Is there a professional I can see to help me make friends?
October 5, 2015 6:08 PM   Subscribe

Are there therapists or such that deal with adult social problems?

For reference I'm a mid 30's female/ single. I have always had a problem making friends or just being social in general. I chalk it up to a combination of being a natural introvert plus my parents very much discouraged my having any social contact outside of the family. I really think that prevented my social skills from developing especially since I showed signs of introversion even as a young child. Forbidding me from having friends outside the family only made things worse. When I left home at 18 I was so excited about it because I thought I would Finally be able to have friends, but since I had so little social experience by then, I found that I was completely unequipped to know the difference between people who were just using me and real friends. I really wanted to break away from my family and replace them with other more loving people in my life, but every year it seemed I had a choice between staying around family who treated me like crap or being completely alone. I simply couldn't find others to be with during the holidays. It eventually became so painful to be around family that I chose to just be alone. It was sad, but still better than being around them.

I KNOW that theres something about me that makes others feel uncomfortable at times. I can see it in their faces sometimes; but I don't really know what it is I'm doing that makes them feel that way and they never tell me either. I'm not even sure they could put their finger on it if they wanted to. I have had people tell me that I'm "too mysterious" and "a difficult person to get to know." I guess this must mean that I come across like I don't want to share myself in some way... but it's not true.

Is there a type of therapist or such that deals with this sort of thing? I've come to the point where I think I need a professional to evaluate me and help me with my social skills, but I'm not sure if such a thing even exists for adults.
posted by manderin to Human Relations (12 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
I think you would benefit from seeing a therapist who also works with people on the autism spectrum. Often autistic adults get social skills training on how to recognize social cues and react to them in appropriate ways, and they should be able to help you assess your own skills on that front. I wouldn't necessarily see a therapist who exclusively works with clients on the spectrum (and they wouldn't necessarily see you anyway because you don't have that diagnosis), but someone who has that as part of their practice should have the skills needed to help you.

You can search Psychology Today's therapist list by specialties and look for people who list Asperger's or Autism as a specialty.
posted by jacquilynne at 6:25 PM on October 5, 2015

This is way on the "such" side, and it might sound trite or silly, but comedy improv is one of the few (relatively, costs money) accessible spaces I can think of that allows room for adults to explore the basic stuff of social interactions, including physical expression. It offers a chance to practice an open and constructive approach to exchanges, with a chance for a bit of feedback on how you might be "blocking" them. (Not as much as a therapist would offer, of course, and it wouldn't be as deficit-focused.) You might also get to know the particular people in that class. This article looks at how improv might help people with anxiety.
posted by cotton dress sock at 6:27 PM on October 5, 2015 [4 favorites]

I KNOW that theres something about me that makes others feel uncomfortable at times. I can see it in their faces sometimes; but I don't really know what it is I'm doing that makes them feel that way and they never tell me either.

I mean this in the kindest and most generous way, but one thing a therapist could really help you with is figuring out why you make this assumption, where it comes from, and how your thought patterns (and not others'!) could be tweaked so that you can begin acting based on how YOU feel as a starting point, rather than how you are certain others feel.

I say this from experience with a therapist who constantly challenges me when I tell her that of course I know what the other person was thinking or feeling. No matter how confidently I initially answer the therapist's question of "How do you know?", we eventually get to the point where I emit a "*meep*" instead of blustering "BECAUSE LET ME TELL YOU WHAT THEIR FACE LOOKED LIKE WHEN THEY SAID IT!!"

I'm not completely cured of it yet, but one thing I've learned from this therapist-who-challenges-me is that feeling like you have to keep on top of everyone else's thoughts and feelings is a hell of a lot of work, and it's work you'll never get right, and it's much more expedient to examine your own thoughts and feelings and go from there. Let other people handle their own.

That's 18 months of work in therapy, right there. I'm not saying it's an easy habit to break.
posted by mudpuppie at 6:40 PM on October 5, 2015 [21 favorites]

This issue is pretty common, actually, and I think that building social relationships/social anxiety is something that many people seeing therapists deal with. As such I think that a lot of therapists have experience with it, so you can find one that you have a good relationship/rapport with. I am sure that there are also therapists who specialize in this type of issue and usually on websites for therapists/offices there will be information about each therapist's specialty.

Not so sure about the idea of looking for a therapist with experience working with autistic people. Introversion and difficulty making friends often have absolutely nothing to do with being autistic or being able to read social cues...if you can "see on people's faces" that they are uncomfortable, seems like you would not have issues on the autism spectrum. Not that I can at all make a diagnosis.
posted by bearette at 6:42 PM on October 5, 2015 [4 favorites]

I wasn't suggesting that she is autistic or in any way making a diagnosis, just noting that the skills she wants to learn are comparable in some ways to those autistic adults often want to learn.
posted by jacquilynne at 6:48 PM on October 5, 2015 [2 favorites]

There are absolutely therapists that specialize in social anxiety, and probably a bunch within a stone's throw if you live in a major city (especially one with some sort of tech scene). I know everyone recommends Psychology Today for finding therapists but I personally found it to be overwhelming and instead went with doing Google searches. You could probably search for something like "[city] therapist social anxiety" and read through a couple of bios to see if you connect.

Another suggestion is to see if your city has any organizations that help match people up with therapists. For example, in Seattle we have the Seattle Women's Therapy Referral Service, which is what I used to find my therapist. I paid a fixed fee to someone who matched me up with 3 therapists based on the traits I was looking for, and then I had a free 60-minute session with each to determine if any were a good fit. It was a great way to shortcut the whole process.
posted by joan_holloway at 6:50 PM on October 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

And while you're looking for that therapist, see if you can find one who also has a therapy group. This will allow you to try things out in a safe environment, and when you see that puzzled look on someone's face you can just ask them directly, "how am I coming across? Did I just say something weird?" And you will get a real answer. It's incredibly helpful.
posted by tuesdayschild at 7:09 PM on October 5, 2015 [8 favorites]

Having people to spend the holidays with is a really high bar to meet. Some people have there own family of origin drama, coupled people are trying to balance two families (and maybe exes/kids), some people opt out entirely. Don't use the holidays as your calibration point - too many people are stressed or unavailable.

Also we all make other people uncomfortable at times. We are all sometimes weird. It is that nature of human interaction.

A therapist or a group that works on social anxiety will be able to help you sort this out.
posted by 26.2 at 7:16 PM on October 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm writing to say a lot of what you said I could have written, minus the parents forbidding you to have friends. I'm really sorry that happened to. I've learned some tricks to help me see things from others' perspectives (which is what you miss when you don't grow up socially active), but I still find many social interactions and rituals to be like those of another species. I'm still largely unable to maintain friendships. They're very ephemeral.

I think a therapist who specializes in interpersonal relationships would help. But I also really recommend group therapy since you'll get feedback from different people on how you present yourself and they can critique that.

Good luck to you!
posted by kewpiesockpuppetdoll at 7:28 PM on October 5, 2015 [2 favorites]

Bart Ellis, who wrote the date doctor book ran a social coach program 25 years ago. He and most of his staff were trained in psychotherapy.

I recommend something similar.
posted by brujita at 9:18 PM on October 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

This is going to sound like a complete left turn, but please hear me out.

I have bad social anxiety and I always feel like I make people uncomfortable and all of that stuff. I was an awkward teen but I functioned around my peers as well as I could manage. Once I reached adulthood I began working from home and getting more set in my ways, and eventually I reached a point when talking to people outside of my tiny social circle was very stressful and difficult. I spent a few years seeing a very good therapist and trying to get better and nothing seemed to help, and I was becoming convinced it was just my fate to be that way.

Then a few years ago my career fell apart. I was desperate, and I had to give up working from home and take jobs that had me interacting with the public a lot. The change in me was swift and kind of amazing. As long as I had work-related stuff as a crutch if I ran out of words, I soon found that I could talk to my customers and co-workers with surprising ease. I could talk about work-related stuff, but soon I could also make small talk and even talk about deeper personal things. I found myself making friends with people the same way you make friends in elementary school, because you're stuck in the same place and you're sharing experiences. I got surprisingly close to people with very different backgrounds, politics, you name it.

In the last couple of years my fortunes have turned around (knock wood) and now I'm working from home again. I love it, and many ways it suits me much better... but I can feel my social skills slipping away, and that horrifies me. But, at least I have reason to believe that if I go out and really make the effort, I can meet people again.

Are you working from home? Are you working in a job that lets you keep to yourself? It may be time to change that, or do some volunteering or something else that forces you to get out and regularly deal with people. You may find, as I did, that what seemed like unfixable, agonizing social awkwardness is really more a case of getting so used to being on your own that you've let your social muscles atrophy.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 4:30 AM on October 6, 2015 [5 favorites]

Look for a therapist who implements exposure therapy for social phobia. As Ursula Hitler says, engaging in activities that require you to interact with people will help, and a therapist who uses exposure therapy (they might call it behavioral therapy) will facilitate that.
posted by MrBobinski at 5:53 PM on October 6, 2015

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