Paranoid about people being disingenious
January 27, 2014 5:49 PM   Subscribe

How do I overcome this fear/paranoia?

I've been working on myself a lot lately (therapy, exercise etc.) and I've been noticing a change in my overall attitude. I'm becoming more open and more outgoing than I usually am. I've been wanting to create new friendships but something begins to bother me whenever I become friendly with people.

I have this anxiety and fear that the person I'm talking to is only being friendly out of charity. That they feel they need to be friendly with me or pretend to be interested. That they think I'm starving for friends. They don't think highly of me. That I'm lonely. And they'd feel bad if they weren't interested. I actually DON'T have a lot of friends, and I'm lonely from time to time but I'm never showing it. I just like talking/connecting to people.

It happens whenever I talk to people at work, or people in other social circles or groups. I'm always friendly and I'm always engaged. I never make it painfully obvious that I need friends, I just carry the conversation in a friendly way. I passionately share my interests. Yet my mind begins to wander and I feel this horrible vulnerability. Like I'll eventually find out they were talking about me behind my back. Or that I'll get hurt by.. something.

I've talked about this with my therapist and he said that there's no way of ever knowing and that I should accept it. We've been practicing mindful meditation and it's been helping in other areas.

Does this make sense? Does this sound serious? Will I eventually overcome this?

Thank you
posted by morning_television to Human Relations (16 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Does this article about the fear of happiness ring any bells?
posted by scody at 5:52 PM on January 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

Why not take solace in the fact that most people are actually far too self-centered and uncaring to bother pretending to be interested in people they aren't interested in? Really, I'd say most people aren't that generous. If someone's talking to you, you can probably mostly take it for granted that they are choosing to because they are hoping you might have a nice interaction.
posted by Miko at 6:20 PM on January 27, 2014 [13 favorites]

To answer the last three specific questions:


Agree with your therapist that you will have to accept it but there are things you can do. One thing that helped me was to step outside of the situation and look at it completely objectively and remember that you can only control how you are interacting with others, not what they say about you behind your back.

For example, suppose a new friend started gossiping about you behind your back to another new friend. If you have just been being friendly and open in a way that is someone aligned to social norms, the gossiping friend would a jerk-face and others would see that.

I have felt similar feelings in certain times in the past. How old are you? Also it may be a self-esteem thing as well as anxiety. One thing that helped me was to grow into my personality.
posted by seesom at 6:20 PM on January 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

You know... maybe it's that people who are crazy deceitful like that don't talk about it, but the more I get my OWN shit together and talk to people (uh, and read ask.metafilter), it seems like a huge portion of the world is also anxious and worried that people don't like them, worried about being inadequate, etc etc all of those worries that you have. I've never once heard someone say something like, "Hahaha, I was just talking to that loser out of pity!" If someone is that unkind, they're not likely to waste their time trying to trick you. I try to keep that in mind when those anxious thoughts try to take over.

Meditation will be a great help! It's good to get a break from your ego and practice some compassion, and, yeah, realize that it's probably not all about YOU.
posted by jeweled accumulation at 6:21 PM on January 27, 2014 [15 favorites]

Stop focusing so much on judgements of yourself or other people and rather just focus on doing fun things or doing your job/hobby well and being in the moment?

If you can, try to just stop caring. So what if your worst fears are true? What's the worst that could happen? There's probably not a person who has ever lived without beig disliked by someone. Even Mr. Rogers. You win some, you lose some.

I mean, of course, be your best self and don't come across as a needy mess, but don't worry so much either. Fake it till you make it, and if you can't or don't feel up to faking it, screw 'em anyway. No one is perfect.
posted by quincunx at 6:21 PM on January 27, 2014 [9 favorites]

I find that in both cases (when someone is being genuine, or in the rare instances when someone is not) either way things work better if I assume the best of people, and act as a genuine person myself.

So it's simple: the details don't matter, just assume the best of people.
If it turns out my assumption was wrong, that's their bad, not mine. And other people notice and appreciate it.

You might also find empowerment in the thought that you have decided to treat even people who are horrible to you, generously, because you have decided that you are strong enough to survive any consequences of be excellent to other people. So someone metaphorically stabs you in the back, it hurts, you feel foolish and stupid, maybe people who don't know you very well will hear lies about you, but the person has revealed their untrustworthiness, you know where they stand, you're now free to move on, find better people, and over time you'll accumulate the best kind of people. More often than deceit, you'll strike gold in people.
That said, don't give your life savings to a vaguely-related-Nigerian-prince's attorney without due diligence.
posted by anonymisc at 6:23 PM on January 27, 2014 [8 favorites]

*sigh* It's a burden that I am painfully aware of and I'm sure you'll be ecstatic to get rid of. The best thing that you can do is believe that you are being genuine and that it should be enough. The way I keep it in mind is to remind myself that what other people think of me is none of my business and I can't control their thoughts, feelings, attitudes towards me, etc. Just be true to yourself, then you won't have any regrets. And the less you think of this, the easier it will be. Think of it as this issue is a bad habit, and the more you exercise *not* falling prey to this habit, the easier it will be to break free of it. Good luck, it's as easy or as hard as you make it. Maybe CBT will help?
posted by lunastellasol at 6:25 PM on January 27, 2014 [3 favorites]

The risk involved in the social interaction with a potential friend is demanding your attention similarly to the way it did for me when I had much worse anxiety. Becoming worried or paranoid functions like a protective measure gone awry. If you have enough instances where you hold still and not let the fear stop you from continuing to interact, maybe over time you'll find you're a bit more comfortable with trusting that people like you (and aren't simply being charitable). There's always a risk a person takes with new friends, but it's a risk worth taking. So, maybe, if you do get past the fear and realize that you can withstand it, you'll be able to take the risk despite your discomfort.
posted by marimeko at 6:31 PM on January 27, 2014 [1 favorite]


It's ok to be scared. Some people will indeed hurt you, either unintentionally through stupidity/selfishness or because of being jerks.

You need to go out there knowing that you will get hurt occasionally, and be able to befriend people anyways. You also will hurt people sometimes, but you still need to be out there.

The thing is that when you are an adult, being hurt occasionally will not destroy you. Finding out that someone was talking badly behind your back will not destroy you- it will simply teach you not to trust that specific person. You can even still like them- just assume that they will gossip about you. You also gossip about people. You can be open and vulnerable while still being strong and resilient- in fact, being open and vulnerable and getting hurt will make you more resilient, and more skilled at interacting in a way that's less likely to get you hurt. You'll learn to navigate people better so that you have better discernment about who you should trust and with what. This is a continual process.

Most people won't be friends with you out of charity because most people simply cannot be bothered and do not have time for that. Many people will be polite to you out of politeness and not care much about you in a deep way, but the people who consistently behave as friends towards you are probably your friends. Don't worry! It's not a teen movie, you're not the punchline. People who don't want to spend time with you usually won't.
posted by windykites at 6:51 PM on January 27, 2014 [12 favorites]

Sounds like low self esteem.

The person is being nice to you. You don't feel good inside, and can't handle their positive affect towards you. So you make up the story "they're just being nice" in order to deflect the positive affirmation they're trying to give you.

So I would just sit with the discomfort that arises when you're talking with people. Say to yourself: this is my low self esteem talking. I will sit with this uncomfortable feeling, and this will defeat my low self esteem. Don't give in to the deflection thoughts; don't think them.

And yes you will get over this! It will be a distant memory, I promise you.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 7:11 PM on January 27, 2014 [3 favorites]

Why not take solace in the fact that most people are actually far too self-centered and uncaring to bother pretending to be interested in people they aren't interested in?

this is the truth. I believe most people go about their lives thinking that others take much more notice of their lives than is the truth. In my experience the only people that get talked about are the people others are jealous of and when I hear this jealous, disparaging talk I will always consider it an inferiority complex of the person doing the disparaging.
posted by any major dude at 7:24 PM on January 27, 2014 [3 favorites]

Your feelings of vulnerability signal to me that you are being authentic, which is all you really have control over. Honestly, I suspect that the way a lot of people get over the feelings you have is to shut themselves off and just make the conversation into "small talk".

It takes a lot of courage to stay engaged in that place where you are vulnerable.

No promises it won't hurt sometimes. But, it's worth it. Because, you'll learn how to work with those feelings, and that the feeling of vulnerability doesn't go away, but does eventually reassure you that you are honestly engaged. And, along the way you will find the other authentic people who will complement you in your life.
posted by meinvt at 7:24 PM on January 27, 2014 [3 favorites]

You know how there's that saying that a spider is more afraid of you than you are of it? Well, they're the spiders. And there's a good chance that many of them are wondering the same things.

One day when I was 25, I ran into a guy who was probably the most popular guy in my high school class, definitely one of the top 2-3. Athletic, cute, and his family had m.o.n.e.y. I might have been in all the same college prep classes, but I wasn't even on the same wavelength in school. My "thing" was always to choose the random people that appealed to me, and that generally meant it was one from this group, one from that, etc, including quite a few that were already out of school.

Instead of just saying "Hi" and moving on past like I expected, this guy I'd never had a conversation with stopped and chatted. Told me some surprising things. I'd been "too confident" and "intimidating" to all those guys. I was too comfortable with who I was, and, in addition to competition from my older friends, approaching me with interest was just impossible.

Funny thing, that. Sure wish somebody'd told me that during those years that I was quaking inside, self-conscious as hell, worried what everybody thought. I might really have been invincible, then.

I didn't even realize it at the time, but that line about fake it til you make it... pretty good advice. You'll get there. Chances are, to everyone else - you're already there.
posted by stormyteal at 9:41 PM on January 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

My solution for this is to be the person you want to spend time with. If you want to hang out with honest, thoughtful people, be an honest, thoughtful person. People who are shady and creepy really prefer to spend time with other shady, creepy people. By being as much of a down-to-earth, straightforward person as possible you start to shed other kinds of people who realize you'll eventually see through them and that you won't put up with their nonsense. This is less true in workplace situations to some extent, because people need jobs and tend to be thrown together with people they wouldn't necessarily be close with, but it's only rare times that I've been really good friends with workmates.

Also: everyone talks about and gets talked about to some extent. I have no illusions that there are probably things about me that annoy or irritate or perplex other people; I'm not perfect by any means. But that's part of the human condition. All the people I love have some characteristic I may have complained about to a confidant at some time (and no doubt they have complained about me). It doesn't mean I like them any less, at worst it means I don't engage in certain situations (I will never go camping, cook, go to a show, talk about politics, work on a project, or share a long car ride with various and sundry people who are otherwise great friends that I care about and whose company I generally enjoy). True, there are people in the world who bitch, moan, and destructively gossip about other people, but those people tend to get shut out eventually by anyone who thinks for themselves.
posted by oneirodynia at 9:23 AM on January 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

We all have these voices that live in our heads. I don't know where they came from. All I know is that they function like tape loops, and each of them has a job. The way they do their jobs is by sticking to you and telling you what they think you need to know.

You have one that's called fear/paranoia. It's job is to tell you things that are scary and to remind you again and again that it's very painful to be rejected, and that therefore you should be VERY VERY CAREFUL ABOUT MAKING FRIENDS. And actually, you should probably avoid making friends altogether, because YOU NEVER KNOW WHAT THEY ARE ***REALLY*** THINKING.

It is true that if you never make friends, you won't ever get rejected. The problem is that this path leads you to a smaller and smaller life because all you can do to be safe is be alone. That doesn't sound like it's how you want to live your life. So what to do?

I think the only way to move on from this is to change your relationship with these thoughts. Instead of getting stuck to them and engaging with them (i.e., trying to ascertain if they are true or not), could you find a way to think about these thoughts as kind of like a crazy old relative? Like maybe you've got this old aunt who, every time she calls, just goes on and on telling you the exact same story. Over the years you probably learned how to deal with this aunt, which is basically to say, "Yeah, that sounds awful, thanks so much for calling, bye!"

Would it be possible for you, when you hear that voice telling you "That person doesn't really like you, they are just being friendly, they are glad to get rid of you, etc.", for you to say: "Hi! I recognize you! You're that thought again! Thanks for the advice, bye!"

In other words, stop struggling with your voices. Just acknowledge that you hear them, and go back to putting yourself out there and meeting more people.
posted by jasper411 at 12:37 PM on January 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

I tend to think people are self involved, but that doesn't mean that over time they don't grow to love you. And, most people think and feel the same way you do, that people are not as genuine as they think or want. You will never know as life comes with no guarantee's. The nice thing about your situation is that you are coming out of your shell and that is such a wonderful thing because you will attract people that like what they see in you. The trick is to not care what happens in their head until you are given the green light to - another words - enjoy the beginnings of getting to know people and then decide how you feel. This is a great opportunity to draw boundaries and decide what you want in a friendship. Truly.

You sound as if you're doing a fantastic job with yourself on a personal level and I congratulate you, it's easier said than done and chin up, there are many MANY good and genuine people out there, you just (most times) have to take the good with the bad in many cases. You're not alone.
posted by Fayrose at 5:20 PM on February 13, 2014

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