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Difficulty relating to others


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I'm depressed and a naturally shy person.

I've gotten feedback from people recently that I have poor eye contact. In fact, I live in a city and go out a lot (cafes, walks, etc) and I rarely meet a single person because I don't know how to look at people and to look friendly and approachable. It's not just meeting people, though. Once I know someone it's still hard for me to do this and then I think they think I don't like them and they lose interest. Even if I do really like someone I don't know how to show it!

I'm feeling very very discouraged. In my past, there were things that kept me from being happy and having meaningful relationships (like a bad childhood). Well, most of those things are over with. But now *I'm* the one who is keeping me from being happy. I'm the one who is keeping people at arm's length and not allowing myself to develop meaningful relationships. It's soooo frustrating because I feel that happiness could be mine if I could just erase my past and accept and be open to love...but I don't know how. I had such a tough childhood and have built up so many defenses, like being so shy and standoffish, that I don't know how to get past them

Do you have any suggestions for me? I really need some encouragement because I'm starting to feel I'll never make any progress on this.

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I'm dealing with a similar set of issues and I'm not doing a whole lot better than you are, but I do feel I must say something. First, I don't expect I will ever be a social butterfly. I can be cheerful/happy/outgoing for limited periods of time, but it's exhausting, and though it can feel wonderful for part of that time, it isn't the sustainable, everyday me. As a result, the people I meet and perhaps befriend during these hours or days of being my social self form a false impression of me, assuming I'll be that person all the time, and I'm not. Those small-talk friendships are extremely short-lived.

Most of the time, when I am my reserved, slightly brain-fogged, cautious, insecure real-world self, my life and attempts to meet people are exactly as you've described. I have concluded that pulling out Princess SparkleShiny in order to try be normal is shooting myself in the foot, as she is like a revisionist reading of my true scripted self, and even if I can act like her, she will never truly be me to my very core. The difficulty is that my natural self is not this perky creature, and other people would prefer perky. The problem is not my "failure" to "let myself be happy." Parts of depression can be described that way, yeah, but my baseline personality is mostly reserved. (The exception: my child-interactive self. Children draw on all parts of my being, including the perky, and although it's exhausting, it's my real self and not a show.) I accomplish nothing by flagellating myself with barbed recriminations. I accept that this is me. It carries limitations within it, but it does not preclude my happiness.

If my experience is any indication, you will not slough off your chrysalis to become a dazzling social butterfly. You can, however, learn to develop a handful of sustainable relationships which are worth your while and add real meaning and value to your life.

I'm trying to think of how I've met my closest friends to see if there's any advice I can offer you. In all honesty, I've met most of them on the internet. This has been my filtering ground to find like-minded people I click with, and then some of them become good, lasting friends. I met my best friend indirectly through a music message board when I was seventeen or so. We visit, we write, we call, we email, and I can't imagine my life without him. I've fleetingly dated a number of guys, but I met my first boyfriend who loved me for me and not as some avatar of fulfillment for some personal need through CrazyBoards. I believe some of my social quirks would have been offputting if he hadn't had prior knowledge of them, whether through his own life experience or through all he knew of me before we met. My favorite person to have tea with is someone I met through CrazyBoards, who moved to my area for other reasons from the other side of the country. One of my small group of local friends is a girl I met through clicking "random" on OpenDiary.com, though she lived in several other cities before we eventually both moved here. Things happen. It's crazy. But getting to know people in writing allows us to know and appreciate each other before bringing things into my personal weak arena, face-to-face interaction.

Of course, I've conversed with thousands of people online over the past decade, and from this have culled a few dozen online friends and a handful of real-world ones.

For meeting people without the intercession of a computer, I make a point of having at least one real-life, face-to-face interaction each day, when circumstances will permit it. I SUCK at making eye contact -- I think this criterion alone is twenty per cent of the reason I've been diagnosed with Asperger's -- but trying to talk with someone daily, even if it's just the sales clerk helping me find a pair of pants to fit my newly-rotund figure, helps keep me from disappearing too far inside my head and gives me a little practice in understanding humanity. I expect to be on the social skills group therapy waiting list for a VERY LONG TIME, so I need practice. I'm a student, so I try to find nonthreatening people to talk to in my classes. A couple of friends have given me loose scripts to base the early stages of a conversation on. At work, I was once unusually greeted by the woman who is now one of my best friends. I basically replied "no one ever starts a conversation like that. I like you. I'm Ella." We spoke of garden gnomes and barefoot dancing for the rest of coffee break. Different things. Different times. My speak-each-day thing means I have a social interaction with about 200 people each year. I pull under five friends from all that.

Oh, and, um, it appears that 85% of all the people I click with in the real world turn out to be mentally interesting. I didn't plan things that way.

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Well, I think there's a lag between feeling a bit better and being able to deal with the social thing. Particularly if you have to learn social skills that you missed out on earlier in your life. It's probably better to have a few less intense friendships before going overboard on the romance thing. Unless you like pain. And, with those friends as backup, the romance will be less scary and therefore more likely to succeed. Plus, those friendships mean that your relationship won't have to supply ALL your social needs. If you have some other interest (hobby, political, charitable work, etc.) that'll supply you with some like minded acquaintances.

Sometimes, tho I like to think my social skills are, well, maybe adequate, I enjoy spending time with a support group with people who have the same dx. Sometimes it's very educational because I can see what some of my behavior looks like from the outside. I also get this with my s.o. because we seem to be bent in many of the same ways.

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