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Dear Fifi: Am I an asshole?

When I say “Dear” – you say “Fifi”. Dear!

dearfifiheader

If you’re feeling a little battered and bruised by the news, life and everything this week (hello, fellow repealers), I have something nice for you to read. It’s about animals, heartbeats and the resilience of feelings, even when you try hard to shut them off.

Speaking of feelings… Come at me. Confidentially, anonymously, whatever you’re having yourself. 

dearfifibar

They say if you keep encountering assholes in life, then you’re the asshole. I don’t think I’m an asshole, but I seem to bring out the worst in people in social situations. Scratch that, maybe not always the worst  – but frequently what I can only describe as pure, unalloyed indifference.

I have severe social anxiety and I don’t doubt this plays a part. I wouldn’t personally react to someone who seemed visibly anxious by just being really cold towards them, but what can you do?

I was hesitant to mention social anxiety because it suggests this is in my head. I hope I’m not pre-empting your answer. The extent to which it affects me might well be in my head and something I could control with a lot of work. But I really can’t overstate just how real the stuff I’m describing is and how demoralised it makes me. I’ve met people and I can see them visibly check out of the conversation before I’ve completed a sentence. That’s when they’re not frankly being hostile.

Let me tell you something that at first seems bleak, but may eventually set you free: no one cares.

A tempting delusion we all labour under at one point or other is assuming that others think frequently of us at all, be that positively or negatively. In reality? They probably don’t, or at least not half as much as we imagine they do.

Think about it. It’s terrifying and liberating in equal measure. No one gives as much thought to us as we do ourselves. That’s the truth. We’re all wandering around wondering what everyone else is thinking about us. The twist is that everyone else is just thinking that about themselves too. We’ve all got a lot going on. People aren’t as committed to the pursuit of itemising your faults as you imagine.

Let yourself go. Do this by understanding that other people don’t give your actions, your words and your appearance the level of in-depth thought that you do. Relieve yourself of the burden of viewing yourself with this harshly critical eye, the eye of an observer who doesn’t exist anywhere but in your own head.  

You’re worried about what others think of you, yes, but worst of all is that you imagine you already know what they think of you. You don’t! You don’t have the power of mind-reading!

You’re making a lot of assumptions about other people and what they think. Stop trying to second-guess their thoughts and their opinions at every turn. That way madness lies. Try to focus on the idea that they are not criticising you internally as you are doing to yourself.

Unless you’re dribbling food out of your mouth and belching, I doubt everyone you meet in a social setting is keeping up an internal monologue of hatred towards you as you seem to imagine they are. I’m not going to tell you that this is ‘all in your head’. I think the entire problem is that it’s all in your head, and it’s a place you’re tangled up in at the expense of the conversations you’re trying to have.

The second secret? After recognising that no one is giving you as much abuse as you are yourself, try to focus on why you care. Who cares what this person thinks of you? Why does their (imagined) negative opinion of you, within the first few minutes of conversation, have any affect on you?

You must stop giving power to these hypothetical opinions. You are extrapolating to extremes from very mild interactions – one person not looking interested in a few moments of conversation does not translate into you forever being a boring person, or an asshole. People’s opinions are not what cumulatively make you you. Our personality, quirks, thoughts, attitudes and actions make us who we are. Not what some randomer may (or may not) think about you in a smoking area. Who matters? Not them.

Look. A big part of life is striving to be good and kind to those that matter to us. In return, feeling secure that select loved ones – close friends, family or romantic partners – have a good opinion of us is crucial. Focus on who and what matters, and don’t allow the imagined opinions of a non-existent peanut gallery affect your self-esteem.

When you imagine the indifference and annoyance of others, when you think you can really feel it from them and see it on their face, try to remember that you’re projecting what you think about yourself onto them and magnifying it. You don’t know what they think of you. There is no point in endlessly torturing yourself by wondering. Because it doesn’t matter in the larger scheme of things anyway.

You’re not an asshole. You’re only an asshole if you treat others poorly and don’t feel remorse, if you cause pain to others and feel none as a result yourself. As long as you’re polite, kind, considerate, take an interest and make conversation, there is no reason why anyone should think poorly of you. And if someone doesn’t like you for no clear reason? Fuck ‘em.

Focus on striving to be and do those good, worthwhile things instead of worrying about being an asshole. It will be energy much, much better spent in the long run.

-

(PS. Perhaps rightly, you have identified this fear of others finding you irritating or inconsequential as linked to your social anxiety. This might be worth exploring with a counsellor in order to arrive at the root of all this, or develop some coping strategies for social interaction through methods like CBT. It’s worth thinking about. )

dearfifibar

Want to talk?

Confess a story, ask for help or just shout into the void for a bit and see if that helps. All welcome. Anonymity totally guaranteed always. 

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