Traits That Can Develop If You've Been Unable To Meet Your Social Goals, And Which Can Hinder Your Further
If you've been unsuccessfully trying to improve your social situation for quite a long time the discouragement and failure you experience can cause some additional issues to develop, which can make it even harder to fix your original problems. They don't crop up in everybody, but if they do it's understandable. If you feel like you've been continually knocked down by the world, it's only natural your perspective will sour a little. It's completely unfair that this can happen, that life can pile on more obstacles when you're already in a low place, but it is what it is.
At the core of many of these issues are limiting beliefs. That is, observations that have a kernel of truth to them, but have become exaggerated, rigid, and maladaptive. "Some people are shallow and unfriendly" becomes, "All people are shallow and unfriendly". "It's harder to meet people in my town" turns into, "There's no one to meet in my town". "My anxiety makes it tougher to make friends" becomes "My anxiety means it will be impossible to make friends". A subtype of limiting belief is a victim mentality, where you feel that none of your problems are your fault and that outside forces, like other people's attitudes or societal values, are keeping you down.
These issues often lie in people's blind spots, and I hope this article helps anyone with them become aware of them. If you don't have them yet it may help prevent them from developing. I'll note that while I believe these traits mostly arise from a lack of success, some of them may have been there all along, and just became more intense when mixed with a dose of discouragement and frustration.
Issues from a lack of progress that will impair your social interactions
These will hamper you because they directly make you less enjoyable to be around:
Becoming really bitter and angry
This one's listed first because it's the most noticeable and off-putting. The bitterness may be directed at yourself, other people, the process of trying to get better at socializing, society, or life in general. Aside from the general anger and negativity they radiate, bitter people are also unpleasant company because they can be touchy, defensive, and prone to ranting about the ways they've been wronged.
Becoming negative and judgmental toward people
This one can be expressed as a general dislike for the average person, for example, seeing them as stupid, small-minded, and shallow. Among those trying to make friends it can also appear as hostile, judgmental pickiness - "Yeah, I like video games, but I don't want to try to meet any gamers. Those guys are all neckbeards.", "Yeah, I could go to more local events, but the people in my town are so trashy."
If you've had more than your share of disappointing interactions with people over the years it's understandable that your view of them would become less favorable. Also, some of us already have a tendency to be choosy about who we hang around, and a lack of social success can amplify that trait.
Starting to assume everyone will reject you, and sabotaging your interactions
Sometimes people aren't aware they do this, while at other times they're conscious of going into conversations with a, "Why am I even bothering?" attitude. When people have this mentality they interact in a slightly curt, unenthusiastic way. They won't put as much effort into keeping their conversations going, since they assume they'll fizzle out soon anyway. Sometimes they'll even actively try to put people off them, to get the "inevitable" rejection over with as quickly as possible.
Becoming noticeably needy and desperate
Whether we're looking for a friend, relationship, or job, we all get pangs of desperation and neediness at times. As long as those feelings don't leak into our actions they're not a big concern. Here are some classic outwardly desperate/needy behaviors:
- Body language that's a mix of over-eagerness and flinching apprehensiveness. It says, "Please, please, please like me!", while simultaneously saying, "I hope you don't reject me. I get rejected so much! Yeah, you're going to reject me aren't you?..."
- Being too quick to agree with people, try to please them, and tell them what you think they want to hear.
- Telling people how desperate and lonely you are, in a setting where it would be seen as over-sharing.
- Trying to quickly force a relationship along the connecting/friend making process (e.g., trying to take a conversation into intimate territory before it would naturally go there; Just declaring you and someone are really good friends, when you've only known them a week or two.)
- Putting new friends on a pedestal. Seeing them as amazing and the solution to all your problems.
- Fishing for compliments and reassurance ("I think you're awesome and we could really be close. Do you see me that way too?")
- Getting clingy and discombobulated if you can't reach them, e.g., sending the infamous series of "u there??" follow-up texts when they don't reply right away.
- Lowering your standards and hanging out with abusive or scummy people, just to have any kind of company.
Becoming noticeably and off-puttingly insecure and self-pitying
It's one thing to occasionally show some vulnerability. That's humble and endearing. It's tiresome and emotionally draining to be around someone who's constantly putting themselves down and matter of factly bringing up their flaws. Some people aren't aware of how much they're trashing themselves. Others are conscious of bringing it up, but mistakenly think they're in that endearing, humble territory. It can feel good in the moment to vent your insecurities, which can cause it to become a bad habit. Sometimes this problem isn't even about saying anything. Some insecure people develop a sad sack, hang dog facial expression that they wear all the time.
Becoming preoccupied with social status and how to gain it
If you've been denied something that's important to you your mind will tend to fixate on it. Your average person doesn't devote a lot of thought to where exactly they fall in the social hierarchy. They just hang out with their friends and live their life. However, if you're having social problems that may lead to you focusing too much on status and popularity.
You start to believe all your problems will be solved if you become popular. If you get rejected you assume your low social rank was to blame. You get into the habit of sizing everyone up the instant you meet them, and if they seem "above" you, you respond with a mixture of envy and awe. If someone seems lower on the totem pole you unfairly dismiss them as worthless and get a short-lived faux boost to your self-esteem. You assume everyone else thinks the same way. You start to see the world through a warped Black & White filter; people are either "alphas" or "betas". Behavior-wise, a preoccupation with status can come out in obnoxious, try-hard attempts to be dominant.
Starting to do little things to punish and antagonize the people who've rejected you
An example is someone who goes to a party, doesn't get a warm reception, and rather than accepting it and thinking about what they could do better next time, decides to stick around and start petty arguments with the guests. Anyone can see how this is pointless and counterproductive. It just creates conflict, and won't give you the feelings of revenge of satisfaction you think it will. Instead, it makes you swim in your resentment even more.
Issues that will hinder your future improvement
These won't impact your day to day interactions, but will interfere with your ability to work on your social weak spots. Some of them fly under the radar until you ask other people for advice, at which point they come out in full force and prevent you from taking in feedback you may need to hear.
Becoming overly impatient to solve your social issues
If you've gone years without achieving your social goals it would be odd if you didn't become at least a little impatient. Some people even unconsciously have an attitude of, "I've already put so much work into this. I just shouldn't have to do any more." Some problems that come from being impatient:
- You can be too quick to give up on approaches that take time to show results.
- You can be less likely to attempt a method in the first place if it doesn't promise an instant cure.
- You may flit from suggestion to suggestion, but not seriously implement any of them. When you only half-heartedly try ideas they're more likely to fizzle out, which can make you feel even more demoralized and in search of a quick fix.
- You can waste money since you'll be more susceptible to marketing that claims a product is a magic bullet.
- Even if you don't give off desperate vibes in the moment, you can derail promising potential friendships because you try to push them along too quickly, rather than letting the relationship develop at a typical pace.
- You may burn yourself out by trying to do too much, too soon, which ultimately makes your progress slower than if you went at a more sustainable pace.
Becoming stubborn and inflexible
Some people have tried to improve their social life for years with nothing to show for it, but if you suggest they use a different approach or question some of their thought processes, they shut you down. Sometimes this is because their anxiety is getting in the way, but they aren't conscious of it. They may not want to admit they're wrong. Limiting beliefs may be keeping them from seeing that another angle could work. They may be too idealistic and think they should be able to meet their goals without having to change or compromise in any way.
Becoming more interested in being right than improving
Some people think the world is slanted against them, and they'd rather hold onto that belief than re-examine it and make adjustments. If they feel they've been treated unfairly, they may think changing their attitude means letting everyone who victimized them off the hook. If someone disagrees with their way of seeing things they feel misunderstood and get defensive. That even applies to this article. As I was writing it I knew some of the readers who most need to hear what it has to say are going to be the likeliest to feel attacked and dismiss it.
If you have these problems, what can you do about them?
As discouraging as these second-order issues can be they're not insurmountable, and you should hardly roll over in the face of them. They will take work to get past though, and I can't offer any easy answers. Here are some thoughts:
Accept them as problems
If you have these issues you can't start to work on them until you acknowledge they exist. If you tell some people, "It's a problem that you're so vocally insecure" they'll go, "Oh, I know. Tell me about it." Others are more resistant to the same feedback. Their beliefs and emotions feel very true and justified to them, and it irritates them to be told differently. Like I said, it makes them feel ganged up on and like no one gets what they're going through.
Accept you've got a second set of issues to deal with
As I said at the top of the article, it's really not fair that these complications can emerge. Just try to accept you have more issues to tackle, though you won't realistically embrace that reality right away. As a silver lining, learning to deal with difficulties like anger and limiting beliefs is useful for its own sake and will help your life overall.
Some quick ideas for how to handle specific problems:
- Try to realize how much your rigid, inaccurate beliefs are holding you back.
- Break down and challenge your beliefs. Look for counterexamples (e.g., if you believe everyone is judgmental and superficial, look for people who are friendly, open, and accepting).
- Replace the beliefs with realistic and balanced alternatives (e.g., "Most people are friendly, though there are always going to be some are closed-minded jerks. I can't let them spoil things for me.")
More details here:
- Again, realize how much holding onto bitterness and resentment, and acting in an angry way, thwarts your social success. Stop any clearly resentful behavior like ranting about how annoying it is when cashiers try to make small talk with you.
- Make a decision not to let resentment about past wrongs hold you back. It's not that you can instantly stop being angry that you were mistreated, and no one's saying you have to abandon your valid response. However, you can try to act in a way where you still go after what you want in life, and don't let your bitterness paralyze you.
- Look for and deal with any limiting beliefs that may be behind your bitterness (e.g., "Society is out to get me", "All people are selfish").
- Take responsibility for your own role in your social problems (e.g., not actively working to get past your anxiety). Yes, outside forces may make your life harder, but a lot of your results are under your own control and no one can fix them but you. Focus on what you can do something about.
- If you're bitter about a certain type of person, try to understand and humanize them, rather than seeing them as a uniform evil group.
- Easier said than done, and you won't be able to do this with everyone, but if certain people have wronged you, and in hindsight what they did doesn't seem too, too bad, consider forgiving them. For example, if you were teased in high school you may decide the kids who did it were probably insecure themselves, and that lots of people can be mean when they're younger, before they grow out of it.
- Keep working on your social issues. People can get bitter because they feel they've been kept them from getting something they want. Once you've reached your goals - and you will as long as they're reasonable - you'll have less to be angry about.
- Become aware of your motivations for being judgmental. Is it because you've been rejected so much that turning people down before they can reject you is a way to protect your ego? Does it threaten your self-image to know you have the "wrong" kind of friends? This article, as well as this one, may provide some more insight.
- Pledge to give people a chance. Rather than judging them right off the bat, get to know them first, and possibly even hang out with them a few times. If they're still not doing it for you, that's fine, but you'll probably find that some people you initially dismissed have grown on you.
Desperation and neediness
First, figure out if you're showing any outwardly desperate or needy behaviors and try to stop them. Inner feelings of desperation aren't something you can turn off on command. In my experience it often helps just to realize how counterproductive acting desperate can be. Simply knowing that seems to make some of the emotion go away. The other key is to gain some perspective. Refocus on your end goal. Accept it may still take a while before you have the social life you want, in the grander scheme of life it will come sooner rather than later, and that once you have it you'll have a long time to enjoy it afterward.
Making too many insecure, self-pitying statements
This is mainly a matter of becoming aware of the bad verbal habit you've developed and making an effort to cut down on the number of self-deprecating comments you make. I can't give an exact guideline for how much it's okay to bring up your social problems, but in general realize people's memories last a while. If you've told a friend you're unhappy with your looks a few weeks ago, they're not going to forget it any time soon. If you mention it again they're going to think, "Yeah, you're self-conscious about your weight. I get it already."
Of course, you should also try to improve your self-esteem and situational confidence to reduce your insecurities at their source. If your resting facial expression looks sad or insecure improving your confidence should clear it up.
- First, try to keep in mind that giving in to your impatience sometimes makes things take longer than if you took your time. If you want to get stronger the fastest method isn't to lift weights six hours every day, and probably injure yourself.
- Next, it helps if you know some skills to sit with and ride out any uncomfortable impatient emotions that come up. These feelings can urge you to do counterproductive things to try to make them go away ("Call that woman you just met and ask if she wants to be your best friend"). If you can let the emotion pass without acting on it you'll be in a much better spot.
- Finally, do your best to remind yourself it's never too late to have a satisfying social life. That's not to dismiss how much you're suffering right now. It's to at least not add an extra set of worries to it by thinking there's a rapidly closing window to make the changes you need to.