How can I feel more gregarious?
August 28, 2007 10:47 AM   Subscribe

How can I feel more gregarious? How to more deeply appreciate fellowship?

I tend to be quite solitary and have inadvertently hurt, even lost friends who have taken my isolation personally. Consequently I sometimes accept invitations simply to avoid offense. Some of this tendency stems no doubt from social anxiety/low self-worth and perhaps to a lesser extent from trust issues. But I pass up opportunities for human transaction even when there is no risk to myself. For instance, I can make small talk in line at the supermarket but rationalize reasons not to: it feels forced and thus insincere. Basically my social threshold is very low and I believe I am depriving myself of the enriched existence I imagine extroverts experience. Is gregariousness something I simply need to fake until it becomes real? Please share your strategies and experiences.
posted by levijk to Human Relations (8 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
well, i think practice is part of it. the more you do it, the more comfortable you'll be doing it.

and don't judge every interaction so harshly--chitchat is always sort of shallow and insincere. friendliness isn't just about always honestly expressing yourself, it's about creating an environment. it's like a music soundtrack--maybe not every word of the song fits the situation, it's more about the mood it creates. that's what this sort of idle stuff is.

also, i think the more outgoing you try to be, and the more interactions you have, the less important these inconsequential ones will see. right now they seem so important because you have so few.
posted by thinkingwoman at 10:54 AM on August 28, 2007

Thinkingwoman, I *love* your description of small talk as a soundtrack! That's really what it is, isn't it??

Levijk, I suffer from a lot of the same kinds of issues that you describe, and one of the ways I overcome those issues is to focus outside of myself. I compliment strangers if I see someone with a really nice outfit, or riding a nice bike, or whatever. It makes their day, it gets me out there and interacting with people, and makes me feel good about the interaction.

If you keep doing this, over time your inner tally of "successful social interactions" will be more than your tally of "unsuccessful social interactions", and you'll feel more confident in talking to people. I promise.

Good luck!
posted by LN at 11:27 AM on August 28, 2007

another suggestion - make it a habit to think back over the day and notice the pleasant social interactions that you had. Even it was just a fleeting moment, take a minute and appreciate how it felt - that is your reward for pushing yourself to make more contact. This will help you notice when you are enjoying an interaction as it happens. Even if the glass is more than half empty, you still appreciate how cool and refreshing the water is.
posted by metahawk at 12:46 PM on August 28, 2007

I think you can definitely change your mindset in ways that will enable you to have more of the enriching social interactions you crave.

However, it sounds like you are an introvert. Own it. I found that once I did that, I was able to make peace with the fact that I'll never become an extrovert, and that doing so would make me unhappy. I'm learning, slowly, to be social in my own unique, introverted way. It works.
posted by splendid animal at 2:30 PM on August 28, 2007 [2 favorites]

It sounds like you already place some value on these interactions, even if you often think they're superficial (you say that you imagine extroverts, who indulge in them frequently, have an enriched existence), so you could try and seek them out and praise yourself for indulging in them purely for their own sake.

If you want a view from the other side of the fence, I'm quite extrovert and I generally* think of an exchange with another human being as being a positive thing to indulge in, even if it's just eye contact and a smile and sincere "thank you" to the person at the checkout. It just does something good to my brain chemistry to connect with another person, they don't necessarily have to do anything very meaningful. And as LS says, the more you do it, the less deep meaning you will expect to draw from each one, except from enjoying that little buzz ("I smiled at that person and they smiled back, cool! What's next?").

(*I say generally - I am always strangely drawn to the self service checkouts at the supermarket, so I guess in due course you start to pick and choose your quick interactions a little.)

How these little moments are related to the more complicated matters of friendship etc, I'm not sure, but even so, for me, they're worth having in their own right. They're the small change equivalent of someone handing you a flower or placing a caring hand on your shoulder: Not as significant as the big stuff, but worth having in their own right nonetheless, and worth being profligate with just because you can afford to be.

On reflection, one way that they're related to sustaining meaningful friendships: just like other relationships, friendships are not necessarily wall to wall fun and meaningfulness and enjoyment every single minute of their existence. You might go for lunch with a friend and you're both in a bad mood, hardly talk, and leave in a surly manner. It was still worth doing, because that human interaction has an intrinsic value, and it adds another drop of strength and depth to your relationship, even if it wasn't particularly enjoyable in the moment you experienced it.

But, likesay, that's the extrovert in me speaking (and going on and on and on, my GOD she likes the sound of her own voice). YM as an introvert MV.
posted by penguin pie at 3:45 PM on August 28, 2007

You sound very similar to me levijk :) I also imagine, like me, you're a true introvert. I read this great article a while back which describes introverts perfectly, I recommend you read the whole thing but here is a really good excerpt for your situation:

Introverts are people who find other people tiring. Extroverts are energized by people, and wilt or fade when alone. In contrast, after an hour or two of being socially "on," we introverts need to turn off and recharge. My own formula is roughly two hours alone for every hour of socializing. This isn't antisocial. It isn't a sign of depression. It does not call for medication. For introverts, to be alone with our thoughts is as restorative as sleeping, as nourishing as eating. Our motto: "I'm okay, you're okay—in small doses."

Like you I often turn down social interaction. I don't really have any friends of my own and that used to really bother me but I have come to realise that that's just not the way I work. I don't enjoy parties, I hate after-work drinks, generally they seem trivial to me but worse than that I find them physically tiring. And you're not alone in feeling weird about this because while a good % of the population are introverts, only a small % are of the extreme variety we both seem to be.

The strangest thing is, I really like people and in general I find they really like me. I just find extended time in a social situation to be anywhere from tiring to utterly exhausting. In time I have found ways to compromise so that I can be part of the very necessary social interaction we humans need to be happy (we are communal creatures after all!) but not run myself ragged. For example:

- I'm quite active in online communities, forums, journals, etc. This is a great way to interact with others, make online friends, help people, without the physical pressure of an offline-world social situation. Just a word of caution - don't expect the same level of commitment / friendship from online activities as you would from your offline friends, that's a sure way to get hurt.

- I find ways to make my few real-life friends feel special and know that I care for them, even if I don't see them as often as I'd like (and I'm not talking many here, my husband and I have 2 or 3 mutual friends we see maybe once a fortnight). I chat with them by email often, I send any links / resources I think they will like they're way, and every now and then I'll buy them a present I'll know they really like. This is my way of telling them they're important to me and I'm thinking of them even if I don't get to see them in person all the time.

- I play at least one online game, at the moment it's World of Warcraft :) Like a true introvert I'm a solo player even in WoW but I find merely being part of an active online community and being surrounded by many other players is a great way to feel like you belong to something - a group social activity as it were. Also online games let you give / take as much as you need to - most nights I play totally solo, but sometimes I'll chat with friends, my guildmates, or even join a group to do some quests. The key here is you are not locked into anything, which I know for me is one of my main fears when in a social situation ("help I've been here chatting with X friend for 4 hours now and I need to go home where it's quiet but I can't without seeming rude or insensitive, argh!" etc).

- Very occasionally I will get sick of my own company and want to be surrounded by other people, but being an introvert it's not like I have a huge list of friends to call ;), so instead I just go to a shopping mall or the movies, etc, and enjoy being around other people. Sometimes I'll even chat with random strangers. Then when I've had enough I go home.

I guess the main thing, and the thing I've had to come to terms with over time as you will too, is to not feel bad about having a low social threshold. Find ways to work around it - I hope the examples I've listed will help - and find ways to make human interaction a daily part of your life even if it's only playing an online game, helping people here on MeFi, or chatting to a stranger at the bus station. Do as much, or as little, as you feel capable of doing on the day.

All the best, I hope that helps :)
posted by katala at 6:31 PM on August 28, 2007 [3 favorites]

I find that, introvert or extrovert, the best way to really get someone to open up socially is to give them as much sincerity as possible. Don't just say, "how are ya", ask "How are you today?", and listen. Expose yourself to someone else's experience of this world, and use it for a selfish reason if you need to- your own knowledge. Really understanding others' perception of the events in their lives and the world at large is crucial in building a sense of fellowship.
But smalltalk isn't the only way. Actions really do speak louder than words. Pausing a moment to hold a door, waving on the car in the intersection even when you were first, giving up a place in line- genuine goodwill is the first step to positive social interaction. Remembering your crappy days, you might recall a need for someone to show a little kindness. Do that for others, and I promise the rest will follow.
We're all in this together, that's what fellowship really means.
posted by potch at 9:17 PM on August 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

Thank you to all who have commented. I will put your advice into practice.
posted by levijk at 3:17 PM on August 29, 2007

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