Archive for the social life Category

How to assert a right you don´t have: Making people like you

Posted in health, mental health, rants, social life with tags , on May 23, 2012 by theweirdphilosopher

Finally something other than psychotherapy, but it will still be a rant. Oh noes, I guess that will deter even the brave readers who made it through the posts about Dr. Stoneface. At least according to the “social skills manual” I want to rant about.

I would post the exact source, but the girl who wrote it is a blogger who I believe isn´t an arrogant jerk, but genuinely wants to help socially awkward people, so it doesn´t seem nice to shoot down her article with all my sarcastic remarks; and besides, her advice as well as the tone in which she delivers it are fairly interchangeable, so you´ll basically find similar stuff anywhere.

Now, what she said was basically the following:

1) Social skills are not a talent, but, well, a skill. You can learn them. Anyone can learn them.

2) Telling people sob stories about how shy you are or about how difficult your life was (being bullied and stuff) might make them pity you, but it won´t make them like you.

3) Be [this], but don´t be [that]. Practical advice, such as “be polite”, “don´t be negative”, “be average”, “don´t talk about your favorite subject all the time”, “don´t talk about controversial subjects such as politics”.

Part of this had me cry in frustration, part of it made me feel – destroyed. I might be the only person on earth who feels like that, and maybe it is just because I am such a negative, rude, sarcastic person who hates small-talk, constantly waffles about Jack the Ripper and genuinely wonders why she wasn´t elected prom queen. Well, I will dissect this step by step (so much for JTR, at least I won´t send the article´s uterus to the police, and I bet dadaistic humor is a taboo as well, even at 2:30 a.m.).

Good, alright. I don´t even disagree with her first point so much. I guess you can learn a certain amount of agreeable behavior. There are some things she says which I don´t agree with, though. First of, she writes this article as someone “who once was socially awkward as well”. To be honest, I cannot stand it when people who have gotten oh so far in terms of overcoming their weaknesses graciously give advice to those who are still stuck within their social awkwardness. Not only does such advice tend to come across as very preachy and very condescending (probably against the author´s intentions), it also has a tendency to be particularly offensive and hurtful. Why?

People who have overcome a weakness you are still struggling with know that weakness by heart. They know everything that you are thinking, every “dysfunctional” thought, and they also know everything you tell yourself in order to minimize your feelings of shame and inadequacy. And they will target precisely those thoughts and strategies. “You might be thinking that xyz, but in fact…” Seeing all your thoughts spelled out and dismissed doubles and triples your feelings of shame and inadequacy, I can promise you that much.  Especially if they don´t even give you reasons. Reasons that go beyond “I used to think so, too, but now I have moved on to some kind of superior wisdom and I´m more successful and much happier than you!” I guess this lack of proper argumentation is also what makes such advice-giving look so condescending. “I have thought about it for a long time and I think my belief that everybody else was just stupid was wrong because…” sounds a whole lot less condescending and offensive than “I know you think that everybody else is just stupid and this is why they don´t like you, but really, that´s bullshit! It was only after seeing that I was the problem that I managed to make friends – but so can you!” (No, this is not what that specific girl said, but you get my drift, I hope?”) The latter sentence sounds a bit as if you only had to blame yourself for all your problems in order to solve them, and that, apart from being cruel, is way too simple as well. I blamed and shamed and hated myself for my problems long enough, and it didn´t get me anywhere near solving them. If anything, it made me feel like I deserved my problems for being such a useless, unlikeable person.

Now for the second problem with the idea that you can learn social skills. Social skills like polite behavior might make people grudgingly acknowledge that they cannot really criticize anything about you. What social skills can´t do is magically force people to like you. There are absolute jerks who, for some reason, are extremely popular (maybe they are entertaining?), there are polite, helpful people who I´d much rather not be around. Why? Well, the guy in question honestly tries to be polite and helpful, and he even is, but I feel, I simply feel that this is a facade. I don´t rationally think that behind that facade he is a serial killer, but he still gives me the creeps. I feel like his politeness and his help come with some kind of demand or expectation, and that makes his presence very uncomfortable. I don´t know why this would be any different with someone who tests his newly learned social skills on people.

This leads us directly to her second point. She basically says that you have no right to be liked (respected, treated with decency, yeah. Liked? No.). I second that. A world in which people could be forced to like another person would be about as creepy and inhumane as 1984. You can basically go two ways from there:

1) “Well, of course I will try to be a decent human being, but whether or not people like me is out of my hands. Affection is an feeling that follows no rules, it is nothing I can force, and if a person should have affection for me it is a gift, not something I earned. This also means, however, that my self-worth does not depend on whether or not other people like me.”

2) “If you believe that people should (or would?) like you just the way you are, you are a complete asshole with a massive sense of entitlement. If you want people to like you, of course you have to do something for it!”

It is so fascinating how differently the idea of a “right to be liked” is interpreted in these two approaches. The first approach sees a right as something that you can enforce, and the idea of enforcing the right to affection seems bizarre if not scary. In the second approach, a right is the basis for selfish, egocentric demands. In a way, though, the second approach is highly paradoxical: Since we aren´t entitled to anybody´s affection, we are supposed to earn it. But this suggests that we can actually force people to like us – if we´ve earned it, they will have no other choice than to like us. Isn´t that a bit like enforcing a right you don´t even have?

The article unfortunately adopts the second approach, though it doesn´t use quite the same words. And it tells me what to do and who to be in order to be liked, as if other peoples´feelings could be operated just like that.  Apart from that, I have two major criticisms of her third point:

1) She says stuff like “be this”, and “don´t be that”. It is one thing to give people recommendations as to how to behave, such as saying “hello” and “goodbye”. It is another thing to tell them what kind of person they should BE if they want to ever be liked. It is these parts of the article that made me feel destroyed. “Don´t be negative.” Well, I am a pretty negative person. Watch me, right now, I´m dissecting another person´s hard work with my butthurt remarks instead of just going to sleep (it´s 4 a.m. by now). I am cynical and sarcastic, I constantly talk about how I hate this and that and how some stupid commercial pisses me off to no end each time I see it, and now I publicly display myself as a difficult, awkward, annoying person instead of keeping my self-doubts and my negative self-image AAAALLL under tight wraps. So when someone says “If you want to be liked, don´t be negative!” I feel rejected. Rejected as in: Nobody could ever like you and you even deserve that because “ha ha, now, I know we have all seen those disgruntled naggers before, and, really, you just don´t want to be like them, do you? They are a real pest, don´t we all think that?” *social skills students nod and mutter in heartfelt agreement*

Telling me what to be and what not to be suggests to me that certain traits are inherently bad or ridiculous or that people with such traits can never be liked. In fact, many of the things she touches upon are not bad character traits at all. There is nothing wrong with having a special hobby or being extremely interested in a completely exotic subject. It´s actually quite beautiful. And being sarcastic can be a coping mechanism – or a special talent for comedy. Giving people advice how to use such character trains is fine, but telling them not to BE nerdy or sarcastic is judgmental, and a form of shaming.

2) She conveniently assumes that everybody likes the same kinds of behavior in a person, or even the same character traits. Let´s stick with “don´t be negative”. The assumption behind this advice is that everybody likes positive and dislikes negative people. This, however, is simply not true. I, for example, like negative people. When I´m surrounded by do-gooders who are all buzzing with harmony and brotherly spirit, I am extremely grateful for anybody who mutters a disgruntled comment about how this constant optimistic smiling and the exaggerated kindness remind him of a cult. Then again, I am just a loner socially awkward loser who won´t even admit he has a problem, so my standards probably don´t count.

I would love to finish this with some great words of wisdom, but it´s half past four in the morning and I´ll fall asleep with my head on the keyboard if I don´t go to bed. I might come back to this subject at another point, but at the moment I cannot keep my eyes open anymore.

Parties, Panic and Phobias

Posted in health, mental health, personal, social life with tags , , , on November 5, 2011 by theweirdphilosopher

Last night I was at a party. When I say “party”, I don´t necessarily mean a huge party with thousands of guests. What I mean is getting drunk in company. Yesterday the company consisted of my girlfriend and five people I barely knew. We were hanging out at a pub, talking, getting drunk, and, remarkably enough, having fun. I´m not very talkative among strangers or casual acquaintances most of the time. It is not exactly shyness – often I just start to feel very detached and spacey when people around me are chatting away. When they ask me why I “don´t say anything” I claim to be tired. For a long time I thought it was true. Focusing on them and on what they said seemed like an incredible effort (leave alone saying something myself), so apparently I had to be exhausted. And yet in my own way I am oddly focused. I am just self-absorbed.

Whatever it is that normally sets in when I am attending a social event, though, yesterday it didn´t. It was one of those wonderful days when I am not stuck somewhere in my head. It was easy to focus on the others, I remembered to always ask them questions and to be interested in what they said, and I even managed to be interested in amazingly many things.

It could all have been a wonderful evening, if occasions like this were not clouded by a nasty little phobia. Since I was a little child I am suffering from a fear of vomiting. I found out only recently that this is so not -uncommon that it even has a name of its own: Emetophobia. Of course such a phobia doesn´t mix well with excessive alcohol consumption. If you get drunk, you are likely to feel at least a little nauseous at some point. And if I start to feel nauseous, I get frightened – and this can easily turn into a panic attack. In case you wonder why I don´t avoid situations where I might start to feel nauseous – I do, at least most of the time. There are many nights when I have one drink and then cling to a glass of lemonade, watching the others downing one beer after another. But this is fairly depressing. And while a lot of people would argue that getting drunk is an unhealthy kind of behavior anyway, I argue that not getting drunk because of a stupid phobia is even more unhealthy.

An avoidant attitude sneaks up on you, and suddenly you realize that your options are incredibly restricted. There are moments when I remember how free I once was. While I have had that phobia since I was a little girl, there were times when it was dormant. I think I had managed to avoid vomiting for about ten years, and somehow I was confident that it was never going to happen again. I didn´t even think about it, and those were the days when I could booze and party without concern for my welfare because I simply knew I was going to be okay. Well, one day about two years ago it happened again. I had to vomit. And my phobia was back in full gear, and I started to avoid, avoid, avoid. Not just drinking. Also eating certain things if they made me feel sick just once. Or eating at all, until I was sick with hunger and still didn´t dare to eat – because it might make me vomit. Avoidance is not exactly compatible with enjoying life. At all.

And so there are days when I decide to fuck avoidance and just get drunk. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn´t. Last Saturday I was at a party in the normal sense, that is, at someone´s house, with lots of guests. I did get drunk, but I felt alright and in control, and guess what, I didn´t even have a hangover the day after. Yesterday was – not such a good day. I was determined to have fun, but I was already nervous and uneasy when I left the house. At that little “social gathering” everything went smoothly for a while, but after my second drink I knew that I should stop. And yet I refused and had a third one. It was a mistake, because when my girlfriend and I left and rode home (by train, of course), everything was spinning around as soon as I closed my eyes. In fact, it was like I was spinning around, or flying through the air upside down. I felt like I was on a very crazy roller coaster. The strange thing is that this is not even all that unpleasant. At some point, though, I will inevitably start to feel seasick. I will want it to stop, badly, but it doesn´t, and this is a breeding ground for panic attacks.  So the rest of the night, and much of my (shallow) sleep was dedicated to fighting back anxiety. And today it is all about battling the hangover.

So what do I make of all this? I guess feeling like I am flying through the air upside down is something I want to avoid, independently of any kind of phobia. And yet it pisses me off. I hate to be mature and reasonable. I hate to “know when to stop”. On the other hand, though, what is wrong with listening to your instincts? Knowing when to stop is not about always having only two drinks at most no matter what, it is about listening to and correctly interpreting your body´s signals. And when your instincts tell you that you can very well have a third, fourth, or fifth drink, there is no reason to not have them (other than monetary concerns).

But doesn´t a phobia warp your instincts? Each and every article I´ve ever read on phobias and panic attacks emphasized that fear is generally a good and useful instinct. It is a warning signal. But if you have a phobia, your fear warns you of dangers that are either not there, or not as dramatic as you feel they are.  So when I feel like I should better not have another drink because it will make me feel sick – is it a useful instinct, or is it a self-fulfilling prophecy? And if I think it is the latter, should I just override that intuition, or should I go back to avoidant behavior? If I override the intuition and start to feel sick, I will 1) blame myself and make myself even more miserable and 2) my misgivings will be confirmed and my phobia is going to get worse. If I give in to avoidance, however, I will 1) feel like a loser and a killjoy and 2) remain a prisoner of my phobia. Sometimes I wonder where this is all going to lead to. Will my phobia become dormant again if I avoid vomiting for long enough? But it is bound to return one day. I absolutely want to have children one day, but being pregnant often goes with feeling nauseous. And even if I should be able to avoid vomiting then, how about the children? Kids have to vomit all the time, and besides, I don´t want to pass that phobia on to them by overreacting to them feeling sick. It´s not like I worry about this all the time, but thoughts like these make me want to get rid of that phobia once and for all instead of just hoping for it to become dormant again. I´m just not sure how to do that.

 

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