Shut down when living with people
February 11, 2018 3:44 PM   Subscribe

I feel like other peoples consciousness is absurdly draining to me. I can't armor myself against it and prefer to engage people in a time limited way. How can I extend my social endurance? I feel hyper alert to other peoples (and animals) existence and only cope by shutting them out or avoiding.

Basically as long as I can remember I have not enjoyed living with people, but it has gotten worse with age.

When I had roommates I would hide in my room when they had people over, or leave the apartment. It was like I was always on alert when it was more than my roommate in the apartment.

Even at my parents house, or when they visit me, I become extremely shut down. I don't spontaneously do things, like work out or go shopping. I just exist and avoid until its over. Its like I can't focus my thoughts or relax if there is someone else in the house.

Does anyone else have this? How do you manage it? Do you have a diagnosis?

I feel like its more than introversion. I would like to be able to exist with other people. I get my own room on vacations now and live alone, dating wise I try not to spend the night. I see other people cohabiting and wonder how I can get there. I assume medication will be necessary for me to do it, but I need the vocabulary for explaining it.
posted by perdhapley to Human Relations (15 answers total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
Do you subconsciously believe that you are responsible for other people's happiness? In such case you would think you have to be "on" in their presence. This would be draining.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 3:49 PM on February 11, 2018 [21 favorites]

I feel like this sometimes, and it’s worse when I’m depressed or anxious. How long can you stand to be around people? If you can make it an hour, start there and work upwards. It’s a skill, and takes practice. Don’t just grit your teeth, but actively try to enjoy yourself in the presence of others, either doing something together (a board game helps me when I don’t want to be around family, but WANT to want to), or doing separate things in the same room.

It sounds like you want to be different, instead of living a more solitary life (which is the solution for many). It’s cliche, but: therapy. Or yeah, meds from your GP, or both.
posted by supercres at 4:09 PM on February 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

This sounds like a form of social anxiety to me. I don't know that medication is what you'd need to help you but a visit to a psychiatrist wouldn't be a bad way to start. Another good idea would be talking to a therapist to help you learn more about different types and styles of therapy and what kind of things would mesh well with you. I think it's really good that you have a concrete goal - that's often the hardest part for people to figure out.

In terms of vocabulary, when you talk about shutting down, does that have any similarities to dissociation? That could point to a different treatment plan or an augmented one - people with complicated trauma who dissociate as a coping mechanism often find cognitive behavioral therapy to be more helpful to them in forming new healthier ways to cope and process. Sometimes this is in addition to medication, sometimes not.
posted by Mizu at 4:19 PM on February 11, 2018 [2 favorites]

Social anxiety disorder seems like a possibility. That link emphasizes the fear of being judged or hurt but I find anxiety can easily manifest as just extreme sensitivity or irritability.
posted by praemunire at 4:19 PM on February 11, 2018 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I have this and live with my family: partner and two teenagers. It is very draining. I feel like I can't get anything done when others are around. Or that I need to be engaged in the same thing they are so I can't get the garage cleaned when they are all watching tv, for example. It is hard to explain. Maybe it is feeling responsible for their happiness or hypervigilance. I think it is not social anxiety when it is my own immediate family. I don't manage it very well. I don't have a diagnosis other than garden variety depression/anxiety though there are other mental illnesses in my extended family.
posted by RoadScholar at 4:20 PM on February 11, 2018 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I'd consider if you have some kind of sensory issues as well, especially some kind of noise sensitivity or aversion to touch or something. Sensory issues can manifest themselves in surprising ways.
posted by Amy93 at 4:51 PM on February 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

Sounds like social anxiety, combined with being an introvert who needs their own space and time alone. I had this issue too and decided it was best to live alone. Having roommates isn't for everyone and I'm not sure it means you are depressed or need medication if you are otherwise fine. Is living by yourself not an option? Could be avoidant personality disorder too, but you'd see that in other areas of your life, I think.
posted by AppleTurnover at 5:09 PM on February 11, 2018

Social life is often quite draining for introverts. The usual "cure" is frequent periods alone with your thoughts and private interests. Not anti-social. Just periodically social when possible...
posted by jim in austin at 5:16 PM on February 11, 2018

I have this. When people come over, if I can, I leave the house. Otherwise, I either slink around in the background like a burglar, or, if I emerge outright, someone well-meaning will try to engage me in conversation, and I become very concerned with being "on" in a manner that will please them. It's absurd, and I know it, and the contradiction manifests itself on my face. This means I am not in the moment and not actually hearing the other person. By time I pull myself together, the exchange is pretty much ruined. Even if they are the type who do not judge this sort of thing, I feel highly embarrassed. Yes. It's draining. I chalk some of it up to social anxiety and some of it to feeling responsible for their feelings. It's very hard to shut that "off" though not impossible. Some days are better than others.

It helps to get to know people better, though some people will always be hard to be around no matter what. I had to learn to accept that and not beat myself up over it. Others, though, are on your side, and will respect and understand your desire to be alone if you need that. An example of how I deal with some of my social anxiety is that I try to go to the same grocery store all the time. That's not in the house, but I feel nervous talking to cashiers I've never met. I made myself practice talking to the cashiers at this one store, and soon enough I figured out which lanes to frequent and which to avoid. They are friendly to me now in a way that I miss when shopping elsewhere, where I have to face the unfamiliar-person hill all over again. So, I guess the message is, familiarity and building relationships, even small ones like at the grocery store, are your friend. It's not a perfect solution but it helps.

No, grocery stores are not the house. I find it's hardest to be "on" in the house as that is the place where I want the most to be left alone. Living alone, if you can afford it, really is the best solution at least for that side of the issue.

I have been on and off meds for this, but the meds only serve to change your body chemistry. Changing the thoughts that influence your social anxiety requires you to work on yourself, preferably with the help of a therapist, and it takes patience and a willingness not to be hard on yourself, and patience not to give up and just become a hermit. It's a work in progress kind of thing, and as I said, some days are better than others.
posted by Crystal Fox at 5:23 PM on February 11, 2018 [6 favorites]

Best answer: My family of origin demanded a lot of time, energy, and emotional labor from me, and when I was young I unintentionally cultivated other relationships with the same draining dynamics. As an adult, I am introverted, socially anxious, sensitive to noise, light, and scent, and hypervigilant... For me, being around other people means constantly reacting to their moods and conversation, trying to 'read' them to prepare and protect myself, and waiting for a conflict, however minor, to arise.

At my core, I think I'm going to fall short of people's expectations all the time, so avoiding interactions seems safer.

Therapy's helped me realize how overwrought and limiting this thinking is, as has anti-anxiety medication (partly by allowing me not to be so mired in such thoughts that I can look at them somewhat objectively), so I recommend both.
posted by Iris Gambol at 5:30 PM on February 11, 2018 [26 favorites]

It sounds like most of your interactions around this involve things at your house, your parents house, or in dating situations.

I find having people in my living space (and if you are visiting somewhere else and sleeping there overnight, that is your living space for that time) can be more taxing.

You might find it helpful to have more low pressure social interactions on a regular basis. Something where you can get up and walk out and it won't matter. (Not that you necessarily will, but it's nice to feel you have that option sometimes) Something where you can get out and go home and be away from the people you are interacting with.

Meetup is kind of the go-to on this, but you could also try going to the sorts of coffee shops where people hang out and talk to each other. Even if you bring your laptop and do your own thing, being around people being social can help increase your tolerance. Also, recreational classes can be good too. Something you can do on a regular basis, however often that is. YMMV of course, you'll have to find what works for you. Keep notes on what you do and your experience of it at the time.

If you feel more able to be around people if you are doing something practical, check into volunteering. There's a lot of volunteering that's about talking to people a lot, but there's also things involving physical labor where people won't be as chatty.
posted by yohko at 5:42 PM on February 11, 2018

Get a practice.

This is the only one true relief I have found for what you describe. Your practice must include movement, so think yoga, martial arts, hiking, swimming, cycling, etc..

It's like lifelong homework. Your practice can evolve or change over time, but you must maintain some sort of regular schedule to act as scaffolding to build a stable life on. A practice fixes your relationship with yourself, which will then translate favorably into your relationships with others.

Get a practice. Don't wait.
posted by jbenben at 5:56 PM on February 11, 2018 [15 favorites]

Best answer: This will be officially too hippy dippy for Metafilter and while I'm a hippie I'm not entirely sure I buy into the concept of being an empath myself, but... I read this recently and it's reminding me of you now.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:36 PM on February 11, 2018 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I clicked the link above, and I agree wholeheartedly with the author's description of the experience. I disagree somewhat with the 9 point list of self-care tips to make it better. Those things are band-aids, you will still have to live with the "condition" you and the author describe. Point #9 comes closest to hitting on the way to manage your "super power" instead of being managed by it:

"When I’m anxious or overloaded, or feel I just can’t do this, I need to stay in the moment. I need to breathe, regroup, sleep, talk to a friend, take alone time, meditate, and find my center again."

Both martial arts and yoga (especially kundalini yoga) gives you the ability to control your reactions in the moment. I'm a big proponent of combining regular hiking w/ meditation (hike 30 min + stop halfway, then do a 20 min guided meditation = an easy version of this.) However, hiking + meditation does not directly teach you the ability to manage your focus and emotional balance + provide in-the-moment solutions that having a practice (preferably at a studio where you can drop-in for class as needed) can create for you. Expect results right away, but by the end of your first year you will be able to function comfortably, your ability to tolerate other people and situations will expand and you will have a much fuller social life.

Get a a practice.
posted by jbenben at 8:39 AM on February 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: So many helpful answers. Thank you everyone. It helps to know I am not alone in this. I marked answers that touched on the subconscious, anxiety, depression, sensory issues and the very interesting empath idea, which incorporates them all. Really I would mark all as my favorites.
posted by perdhapley at 2:33 PM on February 12, 2018 [4 favorites]

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