I’ve often been accused of being “unsociable.” I don’t mean in the sense that I’m “criminal-minded” or out to get people or do them harm. I mean I tend to feel awkward in social situations, and as a result, I try to avoid some interpersonal encounters.
I’ve discovered that my tendency to be unsociable is a form of extreme self-focus – a preoccupation with my thoughts, feelings and physical reactions. When I talk about being unsociable, I’m referring to three traits that involve a sense of self: self-consciousness, self-preoccupation, and self-evaluation.
I do indeed have difficulty meeting people, initiating and maintaining conversations, deepening intimacy, interacting in small groups and in authority situations, and with asserting myself. I don't take advantage of social situations, never go out on a date, am less expressive verbally and non-verbally, and have little interest in other people. If this makes me unsociable, then so be it.
Part of me truly wants to be more outgoing and approachable, but I’m slow to warm up in social situations. I may go to an event and stay 10 minutes, then leave. I know this is a mistake because I haven’t given myself enough time to “warm up.” If a party starts at 7 p.m., I’ll go at 8 p.m. But showing up late actually works to my disadvantage. I should show up early (maybe at 6:30 p.m.), get used to the surroundings and greet people one-on-one as they arrive, so that by 7 p.m., I’m comfortable.
I have what I call a “small comfort zone.” I have friends and a social network – but it’s a very small circle. I tend to do the same things with the same people again and again, because I feel at ease in a situation I know. I don’t like to try new situations, and I purposely restrict my contacts. I may be at a social function and see someone new I’d like to talk to, but I won’t step-out of my comfort zone.
One of the negative consequences of being this way is that I’m under-employed – stuck in a job that requires less skill than I truly have. I’ve tried to force myself to be more sociable, but I come off as so awkward that it usually backfires in some way. For example, if I’m at a party or event, I think all I have to do is initiate a conversation. But that’s just the first step. I have trouble taking the next steps (i.e., actively listening to the other person, responding to his or her comments, connecting their experience to mine, and so on).
People tend to think of my lack of sociability as a negative trait, but that’s because they don’t understand it. I talk about becoming “successfully unsociable.” It involves realizing that there’s nothing wrong with me. Most people don’t care about me, they care about themselves. It’s very liberating to realize this.
The fact that I’m not very outgoing doesn’t mean my personal achievements are limited. I’m good at what I do and do have a few close relationships. Staying mostly to oneself is not a disorder. I’m ok with me. If I come across as uncaring, selfish, or cold, it’s not my intent. I’m simply reducing my anxiety level. And as I mentioned, part of me does want to be more outgoing, and I’ll continue to work on that. But, in the meantime, I’ll do what I have to do to take care of me. ~ Anthony
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