Archives for August, 2012
Confrontation with anyone, let alone our friends, can be difficult. One of the skills we hope to develop is how to speak up for ourselves and advocate for our needs with other people. This doesn't only mean learning how to ask for what we want, but also learning how to confront others when we feel wronged or in some way upset by them. When strengthening a previous area of personal weakness and developing a new skill, it is a common tendency to overcompensate. For example, if our previous difficulty was handling conflict or issues with confrontation, and we learn new skills to confront in a healthy manner, we may start confronting more often than necessary, almost as if we seek opportunities for confrontation practice.
I am often asked the question of how to get a friend or a partner to enter (their own) therapy. This can be for any relationship partner, including platonic friends as well as romantic partners. These partners or friends usually fall into two categories: 1) People who we see are in genuine need of assistance (to the point the person's struggles are visible to others); or, 2) people we are generally frustrated with (e.g., "My wife is always telling me what to do. She needs therapy"; "My boyfriend never listens or does what I tell him to do. He should be in therapy."). For both scenarios above, trying to talk someone into therapy can be an incredibly frustrating experience. It's almost telling someone they have some sort of "problem" or that something is "wrong" with them, while also asking them to actively seek a service that they may not really want or feel they need. Though it's not always easy, if we keep an open mind, it's possible to encourage our partners towards starting counseling.
If you've read part 1 and part 2, I hope they have been helpful in learning more about social anxiety and the complexity of its nature. This will be the last post in this mini social anxiety series, which will focus on overcoming social anxiety and meeting people. Social anxiety shares psychological avoidance properties with other phobias. Basically, the more a person avoids a situation that creates anxiety, the more it reinforces the idea that this situation must be avoided in order to ensure safety. The longer you avoid a behavior, the tougher it is to make yourself do it again. This brings two points:
In part 1, we discussed what social anxiety looks like and the various ways it can appear in people's lives. But where does it come from? There are many views on how social anxiety develops. Some people believe that if they had parents who were quieter or didn't socialize much that they just inherited this type of personality and lacked adequate role models for socializing. While this could have an impact to an extent, it's difficult to point to this as the core issue because, most likely, we have observed positive forms of interaction throughout our lives. The issue is less that we don't know what to do, it is more the confidence in ourselves to perform the behaviors that is the problem -- or maybe we feel that we can force ourselves to perform the behaviors, but we feel like an impostor when we do.
"My close friend, my only real friend, invited me out for dinner last week. I was so excited because I hadn't been out in over three months and just craved social interaction. We were going to go for some pizza and then play some pool. But a day after inviting me -- three days before the plans were going to happen -- he told me that a few of his friends would be coming as well. The moment he said that I felt my stomach drop. My heart rate sped up and I began to slightly tremble as I pictured myself shaking hands with new people, trying to think of conversation topics that would last more than 10 seconds, attempting to think of ways I could seem cool and interesting, and trying to figure out how I could hide my anxiety at the same time. I started doing mental gymnastics to find a way around meeting them -- maybe my friend and I could meet up for a quick drink before his dinner plans. But then I realized it would be much harder to get out of it if I met up with him before, and I knew I'd cave in. Finally, I made up a little white lie, and figured it would be much easier to text him and bail on the plans -- I made it seem like I had plans I'd forgotten about, but that he and I could meet up soon. I stayed home, ordered a pizza, played on the computer, and watched some DVR'd shows. It's now been almost four months since I last went out -- and that last time was with the same one friend." For many of us, meeting new people can be really scary. How many times have you been invited to an event -- a party, dinner with a friend and their friends, lunch with a business associate, a weekend away with a friend or your partner and their family and friends -- and turned it down for the comfort and safety of your own home? For the sincere social butterflies in the world, meeting new people can be exciting and fulfilling, however for those who struggle with social anxiety, the mere thought of meeting new people can trigger significant anxiety and even panic symptoms.
Many of us have been there at one time or another -- in a relationship that is causing us stress, maybe too much stress. There is potential for the relationship to fulfill our ideal, but something keeps it from getting there. We end up battling, at times to our own emotional detriment, to keep the relationship going even through a steady lack of fulfillment. Sometimes we break up, get back together, frustratingly chase and fight for our partner to do better, change, etc. But the question keeps coming up -- when is it time to end the relationship and begin the process of moving forward?
It's something most of us have done at one point or another. We find reasons to fulfill urges that we know are not necessarily good for us. Maybe we justify having the dessert we know we should avoid; or we find an excuse to buy that piece of furniture we know is too expensive and don't necessarily need; or we justify having that sushi dinner that's beyond our financial means; or we talk ourselves into having just one more drink or smoking when trying to quit; and so on. We're so good at finding justifications, too. Maybe we're deciding to celebrate a good day at work; or maybe we're remembering that time three months ago where we were well ahead of the budget line; or maybe we justify cheating on our partner because we've felt so neglected by them, so we feel we're owed something; or maybe we remember the discount we received a couple weeks ago that saved us $50, so now we feel we can safely spend that extra $50 on clothes.
The simple answer is, yes. There are generally agreed to certainties in the world that can be viewed in terms of "right" and "wrong." For example: two plus two equals four; an apple is an apple; and so on. But, the less simple answer is that the concept of "right" and "wrong" is often misused, which causes unnecessary conflict and contention in relationships of all kinds (partners, friends, family, etc.). On a regular basis, I see couples where one points out when they believe the other is "wrong," or when they themselves are "right." But this begs the question: Where does the concept of perspectives fit in?
Have you ever been in a relationship (or known someone who has) where your partner has children from a previous relationship, and the ex -- the children's other parent -- becomes a constant negative presence in your relationship? Being in a relationship with the custodial parent of a broken family can present its set of challenges (whether or not you bring your own children to the relationship). When there's an adversarial relationship between your partner and his or her ex, it's not uncommon for the parental issues, legal issues, and emotions to spill into and impact your relationship. Indeed, these types of frustrations and conflicts have caused relationships to break up. That being said, this result doesn't always have to be the case.
What qualities do you look for in a partner? Charming, sweet, good smile, sexy, smart, good to their family and so on? So many people look for similar qualities in a partner, but it's common to see people in relationships where their partner can be hurtful, neglectful, disrespectful, or downright mean at times. How did they end up with this kind of person? Attraction is an interesting and tricky psychology, and in order to shed some light on why people at times choose partners who are unhealthy for them, it's first necessary to understand how attraction works.