personality Disorder/Social Phobia, Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, ADHD, and Panic Disorder w/Agoraphobia. For example, I put my hands over my ears when people in the group all clap too loudly for me to take, I remind them that we're required to follow such-and-such law in order to avoid such-and-such consequences from the IRS, etc. - I'm a weird pest, and I know it. I also often don't go to things because I can't get myself out the door at all that day, or I have to bow out because a panic attack or med side effects keep me from doing anything. My social skills issue specifically isn't "not knowing what" so much as "not knowing when/how/why," and getting over the hump to "actually doing." There is also, however, a bit of "look, I'm OK with how I am, and really at this point, I'm not in the mood to try and force myself to be different;" in high school I deliberately tried to dumb-down my vocabulary, in college I forced myself to become interested in college football, etc.; I'm not doing that kind of stuff anymore just to "blend in" better. In any case, the many-many-many-thousands of dollars spent on my treatment, the hundreds of hours spent in therapy and in doctors offices, and the insane amount of work I've done, are why I'm asking this question instead of one about making a new life in Alaska or something.

(***) More in the sense that it's OK to belittle me than in the sense that I'm hated. I'm actually pretty sure that most of the time, people don't really hate me. They don't act like they hate me - they act like I don't mind getting kicked in the face a lot because it doesn't hurt people like me, and that I'm part of the segment of society that it's 100% OK to mock... up until the precise moment when you cause a complete emotional breakdown, at which point you feel bad and buy them cookies. Like how they treated Screech in Saved By The Bell, except everyone in the current scenario is over 30. I'm more of a "not-person" rather than a "bad person."

So That You Don't Need To Scroll Up:
  1. What should I say to Brad? Which of my ten line items are brilliant, terrible, usable, usable-with-some-edits...?
  2. Should I involve Susan? What about my counselors? Should I put this stuff off to do research? Just quit altogether?
  3. Any information about (or resources for) the "don't be That Girl anymore" thing?
  4. All of this is in the context of my permanently impaired social abilities/awareness/etc., and the related fact that in a very real sense I'm giving them legitimate reasons to mock me. They're being rude, and that's not OK, but they're not being rude at random, and I handle all social stuff poorly.
posted by Fee Phi Faux Phumb I Smell t'Socks o' a Puppetman! to Human Relations (58 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
1. Wait for Brad to make fun of you again, and say, "Go fuck yourself, Brad. I don't like being made fun of. Also, go fuck yourself, Brad."
2. No to Susan. Yes to your counselors. I can't speak to the research.
3. Get better friends to hang out with.
4. There are no "legitimate" reasons to mock anyone. The reason you're being mocked is because you're hanging around with assholes.

As a bonus: Tell Brad to go fuck himself. For me.
posted by xingcat at 1:01 PM on June 22, 2013 [42 favorites]

The thing is, you're proposing jumping right to the nuclear option of major public denunciation and confrontation. But it doesn't sound to me like you've actually asked Brad to stop or tone it down or anything. You've written a 10 point plan on stuff you want to say... but it seems to me that the first step is to have a private word with Brad and let him know that the constant ribbing is not friendly and could he please stop?

It sounds to me like you've been going along with this and letting resentment and anger build up to the boiling point. That's not a good way to live. Maybe it will be necessary to have a public confrontation but that's a last resort not a first step!
posted by Justinian at 1:11 PM on June 22, 2013 [21 favorites]

No really, these sound like terrible people. Just because you have this or that diagnosis, it doesn't mean there's some law that you have to torture yourself by hanging around a bunch of assholes. Dump these guys. If it happens again, stand up for yourself the first time. If it happens again, dump them again. Life is too short for bullshit like this.
posted by bleep at 1:13 PM on June 22, 2013 [8 favorites]

4. There are no "legitimate" reasons to mock anyone.

While it doesn't sound like what's happening here, mocking is very, very common among people who are very close. It may be counter-intuitive but it can be a way to form bonds and show someone you consider them part of your tribe/family/whatever. Close friends and family mock me good-heartedly in ways that would be absolute fighting words coming from someone I don't know well, and vice versa.

So there are legitimate reasons to engage in friendly ribbing... but it requires a level of comfort and inclusiveness that the OP clearly does not possess in this context.
posted by Justinian at 1:14 PM on June 22, 2013 [29 favorites]

From your list, I think 1 + 3 + 6 strung together make a perfectly good email to send to Brad. I've left out the others because they either involve others, make an attack on Brad that is not about the situation at hand, or open up a line of discussion that allows Brad to vent his defensiveness/attack you. Keep it direct and about the incident that affected you, and phrase it such that you are letting him know something, not asking for a favor or opening up a conversation. Exactly the words you've written look like a good way to put Brad on notice that you will not be putting up with further "ribbing."

Going forward, though, I agree with xingcat that you have to confront in person, immediately. As scary as it is, that's the only way to nip it in the bud without drawing the situation out, which will be perceived (fairly or not) as creating drama. Of course you're not going to say "Go fuck yourself, Brad" out loud, but practice saying "That's rude, Brad. Stop it." flatly and coldly. Really practice it out loud, in the mirror, over and over until the words barely make any sense. Next time, when he begins, you will say that and repeat it in response to any further questioning or protestations. (You can vary it to something like "You're being rude and I'm asking you to stop" as a response.) It will still be scary the first time you have to do it--and it's ok to leave immediately and go soothe yourself in the bathroom or something--but it gets easier and easier and the rote practice will help with feeling like you're going to cry.

I don't say the word "practice" on accident--handling situations like this is exactly the kind of social practice your counselors are encouraging you to attempt. You really can do this, and it will help you in the future, even if you end up leaving this particular group (as I'm sure many MeFites will be along to suggest.)
posted by animalrainbow at 1:15 PM on June 22, 2013 [5 favorites]

However, this group is a lot more prone to criticizing anyone who's not there, and being nice to their faces when present, than I'm used to

Apologies if I missed something, because you've given us a lot to read, however: *why* do you need to be a part of *this* group? You say you need to be part of the group, but - *no-one* needs to be part of a group of people that slag each other off all the time.

If your therapist says you *must* be part of *this* group and no other, you have my permission to say you think this group is not good enough because they backbite each other all the time, and you're going to keep being social but you're going to do it in a group that doesn't behave like this, however long it takes you to find them.

Because if I had to pick *one* reason why you keep getting picked on it would be that you stay in low-quality groups like this after you have evidence that they're back biters.

Not all groups of people engage in backbiting. How do I know I'm not amongst a bunch of backbiters and just too dumb to know it? Well, without a hidden camera I can't know for sure, but for a long time, I have not been part of any group whose members slagged anyone else off to *me* behind their back. Or in front of them for that matter.

A wise person on the green said you can't recover from a trauma you're currently experiencing. They were right.

Also, listen to xingcat. You might as well tell Brad to go fuck himself, it can't make him behave any worse.
posted by tel3path at 1:15 PM on June 22, 2013 [15 favorites]

Four little words, every time Brad gets mouthy: 'Go to hell, Brad."
posted by notsnot at 1:16 PM on June 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Just as I was starting to type something about not jumping to the nuclear option, Justinian posted with pretty much exactly the same language.

It seems like you're going from saying absolutely nothing and giving nobody any clue that you are upset at all, to a situation where you EXPLODE with a lot of anger and harshness.

There is a lot of space in the middle there to do something else and I think that that's where you should start.

Given all the people in the past who have had no idea their teasing bothered you, I think there's a good chance the same is true of Brad and he is not "annoyed" by you. I think you should start by taking Brad aside and going, "Brad, I just needed to let you know something. I'm sure you're not aware of it, but when you tease me about XYZ it makes me really self conscious and uncomfortable. Can you give me a break with that stuff?"

If he does it again THAT is when you get more confrontation and say something like "Brad, I told you before how that makes me feel, I'm wondering why you're doing it again?"
posted by cairdeas at 1:16 PM on June 22, 2013 [67 favorites]

I change my vote. Try cairdeas' advice before you do anything more drastic.
posted by tel3path at 1:18 PM on June 22, 2013

And I also agree with Justinian that friends gently tease each other all the time. For example, in a "health conscious" city where everyone is afraid of carbs, I love bagels and I eat them all the time. My friends bring up bagels when they want to tease me and one of them gave me some for my birthday. They are not ASSHOLES!!!!!!!! They are teasing me because it's one way of telling someone "I know you really well and I am comfortable with you."
posted by cairdeas at 1:19 PM on June 22, 2013 [8 favorites]

Weeks 5-8: Same as weeks 4 and 5, except now a handful of people have added me to the "it's okay to make fun of her strangeness, all the time, and she's cool with it, we can tell that because of her nervous laughter and attempts to be nice to us" list. I am the only person in the group on that list.

You need to learn what you're doing in weeks 4-5 to indicate that you're cool with it, and learn how to not do that.

It's not ok for other people to make fun of you, but it sounds like that's what you're "telling" people.

Sorry, I didn't read the whole thing, but what's done is done. You will not get an apology that satisfies you and teaches Brad, not ever.

The people who put me into the "okay to make fun of" category are almost always of the same personality type (this has been constant since I started elementary school, and I'm now in my thirties.)

Find different kinds of people to hang around with. These are not the kinds of people whose company is going to ease you into socializing and feeling better about yourself. These are the kinds of people whose company will exacerbate your difficulties. (These people are my family of origin, and I know whereof I speak.)
posted by headnsouth at 1:19 PM on June 22, 2013 [6 favorites]

I will be honest, I did not read your entire question, but I feel confident that the solution to your problem is to find new friends.

I have depression. I understand what it's like to feel as though the entire world is out collecting amazing experiences while you're sitting home alone battling obtrusive and destructive thoughts. I also know the feeling of having just won the lottery when you become involved with a promising friend group.

But above all that, I tell myself this motto: if you're not contributing to my life, you don't get to be in my life.

What does contributing to my life look like? I have some friends I hardly talk to because of distance, but I trust and love them and know I can call them up at any hour if I needed to. I have acquaintances who are fun to grab dinner with and with whom I can share my nightmarish okcupid dating adventures with, but I probably wouldn't call them at 3 am. I have a few work friends and other people I see through shared interests.

When does someone get cut out? When they make no effort to get together after I have made several attempts; when they consistently cancel plans or need to reschedule to the point where it seems like they're just not interested in spending time with me; when I feel uncomfortable, judged or unwanted in a particular group, especially if I would much rather be on the couch with my pets than out with certain people.

This isn't middle school. You're in your 30s and you get to choose where and how you spend your time. Being made fun of is just not acceptable to me, no matter how small my social circle is. Tell Brad that you don't appreciate his jokes and criticisms and if nothin changes, drop these people.
posted by thank you silence at 1:19 PM on June 22, 2013 [13 favorites]

You need to stop making self deprecating jokes. I am prone to that. I got in the habit in part because I seem to intimidate people and it was in part an attempt to say "I am far from perfect. I am human, just like anyone else. I make mistakes. No, I don't have a huge freaking ego." But it created problems. It really did not solve my social difficulties.

I decided to quit it after witnessing some high ranking women (on separate occasions) at my job at BigCo do the same thing and feeling kind of like "Gee, this person must have just terrible self esteem in spite of their obvious accomplishments." Only later I realizef that, like me, they might have been trying to be humble, approachable, personable, etc. It really doesn't work that well.

You need to learn to not laugh nevously when people pick on you like this. You need to learn to say very neutrally that you do not find it funny (and it might be okay to indicate you have Baggage and it is a sore point) or just give them a non-plussed look.

If you cannot find an effective way to address this, please leave the group.

One thing that MIGHT help: Get with Brad privately, explain your 6 month abscence and mental health issues and history of social problems and ask him to please stop making jokes at your expense because this is a super huge problem. He might be willing to be an ally and protector if you let him in on your secrets. He probably picks on you in part because he feels he is owed an explanation or you didn't have a good reason to disappear, etc. Explaining privately might turn this situation around. Getting Brad in your corner could powerfully change how the group relates to you.

But if that goes to hell, leave as promptly as you can.
posted by Michele in California at 1:28 PM on June 22, 2013 [14 favorites]

Hey everybody, Brad is not necessarily a bad person. He isn't the enemy. He's just clueless. Cluelessness can do a lot of damage.

If you can make one Brad your ally, it could be very helpful to you.

"I think that I have a lot to contribute to this group, and these specific behaviors are hurtful to me [put it in personal terms -- don't tell Brad that he's acting "wrong"]. You're clearly a good guy and central to the group. Could you help me with something?"

Then you should be able to say, sincerely, to Brad:

"I totally understand that, in addition to bringing in new members, the members of the group need to connect with each other. I realize that [X behavior] is one way that a group bonds together. Shared humor, and even self-deprecating humor, can be very significant.

"To help you out, here are two items that are OK and two that are not OK [list must be very short but still convey range - two items each seems good]:

[your list]"

Talk with your therapist to work out the list, and to develop genuine empathy for Brad, as far as possible. Since he's been hurting you, this will be difficult, but it will be very helpful if you can converse with him (in e-mail, letter, or in person) in a way that doesn't make him feel like you fear and loathe him. He's really focused on getting things done and having fun, probably, but when his focus _is_ on empathy he probably can do OK at it.

Good luck -- this won't be easy, and you may not manage it, but it sounds like you're using the resources you have, which dramatically improves your chances of success.
posted by amtho at 1:29 PM on June 22, 2013 [4 favorites]

When Brad (or anyone) says something you don't like, just say, without smiling "not funny". If it happens again, get up and leave.

If you don't get a credible apology, drop these people and seek new friends you actually like. It's not an obligation to spend any time with unrewarding people. There are other groups.
posted by Segundus at 1:30 PM on June 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: By the way, if you approach it as asking for advice rather than straight up venting or attempting to turn her against Brad, I think talking to Janet is actually a fantastic idea. People love to have their opinion solicited and to feel like their advice is valued and desired; that kind of request won't be seen as an imposition at all. I mean, you want to proceed slowly and drop it if she seems uncomfortable with the topic, but it sounds like a great opportunity to become closer with Janet and potentially gain an ally in the group.
posted by animalrainbow at 1:30 PM on June 22, 2013 [5 favorites]

You need to stop making self deprecating jokes. I am prone to that. I got in the habit in part because I seem to intimidate people and it was in part an attempt to say "I am far from perfect. I am human, just like anyone else. I make mistakes. No, I don't have a huge freaking ego." But it created problems. It really did not solve my social difficulties.

Michele in California is right about this. When I do it it's because I think my saying I suck at X or I look like Y it will prevent other people from saying it, which means I won't have to hear those hurtful words said to me. But it has the opposite effect - instead of keeping others from saying X/Y, it invites them to.
posted by headnsouth at 1:33 PM on June 22, 2013 [8 favorites]

So, I'm going to say I don't think the solution is to find new friends. You've tried that a few times. You've found some patterns. I'm going to offer a few observations:

1. We tease people sometimes about things that make us uncomfortable. Sometimes this is a way of showing that we like you despite (weird thing x and y and z)... but also just re-confirming among ourselves that, yes, x and y and z are in fact weird and I'm not out of touch with reality for thinking so.

2. The kind of people you're describing seem to be people who are confident and socially adept. They don't mind when someone teases them about something, it's funny and it means they're being paid attention to! And if they do mind, they can easily and casually ask the person to stop or otherwise send 'that's not OK' signals. That means they don't really have any idea how you're feeling, because if they felt that way they would have said something by now.

Just talk to a kind person who's part of the 'problem' one on one and say, "hey, I've been getting teased about being socially awkward a lot. It's not something I can help, can you please try not to make fun of me about it?" I bet that within a couple of gatherings not only will s/he have stopped, but other people will have started to pick up that social awkwardness jokes aren't as funny as they were before.
posted by Lady Li at 1:36 PM on June 22, 2013 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: I appreciate the comments so far and will mull them over after I've taken my mandatory self-imposed many-hours-break from this question.

Two things for future answerers:

1. This would be the "private word." But I feel that I do need to tell Brad that what he said this last week was a huge over-the-line thing, even knowing that he's been doing rather less unfriendly mocking for going on two years. If he does exactly what he did again I really will walk out in the heat of the moment, and I have a tendency to never walk back in after that kind of moment. It was substantially beyond just "haha Fee is weird" but rather "for the first time ever we'll change how we do this regular meeting specifically so Fee can sit there looking like an idiot with nothing at all to do, and it was me who asked her to do the thing we won't do but whatever... ... ... ... ... ... ... HAHA never mind Fee! Just messing with you!!!" And this was said in the middle of the meeting, just as I was supposed to get up and do the thing I was supposed to do. I'm frankly astonished I didn't cry. He got his first-ever glare from me, even. Couldn't get myself to actually say anything about it though.

2. I appreciate the righteous indignation on my behalf, but the reality is that at any given time I am only a member of one or perhaps two voluntary social organizations of any kind, if I've managed to keep myself in one at all. This is the first one I've tried to be in since the last one fell to pieces (there was a six-year gap in which I participated in no voluntary social groups of any kind, and sometimes didn't leave the house for weeks.) And every single group I've ever been in, from dorm activities committees to church reading groups, has had at least a little bit of this. Which makes me think that there are quite a few things I could do, other than dumping the groups in a serial fashion, to make this better.

(I'm sure that the signals I am giving that the teasing can now commence end up being: I still show up, I no longer appear to be ridiculously nervous, and I'm still behaving very strangely. That's certainly how it worked in school: breathing and being weird were sufficient. And bursting into tears was highly effective for just getting the teasing to stop, so long as you didn't need actual friends.)
posted by Fee Phi Faux Phumb I Smell t'Socks o' a Puppetman! at 1:37 PM on June 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yes, there are absolutely things you can do to change this. And if it were possible for you and me to hang out together, I could tell you what some of those things are, run interference for you (so it can't escalate so badly), and model what works. But I am not there. So I am suggesting you reach out to Brad and see if he can run interference and model what works for you.

But given how far it has gone and that you are trying to advocate on your own behalf with a bad track record, it may be unsalvageable. If you cannot sort things out, please leave this group and work at interrupting this pattern sooner the next time around. In future groups, a tactic that might help is to identify "Brad" early and explain privately that you need an ally and you have these problems. But this one may have already gone too far.

((((hugs, if you want them))))
posted by Michele in California at 1:47 PM on June 22, 2013 [6 favorites]

Rule #1, teasing is only o.k. when you and the victim know its about his accomplishment or talent. Hey, ask Jack for the lyrics, there may be some he doesn't know. or she's our energyzer bunny when it comes to cooking!
Rule 2-find a group with a mental age higher than 12
rule 3 "Fee is off limits for August teasings"
rule 4 pick up the book "Quiet" you will love it and feel appreciated1
rule 5 find a smaller group that works on a task together
rule 6 hang around some creative introverts.
posted by blueberry at 2:09 PM on June 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I think you need to pick one person you feel most comfortable with and enlist them as your ally. In any group there will be one empathetic person who is comfortable with helping with something like this. I promise you this will make a big difference.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 2:10 PM on June 22, 2013 [7 favorites]

Echoing the suggestion to stop the self-deprecating jokes. Don't give people that opening.

I know that this absence (amongst many other more minor things) has annoyed Brad greatly

Then fuck him. You can be absent or present however much you want, and if it annoys someone, he go fuck himself.

I guess I don't understand what this friend group is. You also describe the people in the friend group as extremely petty and annoying-- much moreso than I have experienced since middle school. Like especially so in a way that I don't see in other social groups.

Part of the problem seems to be that you're choosing social groups in which there are "responsibilities" and "leaders" and a dynamic where individuals have to prove they're a "team player." And that's totally not going to work for you, because you aren't going to thrive in that environment, and the people who have to "get stuff done" in this environment don't want to have to deal with your eccentricities, so you are a burden to them, and that gets expressed by being obnoxious. You need a group where you can show up or leave at your leisure and participate however much or however little you choose and where the group isn't seen as a springboard for self-appointed "leaders" to go on to bigger and better things such that people who "aren't team players" such as your self are seen as obstacles.

What I get the impression is that Brad doesn't like you and doesn't like putting up with you. Like he's probably exasperated with you, and that's morphed into mocking you as a means of expressing his annoyance. Like he has a group that he feels is supposed to work in a certain way, and he feels your presence disrupts the dynamic.

The pattern is pretty much always as follows

Here's the thing, which I think you know. The common denominator is you. Not that you're a bad person, or that you deserve the abuse you receive, but people seem perfectly comfortable abusing you. It may be that in any social group, you are the crazy person. Every relatively open social/activity group eventually attracts the crazy person. The hard part about the crazy person is that the crazy person isn't a bad person. It's that no one really wants to be around the crazy person.

So I think the solution is a couple of things: choose different kinds of social groups. Like maybe activity groups, like hiking or something? Or maybe a running club? And choose groups where you don't have to depend on other people to participate-- ie, don't be that person who always needs a ride or in some other way always make it clear that you lack some aspect of self-care that means you need the goodwill of strangers to participate in this. Likewise, don't place yourself in a position where you always need to (or volunteer to) do "favors" for people (eg, like being the person who gives rides to the carless), because I have a feeling that you are going to screw this up in some minor way or bail out of the assignment because you're busy or too tired to go out, and then that will snowball into "Fee can't do stuff she's called on to do!" set of recriminations.
posted by deanc at 2:10 PM on June 22, 2013 [4 favorites]

Can you give people a way to connect with you in a genuine, human way other than teasing you? I think sometimes people tease because that's the only way they can think of to reach out to people who are really different from them.

To the comment above: I'm not sure that Brad "doesn't like" the OP. Brad may be neutral, or even fond of, the OP. But the OP's anxiety about this situation may be coloring everything to make it seem more tense than it is.
posted by amtho at 2:12 PM on June 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

I might add that not every group has a "Brad." And even most groups that do have a "Brad", Brad's inflated self-image is normally treated as a harmless joke by everyone else.
posted by deanc at 2:12 PM on June 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Just in case it wasn't clear, I mean in future groups, find the bombastic, self confident, socially smooth person (that typically becomes your worst nightmare), privately tell them a few secrets that you won't find devastating if they blab about you, and enlist them as an ally. They will feel all special and plenty of people will be happy to shield you from the worst of this. It will give you a chance to blossom. (Later, when you have grown, we an talk about when and how to ditch people who want to limit your growth because they like being needed as a crutch. But, for now, take the crutch.)

When I had a job, I would tell people about my allergies or whatever and leave out that I have cystic fibrosis. Pick "secrets" you feel safe divulging. You do not have to actually trust these people. Just give them a token of trust and get them on your side. You need an ally to help you fit in. I run interference for my autistic sons all the time. It makes a huge, huge difference. And experiencing it will help you change for the better. Experiencing it just once will open your eyes.
posted by Michele in California at 2:23 PM on June 22, 2013 [4 favorites]

There are a number of different ways you can approach this. All of them are goign to require a level of bravery on your part.

I would actually encourage that most are these are better done not in private, one of the messages constant throughout here is that people, not only Brad, but people in general gett he message that you are willing to stand up for yourself. I would argue once it got beyond once or twice a private aside is no longer the best option.

So, here is what I think your options are, there are in various ways confrontational.

1. You can firmly and clearly state "knock it off" / "not funny" / something similar. Make eye contact, be brief and move on quickly.

2. You can challenge him "Brad, your jokes make me feel awful, why are you doing this." "Are you actively trying to drive me away?" [his lame response] reply: "Ok, well now you know. Please no more jokes directed at me, however you intend them they are hurtful."
[note: be ready for the inevitable "jeeze take a joke/it's only a joke" line. Something like "It's not funny, it is not a joke it is being a bully and very hurtful, knock it off"

3. Get angry, I mean really righteously full blown trembling with anger pissed off. And cuss him out, call him names, tell him to "fuck off and leave you alone". Yeah, this is likely to frighten people but is also likely to display you are really really serious about it. +1000 if you can pull it off screaming at Brad, then switch it off, turn around and calmly say "So, what does everyone think about X aspect of Y subject?" (or some such).

Personally I would go option 2, but I think any of these may be worthwhile give the individual situation. Whatever you do, use strong language, be assertive, look him in the eye and keep it realitivly short.

Brad seems like one of those people that just ignoring him will not do the job. there exists, for whatever reason a certain type of person who will absolutely be assholes until you challanging them on that. Then... well, sometimes their attitude can change.

Good luck, be strong
posted by edgeways at 2:25 PM on June 22, 2013

You don't like yourself (see weeks 9-20.) Do something about this. Metta meditation is a good approach. Should fit well with the CBT you were recommending in another thread.
posted by Estragon at 2:27 PM on June 22, 2013

Here is a simple (non-nuclear) script you might consider:
Fee: Brad, when you said [cancel my part], I know you were just joking around but it felt disrespectful. Can you dial it back a little on the joking around?
Brad: Can't you take a joke?
Fee: Sometimes I can and sometimes I can't. That one crossed the line for me.
Brad: I didn't mean anything
Fee: I'm sure you didn't, that's why I'm telling you. By the way, do you have the agenda for the next meeting [or anything else to change subject]

This may or may not have any impact on Brad but it will be good for you to say.
Also, be prepared for a response next time Brad's "joking" is too much - my favorites are of the "Really, that's what you think?" or "Well, bless your heart" type. The trick is plan and be prepared so that you can deflect the comments and not take them in next time. (And the rest of the group can see that Brad's comments were out of line witout you making a big deal of it)
posted by metahawk at 2:28 PM on June 22, 2013 [7 favorites]

In the days before any one of us was born, and before the ball point pen had been invented, little school boys reputedly dipped the braids of pretty girls into inkwells. (I know, who thought up that behavior?) Brad may be doing the current version of getting your attention.
Step 1: Tell him to stop talking like that.
Step 2: Tell Brad that you are not his punching bag.Ask him to consult his therapist about his unacceptable attitude.
If he doesn't, and the group does not support you and criticize him, leave the group or only appear if you are sure Brad will not.
posted by Cranberry at 2:31 PM on June 22, 2013

A couple thoughts, some of which are contradictory, because it's hard to tell exactly what's going on without seeing the interactions in action.

1. I absolutely agree that teasing/ribbing is often a way of showing affection, at least among fairly emotionally healthy adults, especially when the teas-ee has demonstrated they aren't hurt by the teasing -- for example, by making similar self-deprecating statements. Is there a chance you're reading their attempts to include you more as hostile, when they're meant to be friendly?

2. Of your 10-point list, points 1-3 seem like "first conversation" points. cairdeas' script also makes the same points and is great. Referring back to my first point, I think it would help to approach Brad with the assumption that he's clueless (or even well-intentioned) rather than hostile.

3. With regards to talking to Janet, I generally think that you can run things by a third party and avoid being passive if you use the third party as a "trial run" and promise yourself that whatever issues the third party is helping you work out, you will then take to the second party. (Is that totally confusing?) Basically, if you vent to Janet about Brad but don't say anything to Brad, that's passive. If you ask Janet to help you figure out how to talk to Brad, and then you use the help she gave you to have a more successful "confrontation" with Brad, then that's not passive, but a way of using your resources.

4. I think a possible Week 5-21 solution would be to avoid self-deprecating humor, try to tone down the nervous laughter (I do it, too, I know it's hard to stop), and to respond to ribbing with a slightly pained and confused look -- like Zooey Deschanel trying to look concerned. Generally, well-intentioned people don't want to upset someone, even slightly, but right now you're not letting them know you're slightly upset, so they don't know to stop. You need to let them know, and mild body-language social cues are the way most people do that. (Anyone who continues on despite that negative feedback from you is being an asshole, and deserves more of an escalation at that point.)

5. Your comments on AskMe are always awesome, intelligent, and eloquent, and I love seeing your username in threads. I don't want to sound like I'm stalking you, because I'm not!, I think we just end up in a lot of the same threads. I understand that online personae and real-life personae don't always match up, but I strongly, strongly, STRONGLY suspect that you're assuming hostility from at least some of these people where there is none, and they're just really making ham-handed attempts to get to know you better and include you more, because you're awesome and smart. I also suffer from some social phobia, so I get how easy it is to assume people see you as a "not-person," but your reference to Saved By the Bell makes me think you might be holding on to high-school-age references for teasing and bullying that just aren't really at work among most adults. That might be something to bring up in therapy, especially if you did get bullied or otherwise traumatized in high school or middle school, because I think that may part of what's screwing with your head, here.
posted by jaguar at 2:39 PM on June 22, 2013 [10 favorites]

I feel that I do need to tell Brad that what he said this last week was a huge over-the-line thing

Welllll, not so necessary. You can not smarten up every asshole. It's a fool's mission.

Ya know, in the olden days, Brad would have said this completely insulting thing and you would have turned around and punched him in the nose. I have seen that happen. I'm certainly not advocating violence, but the sad truth is some people need a little nuclear to back the fuck off.

I do think other posters' suggestions of a verbal equivalent -- LEAVE ME THE FUCK ALONE, ONCE AND FOR ALL -- in a strong voice with serious eye contact, and then (and this is important) going back to neutral, laughing, mingling, making allies, could work!

Good luck.
posted by thinkpiece at 2:39 PM on June 22, 2013

It is almost impossible to give you advice without knowing what it is that Brad said and/or did and I find the wall of text without the full disclosure of the thing he did to you perhaps telling.

I also think that every single option you've outlined here, up to and including forcing an apology out of Brad to make him realize what he's done is simply a repeat of this:

Week 21: I have a huge breakdown (public or private, it varies) and quit the group, possibly in conjunction with a "random" cross-state or cross-country move.

And I also think that most of the coping mechanisms outlined in the answers here are overly confrontational with someone who likely thinks he has a friendly relationship with you. Which isn't to say that you shouldn't say something--but if you say something in public to Brad, it should not be approached with the intent of shaming him, but rather sharing the information that you are not, in fact, super into this. This can be done in a friendly way. The best would be to respond to respond as friends normally do when joking cuts too deep--something like an arch of an eyebrow with a "Hey, man, not cool!" or a cringe with, "Too much, ouch!" or something like that.

Then, later, when you're in private, you take the person aside and say something like, "Hey, I know you didn't mean anything by it, but I'm actually a squishy snowflake about x and I would appreciate if you didn't make fun of me in front of everyone about it."

I agree with Jaguar that you might be forcing a high school narrative onto a situation where none is intended. I think that if you stop looking at it like the cool kids vs. the dorks (you) you'll have a much easier time with all of it.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:51 PM on June 22, 2013 [12 favorites]

I have not read all the comments but I have read your question, so pardon me if someone has already said this.

I'm skeptical of the value of the therapist's "assignment" that you attend this group when you're being subjected to some nasty, if ostensibly playful, bullying when you go there.

The reason I'm skeptical is that in "real life" (not just doing therapy assignments) one would just stop going to that group. And my feeling is that forcing yourself to "tough it out" is actually teaching you disempowerment, teaching you to tolerate denigration and personal slights, when any autonomous healthy person would actually just leave and not go back.

That being said, if you insist on staying and dealing with this, I think a candid statement to Brad, along the lines you mention, is fine. And what I always think in situations like this is that what's important is to be sincere and say what you're thinking, however rough or halting it may be. Don't worry about being scripted. But just stand up for yourself in some way. The act of asserting yourself in that initial moment will be a self-reinforcing thing and you will feel the strength accrue in you as you reflect on it and continue to stand up for yourself.
posted by Unified Theory at 3:57 PM on June 22, 2013 [5 favorites]

You know, you may not have to say anything at all, if you think you can't manage the words. Brad starts up with his usual assholery, laughs and waits for your reaction? Just look at him, raise your eyebrows, and stare... And stare... And stare. Until the pause is so long, it becomes really, really uncomfortable... For him. Silence in these situations can be incredibly effective, because everyone is waiting for you to laugh and shrug it off and when you don't, it draws a huge amount of attention to the asshole in the room without saying a thing. "Are you quite finished, Brad? As I was saying, before we heard your delightful comment..."
posted by Jubey at 4:37 PM on June 22, 2013

Best answer: First, I just want to say that you've written an incredibly articulate, very insightful, funny, and compassionate description of the way things are for people who struggle in social situations. If you're not a writer already, I hope you find a way to fit that into your life, because you're really good at it.

Second, you've seen this pattern recur in your life for a long time. You can also see a path open for you to keep repeating it. So really, this is the moment you've been waiting for. Where you make a different choice and use some of that cleverness you have in the service of making some fundamental changes in your life. This is a very bold thing for for you to contemplate, so of course it's going to be difficult.

You need support and encouragement to make this change, so I feel disheartened for you that your therapist is unwilling to give you direct advice right now. If you like/trust your therapist, maybe now is a time to ask/demand more from them. Avoiding giving advice in all situations might be a good idea for new therapists who are still trying to find their boundaries. As I (and other colleagues) have gone on in my career, I've learned to stop being so rigid - there are situations where direct advice is a good thing, and this sounds like one, as the therapist should know enough about the nuances here to give you specific targeted advice. I encourage you to ask him/her to help you out here.

Also, if you have the opportunity, this is the kind of thing that group therapy can be incredibly helpful for.

Third, groups often cohere around the very dynamic you describe. Someone is the leader and someone is the "other" and everyone else is somewhere in between. To change your status as the "other," you need a friend in the group to help stand up for you and to help support you standing up for yourself. Brad is not that person. In his role as the charismatic and non-reflective leader, he has too much invested in keeping you "othered."

Is there another person in the group, someone who is confident, is respected by the group, and who seems friendly and trustworthy, is sort of independent minded (i. e., someone who doesn't always go along with the group and isn't afraid to speak her mind) and who you could confide in and ask for help? What I would hope for is that you could go for coffee with this person and explain your situation and frustration and ask for his/her help. How they could help would be that they could either call the group/Brad out when you've been targeted and you're still too flustered to say anything, or they could back you up when you *do* say anything.

I hope this is helpful. Good luck with this making this change! I hope you're giving yourself all kinds of props for taking this seriously enough to try standing up for yourself. Please post or MeMail follow-ups!
posted by jasper411 at 4:55 PM on June 22, 2013 [4 favorites]

I like the entry level "hey you probably didn't realize this, but here's a piece of information about me" approach suggested by PhoBWanKenobi, metahawk, and cairdeas, followed by some boundary maintenance, like "ouch" or "not cool" and / or not letting the teasing land at all with a friendly "go to hell."

I also want to second what amtho said: "Can you give people a way to connect with you in a genuine, human way other than teasing you? I think sometimes people tease because that's the only way they can think of to reach out to people who are really different from them." I'm not defending what has clearly been painful to you, but I know someone who can act quite shy, and I've seen otherwise well-boundaried people get in their face and playfully mess with them in an attempt to draw them out. It's meant like "I seeee you in there. :)" And with this person, and perhaps with you?, it seems to work better than more neutral "so... where are you from?" gambits. If you do start fresh, I'd do your best to reward the nice attempts with more warmth, and NOT reward the teasing.

Last point: while I'm not entirely sure I correctly understood the example you gave, and while it was clearly painful to you, it strikes me as perhaps just a standard-issue teasing move not intended to personally humiliate you the way it apparently did. Enticing someone to do something and then leaving them hanging is classic, from Lucy and Charlie Brown to the old "gimme five! up high! down low -- you're too slow" maneuver. (Cf. "psych!" and its more easily-googled alternate spelling, "sike!") Perhaps with more details I would change my opinion, but it sounds like rather typical (if juvenile) behavior as presented, so he might be unaware of how painfully that landed. You kind of can't go wrong by easing into things with a little "hey FYI I imagine you mean well, but I'm actually pretty sensitive" news bulletin delivered to him in private.
posted by salvia at 4:56 PM on June 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

I am not your therapist, but:

Maybe you're not going to be at your best in a social group; maybe you'd do better attempting to make friendships on a solo basis. OR maybe you need a group that is more sympathetic to you/your type of person. You say up there that this is the type of popular group made of people who you'd want to go to tailgate parties with (or something) - I became nauseous reading that. You seem to be trying to socialize with people who are the opposite kind of people from who you are (yes I'm aware of the difficulty in calling you and them "types")

I personally have found that the only groups I've been comfortable and successful with are people whom I've found in online communities; theatre improv, *sometimes*, and groups made of fellow therapists.

In other words, pretty quirky people!

People in their 30's who are still making fun of people ....well I'd stay away. I don't want to say things about what people's therapists suggest, because, well, what do I know about the context of your therapy, but not everybody is a "group" type of person and if you're very odd in ways of speech and emotional expression, or whatever (sorry I'm typing without total 100% carefulness), then being teased may be the "price of admission" (to quote Dan Savage on a completely different topic, but I keep reading references to that phrase (he's talking about what you have to give up in order to have a relationship)(so, in that sense, it's not *entirely* off-base here) -- that is, you may have to "pay" for your acceptance into the group by letting them acknowledge your weirdness (yes, you can do what you suggested up there and confront Brad etc. in some way, but you're probably not going to get the dramatic sit-com resolution that we all wish we could get) --

oh I don't know -- really, what the hell do you have to lose at this point by doing the confrontation, modified as per other people's responses here? not much. Maybe it will be good for you to get to tell Brad how you feel, whatever his response is -- maybe ANY change in your behavior would be an interesting experiment (I'm talking about a reasoned, relatively dispassionate confrontation where you tell him how much this hurts you -- not a hit-and-run type of thing as per your history) --

Personally I recommend (for the second time on here this week!) GROUP THERAPY. Your therapist is only going to tell you so much about how you act; s/he is only going to SEE so much within the context of individual therapy; but a group is going to tell you how they actually feel when you are the way you are, but within the spirit of *helpful* candor, as opposed to the "acting out" the people in your social group are doing, because they're uncomfortable with you.

A good therapy group isn't easy to find, but can be REALLY helpful in sorting out what's going on with you when you act in these difficult ways, and what's going on with others when they respond to you. And everybody's there because they want the same thing, and the power differentials are handled by a therapist who sees what's going on (hopefully). (note: I was in a therapy group, as a patient, for approximately 12 years -- boy did I learn stuff about how I come/came across to people! ouch!! but it really really helped!)

But --- you might want to start *accepting* ***yourself*** , including where you fit in in the world, so that you can target the appropriate people and not expect that some generic group of people are going to accept you -- which you may, upon further reflection, decide you don't even WANT.

(are there any MetaFilter meetups in your area? you might want to start there for some contrast to your current group!)
posted by DMelanogaster at 4:56 PM on June 22, 2013 [4 favorites]

If you approach Jerkface now, it becomes a Thing, and it's harder. If you feel you must, then you go sit next to Jerkface or get a minute alone with Jerkface and say Last week, you called me out in the meeting, then said 'Just kidding.' That felt shitty. Don't do that. Don't apologize, don't make excuses for Jerkface or for yourself, don't define the behavior, just tell him to cut it out. No anger, or even fuss. Jerkface may be a bit of a bully, or just a buffoon, but sometimes people like that can be really mean. Focus your attention on strengthening your relationships with nice people, the better your relationships, the harder it is for the bully to be mean without obviously being a jerk, and getting recognized as such.

Stop making self-deprecating comments, and stop letting deprecating comments slide. Doesn't have to be huge, just Ouch, hey, remember, I do have feelings or Weird? I guess I'm not very typical - I prefer it this way or Well, that wasn't very nice, I'll bet you didn't mean it that way, etc. Part of why this always happens is that you have it as a pattern, and you need to stop allowing it happen by being self-deprecating, and let others know that it isn't actually okay with you. Try to assume the attitude of These are well-meaning people who want to like me, and don't want to hurt me.
  1. Telling "Janet," another member of the group who I am much closer to (and whose body language and nervous laughter makes me think she's going to be somewhat on my side on this,) some of the things above, such as "What Brad did is really unacceptable to me, what do you think I should do" or "I'm thinking of leaving the group, in large part because of Brad and the constant jokes about me," or "What do you think the best way is to get people in the group to stop making fun of me like they have been," or "I thought Brad was way out of line the other day; what do you think?" Talk to Janet and say "I'm actually pretty shy, and my feelings are easily hurt. Any advice on how to deal with the teasing?"
  2. Putting all of this off indefinitely so that I can do things like bring this up with my therapist or EAP counselor, read "How To Talk So Others Will Listen" or "Difficult Conversations" (both of which I own and have skimmed through but not studied in depth with a specific scenario in mind,)
  3. see above, start small, stand up for yourself in small, straightforward, but not confrontational ways.
  4. Making this more public, either in a relatively passive or active way (we have an opportunity for people to give brief random statements or express their opinions in front of the group, so I could do anything from "Ten Ways To Not Be a Jerk" to "This is something I've really got to get off my chest about how this group functions and how it affects me as an individual.)
  5. A simple "I've noticed a lot of teasing in the group. I really prefer not to be teased or mocked, and I'll bet there are others who feel the same way."
  6. Sending Brad an anonymous note.
I know these experiences are huge for you, but I think redirecting the group, and Jerkface, calmly, is more effective.
  1. What should I say to Brad? Which of my ten line items are brilliant, terrible, usable, usable-with-some-edits...? "Dude, really? That's kind of mean" or "I guess you mean to be kidding, but, really, no" or "Do you intend to make me feel bad, cause you do, and if it's intentional, you might want to re-think."
  2. Should I involve Susan? What about my counselors? Should I put this stuff off to do research? Just quit altogether? If you are getting useful social practice, making friends, enjoying the activity, then keep going.
  3. Any information about (or resources for) the "don't be That Girl anymore" thing?
  4. All of this is in the context of my permanently impaired social abilities/awareness/etc., and the related fact that in a very real sense I'm giving them legitimate reasons to mock me. They're being rude, and that's not OK, but they're not being rude at random, and I handle all social stuff poorly.

I'm so sorry you're going through this. I appear much more confident socially than I am, but I come home and stay up all night worrying about a comment. I've mostly learned not to be self-deprecating, and that helps a lot. You are not alone. You would be amazed at how many people have social phobias, and suffer from teasing, well-meant or not. You aren't defective, permanently impaired or hopeless. You deserve friends, affection, fun, love and respect. From your presence here on the 'filters, I would never have thought you felt such anguish. Sending you a big hug.
posted by theora55 at 4:59 PM on June 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

Two thoughts:

1. Reading between the lines, you seem to have picked up the idea that you shouldn't display an emotional reaction when people do shit that upsets you — that if anything, you're supposed to laugh along rather than glaring. That was probably a great survival strategy in middle school, where reacting to being teased gets you teased harder. It's not a great strategy in adult life, where most people genuinely do want to be nice to each other. I suspect that if you can break the habit — start just going ahead and glaring when you're annoyed, and reserve laughter for situations where you're genuinely amused — things will start getting better. It's probably not the whole solution but it'll get you partway there.

I should mention that I have been there and it's a viciously hard habit to break. Take this not as "You moron why don't you just glare when you're mad? You wouldn't have this problem if you acted normal" (because ugh fuck that) but rather as "If eventually you make the sort of big personal breakthrough that lets you glare when you're mad, then you'll probably find that other people do a better job of noticing what makes you mad and avoiding that shit, and that'll be a nice side benefit."

2. How do you feel about running jokes that aren't at your expense? Because the thing about that sort of running joke is that it's a very easy way to make sure someone is included in a social interaction. I wouldn't be surprised if some* of the Brads of the world were saying to themselves "Gee, I feel like I need to have something to say to Mr. Puppetman. But we don't have any shared interests, and he doesn't seem to enjoy small talk much, and it seems like we often miss each other's social cues. I know — I'll tell a joke! Jokes are funny!" And then when you smile and join in (see #1) Brad goes "Aha! It worked! Good, I'll stick with this joke, Mr. Puppetman seems to like it. He's a nice guy and I want to make sure he feels included, so I'll make sure to tell this joke at every opportunity."

Anyway, it seems like the best strategy for dealing with that particular subspecies of Brad might be to offer a substitute joke. Stop laughing at/joining in on the joke about how you eat too many muffins. Start telling jokes about XYZ instead, and smile encouragingly when Brad joins in and tells one too. There may come a point when the Local Tradition For Making Mr. Puppetman Feel Included stops being the (horribly ineffective) "insult him!" and starts being the (potentially effective) "tell him jokes that aren't secretly insults!"

*Slight complication: some of the Brads of the world are just assholes. Not many, but some. And some are decent enough people but not at all socially self-aware themselves, and incapable of formulating thoughts like "I want to come up with some fun way of making Mr. Puppetman feel included." But still — there are Brads who are making dumb misguided attempts at being nice using shitty material. And those Brads could turn into people who are genuinely worth being around if you can steer them towards some less-shitty material.
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 5:33 PM on June 22, 2013 [5 favorites]

So, I see two possibilities here. Either this group is composed of bullies, or it's composed of non-bullies. Given what you've described, I think the latter is much more likely -- but either way, I think the best tactic is as follows.

You need to go to Brad -- the ringleader -- and ask him to help you with the social dynamic of the group. Here's a script for what you might say:
Hi Brad -- do you have second to talk privately? I'm having an issue that I was hoping you could help me with. So, this may be obvious, but I have some really serious social anxiety, and it sometimes makes it pretty hard for me to interact with people -- even people I really want to hang around with, like you guys. So, there's this thing that's started happening with the group -- this whole dynamic has developed where I get teased a lot. I know it's intended to be friendly, and I think people are trying to include me, but because I have that social anxiety, it actually really upsets me and makes it even harder for me to interact. In the moment, I usually don't know how to react, so sometimes I even play along, but then I feel really upset and hurt afterwards. It's getting to the point where I'm starting to feel like I don't want to be here. Do you have any ideas for how we could try to change the dynamic, so the group doesn't tease me, and treats me a little more gently?
Here's why this is the best tactic.

If Brad responds unkindly -- if he teases you even more intensely, dismisses your concerns, or refuses to listen -- then you know that he's a bully, and you can leave this group behind. And don't feel bad about it, either -- he's just proven that this is his problem, and it has nothing to do with anything about you.

If Brad responds kindly -- offers suggestions to help, seems to be sincerely listening to what you're saying, acknowledges the seriousness of the situation, perhaps even offers an apology -- then you know you're dealing with not-bullies. In that case, you will just have done two things:

1. You've enlisted an ally -- the social leader of the group -- who is in the best position to be able to smooth your way.
2. You've communicated clear, concrete feedback about what makes you comfortable and uncomfortable, so that others can accommodate you better.

#2 is the most important, because it seems like communication is what has been what's lacking so far. If this is a group of non-bullies, then they're just decent people, some of whom probably also have some social anxieties, all of whom are just trying to make a social dynamic that is comfortable for themselves and everyone around them. They can't know what you like and don't like unless you tell them. And the things that make you horribly unhappy, like teasing, might actually feel welcoming and comfortable to some people. Seriously. Imagine, for instance, that Brad has a little sister he's especially fond of, and their close relationship involves a whole lot of teasing. So maybe that template is in his mind -- "Some people feel more comfortable and included when they're teased a bit." If he tried that tactic on you, and you never told him otherwise -- in fact, if you played along -- he may still be operating under that misapprehension. Based on your description of past events, it seems like this situation may have happened in your social groups before; it's a fair bet that it's happening again. The solution is to communicate your needs as clearly and kindly as you can -- remember, they, too may be struggling with anxieties, and they probably also want to feel as though you like them.

I'd highly suggest role-playing this conversation through a few times, perhaps with your therapist -- it's going to be a challenge. But I think you will find that it yields better results than any of the other possibilities you've outlined. Good luck.
posted by ourobouros at 5:34 PM on June 22, 2013 [7 favorites]

Best answer: Oh my goodness. I find you so enormously likeable. I think it's what jasper411 said -- you are a terrific writer, and it's impossible not to like someone who demonstrates so much self-awareness.

I also think you have gotten a lot of pretty bad advice in this thread --the "just tell him to fuck off" advice-- and I think it's because a lot of people here sympathize with you on the basis of what you've written, and perhaps identify with you. Their comments are I think defensive on your behalf.

I think you have documented your pattern really well, and this is a really great opportunity for you to break it, or to begin breaking it. You know that if you let events play out as you have in the past, you'll eventually just ditch the group. So you have nothing to lose. I think that's why your therapist is asking you to try something different. Because even if it utterly fails, you'll have experimented, and will have learned something.

So I would try two things:

1) Confide in Janet. Tell her Brad is making you feel like shit, and ask her for feedback on what you could do to improve the dynamic -- to stop being teased. This will potentially have two good effects: it will give her a heads-up about how you feel, so she can protect/defend you if she has the opportunity, and she may be able to give you some good advice. There's no risk in this approach.

2) Send Brad an e-mail, saying some lightweight version of your #1-3 above. Keep it short and as non-blamey as possible. Something like "I found what you did/said last week really hurtful, and I wanted to ask you to be more sensitive to me. I'm sure you didn't mean to hurt my feelings, and you probably don't even know that you did: that's why I'm telling you. If you want to talk about it I'm happy to do that, but either way I figured it was worth telling you, because obviously you didn't do it on purpose." Use statements like "when you did x it made my feel y" and try to close on a positive, friendly note. This is *practicing* at being assertive. Worst case, nothing changes and you later bail. Better case: he apologizes and dials back the jokes.

(My experience of people like Brad: often they are trying to include you, and to be affectionate. They can be rough and stupid, but they often don't mean any harm.)

Basically the sense I am getting from your question is that you tend to bottle up your reactions and "play along." Like you say, you hide. That's not really fair to other people: if they have no idea how you're feeling, how are they supposed to treat you the way you want to be treated? Plus you are funny and insightful. If I were in your social circle, I would want you to share yourself more openly with me, rather than withholding.

Maybe also read some of the Myers-Briggs literature: you strike me as a likely INTJ: they are often experienced by other people as tough and aloof, and the answer to that is just saying what you are thinking and feeling, rather than not saying it.

Good luck!
posted by Susan PG at 6:52 PM on June 22, 2013 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I think something that can happen in social situations is if someone feels awkward and is clearly showing that awkwardness, some people may try to make it into a joke to show that everything is cool, the person who is feeling awkward or uncomfortable isn't making others unhappy, and everyone is able to laugh and have a good time. Sometimes this can really help the person feel like they fit in more.

But if you don't think it's funny then it's not funny. If these people are more mature than a high schooler, and if they seem like genuinely nice individuals who aren't picking on you to make you feel bad, the first step, and the step that involves being assertive, is going to the Brads in your life in private and saying "hey, when you keep making that joke about the cupcakes, it makes me feel really upset, embarrassed, and singled out. I really don't like those kinds of jokes and I'd appreciate that you stopped making them."

I've definitely been on both sides - where the joke does amuse me and where it doesn't. The one time I actually had the courage to tell the person in question that her joking was upsetting to me, it was clear she hadn't realized it was upsetting to me - and she immediately stopped!

I do agree that there's every possibility these friends are just doucheholes, because the world is full of doucheholes who make fun of people to make them feel bad, because getting an upset reaction from someone who you've mocked is an easy way to display power in social situations.

But just in case they're not, a little bit of calm and not-too-angry discussion about it can go a long way.
posted by capricorn at 7:01 PM on June 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

5. I don't particularly care if you meant to "hurt my feelings" or not. Your intent is really not the point as far as I'm concerned.

Well, you should care, because intent is the difference between cruelty and accident, and the appropriate responses for those are completely different. Given that you've been doing your best to hide how much it bothers you to be teased, and given that this is apparently a recreational group of people who are not 12 years old, I think intentional cruelty is very unlikely. Your emotional responses are legitimate but they are not universal. Your feeling bad does not mean somebody else is *trying* to make you feel bad. Routine teasing about an affinity for cupcakes (however exaggerated) is vanishingly unlikely to be intended to hurt you. But of course, the hurt you feel is very real, and it doesn't help to pretend it's not there.

From your 10-point list of things you'd like to say, the parts I think are good ideas are I found your "joke" the other day to be really hurtful and also confusing. It felt humiliating and disrespectful, and The pattern of jokes and references to my past mishaps or "funny moments" in public is really not fun for me, and I'd like it to stop.

Communicating how you feel and making clear requests, which is what those statements do, is absolutely critical to healthy relationships. It's how you give others the benefit of the doubt, and the chance to adjust their behavior. The rest of the 10 points consist of labeling what Brad did as objectively wrong (which it isn't), pretending you know what the rest of the group is thinking and feeling (which you don't), personal attacks and threats. Those are all good ways to light this set of relationships on fire, which I believe is the kind of pattern you're wanting to get away from.
posted by jon1270 at 7:02 PM on June 22, 2013 [4 favorites]

I just wanted to say that I am pretty sure I know what this group is, and for whatever reason (partly, I think due to the structure of this group, and partly because of the sort of people who tend to be attracted to this activity), these groups ALWAYS have a Brad. And they always have people who nervously go along with stuff they aren't comfortable with. There is a really fucked up dynamic in all of the groups of this type I have attended. I am socially pretty comfortable and secure in myself and these groups still make me feel terrible. Although they are supposedly meant to be good for people like you who want to develop assertiveness and social skills, it's okay to admit that actually they fail at their mission and you aren't going to go there anymore.

I know you would see leaving as one more in a string of similar events, but NEXT time you join a group (not one of these ones again, though, please!) focus on what is happening in the weeks 5-20 in your scenario. Try to nip the teasing in the bud the first time it happens, even though that is really hard. Say that you have issues with being teased, even though you are sure it is meant in a friendly way. Enlist someone like "Susan" on your side early on with a quiet word in private, so that she can stand up for you even when you can't stand up for yourself. And whatever you do, don't make the deprecating remarks about yourself!
posted by lollusc at 7:05 PM on June 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

"I am specifically seeking the kind of real-world "do this not that" advice which therapists are for the most part told not to give patients."

Actually, I think there has been a shift in this kind of thinking in therapy. Last year I attended a state-of-the-art outpatient program at one of the leading and most prestigious mental health institutions in the world, and it was all about learning and practicing practical, concrete skills in life, including addressing all sorts of social stuff. And I have been seeing a new therapist for just about exactly a year now, and she is the best therapist I have ever had (out of perhaps 15 therapists in the last 35 years), precisely because she has just such a "real-world" approach and helps me with real, concrete, practical advice. She helps me come up with scripts for difficult social or family situations, among other things.

Also, I understand this concept of "assigning" you to become and be part of a social group. I have problems with social anxiety, and this has been suggested to me, too. But my therapist would never want me to be in a group in which I was treated badly. I imagine your therapist must have the flexibility to help in the back-and-forth, trial and error necessary to make changes and learn about and improve yourself. Perhaps she can help you come up with ideas for another group to look for which would feel appropriate for you.

Good luck!
posted by primate moon at 7:40 PM on June 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

Would you be able to say, "Look, [person teasing me in a way I don't like], I have a little social anxiety and while I don't mind some gentle teasing, I get very anxious and uncomfortable with that sort of teasing you just did."? I have a friend who's very socially anxious (and very high-performing, she's a doctor) who just announces, "I have some social anxiety, I can't tell right now if this is fun or mean, and it's making me really anxious." She actually has GAD, major depression, and some other issues, but social anxiety is really common and acceptable to talk about because people perceive it as minor and sympathize with it. I've seen her do this several times, and people always back off and treat her more gently and make sure to signal their gentle teasing much more obviously. I live in a high-teasing social milieu, where teasing is the primary form of affection; it takes her a little longer to form bonds after announcing this and people stop teasing her, but it's not a big deal at all.

Another alternative is to say in an amused-terrified voice, "No, no: I'm too insecure about that trait for you to tease me about it!" People laugh with you because you're couching your honesty in a self-deprecating way, but they don't tease you about it again. I personally find that a much less threatening way to ask someone to stop making fun of me about something that's not funny to me; a direct confrontation about that sort of thing is hard and awkward for me, but turning it into a joke at my own expense makes the honesty burn a little but still gets the point across in a way that doesn't require me to be all "SRS BZNESS" (which is hard for me). (On preview, this is another version of the "Ouch, too far!" sorts of things people are suggesting above.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:45 PM on June 22, 2013 [3 favorites]

I'm really sorry you have to deal with the issues you have to deal with, but this group exists, as a group, and it sounds as though teasing and joking around in this way is totally normal for them. Someone upthread says you sound extremely likeable, and I'm sure you are, but goddamn even reading your question is hard work and the way you describe it it is hard work for the group to accommodate your special needs, particularly if it's a group whose ordinary dynamic involves teasing and mocking.

Do you play a valuable role in this group, for the group itself, or do you solely belong to the group to work on your social skills? If you need to not be made fun of, and the normal dynamic of the group is to tease and make fun of each other, then you need to find somewhere else to belong and / or practice your social skills.
posted by goo at 10:09 PM on June 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

I think you need to find a new group. It's not really okay to pick on others (even if you sense less than stellar social skills) and really everyone should have picked that up in junior high. You might try volunteering because the people are generally kind and a bit tolerant of people who don't yet have great social skills. Try to start.
posted by bananafish at 10:59 PM on June 22, 2013

Best answer: Talking to Janet should be step #1. Having alies and confidants is one of the primary ways individuals negotiate their involvement in a group. I would consider it a fundamental social skill and something that you'd do well to practice.

Re: the feeling that you're involving people who haven't asked to be involved: sharing emotional experiences — good and bad — is central to building friendship, trust and intimacy with people. Your fear and hesitation to share is very common (I have it myself!) but when my friends apologize for dumping on me I always tell them, "I want to be a part of your actual life, not some sunny fake version of it."

If Janet is a kind person she will be grateful that you opened up to her.
posted by wemayfreeze at 11:50 PM on June 22, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I have a tendency to be kind of a Brad. In my family and groups of close friends, running jokes about aspects of people's personalities is how we show our affection for each-other, and in small group dynamics, if I'm not mindful of it I can start busting people's balls that I don't even know that well. If nobody says anything about it, I just keep going, especially if they play along. I would hate hate hate to hurt someone's feelings (which of course raises the question why I'm risking doing so by teasing near-strangers but let's not digress down the path of why I'm an idiot that could take more paragraphs than possible in a askme text box), SO this is all to say that if I was told by someone directly that I had hurt their feelings, I would immediately apologize and treat them differently (with cordial thoughtfulness) from then on. I agree with the other recommendations to email or speak to Brad privately sticking with "I" statements about your reaction to his words, then if he ever does it again call him out dead seriously: "Brad I thought we talked about this? Not cool man." Be brave! Good luck.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:55 AM on June 23, 2013 [3 favorites]

Oh and I disagree about having allies. I don't think it necessarily helps at all, you could just get a reputation for complaining or gossiping behind Brad's back. If Brad keeps giving you shit after you talked to him, then it would be appropriate to involve others, but until Brad unequivocally knows he's crossed the line you haven't really directly addressed the problem at all.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:57 AM on June 23, 2013

If you open up to Janet and she then turns around and tells others what you said then she is neither your confidant nor your ally.

And yes I do think that eventually you will need to address the issue directly. But having friends within a scene can give you the strength and perspective needed to take on big challenges like the one you're facing now.
posted by wemayfreeze at 10:15 AM on June 23, 2013

"you are hurting my feelings right now"

it's much more powerful than you realize. Unlike witty retorts or caustic attacks it does not turn the situation into an argument (which is not the kind of thing you want to be in with someone who is talented at public mockery)

"you are hurting my feelings right now. I need you to stop"

It puts all their shit back in their lap. You are drastically over-thinking this. If someone is publicly hurting your feelings, publicly let them know. Right away. They will stop or you will leave, in adult life it is that simple.
posted by French Fry at 5:08 PM on June 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

I apologize for not reading your entire post, but I, as a stranger on the Internet, give you permission to not spend time in groups that make you feel bad about yourself. I also give you permission to tell your therapist that this line of treatment (specifically this group) is NOT working for you. This is life, not a reality TV show.

A stranger on the Internet
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 5:26 PM on June 23, 2013

Response by poster: Thank you all for your feedback/suggestions/advice/analysis/etc.

After reading it all (50+ responses, yikes!) I decided to email Janet; she wrote back right away and said she thought it was something that totally needs to be stopped because we're supposed to be creating a supportive environment, etc. She suggested I email Brad or pull him aside after a meeting, so I've emailed him. It was really, really, really short - just "this was hurtful, made me uncomfortable, and I'm not OK with being a target of this stuff" - so I hope he won't feel I'm making too big a deal out of it. Admittedly, part of me hopes it'll get lost in the electronic ether.

Janet also suggested I bring up the long-running jokes about me at the next strategy/leadership meeting, so I'm considering that. The next one of those meetings won't be for a month so I'll have lots of time to change my mind eight or nine times between now and then. And also there are like three therapy appointments in the interim, so my therapist can have her say. :)

To respond to a couple of the questions (implied or explicit) above:
  1. I love this activity, and I'd be really sad to give it up. It'd also be really tough to explain to an awful lot of people (and there'd be a ton of questioning, including from my boss.)
  2. I'm really good at hiding how uncomfortable I am (or how much I'm guessing about what other people think/feel/will react) till everything collapses. I'm considered an asset (mostly on technical stuff completely unrelated to the focus of our activities) by the group, and they basically dragged me kicking and screaming into becoming a member of the leadership team and won't let me stop. I've had to repeatedly emphasize how very not-suited to being the president of the group on several occasions, because various people (never Brad) keep thinking that's a brilliant idea. People also think I'm deliberately being funny when I think I'm being super serious or boring. I figure this is for the same reason that dogs will jump up on me - even ones that don't like strangers - while I'm having a panic attack because I'm completely terrified of them. (I do badly on those "determine what emotion the face in this picture represents" tests.) Just the other day a woman from church wrote to me and said her husband is astonished I have anxiety (having just met me;) I was physically shaking the entire time he was in the room with me and spent the entire next day hiding in my house to recover from the experience. You don't want to know how much time I spend retyping these questions and answers trying to make them inoffensive and helpful. I'm berating myself over how long this paragraph is, for instance.
  3. All groups make me feel bad about myself, because it's not really them that's doing it - it's the dynamic I end up creating for myself, and the way that certain types of people behave when they come across that dynamic in the groups they're in.
  4. If you think I dislike myself now, you should have talked to me four years ago.
Oh... and Janet's a total grown-up type, completely trustworthy, etc. Part of why I decided to email her is because of a few posts suggesting the possibility she wouldn't maintain confidentiality or whatever - I knew she'd never be like that. She'd never have let Brad get away with what he did this week if she were still in charge of the group (which she was till last year.) The fact that she said she thinks he was out of line also made me feel tons better instantly.

I have high hopes that at the very least, sending those emails out, and reading her reply, will stop the periodic crying fits I've been having about the issue, not to mention the obsessive replaying of the incident over and over and testing out different assertive responses that I didn't make, out loud. My thought-stopping and self-soothing and distraction tools have been getting a major workout the last few days, and my water bill is going to be really high because I keep doing the could-have-said-this thing in the shower.

I had to make myself hit "post answer" before I rewrote this all again. Anxiety bites.
posted by Fee Phi Faux Phumb I Smell t'Socks o' a Puppetman! at 6:16 PM on June 23, 2013 [3 favorites]

It'd also be really tough to explain to an awful lot of people (and there'd be a ton of questioning, including from my boss.)

I can't say I've ever been involved in a non-work activity that my friends and my supervisors at work took an active concern in.

This seems to be another symptom of your ongoing issues in group environments, which is similar to situations a lot of Askers find themselves in when it comes to family and romantic issues: you give off a "desperate" vibe in which you are clearly under a lot of social pressure from the outside to "stick with" whatever you do, and that constrains you in a lot of ways and prevents you from developing the skills needed to wisely choose social groups and navigate the social dynamics when you do join them. To a degree, it seems you've "bet all your chips" on this group, and you may do this with other groups, so you can't "cut your losses" and find a more compatible group of friends when necessary.

I hope navigating Brad's issues work out for you and that you manage to disarm him. But the deeper issue is that you're so invested in this group that you're FORCED to deal with Brad and the other dysfunctional group dynamics rather than disengage for a friendlier group.
posted by deanc at 8:26 AM on June 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

I remind them that we're required to follow such-and-such law in order to avoid such-and-such consequences from the IRS, etc.

strategy/leadership meeting

there'd be a ton of questioning, including from my boss

technical stuff completely unrelated to the focus of our activities

becoming a member of the leadership team

This group might organize social activites, but it does not sound like it in itself is a social group.

my therapist has given me an ongoing assignment to be socially active; I'm there to get used to be people, become comfortable around them, and practice social skills. The group isn't meant for that - we picked something that involves an activity I enjoy

It sounds like you are doing a lot of interacting with people in meetings at this group. Meetings don't generally use the sort of social skills one uses in a less formal setting.

It seems that the stakes are high for you with this group, if your boss cares that you are a part of it.

You might have an easier time trying out new social skills at something where the stakes are lower, where no one will confront you if you choose to walk away. Maybe a meetup group where you do some sort of activity, one where you will get chances to interact one-on-one or in small groups. Something where there's no overarching goal that would require strategy meetings, or knowing what the IRS wants, or that your boss would care about.
posted by yohko at 4:32 AM on June 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

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