Social anxiety and alienation

I was prompted to write this chapter by visiting several discussion forums, and watching several videos. I suppose that someday there will be a whole website devoted only to this issue. (I am completing the text after a few years: it was created, I’ll translate it soon). The title of the chapter is a bit misleading, for which I apologize in advance, but I didn’t know what to call it. I don’t mean phobias as defined by medicine. I believe that this “classic” ailment can be perfectly cured with therapies for any other anxiety disorder. Supplementing deficiencies will prevent panic attacks from occurring, and using muscle relaxation before talking to people will gradually get rid of the problem. Just remember to start small: half an hour of relaxation, a conversation that would normally be stressful but not too stressful (I guarantee that with this preparation it will go smoothly!), relaxation afterwards. Then a talk that’s a little more difficult… at the end you’ll be able to stand in front of a whole crowd of people, speak through a microphone, and have fun. However, I suggest you read the text to the end, such people will also find a lot of valuable advice in it.

This chapter, however, I wanted to devote to a much more difficult problem. It concerns all those people who are not so much afraid of conversations as they simply… cannot do it. As a result, yes, they are shy, but it’s not because of inhibition, it’s because they literally can’t express themselves. They don’t know how to talk.

Social Skills and Loneliness

To begin with, a little introduction. At one time, a book called “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” caused a big stir. In it, a Chinese woman described how she raises her children and how other Chinese women in the US do it. You’ve probably come across “Asian child prodigies,” playing songs on the piano at age 5 that are normally played at age 20, reciting entire books by heart, maybe even some have heard stories about Asian children having the best grades in school. Few people, however, know what this is paid for. Such a kid sits at home and studies, 10 hours every day, doesn’t go out, doesn’t talk to his friends. The author described how she threatened her daughter that if she did not win a math Olympiad, she would cut all her plush toys with a knife. A mother, to her own child!

As a result, we have extremely highly educated Asians who are masters in their fields. But… yes, there is one very big “but” here. They have paid a heavy price for it. Lack of exposure to their peers has left them unable to talk to people, unable to make connections. I was very impressed by the description of Korean businessmen who, after work, behaved like sorry shitheads, for example bullying the physically weakest colleague. One should grow out of such a thing at the age of 12, learn higher forms of communication. They didn’t. I myself once gently criticized one of these “wonderful musicians,” pointing out to him a postural defect that could lead to severe health problems in the future. He reacted like an eight-year-old, started shouting out loud how super talented he was, what he didn’t do, who didn’t teach him… This is not an “Asian mentality”, they really are literally socially retarded. We have an incredibly educated Asian who can’t win a place in a group, won’t get promoted, will always work for others. The technically excellent musician who never captivates the crowd because he doesn’t know what to say. The doctor that patients run away from. Their mothers and fathers have forgotten one important thing: the mental effort of talking to friends at a party is so powerful that it can be compared to a math Olympiad. It is not “just talking”, it is learning patterns of behavior in the community, finding your position, helping others, fighting back.

In Europe there are rather no such problems, almost nobody forces kids to work so hard, at the expense of contacts with peers. But very often it happens that a kid is rejected or withdraws himself because he prefers, for example, computer games. Everything is nice and beautiful until the age of 16-18, when suddenly it turns out that the ability to talk, to have a simple conversation is essential to find a girlfriend or a boyfriend. Women have it much easier here because firstly (I can already imagine the feminists’ rage) they get dolls to play with, which teaches them the basics of communication and even manipulation of another person, secondly they have much better skills in their genes, for example a woman can read ‘body language’ much more effectively. It seems to me that the vast majority of people with social problems are men, moreover even in romantic relationships men are expected to take the initiative in establishing contact and the ability to maintain it. Therefore, this chapter will be directed mainly at them.

As I wrote, social skills are no different from any other, whether we are talking about language, drawing or playing an instrument. All these things have to be learned and then trained, trained, trained. If someone has closed themselves off to others at a certain age, or has been socially excluded, they have not had the opportunity to practice. To make matters worse, this is often true for people who have borderline autism symptoms, they couldn’t talk as children because they had trouble with social interactions. They were excluded, which prevented them from continuing to learn, yet they were the ones who had to practice much more than others!

It’s very hard in one short chapter to describe what to do to break out of this spiral of rejection, to learn to talk and coexist with people. I know that there are a lot of people who don’t even have a single friend, who no one has written to on Facebook or texted for over a year. This CAN be changed. It requires sacrifice, it requires working on yourself, it requires giving up the comfort of escaping into the world of games or movies and doing things that can hurt.

Since many people like this play computer games, maybe I’ll compare it to WoW. In the beginning one does these basics. Then gradually you have to participate in raids to get better gear. The higher level you are (more years), the more difficult the raids are (more complex social interactions). However, if you miss the learning time, you’ll suddenly be a level 80 paladin in vendor armor, who no one will want to take to any raid because you won’t be of any benefit, and you might even fail the whole thing (you might embarrass your friends). In other words, we have, for example, a 30-year-old who can get along with his 15-year-old cousin, but not with adults. The problem is that neither this 15-year-old nor the adults will take him to a party, because he won’t fit in at any of them.

Some advice for such people:

First, be attractive. People perceive a person who is pretty completely differently. Anyone, I stress, ANYONE can have a nicer body than they have. Of course, not everyone will be a model, but this is not about being the best. Many “rejects” have developed a defense mechanism of “why do something if I won’t be good enough at it anyway”. The same could be said by all the super popular guys with faces like from the covers “ah, I’m not going to be a millionaire anyway, why leave home”… it’s really just about being the best version of yourself, because it’s YOU who is supposed to have the best possible life, not those you compare yourself to.

Which is to say: take care of your outfit, throw away your torn shoes, your tattered sweaters, WASH your hair. Yes, this is important. And also start working out at the gym. This is a very, very important thing. Physical strength first of all does real wonders for self-esteem, secondly a well-built guy will be perceived completely differently by both women and men, thirdly it’s really very easy and healthy. In a few months or so you can become a different person. And it is not necessary to join a club, although it is good to be among people. If you can’t afford it, you can always buy 2 x 15 kg dumbbells, which is enough to “do” almost everything.

The second thing, smile to others. Walking down the street, just smile into the space every now and then. You can think of something pleasant, recall some smile-inducing situation. After some time you literally “trick” our brain and it will start to think that you are happy. It will also begin to feel sympathy for the people around it. It really works like this, if we smile at someone, we will somehow force ourselves to like him. During the conversation we will behave in a completely different way.

To learn to talk, you have to talk. A lot and often. Meet with people in groups, meet alone, talk, talk, talk.

The first question is, about what? And here you need to find a hobby. Many guys complain about not having a girlfriend. The question for these unfortunates, and what can you offer a girl? What makes you interesting? What will you tell her about? About your paladin? About your minecraft house? A woman needs someone who stands out from the pack in some way, who means something in some aspect. And that’s really easy to achieve if someone doesn’t waste all his time, doesn’t spend 24/7 playing games or watching cartoons, just doing something, anything. I’m looking through my Facebook right now, looking at men in relationships and what makes them stand out, one at a time: a musician after music school, a budding writer, a guy who’s run a few dozen marathons, is a vegetarian and has read a hundred philosophy books, another writer (never mind that his “writing” is 3 short stories published online), a guy who’s not bad at playing guitar, a guy who draws really well and plays in a band, a guy who runs ultramarathons and has a blog about hiking, a good cook, a photographer, a programmer who’s published a few games…. plus a whole lot of people whose hobby is social life, in a group of friends they feel like a fish in water, with everyone they can talk, such life and soul of the party. There are also those who are simply distinguished by a very pretty face. There are crazed environmentalists, who are the dream of lonely vegetarian girls. Surely, however, none of them is BORING, each of them can be interesting in some way. They have at least a few topics that they’re willing and are able to talk about.

A hobby is supposed to be used mainly to meet new people and have common topics with them (and for some it is very important that it is a way to meet a possible partner). And here it is really hard to advise something, because everyone has different interests. However, if someone doesn’t know what they would like to do, it usually means that they have spent the last years of their life in front of a computer and can’t see anything interesting offline anymore. You need to get offline and get out of the house. Just like that. Go to one place, another, read the ads on the walls, go to some museum, exhibition, concert. After a few days from the most ordinary boredom something will seem interesting and worth engaging. An example from life, my ex is interested in herbs. There are groups on facebook, where people exchange their experiences, paste pictures of those weeds and make appointments for meetings, where they walk around and let various insects bite them. Something like herbalizm in WoW. One of my friends is into rocks, literally like mining. He can tell us what the formations in the cave we’re exploring mean. It’s not such a “social” hobby, but you can shine on some meeting, always a plus. Oh, the gym is not a hobby, it’s just taking care of yourself, just like going to the hairdresser can’t be called a hobby.

Second thing. How to talk. It can’t be told, it’s something that has to be learned. Unfortunately, there is no proper “manual”, anyway it is probably impossible to write such a manual, it is just too complicated. But there are general guidelines that you can follow. And here I wanted to really highly recommend two books. The first one has a silly and pretentious title, but it’s really worth reading, “How to win friends and influence people”. It doesn’t describe any psychomanipulation or all that modern coaching nonsense, the title is very discouraging and the author himself regretted that he published it under such a title. There is a lot of simple, brilliant advice, for example he describes how he won the great sympathy of one man just by listening to what the other man was saying. He said almost nothing, asked an occasional question about the subject, and the man said at the end that he had never had such a wonderful conversation with anyone. This is probably the closest thing to a “social interaction manual” I’ve come across. The second book is “Body Language” by Pease. The title speaks for itself. What gestures that we make will make people hate us and what gestures will make them love us? What does the interlocutor think of us? What can we do to make them think differently?

The tone of voice is important. I myself had a very big problem with this, I learned to speak in a strongly pretentious, unpleasant way. We can’t hear ourselves. Only someone pointed it out to me and explained what to do, how to accent words. You can try to record yourself on some device, a microphone for a computer or just a cellphone. In my case, after changing the tone of voice, people started asking what happened that I became so nice and polite.

We have topics to talk about, we have a pleasant appearance, we have the basics of conversation. What’s next? It takes two more things: boldness and opportunity.

It’s best to take things in small steps. Gradually break down your resistance to talking to others, that literal fear of social confrontation. And this is also good advice for those who suffer from “ordinary” social phobia, that is, they can do everything, but they are afraid of it. For starters, you can simply be nicer to cashiers, drop a word or two of comment, make eye contact, smile. Another good way is to ask people on the street how to get somewhere – again, remember to smile and make eye contact. A story from yesterday, I was accosted by elderly people on a walk, asking what I was doing walking in the fields, not on the path (I was catching Pokemon). A nice, half-hour conversation ensued.

These are the absolute basics: not to be afraid to speak up, to be able to look in the eyes with a smile, to find the desire to say something nice. Having this and theoretical knowledge, you can look for opportunities to meet. And this is where the hobbies I mentioned come in handy. There are really many opportunities. Every now and then someone on Facebook organizes meetings, rallies. I mentioned herbs. This is a very good type of meeting, at ordinary “parties” there is often some kind of competition, men compete for women’s favors, women compete with each other, the atmosphere is quite tense and a person who has no experience can feel simply alienated there. Herbalists just want to talk to each other, an exchange of words with a woman will not be treated as an attempt to pick up, men will talk a lot with other men without competing for the favor of women. Of course, always when a group of people gathers something like a herd hierarchy is formed, but in this case it will not interfere. There are dozens of opportunities to meet different people, I, for example, breed interesting insects. When they multiply excessively, I make announcements on local groups that I am giving away this vermin, take as you like. In this case, it is understandable that you need to explain how to feed it, how to take care of it, the conversation will be somehow forced. Now I have a surplus of pepper seedlings, I also have to give to a few people, maybe I will meet someone interesting again. I met some cool people by going with them to visit caves and old mines. If someone is interested in rock climbing, they will always find someone willing to join them. This sport requires two people, one belaying. People learning foreign languages regularly arrange meetings where they speak only in that language (e.g. “we speak Spanish”). If you are musically talented, you are always looking for people to play together. The possibilities are endless. You just have to switch off the computer, leave home and find a few niches for yourself.

And most importantly, you have to force yourself to be with people. As often as possible, as much as possible. I myself have problems with interactions. Two weeks ago I spent a few days with a friend driving her around the local sights, a week ago with my ex, hiking with her in the mountains. I regularly run with my neighbor, although for me it’s no muscle workout, but very much a conversation workout.

Last but not least, one very, veeeery important thing. You need to disappear from all internet places for “rejects”, from forums and groups like “chan”. Human beings are largely their friends (and no mistake in translation here). We behave like the people we have surrounded ourselves with. If our group of friends, even virtual ones, live in the conviction that nothing can work, that attempts to change are pointless, or even worse, that it is the fault of someone from the outside, we will adopt this mode of thinking, we will be permeated with toxicity, which will be perfectly visible to any normal person. You have to avoid all such places like this as much as possible, and also avoid ideas that are based on negativism, such as fighting political groups. Nobody likes a “fighter” except for a narrow group that identifies with these ideas. I once lost several friends after becoming too interested in one of the social movements fighting one of the ideas. It also took a month of browsing one of the fitness forums where were are a lot of “rejects” for me to become aggressive and unkind, which my friends noticed.