Something to think about…

*I apologise in advance for the length of this post. And I will totally understand if you decide not to read it! Come back tomorrow for a more “regular” post*

There was no post yesterday for the simple reason that, after coming in from work and sitting down on the sofa, I wa unable to summon up the energy to get back up and turn on the computer. The theatre on Monday night followed by quiz on Tuesday meant two very short nights… I’m loving having friends but the whole social life thing is exhausting!

Anyway, I said there was something I wanted to post this week once I had more time and could give my attention to it properly. This is that post.

Once again, I was reading some posts in the “British Armed Forces Brats” group that I’m a member of on Facebook (see Saturday’s post if you don’t know what I’m talking about).

One person mentioned that, a few years back, he had been “in a very bad way with the relationship/communication issues many of us seem to experience.” Looking around for fellow brats who had had similar experiences, he found himself on the (American) Forces Brats Wikipedia page, where there is a section on mental and emotional issues linked to the typical forces upbringing. One of the conditions listed was Avoidant Personality Disorder, which he provided a link to. Here is the link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avoidant_personality_disorder

I am not going to say that I have this disorder… obviously only a trained professional can do that. But many aspects of the condition sounded exactly like me.
Wikipedia says:

social_phobia-234x300

People with avoidant personality disorder often consider themselves to be socially inept or personally unappealing and avoid social interaction for fear of being ridiculed, humiliated, rejected, or disliked. Avoidant personality disorder is usually first noticed in early adulthood. Childhood emotional neglect and peer group rejection (e.g. bullying) are both associated with an increased risk for the development of AvPD.

People who have been reading for a while may recognise me in that paragraph… particularly the part on being socially inept (how many times have I mentioned my lack of social skills and inability to act like a normal human being on here? Not enough times to get the key words onto my tag cloud, but often enough, I think…).

The World Health Organization says Avoidant Personality Disorder is characterised by at least four of the following, which I would like to comment on:

  1. Persistent and pervasive feelings of tension and apprehension;
    I’m not sure this one applies to me. At least I don’t think feel particularly tense when not in a social situation.
  2. Belief that one is socially inept, personally unappealing, or inferior to others;
    I’m pretty sure I actually am socially inept – it’s not just a feeling. Personally unappealing… not all the time, and in every way (there are things I actually like about myself!) but yes. I don’t think I feel inferior to others though…
  3. Excessive preoccupation with being criticized or rejected in social situations;
    YES! I have been known to plan out what I’m going to say to make sure there’s no chance of me being judged negatively for it. The better I know people (and the more sure I am they like me), the less I do this.
  4. Unwillingness to become involved with people unless certain of being liked;
    “But what if they don’t like me?” is a phrase Jan has heard me say many times…
  5. Restrictions in lifestyle because of need to have physical security;
    Other than tendency to try and avoid social events where I know literally nobody (which I’m not sure is even meant here), I don’t think this applies to me. I’m always looking for new experiences and I don’t feel like my lifestyle has been restricted in any way.  
  6. Avoidance of social or occupational activities that involve significant interpersonal contact because of fear of criticism, disapproval, or rejection.
    Associated features may include hypersensitivity to rejection and criticism
    Definitely!! I’ve got a lot better at this over the years, but I’m still not a fan of attending social events with people I’m not already convinced actually like me! I worry about saying the wrong thing and being criticised or laughed at… years of being told you’re “weird” or that people “never actually liked you” will do that, I suppose.

The American Psychiatric Association has a similar list, but two things in particular struck a chord with me:

– Is unwilling to get involved with people unless certain of being liked
– Is unusually reluctant to take personal risk or to engage in any new activities because they may prove embarrassing

YES and YES! I love trying new things, but only certain new things… the kind that I’m pretty sure won’t lead to any embarrassment for me. Unless I can do them with my friends and only my friends. People I’m already sure like me are allowed to laugh at me 😉 Although even once someobody likes me, I am afraid I might do something wrong or stupid and end up alienating them…

This post probably makes me sound like a very unhappy person. Actually, at the moment, after having very few friends in Germany for a long time, I now have a group of people who I am reasonably sure actually like me (and don’t just hang around with me becasue I’m Jan’s girlfriend) and who I can spend time with without my usual fears about social situations coming up.

Socially-Awkward-Penguin-01So why am I posting this if things are so good? Because, after years of believing I was just odd, knowing that there are other people out there from the same type of background who have the same kind of confused, illogical feelings as I do is a huge relief! And knowing there’s an actual disorder with characteristics that describe me perfectly (seriously… I could have written the Wikepedia article!) make me feel like I’m not just a freak. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I actually have avoidant personality disorder – I do still attend social events and usually even manage to force myself to speak to people (while praying that I don’t say the wrong thing!). But knowing that such a thing even exists at least gives me a point of reference, and a possible place to start with trying to overcome my issues. As the title of the post says, it’s something for me to think about. And I feel like I’ve made some kind of breakthrough!

Why I’m a terrible friend

It’s only Tuesday, isn’t it? How is that possible? The last two days at work seem to have gone on for weeks! Sort it out will ya, time.
Anyway….

It’s been a while since my last “I am a terrible, horrible no good person with no social skills post”. Now it’s time for another one. Here’s something that’s been on my mind lately.

Jan thinks I’m a good friend because I keep in touch with people, remember birthdays and make an effort with gifts for every imaginable event. He, on the other hand, is terrible at replying to e-mails (I am too, but he never believes me when I say that!), has reminders of people’s birthdays on his computer but fails to actually do anything about them and would probably never see anyone if they didn’t make an effort to include him – or I wasn’t there to occasionally force him to respond to a message/invitation/whatever. So he has come to the conclusion that I am a good friend and he is not. However, in my opinion all that stuff is the easy part. Respond to a few facebook statuses, congratulate people on pregnancies, engagements and birth, keep a record of everyone’s birthdays (and their childrens) so you can get gifts and cards in the mail in time… none of that is rocket science. I look generous and my friends and family feel special because they received a parcel all the way from Germany (this is not why I do these things by the way. I realise this sounds like I’m trying to buy my friendships but I swear I’m not! I just enjoy giving birthday gifts/making people smile). But when you place me in the same room as another person, which, after all, is the whole point of a friendship – it can’t all be done via Facebook – it’s a different story.

Jan and I used to have the same argument over and over again. I would get upset because he never told me what was going on in his life, while he was convinced that I wasn’t interested in what he’d been doing because I never asked him anything about it. A typical converation would be something like this:
Me: How was your day?
Him: Alright.
Me: Oh, okay. *looooong silence during which I would usually get on with cooking while Jan sat down with his laptop*
Me: *Start rambling on about what I’d been doing that day/thelatest news from England/which of my friends had announced their pregnancy this time*

'awkward silence hour'
Photo credit: CRASH:candy

Eventually, I pursuaded Jan that just because I don’t ask any questions it doesn’t mean I’m not interested. I really do want to know about his day, I just have no idea what to ask. So he started telling me things without being asked and I tried to extend my repertoire of questions (I now have “what have you been doing today”, “did you get to do any work for your dissertation” and “how was your meeting” (only if he had one, obviously). Plus, after choir practice I also get to ask him how that went and how the other members of his choir are. Yay me… or something. Now, I am aware that the way to show people you’re interested in them is to ask questions, but beyond the standard “How are you?”, “how did your exam/job interview/driving test go?” and “How was your birthday/holiday/honeymoon” I have no idea what I’m supposed to say. It’s not that I’m not interested… I just honestly don’t have the words to show that I’m interested. Unless someone answers one of my standard questions with a nice long tale that screams out ideas for further questioning/comments I am completely lost. Which leads to awkward silences and me saying something random to fill in the blank, usually about something in my life because that’s the topic I know most about. And because other people do have social skills (or have possibly taken some master class that I wasn’t invited to in how to keep a conversation going), questions do get asked and the conversation remains on me, or goes off at some random tangent. The end result: I appear selfish, unfriendly and only interested in myself. Which would explain why I have so few friends (well, that and the things I’ve mentioned in previous whiny “I have no social skills” posts, such as my being ridiculously shy around new people, leading to me either not saying a word or overcompensating, talking too much and coming across as a complete weirdo. True story!).  But I have decided this has to change! I’m meeting a friend on Saturday (yes, an actual friend!) who I haven’t seen since July and I shall be practicing asking questions then. In the meantime, if anyone has any advice, book recommendations, websites or the like please throw them my way. Any and all suggestions gratefully received!

Why I get on better with people I’ve never actually met

*Note* I am not writing this post because I want people to feel sorry for me. As with most things on this blog I am writing it for me. Because it’s something I’ve been thinking about and getting it down on paper (figuratively speaking) is the best way for me to a) make sense of it and b) get it out of my brain so I don’t have to lie awake all night wondering why I can’t just be normal. End of note. Now on to the blog post.

I don’t deal well with social situations. Never have actually. I’m stupidly shy and just not a people person. Plus I lack social skills. I have no idea what to say to people I either don’t know or only know slightly, so when I’m placed in a situation where I’m supposed to socialise with them I tend to go really, really quiet and wait for someone to start a conversatiton with me. This usually leads to people thinking I’m either antisocial or miserable… not the kind of person you really want to start a conversation with. So they don’t and I don’t and once again I go home having had a really boring night and feeling like a complete failure.

That’s one scenario. Then there are the times I try too hard. I talk too much, laugh too loudly and for too long and say inappropriate things. The problem is I don’t even realise I’m going to say something inappropriate until it’s already out of my mouth and people appear uncomfortable, embarassed or start looking at me like I’m some kind of alien. Funnily enough this doesn’t exactly endear people to me either. In fact, I think they probably prefer the me who doesn’t talk. After all, antisocial is better than embarassing and weird.

Another factor is that I have low emotional intelligence. That doesn’t mean I don’t have any emotions… of course I have emotions. I’m not a robot! Although sometimes I wish I was… then someone could just reprogram me and I wouldn’t be here now boring the internet with my problems. No, not having emotional intelligence has nothing to do with lacking emotions… it just means I don’t understand my emotions or have trouble dealing with them. It also means I have trouble recognising and understanding other people’s emotions… so I can upset/offend/annoy someone without even realising it. Or, more often, I will notice that something’s wrong but I have no idea why. In my mind whatever it is I said was perfectly normal and nothing to get upset about. I have to really think about what I’ve said before I can work out what was wrong with it… and even then I can’t always see why it was that bad. Add to that the fact that I practically can’t manage to say three sentences without adding a major dose of sarcasm and you’ll see why I have trouble making friends. And the reason I can get on with bloggy people and penpals? Because it’s so much easier for me to realise how things are going to come across when I see them written down.

As I’m sure you can guess, this lack of emotional intelligence also makes its contribution to the not-so-good side of my relationship. Obviously it’s not our only problem, and not everything that’s wrong is my fault, but it is a major factor, which is actually part of the reason I’m writing this post. You see, yesterday the boyfriend and I made a deal. He will tell me his problems, rather than bottling them up and pulling away from me, and I will try to be nicer.  So this blog is part of my attempt to figure out how to be nice, because honestly… I’m not sure I have it in me…

I am alive…

Just, you know, in case you were wondering. The evil cold of doom is still lurking, meaning my throat is killing, food tastes like ash and every muscle in my body aches, but I haven’t succumbed to the chaise longue of death just yet. (If you don’t understand that last comment you’re clearly one of those unenlightened souls who hasn’t discovered Katyboo yet. This is something that needs to be remedied. Click on the link now. I shall wait. My blog isn’t going anywhere, promise).

So I had my first Spanish lesson last night. It was fun! The three hours went by remarkably fast. Hmm, that reminds me, must buy the book before next week’s lesson…

The progress meeting was… well, exactly as I expected really. Basically I was told I have all the necessary hard skills (ie. I can translate & proofread well and they’re really pleased with that side of things) but I have no social competence. She actually said that! Well, she said it in German, but it meant that. Ok, maybe social skills would be a better translation (German is Sozialkompetenz) but you knew what I meant. So, I have 2 months to prove that I do have social skills, to become more integrated into the team, to learn to take initiative and say the right thing and convince my superiors that I’m motivated and enthusiastic and want to be an active part of their team. Then I’ll be allowed to stay. If I can’t manage to do all that stuff by the end of January I shall be job hunting again.
Anyone know where I can get a personality transplant?