Hell is other people.
April 5, 2007 1:53 PM   Subscribe

Is it possible for a person to be so hopeless at interacting with other people that avoiding them as much as possible becomes the sensible thing to do?

I've never been good with socializing. It's not just socializing that's painful (don't even mention dating; suffice to say I never have and can't imagine ever being able to do so), but even everyday interactions with people I don't even like or care about can be agony. The misery vs. happiness ratio (from interacting with others) is so insanely high that I've never really seen the point.

I try to force myself to socialize and face the world because, well, isn't that what people are supposed to do? But I can only get by (without turning into a sniveling baby when I feel hurt, which is often) by shielding myself with snobbery and sheer bile- which leaves me feeling sick not only with the world but with myself as well.

I'm in my mid-twenties and just starting my life on my own, and I know it's a bit precocious to be a complete misanthrope already, but I suspect that I'd have a lot less pain and a lot more happiness in my life if I just gave up now on human society altogether and stuck to my own little solitary universe. I know that must seem pretty naive, but I don't know what else I can do.

Anyway, I can't help but wonder... is it possible to find deep, lasting happiness as a recluse? And even if that sort of happiness is out of the question, could being a recluse still be the best option for someone who has become a truly hopeless case?

(anonymous email: cantaffordtherapy@gmail.com)
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (30 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Is it possible to find deep, lasting happiness as a recluse?
I'm sure it's possible but most people who do that do it for spiritual or artistic reasons or for some other purpose. You, on the other hand, would be doing it just because you're depressed and have poor social skills. Can't afford therapy? I don't know where you are but lots of places have free/low-cost public health services that you can access. You need to do that. The world is a great place and you shouldn't deprive yourself of it. You are not a "truly hopeless case."
posted by otherwordlyglow at 2:01 PM on April 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

The problem with your plan is that you cannot escape human society. Even if you decide to turn your back on your family and not have any friends and move onto a farm by yourself and grow your own food, you're still going to have to call someone when the cow gets sick. And unless you cut yourself off from all media, you're going to be subjected to hearing about people and their relationships. You're only going to become more and more miserable as the years go on if you give up.

You say you "cantaffordtherapy", but it sounds like you can't afford NOT to get some professional help at this point. Life does not have to be this hard. Your city probably has low-cost or free services, or you could contact a religious organization you feel comfortable with. Please reach out and get some help.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 2:04 PM on April 5, 2007 [3 favorites]

Find yourself some free or low cost therapy. Try calling your local university pschology department and ask where they send people for internships.

At the very least, you need to get just a little bit better at interacting with people, enough to buy groceries and go to the post office without pain. Even if you do end up deciding to become a hermit somewhere, you would be helped by feeling a bit better about yourself as a person. Some people are happier as hermits, but you need to be deciding to do that from a different headspace than you are in right now to be happy with that decision for yourself.
posted by yohko at 2:13 PM on April 5, 2007

I try to force myself to socialize and face the world because, well, isn't that what people are supposed to do?

Don't think of it as something you are supposed to do, like eating your wheaties or something. Think of it as something that can be awkward and painful sometimes, but immensely rewarding and enjoyable at the same time.

I suspect that I'd have a lot less pain and a lot more happiness in my life if I just gave up now on human society altogether and stuck to my own little solitary universe.

You suspect this. But you are wrong. Quite wrong.

Stick it out and keep trying. I've been and in many ways still am a very shy and awkward kind of guy. Forming relationships and socializing aren't my strengths. But I know that there are people out there for me, people who care about me, people who enjoy my company. And my life has been exponentially better since I've met these people.

In closing, let me tell you a little something about your own solitary universe:

After a while, it will bore the fucking shit out of you. Seriously. One of the things that pushed me out of my shell was getting sick of my own company, sick of hearing me repeat the same stupid jokes to myself, sick of the same routines, the same stale assumptions about life. No human is an island. Other people enrich you, teach you things you don't know, challenge your assumptions. Life is richer -- no, YOU are richer with other people in your life.
posted by jason's_planet at 2:16 PM on April 5, 2007 [8 favorites]

You have social phobia. If you honestly cant find a doctor or therapist at a reduced rate for uninsured (many doctors offer sliding scale rates), there are some great books to help you. Like this one which is more a workbook than a self-help book. It will be very eye-opening and if you do some of the practices you'll find that imrovement isnt impossible, it just takes a little patience.

Recluse and misanthrope are just code words for a phobic person who refuses to get treatment. Don't be that guy.
posted by damn dirty ape at 2:16 PM on April 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

Good lord, fix this now, while you're still vaguely young and have a chance at a mostly-normal life. Trust me, it does NOT get better as you get older.
posted by aramaic at 2:20 PM on April 5, 2007

You don't need self-help or therapy, man. I think its totally normal to want everyone else to get the fuck away. To hell with other people, being a recluse works just fine. Best of luck.
posted by mr_book at 2:21 PM on April 5, 2007 [3 favorites]

There are forums and websites for social anxiety. I don't know how much this holds, but there were some studies a while ago that showed that reading forums on depression helped people who were depressed, even if they didn't participate and weren't in therapy (it helped even more if they did.)
If you can't find help right now, maybe start with that? And in the meantime save up for therapy, or for chocolates for when you go out an make attempts and they're difficult, or both.
posted by lullabyofbirdland at 2:24 PM on April 5, 2007

Even if you're all alone, you still have yourself to live with. Are you the kind of person you'd want for a roommate?
posted by desjardins at 2:29 PM on April 5, 2007

As someone who has suffered from major social anxiety, I really feel for you. Believe it or not, it is possible for you to get through this and be able to feel normal in social situations.

Therapy is a huge plus, but honestly, it wasn't my first route either, as my insurance didn't cover therapy. I talked to my primary care doctor about this social anxiety, and she prescribed an SSRI anti-depressant (Citalopram). I know a lot of people are anti-medication, but over the course of 2-3 months, there was a dramatic change in how I was able to cope with previously terrifying situations. I was able to reason with myself a lot more effectively over not worrying about coming off as an idiot or worrying if someone disliked me. I felt the way I imagined normal people did. I no longer felt inferior and like people should naturally dislike me or think me weird.

My point isn't necessarily that medication is the answer, but that you don't immediately need to find a therapist. Go to your normal doctor (or even a doc-in-the-box if you must) and talk to them about your problem socializing. They might consider treating you with medication, and they also might know of some low-cost therapy resources for you.

In addition to the medication, I found a great workbook that really gave me a new perspective on social anxiety. It's the Shyness & Social Anxiety workbook, and I *highly* recommend doing the exercises in it, and reading through it.

Good luck. There really is hope. Do not give up.
posted by tastybrains at 2:30 PM on April 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

You don't need self-help or therapy, man. I think its totally normal to want everyone else to get the fuck away.

I might buy that -- older I get, the more I'm forced to admit that, a lot of the time, I just plain don't like a lot of people -- but not with the "selfloathing" and "loneliness" tags stuck on there.
posted by kmennie at 2:31 PM on April 5, 2007

I would add to damn dirty ape's comment that phobias are eminently treatable. You have good reason to be hopeful about enjoying the company of others. Plus you are young, so you have can put in the time and effort to learning social conventions. You'll make social mistakes, but everyone does. That's the only way that you can learn.

Speaking from experience as an introvert who spent much of his twenties lonely and angry, I can assure you that your present situation is not a life sentence. Of course, if you give up, it is a life sentence.

Jason's Planet is right. Nobody is as boring or annoying to me as myself if I spend too much time in my shell.
posted by ferdydurke at 2:33 PM on April 5, 2007

Oh, and here's what's probably a really stupid idea. Can you pick up and leave everything behind for a bit? If so, you could try living in a monastery somewhere. On the one hand it's the opposite of what you'd want, since you'd be surrounded by people most of the time. On the other hand, depending on where you go you wouldn't actually talk much and your interactions would be pretty regimented, and it seems like an environment where everyone does their best to accept you as you are. Also depending on where you go you wouldn't necessarily have to be religious.

Then again, I've never been to one, so I really have no idea what I'm talking about.

Finally, one more stupid suggestion: do you like pets?
posted by lullabyofbirdland at 2:34 PM on April 5, 2007

Quoth Homer Simpson: "If something is hard, then it is probably not worth doing." And I would add to that, if you don't practice, it's not going to get any easier, but in this case, the need for it isn't going to disappear.

Even Ted Kaczinsky had to be able to interact socially with people at the post office, and do so normally enough that he didn't tip them off that he was mailing bombs.
posted by adamrice at 2:38 PM on April 5, 2007

I know it's a bit precocious to be a complete misanthrope already

This is romantic bullshit and you're not too young to believe it but too old. Misanthropes (I'm not convinced such creatures really exist) hate the world because they know it; you fear it because you don't.

To answer your question, though, yes I'm sure it's possible to be happy - supremely happy - being a recluse. It just takes more strength and wisdom than you or most anybody else can muster.
posted by otio at 2:47 PM on April 5, 2007 [2 favorites]

I was in your position, too, in my early twenties. I have re-read some e-mails I sent to friends during that time, and I am shocked at the cheerfully misanthropic tone of them.

Through some fortunate happenstance, I ended up in situations that made me a lot more social (friends in grad school and law school) and it's turned me into a significantly different person.

Don't just assume that the way you feel now is something that cannot change.
posted by jayder at 2:51 PM on April 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

This essay entitled "Caring for Your Introvert" helped me feel a little more normal about my anti-social tendencies.

I think the best policy is to ask yourself whether you feel bad because you want to interact with people but can't (seek help) or you feel bad because you feel pressure from society to interact and you just don't want to (embrace your solitide). If it's the latter, you might start looking for a job that allows you to be alone.

I remember (but can't find) an interview with Mike Judge saying the reason he became an animator was because it allowed him to sit in a room by himself all day. I also remember a scene in the autobiopic "An Angel at My Table" in which Janet Frame, after having spent years in a psych ward receiving electroshock therapy for problems like this, is offered a revelation by her new shrink: "If people come around and you want to go out with them, go out with them. If you don't, don't." It seems like an insignificant thing, but that scene really stuck with me.
posted by JamesToast at 3:45 PM on April 5, 2007

Avoidant Personality Disorder?
posted by adipocere at 3:50 PM on April 5, 2007

I remember (but can't find) an interview with Mike Judge saying the reason he became an animator was because it allowed him to sit in a room by himself all day.

Assuming that isnt an exageration, for every Mike Judge there are 1 million lonely and hurt nobodies out there wishing they had better lives and that life was easier and that they had more friends or a partner or anything.

These self-reinforcing 'facts' are really bad en masse. Its like every college dropout who refuses to admit they made a mistake saying, "Well, Bill Gates didnt finish college." You're not Bill Gates and talented people will always find a way to rise to the top.

If the poster was happy with his solititude he wouldnt be here asking this. A happy person doesnt just drop terms like painful, hurt, agony, etc. Lets not pretend that being locked up in a room all day is happy or fulfilling. Sadly, the internet culture of journals, IM, and WoW only makes this isolation easier.
posted by damn dirty ape at 4:00 PM on April 5, 2007 [2 favorites]

Not saying this advice is a substitute for therapy or appropriate medication (which you should definitely get), but:

Always remember, other people spend far less time thinking about you than you could ever imagine. They don't have time to think about you, because they're too busy thinking about themselves. This doesn't mean that you're not important. It does mean that other people aren't continually judging you, or finding ways to slight you. It also means that most of the time, when they say or do something hurtful, it's motivated by breezy cluelessness rather than malice.

And what that, means is, in social situations, you don't have to continually and relentlessly monitor yourself. You can relax. If you're contributing less to a conversation that the others at your table, the others aren't thinking about your silence and lack of wit-- they're too focused on saying witty stuff themselves. No one will bother to remember the jokes you told that fell flat. No one will remember the conversational bait that no one took. The next time you hang out with those people, unless you did something -truly- awful, you get a more-or-less clean slate.

In other words, the self-involvement of others is your friend.

When I was in my mid-twenties and dealing with my own social anxiety, I read a proverb to this effect (Middle Eastern, I think-- I can't find it now). Over the years, as I've gotten more comfortable with others, and in my own skin, this has been the single most useful and most freeing piece of advice I've ever recieved.

Best of luck.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 4:38 PM on April 5, 2007 [6 favorites]

Damn Dirty Ape: If the poster was happy with his solititude he wouldnt be here asking this.

I didn't mean to dismiss his pain. If he finds solitude painful, I think he definitely needs to work on that, and I'm not sure I have any helpful advice. In my case, however, much of my discomfort came from the fact that I felt I was expected to be comfortable at parties, that I was expected to enjoy hanging out at bars. I held back from saying so, but that Atlantic article was a milestone in my life. When I read it, I thought, wow, maybe there's nothing wrong with me after all. It was a big relief to me, and I was just trying to share it.
posted by JamesToast at 5:23 PM on April 5, 2007

I quite like other people, I'm good at social interaction (I need to be, as a teacher), but to be honest (like Hank Chinaski in Barfly), even though I don't hate people, I just feel better when they're not around.

In small doses, once in a while, I enjoy socializing. But most of the time, I vastly prefer being alone, or at most, hanging with my wife.

I make no apologies and don't feel bad about it at all. I have good, old friends, a few being enough for me, that I've made over the years. It's all good.

Which is to say, you're beating yourself up when you don't need to. You don't much like people (or it stresses you out being around them)? That's fine. Unless you really desperately feel the need to change, feel that it's ruining your life, well, incorporate your non-gregariousness into your idea of who you are, turn it around and look at it as a strength (you know, cowboy mythos, all that stuff), and live as you choose.

If you really do believe that you are someone who is happier not being around other people -- and this is the key here, that you think about yourself honestly, about why you feel the way you do, and what that really means -- then that's just fine.

If, though, as it seems from the information you've given (and who can know from a couple of paragraphs of text what a person is really feeling), that the fact that you just don't like people much and interacting with them gives you pain is something that you don't want to feel anymore, well, you're going to have to learn to like people.

And learning to like other people, and have them like you, means (pop-psych cliche ahoy!) you're going to have to like yourself. The reason I say this is the 'selfloathing' tag, of course.

None of this is impossible, but you've got to sit down and honestly think about and decide who you really are, what you want, and then take that and love the living shit out of it. The socializing thing will take care of itself, one way or another based on the outcome of that exercise.

Also, and this is just me, but to hell with therapy and medication. In my opinion, in too many situations, the urge to abrogate responsibility for the oneself is exacerbated by offloading to someone (or something else), and the fundamental exercise of building self-possession, strength and self-respect through one's own efforts is deferred, which amounts to postponing resolution, not seeking it.

Sometimes therapy and drugs can be the only way for someone to break through the walls they've built for themselves. But not as often as it would seem, I think.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:04 PM on April 5, 2007 [4 favorites]

Did you see As Good As It Gets? Jack Nicholson's character always said the wrong thing and hurt people by doing so. In some extreme cases, yes, it is better to say nothing and stay home than go out and unintentionally make enemies and hurt people.

That said, I'm sure you aren't that bad.
posted by HotPatatta at 8:55 PM on April 5, 2007

If you hate yourself you'll never like anyone else.

Maybe drugs or (real) talking can fix that. We can't.
posted by Jos Bleau at 9:31 PM on April 5, 2007

look at it this way - life is mostly pain but if you work hard enough and look under enough rocks there is some real beauty out there - as ephemeral as it seems - but you have to look for it and appreciate the hell out of it for the short time you experience it - then it lives within you forever and passes through you to other people. About 95% of my experience with people is on different wavelengths but every now and then I make a real connection and that can carry me for weeks.
posted by any major dude at 11:54 PM on April 5, 2007

There's a lot of bad advice in this thread and only a few examples of good advice. Stav's is the best of the good advice.

We can't really answer your question because it's not clear from what you've written what kind of person you are. There are people who are much happier as loners or recluses or hermits. There are people who are unhappy socializing but are also unhappy with no socializing. The reason a few of us think the former is a possibility even though you say you are unhappy is because you may be that kind of person but think, and keep trying, to be a social person. Trying to be something you're not will make you unhappy.

So you need to understand yourself better before you can figure out the answer to your question. Therapy might help you quite a bit here and it doesn't need to be "therapy to help you become social" unless that's what you choose. Right now, it should be "therapy that helps you decide if you want to become social".

Ignore those people who claim that a normal, well-adjusted person must necessarily enjoy socializing. Being an introvert is within the normal range of well-adjusted human experience. A rule of thumb differentiating extroverts from introverts is that extroverts are energized by social interaction while introverts are exhausted by them...even when they are pleasurable. For example, I'm definitely an introvert. I'm definitely not an misanthrope. I love people. I'm fascinated by people. The sheer variety of individual personalities and experiences delight me. And I am able to be very socially successful in many contexts when I work at it. But it's always a sort of work to me and it always makes me tired. The point is, introversion is normal.

There's all sorts of different kinds of people you might be. They range from a perfectly normal loner to someone who isn't really a loner but has a social phobia. And other possibilities. You need to examine yourself carefully and at length, probably with some professional help, and become aware of what makes you really happy and comfortable, long term, with regard to other people in your life. Then you can choose the right lifestyle for your personality.

The self-loathing thing is a problem. Telling you to stop it won't be effective, but I'll say it anyway. You're not going to figure anything out while you're busy hating yourself.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 3:02 AM on April 6, 2007

Your first goal in a conversation, and always the most important one, is KEEP THE OTHER PERSON TALKING.

No comments about how you feel. No "I can top that." Not even "The same thing happened to me (or my sister's husband's cousin's chiropractor)." All of these move the attention to you and require you to think of something to say next.

Just "Really?" "That's interesting." "Um-hmm."

Once you get comfortable with that, you can take the ball yourself for just one sentence. The other person, having talked for several minutes, will as a matter of social convention yield to you.

Keep it simple. Really and actually talk about the weather. Take it slow, and always be ready to hand it over to the other person when you start to get uncomfortable.
posted by KRS at 12:54 PM on April 6, 2007

Well, if you're really a loner, you might want to pick up "Party of One:The Loner's Manifesto" by Anneli Rufus.

While I am not a misanthrope, I am a loner. For years I was miserable because I didn't want to socialize with other people but surely there must be something wrong with me, right? No, there wasn't anything wrong with me. I am now able to socialize if and when I want to, but that is still rarely. And I'm pretty happy and busy.

Learning how to carry a conversation and make small talk will get you nowhere if you don't understand yourself or like yourself. Nor will getting treatment for possible social phobia, if it's more than a social phobia. Since you're spending so much time by yourself right now anyway, perhaps you would do well to figure out if you're truly desperate to fit in but unable to (i.e. Ted Kaczynski who perhaps was not so much a loner as someone who was mad at the world for rejecting him) or if the real cause of your desperation is trying to fit yourself into a mold that wasn't made for you. Do you really want to be alone? See, I want to be alone but it took me a while to make that okay.

"Party of One" is a celebration of lonerdom. The author gives many examples of loners, both past and present. They live occupied lives. Maybe they want to sail around the world alone, or maybe they choose a spiritual life of solitude. It might help you feel a little bit better, and perhaps give you some ideas on how you can find peace and fulfillment without socializing, if that is what you truly want. You don't have to hate the world of people or fear them, they can be fascinating actually.

After coming to terms with being a loner, I find myself more comfortable in social situations. I accept and like myself, and now if I want to work on conversation skills or what-have-you, I can do it. And if I want to stop and focus on something else more important to me, I can do that too, without feeling like a failure. I don't sit at home lonely; I write, I create, I imagine, I think, I work, I feel, I problem-solve, I philosophize, I introspect, I study. When around people, I care less about what they are thinking of me and what do you know, I'm less anxious. I'm much more open and embracing, and I can actually listen to people without worry.

I'm still looking for my quiet place in the woods though.

If you choose to be a hermit, make it an informed decision. It shouldn't be about "other people", not your fear of them, or your hatred/dislikes.
posted by Danila at 6:53 PM on April 6, 2007

Forgot link to book from Amazon. It was impossible to get from the library in my city.
posted by Danila at 6:54 PM on April 6, 2007

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