I just don't know how to socialise! And my life sucks because of it!
November 12, 2018 8:15 AM   Subscribe

Help! I just do not know or understand how to socialise to an acceptable level. I need tips and advice on to how to begin to get better at doing this.

I'm really bad at socialising and interacting with people, And I just don't get how to do it.

I've alway been bad at socialising but I've always just told myself that I would eventually get better, but thats not happening, at least not by itself, so I need to do something about it. I do have social anxiety, and anxiety problems in general and I am a love avoidant and do have a fear intimacy and stuff like that, but I feel that those are kind of a separate issue from what I'm talking about but they do contribute to my socialising difficulties. what I'm talking about is, is that in a lot of social situations I really am not sure how to conduct myself from a moment to moment basis, I'm always trying to figure out how I should initiate or respond to something, whether it's verbal, body language, or facial expression wise, and I can tell by peoples reactions (usually peoples facial expressions and tone of voice) that I'm definitely not getting it right. I feel like I'm good at listening and asking questions but when it comes to my turn to talk or I'm asked questions I freeze up and can't think straight and then give awkward, mumbled or stunted responses that can really derail the moment. I'm incredibly terrible at banter as well, I wish I was good at it. I wish I was good at all aspects of socialising, but I'm not, I'm really bad at it. I think a big part of the problem is that I feel incredibly uncomfortable in my own skin and I'm not a confident person at all, so when you put having to socialise on top of that, which I don't understand how to do, or a least do well, it makes for a bad time.

I guess the point that I want to make is, is that I'm not good, nor do I understand the nuances and intricacies of how to socialise at a good level and it's really making my life suck because my abilities really are lacking. My day to day interactions are painful and awkward and leave my feeling really bad about myself and fearful for my future prospects. I really, really, want to be in a relationship, but this issue is impeding from this, I want to be able to easily intricate with people and have fun doing it, instead of the cringe and awkwardness and complete inhibition that I feel doing it now. I just really tried of my life being this way just because I'm terrible at socialising.

I've basically hit rock bottom and now I really am ready to make any and all necessary changes and do whatever it takes to get good social skills and good people skills so that I can actually begin to enjoy my life instead of it feeling awful and lonely. But I really don't know where to begin, I've searched online for things like 'social skills' classes and things like that but haven't really found anything. So could anyone help me with any tips or advice or point me in the right direction on how I should go about doing this?

posted by frenchfryfrenzy to Human Relations (14 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Do you live in an area where therapy, especially group therapy, is available? One of the advantages I've found, as both a therapist and a therapy client, is that talking with a therapist lets you practice being yourself in a supportive relationship, and I've found (as a client) that it reinforces/increases my ability to carry that self-expression into other relationships. Group therapy would be a way of practicing with other people in a supportive environment, too. At the same time, it would give you a venue for working directly on any issues getting in the way of your self-confidence.

I was having a difficult time yesterday expressing myself during a slightly charged conversation, and I kept saying, "I'm not sure I'm explaining this well," and I kept hearing my former therapist's voice in my head saying, "You're making perfect sense. You don't need to keep apologizing for not making sense," and it was really helpful.
posted by lazuli at 8:24 AM on November 12, 2018 [10 favorites]

Hi friend, deep breath. It's okay, this is a thing many of us have gone through. Are you in therapy for your anxiety? Are you medicated for it? Either or both of those options is a good place to start. You need to work on this:

I think a big part of the problem is that I feel incredibly uncomfortable in my own skin and I'm not a confident person at all, so when you put having to socialise on top of that, which I don't understand how to do, or a least do well, it makes for a bad time.

I'm a hugely anxious, shy person who has trouble ever feeling comfortable in my own skin. I've also somehow gotten really good at socializing, but I certainly can never do it if I'm feeling uncomfortable with myself. It still happens! It's a thing you learn to manage, never fully cure. I think feeling vaguely uncomfortable or clumsy is the human condition for most of us.

So task number one: Manage the anxiety.

From there, I can think of a lot of follow up ideas. Some are high pressure (a meetup!) and some are low pressure (sitting in the library, reading and politely nodding to people). There are life coaches out there who could probably help you with social cues and actions. It's not a licensed position so the quality will vary, I worked with one awhile ago on presentation and it was very helpful to get another perspective.

I do have one other weird socializing idea, which was that I started streaming videogames and talking to my audience. I got to practice keeping up a consistent banter, listening and responding to questions while talking about a thing that I was knowledgable about and felt comfortable. Having an activity to occupy part of your brain plus being able to talk in depth about something generally makes all social interaction easier. Small talk where you're just sitting there is hard for so many people. It doesn't have to be videogames, if you like pottery or ping pong or whatever it would work.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 8:30 AM on November 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

I was gonna say therapy, and was beaten to it - which is a good thing!

For a few reasons:
- to help with underlying anxiety as you mentioned. And to help with a 3rd party check against your anxiety-tinted impressions, like "was this bad, how can I do better, is it likely everyone hates me on a scale of 0-100%".
- Screening for being neuroatypical? Just because the approaches in dealing with it are affected by the answer. You may need a specialist for that, but a therapist may be able to refer you - that depends on how mental health care is structured where you are.

I am in a similar boat. I am neurotypical, but feel like I missed the day in school when everyone learned how to talk to humans. I've been chipping at the subclinical depression in therapy, but mean to work specifically on the social anxiety piece soon.

I'd also say, protect yourself and be kind to yourself as you venture out. You do not have to socialize with abusive people out of desperation. (cf. me in high school)
posted by cage and aquarium at 8:50 AM on November 12, 2018 [3 favorites]

And once you get the generalized anxiety under control, maybe give a try to improv acting classes. You don't have to have the goal of becoming an actor, but there's lots of techniques that make for good improv that could also help you in social situation. Good luck.
posted by MovableBookLady at 8:54 AM on November 12, 2018 [3 favorites]

Not one to give a useful suggestion as I need them myself but one observation to keep as a reality check, many others are also poor at socialization, you're not alone and others of us are suffering right along side, often literally a couple steps or seats away. Many that seem very social are repeating one trick and actually not being very effectively social or just happen to know a single niche. Practice practice practice? Good luck and keep at it.
posted by sammyo at 8:55 AM on November 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

Nthing treat your anxiety and find a therapist.

In some times and settings I have nearly unbearable anxiety in social situations, in others I can socialize fairly well. But when I'm having a difficult time generally and also having a difficult time socializing, I start to identify completely as a hopeless socializer. It can be helpful to think about times when I socialized more easily and ask myself what's different now - I might be depressed, I might be trying too hard to fit into a cliquey group, or my anxiety might be flaring up.

When my anxiety is high, structured situations that take out a lot of the guesswork are much easier. Volunteering, Toastmasters, classes, choirs, etc. When I'm ladeling out chili in a soup kitchen there's not a lot of time to overthink and no one is focusing in on me - we're just all working together. Conversations happen but as long as I have something to do with my hands my anxiety isn't so bad.
posted by bunderful at 9:02 AM on November 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

Others have suggested therapy, I will as well.

As an "in addition" - some kind of volunteer work, especially something physical or especially busy. I can be kind of shy, but I volunteer with a kayak group on occasion in the summer, helping give people a taste of kayaking for free. My shyness also comes from not really knowing what I'm "supposed" to say or do - but with something that's as structured as the kayaking, my role is very clearly defined, and the information I'm supposed to give them is also clearly defined, and the people I talk to are done with me in only a few minutes anyway (I'm usually either helping people get the right size life vest, or helping people get into and out of kayaks without falling in the water).

It's sort of a safe way of interacting with people, I find - which gives me practice at the skill of interacting with people. Even though what I say is routine and rote, it still counts, and has helped me get more comfortable, and the more comfortable I am the more I'm able to relax and reach out some, which leads to some positive reinforcement (this summer I helped a newbie nervous guy into a kayak and gave him a couple of quick "how to paddle the kayak" how-to's before he set out - and ten minutes later, as he was paddling happily around Brooklyn harbor, he spotted me back on the deck and flashed me a victory sign to thank me).

Someone upthread suggested improv comedy; I think that some kind of busy volunteer work may be a better fit, something with some real structure where there is specific information you need to give people and a specific thing you need to do. It's still interacting with people, and that will help you develop that skill.

good luck!
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:21 AM on November 12, 2018 [6 favorites]

I do have social anxiety

Something that's worth thinking about is that one of the symptoms of social anxiety can be hypersensitivity about your own social skills. You convince yourself that you're Doing It Wrong, you see signs everywhere that you're Doing It Wrong — and maybe you are Doing It Wrong some of the time; but when you feel like you're Doing It Wrong all the time, that makes it harder to improve.

In other words: another vote for "work on your anxiety." It is not only making you be awkward, it is also quite likely making you think you're being awkward when you're not, and that makes it harder to become less awkward.
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:58 AM on November 12, 2018 [10 favorites]

Seconding Toastmasters, improv, etc for the “jump in the deep end” method. It will probably feel terrible at first, but it should get easier and that should help you build confidence.

And volunteering! Yes! When I have felt lonely and low, this has been a good reset button for me. Like the above it offers lots of small low stakes interactions, with a bonus that even if it sucked for you, at least the people got fed / the flyers got flyered/ the thing got painted / whatever.

Also seconding the idea that your anxiety is probably telling you lies here - the truth is most of us are not evaluating others harshly all the time, because most of us simply don’t care that much about everyone we meet.
posted by eirias at 10:58 AM on November 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

I'm going to wave a small caution-flag on the improv classes. As with anything, results may vary.

I took a series of classes offered by a local improv troupe. The first session or two seemed to go OK, and I was feeling positive about the experience. That soon changed. The instructors began increasingly to give me negative feedback, until it reached the point where it was clear that nothing I did was "right". At first, I wondered if I was just responding defensively to normal correction and instruction. I tried to adjust my attitude, but I still felt worse and worse as time went on.

The turning point came when I was talking to another class member during a break. This person was quite a bit different from me—younger, more inventive, less inhibited—and I had thought they were doing well. But they told me they were thinking of quitting the class: "I felt like I was doing OK, but lately I've been feeling like I've been stopped in any further progress. Like the instructors don't want me around." That person did quit the class. Soon after, so did I.

Thinking about it all later, I came to the conclusion that the troupe was offering the classes for two reasons: To raise money to support the troupe; and to conduct covert auditions for new members. The first objective was entirely sound and appropriate. The second was, in my view, rather unethical. I can only speak for myself, but I never thought about joining the group. I just wanted to explore an art and develop some skills. Instead, I was secretly tested and found wanting—which didn't improve my mood much, I have to say.

tl; dr: If you do take improv classes or anything similar, have a clear idea what you want to get out of it. Be willing to do the work, but don't hesitate to bail if the situation isn't delivering what you need.
posted by Weftage at 11:05 AM on November 12, 2018 [4 favorites]

I find that the best activities for meeting new people are those that include some sort of structured way for the participants to interact with one another. An example would be asking the participants to form small groups where they are given discussion topics. Another example would be asking the participants to form small teams to complete specific tasks. That structure takes the pressure off individual participants to have to come up with topics of conversation.

This may take some trial and error to find a group activity that you feel comfortable with. It's ok to bail on situations that are making you feel really uncomfortable, as long as you are not giving up on trying something else. Ideally, you will find something you like enough to attend regularly enough to develop a rapport with people. Once you have that, it's easier and less anxiety provoking to branch out into less structured activities with these people.
posted by jazzbaby at 12:37 PM on November 12, 2018

many others are also poor at socialization, you're not alone and others of us are suffering right along side, often literally a couple steps or seats away

This is so true. After a few years of trying to fit in with a new group of coworkers and socialize with them I've finally realized that most of them are really anxious and not good at socializing. I was assuming no one liked me, blaming myself for all of our failures to connect, and not seeing the whole picture.
posted by bunderful at 3:18 PM on November 12, 2018 [3 favorites]

If you're looking for a search term for social skills, try people skills. It's what they list most books under. I'm not sure about classes.
posted by stray thoughts at 3:41 PM on November 12, 2018

My therapist recently suggested Mortified, both to watch to see how other people are, and as a potential outlet for, you know, stories from my history that might be adding to my social anxiety. I'm considering it.
posted by rhizome at 3:50 PM on November 12, 2018

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