I find myself having said this a few times now with my blog but man it’s been a couple of busy weeks. Plenty of social events, two work-related, all-day conferences, and a shit ton of work in general – all whilst trying to fit in going to the gym – means I’ve been pretty exhausted. It also means, if I’m brutally honest, that the last thing I’ve wanted to do is write. However, I’ve FINALLY found some time to sit down and write something – so here goes.
Social pop quizzes
So, as you can see from the title of this blog, this post is going to be about something that truly pains me pretty much every day of my life: small talk.
For many people, I’m of the belief that small talk is generally not the biggest of deals, albeit generally regarded as awkward. But for me, they’re not just awkward, they’re mini pop quizzes of pain where the person I’m talking to is secretly judging everything I’m saying. Whenever I find myself in those situations, I get that horrible pang of fear like someone’s literally just asked me give an impromptu speech.
You know the kind of conversations I mean. The one you have with the cashier when you’re paying for something and their till somehow breaks, leaving you two in that lovely 5 minutes limbo of awkwardness. The one you have with the other person who gets into the lift on your way to the top floor. The one you have with someone at a party who you’ve never met and you’re fully aware that neither of you actually wants to be there.
I don’t know what it is about these situations but I JUST DON’T LIKE THEM.
First impression fears
…OK that isn’t exactly true. I do have an inkling as to what makes me not like these kind of situations (and no, it’s not because I’m just a miserable bastard who doesn’t like talking to people). Having been through this with my therapist this week, there’s a pretty clear theme as to why I don’t like these situations: I’m just plain scared of them.
Something I fall guilty to time and time again in my life is caring too much about what people think of me and because of that, I find initial interaction with new people quite difficult. So much so that I used to actually give a disclaimer when I was younger that I was bad at first impressions.
You see, whenever I’m talking to someone, I’m very aware of everything I’m doing. I’m thinking about loads of different things: my facial expression, my body language, the tone of my voice, the structure of my sentences, as well as everything I’ve just listed but from the other person’s perspective. With new people, my self-consciousness is heightened, basically jumping to 11 when it’s usually simmering around the 8/10 mark.
Maybe that’s because I’m so aware that first impressions are pretty important (or at least I perceive them to be).
Failed defence mechanisms
So what’s my solution to all this? I avoid it.
In my head, it makes sense to avoid these kind of situations. After all, why should I put myself in an environment and a situation that I find uncomfortable in the first place?
Unfortunately, there’s a lot more to it than that. Let me give you an example of what I do pretty much every time I have to make small talk with someone new.
Imagine I’m at a party. As I arrive, I’m already freaking out because I know there’s going to be loads of people there that I don’t know (at this point, I’m already wishing I’m at home sitting comfortably in my bed). I’m going into the situation full of fear that the people I talk to aren’t going to like me, they won’t find me funny and they’ll just think I’m a bit odd.
When I get there, one of two things happens:
1) I avoid conversation with new people as much as I can and instead stick to talking to those I know – the ideal situation to me.
2) (the more likely situation) I find myself in a predicament where I am forced into small talk with a stranger. We exchange “hello”s and introduce ourselves. I’m so fixated on the fact that they won’t like me that I can’t think of anything to say. This leads to a beautifully awkward 5 minutes where we both struggle to strike up a conversation. After a while, the person moves on to talking to someone else and I feel relieved – I’m happy I can now return to my comfortable zone of being left to my own devices.
For the rest of the night, I’m convinced the person disliked me. I will actively things of signs – maybe a small facial expression or the type of language they used – to convince myself that they just plain didn’t like me. This then leads to me thinking that I don’t like them. After all, they were the ones making me feel awkward so it must have been their fault that I couldn’t make conversation. I then actively avoid further conversation with that person for the rest of the night. That false impression stays with me until I see them again.
This is the part of the process where I start presuming what’s happening. As I’m now even less eager to talk to them, they must then realise that I’m deliberately not talking to them. They must then think “he obviously doesn’t like me” and they stop bothering talking to me.
So my defence mechanism has just caused exactly what I was trying to avoid – someone disliking me.
Managing rather than “curing”
This kind of causing of feared results is something that has become clear to me with the more therapy sessions I’ve had and, as it turns out, it’s pretty heavily involved with anxiety.
I’m slowly coming to terms with it and am starting to figure out ways to try and prevent myself from entering this kind of thinking pattern, but damn it’s hard to stop. It kind of makes sense for it to be so hard because I’m so used to entering it and to me it’s like a safety blanket. Breaking out of it is like entering the unknown.
I’m not entirely sure whether it will ever leave me, but I can feel myself getting better at managing it and I feel like that’s as good as it will ever get. Let’s hope I can fully get to grips with it sooner rather than later.