Social Issues I Have

A note to anyone who I might really know and socialize with who might be reading this: None of this is about you. I don’t mean anything bad by it toward anyone. You’re all awesome and amazing and I know that and am grateful always. This is just me picking at my own head and putting the results in bullet points, because it helps me think.

Quick definitions:

Head (capitalized): This is the part of my unconscious mind that give me feelings. Not happy/sad/etc feelings, but ‘this is the way things are’ feelings, like ‘cheating on tests is not OK but having sex before marriage is fine’ or ‘the insides of sinks are dirty and you shouldn’t touch them’ or ‘everybody is staring at you’.

-Wrong (also capitalized): Things my Head tells me are Bad, capitalized to distinguish from things I ideologically believe are wrong.

Anxieties

These are the main things that are anxieties to me in social interactions- things that I ‘feel’ I must avoid, that my Head makes me worried about doing/causing and it is of primary importance that I not, situations that, my Head tells me, must never ever be the case. They overlap a lot, and I get two or all three of them together in many situations, but they’re distinct as issues, and I can get them separately too.

1) Imposing on people
This is a very big one, and has a few sub-items.

  • Initiating something another person doesn’t want.
    In practice, this means that I almost never initiate anything, from conversations on Skype, to topics in a conversation, to invitations to somewhere, to propositioning someone. This is also one of the ‘smoothest’ things- it is automatic, and often thoughtless. I see someone on Skype, and if it even occurs to me that I could initiate something, the next thought is ‘no, that wouldn’t be right’, and I won’t. (Invitation is the exception to this. If the event happening is already given, I can invite people, but I will be panicking and freaked out about it).
    There are basically two ways this can be countermanded. First, it can be something that I, due to a lot of social exposure, believe is generally acceptable. This means I’ll occasionally say something to silent people next to me in a line, or chime in to a group conversation if something on the open topic occurs to me. Second, it can be something that is completely reciprocal, and the person who I might initiate it with has repeatedly initiated with me. This is why I now feel comfortable asking one Skype friend I have to go to video instead of chat- going to video is exactly the same thing, regardless of who asks, and they have asked me enough times that my Head has accepted that this is a thing they’re good with.
    As a note, once someone else has initiated something, I will feel comfortable doing things I feel are ‘connected’- I can ‘lead into’ a topic I want to talk about from a relevant one, I’ll bring up new seriousness-equivalent things to talk about once someone else has started a conversation (but not things I feel are more serious/’deep’), I’ll suggest activities if someone asks for ideas, etc.
    As another note, I do, in fact, sometimes initiate things. This generally means that I feel more comfortable with the other person/people, have a higher level of wanting for the thing in question, have managed to convince myself it’s OK and/or important (for instance, I’ve recently been reading about how always being the initiator makes some people feel unliked or unwanted), etc. This can be enough to overcome the ‘don’t do it’/’but what if’ message from my Head, but I will still be very nervous.
  • Being overly demanding
    This is also very severe and pervasive. Sadly, in practice, it also basically translates to ‘asking for anything, ever’. Emotional support, reassurance, sounding-board-ness, a conversation I want to have, other driving desires of the social kind, listening, them telling me something (say, about how they’re feeling), some action, their time, birthday celebrations, etc- it’s hard for me to ask for, I feel bad after I do, I worry and can’t stop.
    This can be made worse by two factors: One, if I feel like they already do a lot for me. Two, if I feel like I don’t do enough for them to compensate. 
  • Imposing overly-intense feelings
    This means I worry about the possibility of showing more enthusiasm toward someone than they are comfortable with me having. I can want to write someone a letter about how amazing they are and how much I appreciate them, to tell someone how much they mean to me, etc, but I worry that to them that’ll be creepy or overly gushy, that they feel more casual toward me and my ‘extra’ is unwelcome.

2) Doing something Wrong

This means exactly what it says. The list of things I could do Wrong is huge, and very context-dependent. In a social situation, I could enter a conversation where I’m not welcome, or raise a topic I shouldn’t, or leave abruptly, etc. In public writing, I could not be inclusive enough, or use the wrong tone or language, or talk about something in a way I shouldn’t, also etc. When I want to comfort someone who’s upset, I know there are actual lists of things to say and not to say, but I don’t remember them, and I can’t check against them and talk fluidly, and there’s so many of them to keep track of.

There are three interesting things about this issue. First, the way this works in my head is that it’s as though there’s a huge master list of Wrong things, and it is very important that I not do any of them, but I don’t get to see the list. So checking my actions for Wrongness is very hard, because a lot of the time I’m left thinking ‘was that wrong? Maybe? Yes? Um?’. Second, this is a zero-tolerance policy. There is not corresponding list of Right things. It doesn’t matter how well I’m doing in general. It is simply that all the Wrong things must never be done.

Third, reading advice on being better at being social is a problem for me because of this issue- reading the lists, to me, basically feels like seeing even more things I could possibly do wrong and need to worry about.

Also, this has two related, but emotionally different, ‘relatives’:

  • Situations where I’m at a loss and don’t know what to do, and worry through every option. This is stuff like, coming to a meeting of some sort for the first time, and not being sure where to go. Being supposed to meet some people, and them not being there. Being sent to buy something and not being able to find it (I’m over this one now, actually). Having to find out some information, and not knowing who and how to ask. Basically, in my Head, the response to every choice I might make sounds like ‘you idiot, why would ever think that was the thing to do, clearly you should have done {one of the other options} and you should have known that!’.
  • “Being silly”
    This is stuff like asking someone at the beginning of a conversation to tell me if I do something wrong, or making some sort of unusual/ not ‘normal’ request. The Head-response is basically ‘no one does that, that’s ridiculous, what on earth, you sound like a complete idiot’.

For all these things, the main ‘risk factor’ is not knowing how I should behave. Conversely, feeling like I do know the right way to behave makes me feel safe.

3) People being upset with me/mad at me/resentful

This overlaps a lot with the other two- very commonly the full worry is ‘I’ll do something wrong and they’ll be mad at me!- and specifically, it never shows up entirely alone. However, it has special points reflecting specifically to it.

First, I can feel this way about not doing something- not being available to talk to when someone wants to talk with me, having some casual reason to leave, needing to say I can’t talk because I’m busy, saying I don’t want to do something someone suggested. (Interestingly, this is one of the issues I do fight past quite a bit- I do do all of these things, I just also have the associated ‘oh no, but-‘ thoughts).
Second, the issue isn’t that people might be upset and tell me. The issue is that people might be upset and not tell me. If someone told me I was imposing on them, or had done something wrong, or hadn’t done something, I could apologize (or object, if I disagreed), we could talk about it, I would know what to avoid in the future. But the fear my Head gives me is that people won’t tell me, they’ll just be keeping it inside and getting more upset (which is already Bad by itself, to me), and one day they’ll get fed up and leave.

Relatedly I think this issue comes partly from the fact that I can think of pretty much no examples when someone has told me they were upset and why and all. So, reassuring myself with ‘if they were upset, they’d tell me’ is less effective, for lack of concrete proof.

Also, as a note, ‘resentful’ is generally identified with imposing, while ‘mad at’ is generally associated with being Wrong.

*******

As a final note: all of these worries are severe double standards. They tell me how I mustn’t act, but in no way relate to how I feel other people must. Other people doing things towards me that I get anxious about doing toward someone, but don’t intellectually find problematic, does not bother me at all.

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