Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Friendless in Wherever

She calls herself “Conflicted Ball of Self-Loathing.” In fact, she so fully despises herself that she chooses to write to the singularly inept advice columnist, Ask Polly. If she thinks that Polly has a solution to her problem, she has a real problem. It’s more than self-loathing, because self-loathing and whining are her effort to solve what she calls her friendless state.

Examine the text of her letter:

I would like to be a joiner. I would like to be able to go to social gatherings — get-togethers, church groups, public classes — and meet people. I’ve never really admitted that out loud before, not even to myself.

It’s not that I don’t know how to find, and attend, events. Every few weeks, I manage to make myself go be a part of something. Because of this, I can tell that I want this in my life. But how do I face the fear that I might get to know someone? Especially when that’s all I really want?

I’m most afraid of going back to places. I can handle those first few moments of awkward, sometimes-effusive introduction. But if I go back, I might meet the same people again. People might remember me. How do I handle that? It feels like, if I go back, I risk them knowing me. I risk them realizing that I need more human companionship in my life.

And that’s shameful … right?

I know it’s not. I know it shouldn’t be. Shame isn’t supposed to play into the desire for company. It’s extremely human to want others around.

But I guess that’s the crux of it. Surely, everyone else has made all their friends long ago, right? I am the only one who is somehow nearing 30 and friendless. They will smell the desperation on me, and it will push them away, as it did when I was a child.

Some part of me knows this isn’t true. That part realizes that people have times they need new friends, and new communities, throughout their lives. Yet I can’t convince myself of that.

The reality is, the contempt I feel is my own. I am the one who believes desperation is unsightly, who pushes away lonely souls and tells them I am too busy to make a commitment to being around for the next event. I am the person who judges people for looking alone and afraid.

And now when I need my own kindness the most, I judge myself the hardest.
How can I let go of the belief that it is somehow shameful not to have your social life all sorted?

Conflicted Ball of Self-Loathing

She sounds as though she listened to a couple of Brene Brown TED talks about shame… and now is trying to apply this pseudo-wisdom to her inability to socialize. Under more normal circumstances we would say that she suffers from social anxiety, but apparently the concept is too sophisticated for our Polly.

CBOSL has shown us that listening the the musings of the singularly challenged Brene Brown is not going to solve your problem. It is not even going to help you to learn what shame is. It is going to mess up your life. I trust that no one is surprised.

For her part, Polly offers a pep talk about how not to feel ashamed, but it falls as flat as a Brene Brown TED talk.

Anyway, I would draw  your attention to a more important aspect of the letter. Perhaps you have noticed it already. CBOSL provides us with exactly zero details about herself, her appearance, her life, her family, her work, her neighborhood… nothing, nada, zip. And she provides us with zero details about the nature of the meetings she attends. Are they AA meetings? Are they PTA meetings? Are they meetings of the local young Democrats? We know nothing. And we also know nothing about the people she meets, whether she has anything in common with them, whether they are from a culture that is similar to or different from her own. We do not know whether or not she is the only outsider? Also, we know nothing about the specific conversations she engages with people at these meetings?

It doesn’t bother Polly, because Polly always says the same thing anyway, but we should be circumspect about offering advice to someone about whom we know exactly nothing.

If she is attending meetings filled with people who know each other, but who are strangers to her, she is going to feel like an outsider. Not because she is ashamed of who she is, but because she is a newby. If she is attending meetings filled with people who follow different cultural codes, she is likely to feel out of place. Not because she is ashamed of who she is, but because when you do not know the rules of the game or the players, you will feel lost… in anomie.

And we do not know if she harbors a deep dark secret from her past?

Normally, we would recommend that she work to deepen the friendships that she has, whether with acquaintances, colleagues, old classmates, or even family members. She should build on what she has, rather than to attend meetings filled with strangers, where she might not even speak the language. Since we know nothing about her social connections, past or present, we cannot be very specific here.

And we recall the great advice offered by Canadian social psychologists, Jennifer Trew and Lynn Alden. To wit, it you are suffering from social anxiety, the best approach is not to cower in the corner fearing contact or to let it all hang out-- which would be the one true way of becoming shameless-- but to reach out to other people… by doing a kind deed.

Help someone with a heavy package; treat your colleague to coffee; volunteer at an animal rescue facility. One could add to the list: despite what a bevy of behavioral economists are telling us, it is a bad idea to try to expose too much personal information to people you barely know. If CBOSL has followed the rules laid down by these new gurus, she might have exposed too much of herself to strangers.

And, when that happens, Erving Goffman noted decades ago in his book The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, the normal reaction is to retreat. When you expose too much, you are pretending that you have overcome your sense of shame. It is a bad strategy. Better to talk about the weather or  the election or the markets or business.

Again, we do not know how CBSOL get into this position, but she would do well to find someone who can offer better advice than Polly.


Ares Olympus said...

Stuart: Normally, we would recommend that she work to deepen the friendships that she has, whether with acquaintances, colleagues, old classmates, or even family members. She should build on what she has, rather than to attend meetings filled with strangers.

Agreed, that's where she should start. I'd guess the problem is there's momentum and expectation in the way there, especially if she feels guilty from her past decisions to ignore other's efforts to reach out to her.

So the advantage in searching a "new crowd" is she is free to experiment and go outside of her comforts, outside of her habits of reserve, and the new people don't know she is trying to be someone else. And she can still retreat from those new friends if she decides she doesn't like it, and doesn't have to raise walls again with people who she does seem more regularly now.

It does seem like you almost need an external reason for changed behavior, like a parental death or loss of a job, some important loss or change, that opens a hole and time to fill it. Then new behavior can be experimental, and temporary, and new friendships might arise, or not, and there's no "expectations" of future loyalty or care when the crisis period ends.

There is a sense of the "narrative" we need for ourselves, to explain why we're reaching out now, rather than in the past, and perhaps one can just make one half-truth up as an icebreaker, if people are curious, and you're ashamed of what otherwise seems a dumb reason. OTOH, its better to not tell lies or play the victim for sympathy, and bad talking people from your past to explain why you're avoiding them is a sign you're probably not a good new potential friend.

Anonymous said...

Liked the title and the humor theme. You've got to appreciate that title "Friendless in Wherever" I certainly do.

"I would like to be a joiner." a block narrates its good day finishing story with "..and Be nice to someone today."

Sound advice!

Some interesting commenting too!

"is a sign you're probably not a good new potential friend."

This is true!

No one makes a good friend.
The better the friend or relationship is the more it hurts.
You aren't a good friend to yourself. Most people will never bother to see themselves. I mean, why bother? You see yourself every time you brush your teeth. There is a sick joke that stupid animals play on smart humans. The theory is when an animal fails to identify its own reflection in a mirror it is a sign sent by Providence itself that the animal species is 'Stoopid'.

Anonymous said...

Everyone has their own version of mental crutches. We treat ourselves with kid gloves, as stupid retard We Lie because we don't want to mutilate its impressionable feeling.

When you half 'joking' wrote that "the animal species is 'Stoopid'" you are trying to convince yourself that the entire scenario can be discarded as a poorly constructed attempt at failed humor. You don't want to admit to yourself that you MIGHT actually agree with the Researcher's assumption that the animal cannot recognize its own reflection in the mirror and is indeed not just 'Stoopid' but genuinely so. In this way even the dumbest of the stupid animals can 'outsmart' the human, an animal so dumb it cannot be fooled by a mirror. If only the humiliation could intensify by having the cow break character to parrot worn out platitudes ""Know Thyself" "The unexamined life is not worth living."

You are right about the cow, and the imaginary cow philosopher happens to also be right about you, but neither one is "right" or wrong about anything. I suspect the cow probably has a better comprehension of this though. As a human maybe for a brief millisecond at the cusp there is a glimpse of bridging that wide chasm of understanding, a gap of understanding between the incomprehensible contradictions of |existing for a brief time between|. This sounds crazy but doesn't contradict any existing dogmas that I know the top of my head, but do let me know.

The morbidly Insane have less delusions than we do. It is absurd, that experience is a series of well constructed hallucinations that function just well enough to allow us survival for an extra blip or two.
I don't think that all there is to our existence or experience is mere organization of semi-accurate hallucinations as predictive models, at the core of it there is nothing. I think it is possible to be aware in the most rudimentary physiologically state possible of being aware while in the pseudo-amnesic 'nothing state' that precedes death's more complete amnesia. I don't consider nothing awareness to be a direct experience of reality as an 'accurate' experience. Or perhaps it is all an unhappy hallucination.