When You Purposely Sabotage Your Social Interactions
Some people who struggle to socialize and fit in will tell you about moments they were in a conversation and purposely sent it off track. They might have done something minor, such as making strange comments, which caused everyone to see them as weird. Or they could have acted upsetting enough to burn their bridges with that group.
In some cases they felt like they had a good reason to behave that way at the time. In other instances they weren't sure what they were thinking. Something just came over them. Either way, they often regret the decision after the fact. I'll share what I know about this self-sabotaging phenomenon.
Examples of ways to deliberately derail an interaction
There are other reasons someone might do the things below, but I'm talking about when they choose to do them to mess up a conversation. For example, someone is being argumentative. They may genuinely think they're right and want to debate their "misguided" friend. They could be nervous and that's scrambling their judgment. Or they may pick a fight because they get a mysterious urge to disrupt the discussion and annoy everyone.
- Deliberately saying things that are strange, random, and confusing
- Making really odd jokes
Not matching the group's mood
- Being way too irreverent and joking, when everyone else wants to be serious
- Being way too sombre, serious, and depressing, to try to bring down everyone's light, casual mood
Trying to stir up a dispute
- Being argumentative
- Being a contrarian
- Bringing up controversial topics or opinions
- Going out of your way to emphasize the ways you disagree with someone
- Acting snobby and condescending
- Making a show of how bored and checked out you are
- Being too cutting, teasing, and sarcastic
- Matter of factly pointing out someone's flaws
Creating an uncomfortable atmosphere
- Deliberately acting touchy and moody
- Bringing up subjects you know the others find off-putting or upsetting
- Making really offensive or inappropriate jokes
- Dressing or styling yourself in a way meant to irritate and provoke the people you're with
Not making a social effort
- Giving dull, one-word responses to questions, when you easily could say more
- Saying things meant to throw the other person off and leave them not knowing where to go next
- Making conversation that's deliberately, exaggeratedly inane and shallow
- Purposely trying to create awkward silences
- Not making an effort to be friendly to someone you should act that way with
- Getting really drunk or high, and leaning into acting like a sloppy, embarrassing fool
- Getting really messed up, then doing dumb things so everyone has to babysit you
Reasons someone may feel like they have at the time for sabotaging a social interaction
As I said, in the moment someone can either not know why they're throwing a wrench into the conversation, or they may have a sense of what their motivation is. If they do, here are some common ones:
- "This conversation / get together is boring. I'm going to entertain myself by messing with everyone."
- "I don't care what these people think of me. I'm indifferent to how well I do with them. I'll prove it by doing something odd or off-putting on purpose."
- "These people suck. I'm going to let them know how I feel by doing something to confuse or upset them."
As you can see, there's an overall theme of "I don't care how this goes. I'm above it all."
Deeper, often unconscious, reasons for sabotaging a social interaction
It's possible someone may purposely mess with a conversation simply for one of the reasons above. It's a bit mean-spirited to screw with people for your own amusement, but not everyone's a saint. In my experience, while that's the apparent surface reasoning, there's usually a deeper motivation for social self-sabotage. Same goes if someone gets the urge to disrupt an interaction for no discernable reason. Of course, there's something driving the decision.
- You fear the people you're with may reject you, so you disqualify yourself on purpose before they can do it first. You want to walk away telling yourself you don't care what they think of you, that you don't need them, and that you're above their games.
- You want a conversation to go well, but think you've screwed up beyond recovery. You'd rather burn it down in frustration than make a graceful exit.
- You're anxious about making a great impression. You deliberately shoot yourself in the foot to "fail" and not be perfect, to take the pressure off yourself.
- You're nervous in a conversation. You start doing odd or off-putting things in the hope that the other person will end it. You're grasping for an escape hatch.
- You're consistently anxious around a particular group. You purposely ruin your chances with them so you don't have to try anymore.
- You think acting strange or off-putting will get you attention and acknowledgement, while being your regular self won't. You'd rather have negative attention than none at all.
- You're frustrated with some aspect of your life and are taking it out on others by messing with or upsetting them.
- You're angry at a person or group, but don't believe you can bring up your grievances with them directly. Instead you try to subtly punish them by being difficult to be around.
- You're distressed and want someone to acknowledge and help you, but you either don't know how to ask for it, or don't think you can. You hope if you act a bit provocative and socially self-destructive someone will notice you're struggling and reach out.
- Everyone around you is being too nice and friendly. You've had a rough childhood and too much harmony makes you weirdly unsettled. You act a bit abrasive to stir up some conflict and return to your comfort zone.
It's hard to know what unconscious reasoning motivates any one person. If you've ever been self-sabotaging at a social event, maybe as you read the above list one or two of the points rung true to you.
What to do if you have social self-sabotaging tendencies
The first step is to know you're prone to acting this way in the first place. You can't change something if you don't realize you're doing it. I'll assume if you've gotten this far in the article you're aware of the issue. Here are some other suggestions:
Try to catch yourself wanting to self-sabotage in the moment
For example, you're having dinner with some new friends, you don't find the conversation that exciting, and get an impulse to bring up a contentious topic to get everyone arguing. When you have that urge, stop and ask yourself what you really want to accomplish.
Over time, you may notice certain situations predictably set off your urge to be self-sabotaging. Like you may get that way when you're nervous, feel left out, are around a certain type of person, or are in a sour mood.
Once you've caught yourself, ask if there's a better course of action
To continue with the same example...
- If you're bored with the discussion, are there other ways you could inject some life into it without bugging everyone? What interesting, non-confrontational topics could you bring up?
- If you're annoyed at life because you still haven't found a social circle you truly click with, is agitating your current friends going to fix that? Could you be pleasant to everyone for the rest of the evening, then go home and research some healthier ways to cope with your frustration over your social life?
- If you "know" everyone will reject you once they get to know you better so you may as well go out on your own terms, is there a way you can deal with that insecurity? Could you get to a point where you'd be comfortable with taking the risk of letting everyone learn more about you?
Just realize it's not the best behavior to purposely aggravate or screw with people
I know that heading may have made you think, "Oh great, here comes a lecture about how I'm a bad person". I'm not trying to shame anyone. I realize that if you've ever purposely or half-purposely tried to sabotage a social interaction that you weren't doing it out a deep desire to be evil and hurtful. You were being driven by some unconscious instinct you didn't have full control over. That said, from other peoples' perspective it doesn't feel good to be on the receiving end of someone who's deliberately annoying or screwing with them. No, it's not likely to give them lifelong emotional scars, but there are nicer ways to act. Just keeping that in mind may give you some motivation not to deliberately disrupt the conversations you find yourself in.