I avoid people. Is this normal?
June 2, 2014 8:24 AM   Subscribe

Apart from some very special people, I avoid interaction as much as I can. I don't remember ever feeling like I enjoy interacting with people just for the sake of it unless I already have an established good relationship. You are not my therapist, but what is my deal?

I like finding information about everything on the internet, but for this quirk or problem all I am getting are hits about depression and how people who used to like hanging out with their friends now are indifferent. That is not what is going on with me, I just don't feel much need to interact with people (and I actively avoid it). For instance, I am trying to wait out my roommates leaving the house until I go downstairs to shower/eat. There is nothing wrong with my roommates, they are pretty awesome actually. I would just strongly prefer to not interact with them.

I don't wish I knew how to talk to people. I can do small talk if I have to, but I usually don't because I don't want people to talk to me. I have had social anxiety in the past, I feel like this is different (because then I desperately wanted to talk to someone, now I don't). I feel like I know what I want, and that is to not talk to anyone besides my small circle of friends. I act friendly most of the time to others, but it is hard to sustain a conversation. Even my close friends with the exception of my partner, I am content only seeing them a few times a year, sending a few texts, and never talking on the phone.

Is there a name for this that I can google to find more information/read about others with a similar quirk? I do identify as an introvert, but it seems to me that people who say they are introverts do not usually forgo food and bathing just to avoid talking to anyone. I also have ADD. Sometimes I think about how screwed I would be in a disaster where I would have to depend on others to survive since I isolate myself intentionally. Humans are inherently social beings, it is one of our survival strategies, which is why this quirk interests me since it is counter to that.
posted by anonymous to Society & Culture (27 answers total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
This sounds like natural introversion mixed with some mild social anxiety. I too, will hide out in my room and wait for people to leave, and I know a lot of other people who are like that.

Sometimes small talk is just a drag.
posted by DeltaForce at 8:30 AM on June 2, 2014 [11 favorites]

Avoidant Personality Disorder. I was diagnosed with this (in addition to depression and social anxiety). Mine feels different from yours; I want to be with people but feel a crippling self-consciousness that makes it feel so difficult that I will often avoid being with people. But this is definitely a real diagnosis. It may not be YOUR diagnosis, but it might be.
posted by primate moon at 8:31 AM on June 2, 2014 [3 favorites]

Sometimes when people resist social interaction, it is because they're afraid of being vulnerable or exposed. Other people --> their actions are outside of your ability to predict or control --> fear.

Just spitballin'.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 8:32 AM on June 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Seconding DeltaForce, welcome to the club, the club that intentionally does not hold meetings.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 8:45 AM on June 2, 2014 [22 favorites]

Hello, introvert. I am here to tell you that there is nothing wrong with being an introvert. Some people are. It's not a disorder. It's okay.

It's hard for an introvert to live in a situation that, for logistical reasons, forces unwanted interactions. If I had roommates, I'd probably feel similarly to how you do. If my roommates constantly manned the kitchen and I just wanted a sandwich, that I could then eat in peace, I might also forgo that sandwich.

Have you considered taking steps to alter your living situation? Maybe you just need to live alone. Which is totally okay.
posted by mudpuppie at 8:47 AM on June 2, 2014 [5 favorites]

It doesn't relate to the complete aversion to encountering people, but for the small circle of infrequently-seen friends thing: I'm the same, and my mother is the same, and I'm pretty sure it's either been somehow passed on as a personality trait or I picked up on her way of friendship growing up. I consider myself to have two friends, outside my partner and family. I see them every few months. I live with four housemates and I almost always excuse myself from plans with them, though we're forced to interact in e.g. the kitchen. I have no desire to spend any more time with them. My mother lives in the middle of nowhere with her husband and dog and communicates with her two or three friends via email. We are both perfectly happy. We're just content with few close relationships and our own company.
posted by mymbleth at 8:48 AM on June 2, 2014 [4 favorites]

Unless this is a disturbing experience for you that you find yourself doing compulsively, I see no need to medicalize it. You just have a preference for your style of socialization. No problem.
Humans are inherently social beings, it is one of our survival strategies, which is why this quirk interests me since it is counter to that.
While it is true that we are social hominids, the type of socialization that human beings are hardwired for is not what you're talking about. Modern cities are extremely alien to the experience of early humans. Small talk and casual acquaintances are relatively new phenomena. Humans evolved to live in small, close-knit tribes of genetic relatives. We have a built-in distrust for strangers for a reason. Strangers can be dangerous. Strangers don't recognize our territorial claims. Strangers can fuck us over without fear of being punished by the tribe. In a lot of ways, it is perfectly natural to fear or feel uncomfortable around people who are not members of your "tribe", and most humans' social hardwiring doesn't really support more than a few dozen members of a "tribe". Those who act as though they are best friends with everyone they meet come across as disingenuous for this reason.
posted by deathpanels at 9:02 AM on June 2, 2014 [17 favorites]

I'm like this. I wasn't always aware that I am like this, but about six months ago I realized that I've never been happy living with other people, be they partners or roommates. I've never been able to be productive at work or content with my life if I have another person around all the time. I think this is going to be a huge challenge if I ever want to live with a partner, or if there ever is a disaster that requires that I depend on others, but... I'd rather live my life the way I want to live it. My partners can like it or lump it and my friends can do the same. That sounds harsh, but this is a core part of who I am and trying to change it or to work against it or to pretend that it's not that way at all for me has always made me miserable.

For me, it's not about being self-conscious or anxious. For me, it's entirely about control. I want to be in control of my interactions with others. I don't like living with other people because it removes so much of my own agency: what if I have to get into a 20-minute conversation on my way to the bathroom? What if my roommate has a problem that she needs to talk about and I'm just there and she just wants to do that for a few hours, but I really don't want to do that? What if I just want to be lazy and disgusting and I don't want anyone else to even know that's happening? And so on. Greatly limiting my social interactions - including hiding out in my room from the people I live with - is a surefire way for me to maintain control. I'm also very, very into planning my social time. I will not do things spontaneously with people. I am just not into that. I plan outings at least a week in advance. That's just how I operate because it works for me.

Now, the next question that I've asked myself is: why am I so obsessed with control, and with this specific type of control? For me, the answer is basically that at heart I'm a super-open person and I really take other people into consideration in a way that is pretty unhealthy. I have been too open with people and taken their opinions of me and of my life so seriously in the past that I've been really, really damaged by these people. I listen to others rather than listening to myself. This impacts my life too much and I've ended up doing things that I really don't want to do because of this. I listen to what people think and somehow their opinion becomes my own without me even wanting it to. I'm an emotional sponge, but I do not want to be this way.

So, for me, maintaining control over my interactions with others for me is a way to make sure that I'm paying enough attention to how I feel and what I think. I'm also lousy at compartmentalizing things in general. Interacting with other people - especially if it isn't planned - can interrupt me in a significant way. It's not just a literal interruption of my time; it throws me off-balance emotionally when I have to go off-book. If someone called me right now and interrupted me and wanted to talk about something serious I would be really unhappy.

I also identify as a "hardcore introvert" - I like the quote above: "Welcome to the club. The club that intentionally does not hold meetings." This is just how I am. I think there's nothing wrong with being this way. People who are like this are like this for a whole host of reasons, I'm sure. My mom is also like this and I have no idea whether or not it's about control for her the way it is for me; I'm sure that's part of it. My boyfriend is the same and again, I'm not sure why he's that way. He just is. His dad is like this, too.

I think you'll find that if you embrace it rather than trying to work against it that you'll have a better time. For example, I decided to live alone next year: no more roommates. Like you said, my roommate is awesome and there is no real reason that I want to hide from her when I'm home but I just do - I don't want to have that type of interaction in my life, the one where you talk about your day the second you walk in the door, and where every time you're in the kitchen we're talking and so on. I want to make conscious decisions about those interactions and there is nothing wrong with that.

All the best to you. You might enjoy reading the book Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can't stop talking. It was pretty eye-opening for me.
posted by sockermom at 9:06 AM on June 2, 2014 [26 favorites]

I like finding information about everything on the internet, but for this quirk or problem all I am getting are hits about depression and how people who used to like hanging out with their friends now are indifferent.

Read this article: "Caring for Your Introvert."

However, you might have some issues other than pure introversion, and I recommend seeing a therapist.
posted by John Cohen at 9:17 AM on June 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yes, you are normal! Do what makes you happy, if it is solitude you're doing pretty good!
posted by travelwithcats at 9:25 AM on June 2, 2014

I am like this, either by temperament or because my parents were like this, so that's just how I grew up. Socializing for fun or inviting people into our space was just not a thing they did, although they cheerfully supported our doing so with our friends even though I realize now it must have been a giant energy drain for them. I just call it introversion, I think it falls well within that term and doesn't require a special separate term.

If it's not causing you major functioning problems (e.g., you're still one way or another eating enough, staying clean, leaving the house when you have stuff you need to do), and it's not bothering you, then I wouldn't worry about it. I would start saving up to move out, because living on your own when you're of this temperament is just glorious.

If it is causing you problems (like, you're missing class or work because you can't make yourself leave your room at all), then sure, see a therapist.
posted by Stacey at 9:26 AM on June 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

There is probably a LOT going on between your ears and people just use up energy and bandwidth. There are certain parts of your brain that especially get a workout when you are interacting with people - for example the parts of your brain that interprets tone and meaning, expression and emotion and facial recognition. It could be that when you use those parts of your brain it is a lot of effort and not a lot of pleasure just because of the way your are wired.
posted by Jane the Brown at 9:28 AM on June 2, 2014 [3 favorites]

Nthing the "there is nothing wrong with you" message and the "me too" message.

Look: we're outnumbered. Most people are a great deal more social than we are. So this makes it seem like there's something wrong with us. But it comes down to basic need: I do not possess, and rarely do, the need to interact with other people. I'm a deeply self-contained unit. I'm happy this way. When I try to not be this way, I get frustrated and annoyed.

I find interacting with others to be extremely draining, and often incredibly boring. I like quiet, I like solitude, I like pursuing whatever the hell I'm interested in, without distractions.

Ain't nothin' wrong with it. Keep on keepin' on.
posted by gsh at 9:43 AM on June 2, 2014 [4 favorites]

I always wonder why certain people feel the need to pathologize. I am an introvert and a homebody, big deal. So when I go to see a therapist, like some people here suggest the OP and by extension other introverts should, what am I supposed to tell them?
"I am happy, you know, but compared to the average person I just spend more time alone and at home. I don't think it is a problem, but I guess it would be nice if you could make an assessment of my mental state, please." What???
posted by travelwithcats at 9:47 AM on June 2, 2014 [4 favorites]

Without more information it's impossible to determine what, but to me it sounds like people I know with Aspergers. But they also have other symptoms to go along with what you've mentioned so can't determine for sure. You mentioned avoiding food... are you also a picky eater? Have lack of inflection in your voice when you speak? (you might want to ask someone). Feel very uncomfortable around emotional people? Are more of a logical thinker rather than someone ruled by emotions?

I happen to like Aspies (as people with Aspergers are often called). I find that they are more honest than the general population and as an introvert myself I tend to feel more at ease around them than I do with "normal people" who happen to be extroverts.
posted by olivetree at 9:50 AM on June 2, 2014

I don't think there's anything wrong with you. I think you have just used up your social energy elsewhere. I think everybody has a given amount of social energy, and when you use this up you need a break from people. Introverts have less to start with, extroverts have more. I am a total extrovert, and I still feel like this fairly often because my work requires a lot of emotional effort and my hobbies are all quite social too - when I get home I'm tired and just want to be left alone, you know? The last thing I want is to expend yet more time and energy socialising with my friends in a bar. But when I'm off work and have more energy left, I'm seeking out interactions all the time.

If you were on a desert island for a month I expect you'd enjoy interacting with people a lot more once you got back (at least for the first few days). What is your job? Do people talk to you a lot at work? You could take a week or two off work (or put your headphones on) and see if that changed anything. Really, everyone I know has a limit to how much interacting they can do, it definitely doesn't sound like a medical or psychological problem to me.
posted by tinkletown at 9:54 AM on June 2, 2014

It's normal for you.

Some people need a lot of stimulation from other folks (like me) others don't. When I need my alone time though, I need it.

If you're happy, and things are working in your life as-is, then good-on-ya.

Husbunny avoids nearly all interactions with tradespeople and retail folks. He doesn't have the energy to deal with them. I was very proud of him for taking his car in for an oil change and then a car wash, because that's more than he'll ever do in a month, let alone the same day.

I had to assure him that if he called in his prescription refill that it would be automated.

So if it's all working for you, then it's fine.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:59 AM on June 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

I don't think it's normal in the sense that you try so hard to avoid contact. I mean it's different if you just liked being alone and all, but the fact that you actually forgo food and bathing just to avoid people seems like there is fear involved with social interaction. It seems you're letting your dislike of social contact get in the way of your other activities. Though they may seem like the same thing, there actually is a difference between preferring to be alone and hating being around others. I'm an introvert too and I spend the majority of my time alone, but if I'm hungry I'll get that sandwich even if there's someone in the kitchen I don't like. I'll just make my sandwich and tell them I don't feel like talking, that's all. It's not that big of a deal.

I would suggest that you still have some social anxiety with you. If you want to fix it that's fine, but if you don't want to that's probably fine too. Only you can decide whether you're missing out on anything by forgoing things like bathing and food in order to avoid small talk.
posted by olivetree at 10:45 AM on June 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

Nthing that it sounds like you're just an introvert. Avoiding interaction is the jam of introverts, and therefore it is also my jam. There are like ten people on the planet whose company I seek out willingly. I only share a zip code with two of them, for which I am profoundly grateful.

There's no diagnosis. It's not an illness. You're not weird. You're just not a people-seeking person.

Like you, I'm perfectly capable of chatting people up when necessary - I've got great soft skills and I'm generally considered pretty outgoing and friendly by most of my co-workers. But by the time I get home at the end of the day, I'm totally exhausted, and unwilling to look at any face I do not deeply love.

(also, lest you think I'm just more extroverted than you -- I will see your hiding-out-in-bedroom-till-roommates-leave-the-house tactic, and raise you a hanging-out-in-a-bathroom-stall-for-five-minutes-to-avoid-talking-to-colleagues-about-my-day-while-washing-my-hands quirk.)
posted by kythuen at 10:52 AM on June 2, 2014 [6 favorites]

Popping back in here to say that to a lot of people who aren't introverts -- I mean, who aren't introverts to the core -- think the degree to which you (and I, and others here) have a hard time with/dislike interacting with others is just plain weird. They don't get it, and they think there's something wrong with us, because they are not that way.

Them not understanding or relating isn't the same as you having a problem. Them not understanding should just be chalked up to people are different *shrug* and I am who I am -- not as oh god, what is wrong with me.
posted by mudpuppie at 11:07 AM on June 2, 2014 [3 favorites]

Yes, that is normal! I hide from people all the time when I don't feel like socializing. So does my partner. We take turns, and sometimes we rescue each other when we're feeling generous.

I think one of the big reasons that the whole "introvert pride" thing went so wild when people started talking about it is that introverted people, while a pretty significant minority, tend not to narrate their lives and thought processes externally. The more extroverted someone is, the more likely they are to tell everyone what they're thinking and doing all the time, so our perception of behavioral norms sways very very extroverted. Because of that, people who are on the more extroverted end of the spectrum had no idea that not everyone was like them, and people on the more introverted end thought they were weird, and everyone got together to try to make introverted people conform to extroverted standards.

Getting it out into the public sphere was useful, even if it went a little overboard sometimes. It's very important that everyone on the 'version spectrum understand that people have very different needs and tolerances.

Avoiding social contact is normal and perfectly fine unless it is significantly affecting your quality of life. Small talk is tedious and often excruciating, and it should be illegal to do it before noon. Think about all the little cultural tropes we have about people not being morning people or being useless before they've had their coffee. Those are probably mostly just introverted people who cannot handle socializing before they've gotten sorted for the day. Personally, if someone comes chattering at me as soon as I wake up in the morning, I can be irritable and out of sorts for the rest of the day.

So if it helps, embrace that archetype. You're not a morning person. You are grumpy and useless in the mornings. Then, maybe when your reserves are built up a little better, you can do some regular socialization within reason later in the day as a compromise.

If you really feel like it's something to do with fear or anxiety, then maybe therapy would be useful for that. However, if it's just that you are having to talk to people too much, talking to someone about it would kind of be a weird and probably terrible idea.
posted by ernielundquist at 12:05 PM on June 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you're avoiding food and bathing, it's not functional, which is more important as a measure than whether it's normal. At the height of my agoraphobia I also didn't want to go outside because when something is terrifying for long enough, you stop wanting to do it. At the same time, not going outside meant severely limiting my life. Homebodies go grocery shopping. Introverts eat and bathe regardless of whether they'll see someone else while doing so.
posted by the young rope-rider at 12:44 PM on June 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

I believe the question of pathology depends if operator is really avoiding food and bathing, or merely briefly postponing it.
posted by serena15221 at 12:52 PM on June 2, 2014 [5 favorites]

You have a history of social anxiety. You have lost motivation to talk to people; you used to have that motivation or you wouldn't have close friends. You fear that you wouldn't be able to socialize in order to survive. This seems like anxiety that is becoming more severe. You're successfully avoiding the anxiety-provoking stimulus so you don't feel the symptoms of acute anxiety, but that doesn't make the situation healthy. In fact, I highly suspect based on personal experience that if you were to push yourself to socialize even a small amount more, you'd start to experience the acute anxiety symptoms that have led to your current attitude of avoidance. Seriously, try it. Go ahead and take that shower, and it doesn't count if you come up with a random reason why it's not desirable/feasible (that's avoidance again). If it's a preference it should be no problem at all.

I'm not saying this from a position of judgment. I've been there. The human mind is incredible at convincing us to avoid "dangerous" things. Toddlers want to run in the street regardless of traffic, but most adults don't. Why is that? We've internalized it as dangerous and therefore unappealing.

Good luck.
posted by the young rope-rider at 1:27 PM on June 2, 2014

nthing that I do this sometimes and am somewhat extroverted.
posted by Aizkolari at 1:47 PM on June 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

I didn't read all the answers, but I'm similar to you (the original poster). I do have some mild social phobia. But the main reason I avoid talking to people is that I find the vast majority of them to be intensely boring and uninteresting -- and I'm irritated whenever I need to talk to them. People mostly talk about themselves, or sometimes about other trivialities, and they rarely seem interested in the subjects that interest me. Talking to (most) people is a waste of my valuable time. So, in short, don't worry about it. There are others out there who are like you.
posted by alex1965 at 5:07 AM on June 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

You are not the first
posted by andreap at 1:03 PM on June 7, 2014

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