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Dear Socially Stymied,
Thanks for writing. From what I could glean from your relatively brief message, I sensed both anxiety and some possible defensiveness on your part in regard to meeting people. Humor, like anything else, can be used a number of ways; by “sarcastic” I wonder if you mean laughing with or laughing at the potential friend. (Or if it’s taken as the latter even if you intend the former, by someone who doesn’t yet know you.)
Suspicion and negativity, too, can be used for self-protection, thus I make a very rough guess that perhaps there is a fear of being hurt. I’m wondering if you have been hurt by people in the past and are wary of trusting again? Or is there a crisis of confidence or self-esteem that might make you wary of allowing people to get to know you? (The fear of “once people really know me, they won’t like me” is very common.) I can assure you that everyone goes through such a challenge at one time or another; people who question their confidence or abilities are almost always harder on themselves than anyone else.
The other theme in your message is loneliness. When you say you have neither a best friend nor any friends, my heart twinged. Perhaps there’s some frustration and confusion there. Of course, I am highly biased given my profession, but this kind of conundrum—wanting to be safe while wanting to connect with others (who might potentially hurt or disappoint us)—is very common and precisely what a good psychotherapist would explore with you in a safe, productive manner. If my first deduction about self-protection is true, then it stands to inference that some past experience has left an emotional scar. I have a therapist friend who says that no one escapes trauma completely, that there is trauma with a big “T” and a little “t”. Even little t’s can make one wary of new relationships.
It also might be worth pausing to reflect about the negativity and sarcasm, which can be endearing or off-putting, depending on context. I’m not entirely sure what you mean by negativity. And if you’re being sarcastic about some pop-culture figure or the latest politician in trouble, for instance, that can be an icebreaker; if it’s about the host of the party, it could backfire. You may have a dry wit, for instance (which I always appreciate), but does it come across more cutting than you intend?
Here’s a little tip: People like to talk about themselves and what they do. Not because people are self-centered but because they’re looking to share their stories and, in many ways, reduce the isolation and loneliness you’re describing. To have another person actually interested in us and our experiences is reassuring. In fact, I’d say all of my clients struggle mightily with this issue; some modern psychologists believe loneliness and alienation is our culture’s biggest challenge. (Read Erich Fromm, Ernest Becker, or Viktor Frankl’s superb Man’s Search for Meaning if you’re interested in this.) In fact, I have found success socially—in spite of shyness—because I like to hear people’s stories and share a little of my own. As the old adage goes, “God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason.” (It’s also a great way to get dates, by the way, provided the person allows equal air time.) It continues to amaze me how we humans have so much more in common, emotionally and psychologically, than we realize. We are all pretty much in the same cosmic boat.
I wish you the best of luck and would comfortably guess the problem is not as dire as it feels. And there’s no shame in getting a little help to iron out temporary challenges, which all of us have at one time or another. Thanks again for writing.