Situations where there’s no script

Almost three out of every ten love-shy men interviewed for this study were not at all afraid to talk publicly. In fact, many of them greatly relished every opportunity they could obtain for talking or entertaining in some way before the public. These men were shy only in situations where there is no script—where there is no clearly defined, non-ambiguous role to play. Hence, many love-shys are shy only in situations where there is no purpose apart from pure, unadulterated sociability….  [P]ut this person in a coctail [sic] party situation, or worse yet in a one-on-one situation with a woman whom he finds attractive, and he will freeze.

Of course, in all candor I must agree that seventy percent of the love-shys I studied were too shy to speak publicly. However, it appears quite clear that any remedying of this deficit would in no way assure a remission of the love-shyness problem.

The moral here is simply that of let’s take first things first. An inability to function in a purely social, sociable situation wherein there is no purpose apart from pure friendliness, is far more debilitating to a person’s personal, social, and business life, than is any inability to deliver speeches or any inability to start conversations with strangers.

– Brian G. Gilmartin, Shyness & Love (1987), p. 141 [emphasis mine, in bold]

Amen, amen, amen! This passage is the one in this book that electrified me, despite my not really fitting the description of love shy male. I think it applies not just to love-shyness but to Social Anxiety (SA) and Avoidant Personality Disorder (AvPD) as well.

“situations in which there is no script…” Yes, that’s what triggers my social anxiety. I wish it didn’t, because I think deep down I actually have a talent for improvisation – just not the guts to let it out.

Btw, the passage I’ve quoted supports my lack of faith in something like Toastmasters to help people who suffer from extreme SA or AvPD . Sometimes I read well-meaning but useless advice for “overcoming shyness” that suggests joining Toastmasters, and I roll my eyes. Toastmasters is a great organization for “normal” people, or even the moderately shy. I’m not dissing it. But for S.A. or AvPD, imho, fear of public speaking isn’t a priority problem. After all, even most outgoing people are afraid of getting up in front of a group and talking.

At least she’s cute

What I’d like to see is a “Toastmasters” for SA and AvPD, such as:

  • Sparklingconversationmasters.
  • Eyecontactmasters.
  • Chatmasters.
  • Whatdidyoudothisweekendmasters.
  • Chillmasters.
  • Socialmasters.
  • Amygdalamasters.
  • Flirtmasters.
  • Partymasters.
  • Intimacymasters.

You get the idea.

If social interaction feels threatening

The following is a mashup of rational responses I have written to myself over the years, regarding the feelings of perceived threat I’ve dysfunctionally experienced in social interactions.

  • Most interactions are not about power or control. They simply aren’t. Even disagreements aren’t necessarily a power struggle – especially not over personal control.
  • You needn’t wait till you have just the right personality before allowing human relationships to occur in your life. Most interaction isn’t something to be gotten right or wrong.
  • Hi just means Hi. Maybe they’re not acting friendly with me in some effort to get personally involved in my life.
  • Maybe he/she is not a threat. Maybe they’re not trying to change me but to communicate with me.
  • Why should I have so much riding on what a stranger thinks of me (and temporarily, at that)?
  • You don’t have to know exactly what someone’s personality is like before you can interact with them.

Lovable by Definition

“I’m too screwed up for people to accept me. There are too many things wrong with me to be liked or loved.” — Me

Rational Responses / Challenges:

1 Okay, so, how many things wrong with me would be an acceptable number, before I’m ‘right’ enough to be worthy of friendship or intimacy? What am I supposed to whittle it down to? . . . .The reality is that there are lots of screwed up people who have relationships – therefore that’s not really the issue. Maybe you’re just telling yourself that stuff in order to avoid dealing with the fear of rejection.

2 My self-worth and happiness cannot be dependent on what others think of me, since all those other people have different standards, likes and dislikes, values, and opinions; and I’d have to become a chameleon in order to match them all.

3 To be unlovable means no one can ever love you.* How likely is that? If even one person loves you, you are lovable by definition. Go ahead: deliberately try to inspire love and affection — how would you go about accomplishing it (how could anyone go about it)? Trying to do so would probably drive most people away.

Do you approve?

 

* Cognitive Behaviour Therapy: an A-Z of persuasive arguments, by Michael Neenan & Windy Dryden.

 

13 Things People Think You Are Instead of SHY

13 things that people might think you are instead of shy:

  • Stuck up
  • Angry
  • Boring
  • Tired
  • Calm (!?)
  • Busy
  • Gay
  • In a hurry
  • That you don’t like them
  • Out of their league
  • Ultra-religious
  • Unathletic
  • A potential serial killer

Off the top of my head, these are the ones I’ve experienced. I’m sure you shy people have other things you could add.

Shyness is such a embarrassment for me that there have been times that I preferred being thought of as one of those things on the list (but not all!), instead of shy — so that other people’s misconceptions about me actually work as a defense* mechanism for me.

* That’s defence for you Brits, Aussies, etc, out there.

It followed me from Topeka

~ 1 ~

If your happiness depends on hiding from certain people and situations, what happens when you can’t hide? There comes a point where you just have to let things happen as they will. You just have to accept your situation and stop trying to fight it. That’s what happened. . . .

I handed my ticket to the clerk and said, “I had reservations to depart tomorrow, but I’m leaving early. I don’t know how to fly Stand-By because I’ve never done it before. What do I need to do?”

He didn’t laugh at me. He didn’t frown at me. He didn’t bite my head off. He simply explained how I could do it. Very helpful.

So, that was the first instance, on that day, that long Thursday, in which I gave up the pretense of knowing what I was doing like the typical normal person does. I was tired and worn out and some of my defense mechanisms were already down.

This was sort a of a good thing, though I’m not sure I realized it at the time.

I wasn’t tense anymore, just a bit depressed – but I was on my way home.

This being a United flight, it got routed through Denver, not straight on to SeaTac. There were no meals to be served on either of my flights, when I arrived in Denver I overpaid for a ham sandwich and coleslaw and a cookie at an airport deli, to keep from starving. Thing about airports – I used to get excited there, but now, on this trip, it was just another tipping point into feeling defeated and depressed.

How come?

It seems paradoxical, but avoidants are “lonely loners.”

As mentioned previously, I had arranged my life so as to minimize social exposure because it was so painful and confusing. (Again, refer to AVPD). Well, a big part of this strategy of hiding from the world was the effort I put into avoiding even seeing or hearing and affectionate couples attractive girls. I just couldn’t bear it and it would depress me. So I tried to practice what-you-don’t-see-can’t-hurt-you, by avoiding it as much as possible. The roots of this habit go back to high school, but hit its stride in my twenties. It degenerated into an aversion. I remained a virgin and never had a relationship. I buried how much this hurt. For the most part it succeeded.

At the airports and on the planes, I had to see and hear other people. No way to get around it. Normal, happy people talking and laughing and hugging each other – good, warm human activity, but it forced me to face how alone I really was in the world. This was one time I couldn’t hide from it. And all the attractive women! Sexy, desirable… and unapproachable, because I was feeling overwhelmed by all of this and had nowhere to run.

I’d gotten away from the “strangers” in my class, but here I was in another situation where my defense mechanisms were breaking down.

On the flight from Denver to SeaTac they showed “About A Boy” on the cabin video screens. I watched it, and I do mean watched because I wasn’t about to pay for a pair of headphones, so I couldn’t hear any of the dialog. Great, just what I wanted to see, a romantic comedy. Bloody Hugh Grant.

Still of Hugh Grant, Toni Collette and Nicholas Hoult in About a Boy

I don’t know what they’re saying.
(c) 2002 – Universal Studios; Courtesy IMDB

~ 2 ~

Next up, the Red-Haired Girl and the Intense Stare Girl.

The Red-Haired Girl was there at K.C.I. when I first noticed her. She was there on my flight to Denver. She was there at the same gate at Denver and there in line ahead of me to board the connecting flight to SeaTac. Could not avoid seeing or hearing her. And she was on her cell phone unceasingly. It never left her side – the side of her head that is.

She was one of the kinds of girls I like: Short red hair, and fair skin with hardly any freckles. Green eyes behind nerdy glasses. Nice figure, the kind that looks good in denim, which is what she was wearing.

I wanted her. That’s a bad thing – desire – when you’re like me. Normally, I would’ve been able suppress this, but in my present state I didn’t have the will. I was feeling sapped. So I just let it be there, since I couldn’t make it go away.

The plane landed at SeaTac after dark. United’s terminal is located in a newer building that is physically separated from the main terminal. There is an underground tunnel that connects the two, and you have to ride a tram or subway of sorts to get to and from the United terminal. The tram arrived and the doors wooshed open and we all got off. To get to the escalators that lead to the main terminal floor, I began crossing an open, tile-floored area.

A woman was walking towards me, heading for the tram in order to board it. She was short, dark-haired and dark-eyed, and wore a trench coat. She was pretty cute. She was looking right at me.

She was the Intense Stare Girl.

I mean it. She was looking directly at me. As we walked towards each other, she kept her eyes fixed on mine. As we got closer the angle at which we faced was getting more oblique, yet she just shifted her eyes to keep them on me. And she had an intense look on her face, which is hard to describe. It was aggressive, burning, passionate, and almost hostile. Frankly, to this day I’m not sure if her strong reaction to me was positive or negative, lust or rage. No one had ever looked at me like that. It was disconcerting, but it also turned me on (!)

After she passed, I stopped. I turned around and watched her back as she walked away. I had an urge to go catch up with her before she boarded the tram. Something optimistic in me suggested that she was attracted to me. But what to say to her? I guess I could’ve said something bland and beta, such as “Excuse me, can I help you with something? I noticed you looking at me, is everything okay?”

I hesitated, and the opportunity passed.

I ascended to the main concourse to wait for my luggage. I stood in place at the bag carousel. On the other side of it, who was there but Red-Haired girl! She was speaking on her phone. I was still a little churned up from the Intense Stare Girl event and had an urge to approach Red-Haired Girl. But I thought I’d be interrupting her conversation, and besides, why would she be interested in me? Blah, blah. Any guys reading this who have had approach-anxiety freeze them in their tracks know the experience.

So, I never saw Red-Haired Girl or Intense Stare Girl again.

And yes, these experiences, too, added to the overall worn-out sense of giving up and defeated acquiesence I’d been feeling since the day before, back in Topeka.

~ Notes ~
To get caught up on the events leading up to the scenario I just described, please go read the previous post – hey, better yet, go back to the very beginning of this blog and start reading everything. Everything! Do it now! Actually, it’s not much to read, because this blog is still new.

It began in Topeka, Part 3

I am not a victim. I did this to myself, albeit under emotional duress.

~1~

In my twenties, I grew more and more withdrawn from others due to an intense shyness, shame over my shyness, my painful efforts to repress it, and the many social failures I believe it caused. Though I was normal looking on the outside, even somewhat attractive, my social awkwardness kept me all alone, and lonely – another reason to want to withdraw. It also made me depressed, which I was ashamed of, which added to the urge to withdraw. And so on.

Anyone who’s been through that kind of sh!t understands the gradual snowball effect these vicious cycles create. I developed an Avoidant Personality (though at the time I wasn’t aware there was such a disorder).

I altered and restricted my life in order to isolate myself. To have as little contact and interaction with others as I could get away with. I was still fairly young – thirtyish. But in order to survive, I had to work, so complete isolation wasn’t possible. Even so, on one job I got, I was able to carve out a semi-quiet, minimally social spot for myself. I managed to build little habits and defense mechanisms for avoiding too much (painful, almost always painful) interaction with others. It wasn’t perfect, but I had a bit of control over my environment.

Then, my complacent little world got shook up, and my defenses failed.

 ~2~

tl;dr Warning: long post from here on out.

A story device they like to use in novels, movies, and television series is the one in which a character goes through an event that pummels the hell out his status quo life. It reveals his character and shows whether he changes in response to it. How he responds provides the drama, the conflict, or even the humor.

I was sent halfway across the country on short notice for four days of confusing, half-assed training on an inventory database system that wasn’t well understood even by its creators. Annoying enough to anyone. But I was a perfectionist and unconsciously had always pressured myself not just to understand things but to understand everything, entirely, right away. Otherwise, I would get frustrated and an alarming sense of failure would begin pestering me.

Well, that’s what happened in Topeka that week, several years ago, in the class. I was placed in close quarters with a group of strangers – nice strangers, decent people, to be honest, but strangers nonetheless (everyone’s a stranger to an avoidant person: be wary!). And that, combined with increasing frustration over not understanding the new system, was wearing down my composure – the facade of calm normalcy that I had gotten so good at. That cool surface, concealing the self-inflicted storms within.

Behind the dam is my anxiety

Furthermore, I was working on earning a college degree via distance education. When this trip came up, I had term papers and tests that were due, so I brought my school work with me. I was trying to keep up with school while trying to learn the new info system, and I was angry that this was happening.

I kept near Matthew Mark Luke & John because I was too inhibited to try and socialize with the others. There were also three people there who actually worked for the same employer as me – the Minnesota team – one of whom (call him Jackson) knew my immediate supervisor, Neo, pretty well (golf buddies). It made more sense to hang around them, but shyness, lack of boundaries, yadda yadda yadda. . . .

At first I even kept eating meals with Matthew Mark Luke & John, staying close to what was at least partially familiar to me. (Avoidants fetishize the familiar.)

I went to lunch with Matthew Mark Luke & John the first two days. I embarrassed myself at Wendy’s by declaring (just to try and make conversation, because I’d been saying so little) before we ordered that I wasn’t all that hungry – and then Super Sizing my order because I change my mind a lot. Luke and John laughed their asses off.

(I suck at ordering quickly, from just about any menu. So many choices, so little time. Another blog post for another day.)

A few tables away I saw an attractive blonde girl eating with an older woman, probably her mother. I told myself she was beautiful and that I could live here, in Kansas, and meet a beautiful Midwestern girl like her. Avoidants, as well as love-shy guys, fantasize a lot.

~3~

On the second day a new woman, who had just been hired to work at this Topeka facility where our class was being held, began sitting in on the class. She was a programmer, mid thirties, about a 6 on the HB scale. John sat near her and kept trying to flirt with her. John talked a lot about women. I was jealous of him, of how easy it was for him to socialize. He was married.

Also that day, Jackson of the Minnesota team said to me, “You know, George, you don’t have to stay with them all the time,” referring to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

He and the other Minnesotans probably wondered why I, who worked for the same employer as them and did nearly the same job, was avoiding them. I think he also assumed I was hanging with Matthew Mark Luke & John because I had traveled with them from K.C. to Topeka and that I didn’t want to give offense by leaving them. Only partly correct. It was also because it gave me an excuse from being put in social situations with Jackson and the Minnesota team – not because of anything about them personally, but because I believed I wouldn’t have anything to say and would make them uncomfortable with a bunch of awkward silences. It has happened before, an example of what I called “social failures”.

More deeply, I was also avoiding them to prevent them finding out anything about me personally. Which is a big reason why I’d developed an avoidance of everyone in general. Refer to the AVPD criterion, “unwillingness to become involved with people unless certain of being liked.”

(Yes, yes , logically I know this is a lot of crap to have been imposing on myself. It happened anyway. Welcome to my world.)

Jackson invited me to have dinner with him and the other Minnesotans, and believe or not I said yes. I didn’t want them thinking I was stuck up and didn’t like them. We had authentic Kansas BBQ at Boss Hawg’s.

Come ‘n’ get it

I intended to order as simply as possible, straight off the most popular items on the menu, no frills or odd requests to risk looking foolish. Our waitress reminded me of a girl I used to like. I stared at her a bit too long and I think she noticed and felt self-conscious, and that made me self-conscious too. I did my best to make conversation with the Minnesotans but it was awkward and I was relieved when I got back to my hotel room.

It seems silly, but after two and a half days of stressful, self-defeating interaction that I wasn’t able to avoid, I’d built up too much pressure behind the wall.

~4~

By the third day, the pressure was starting to breach my defenses.

In class, I was asking too many increasingly irritable questions of our instructor, then frowning and complaining that it didn’t make sense. At one point Jackson interjected and said to me from across the room, “George, it’s going to work out, okay. The _____ goes into the _____ list before you click the ______ button.” I’m paraphrasing and can’t convey his exact tone of voice, but the point is that he must’ve felt the need to gently but firmly tell me to chill out, like when a character in a movie has to grab panicky person by the shoulders and shake them.

Jackson was a friendly guy, but he must’ve seen my stress, my taking things too seriously, and he reacted. A sense of failure overcame me. I felt like I was failing in front of everyone; they all seemed so relaxed and so smart. My Gatekeeper convinced me I was f*cked.

I clammed up and began ruminating. I wasn’t going to get along with anyone, wasn’t going to understand any of this class material, too much was (genuinely) over my head. I envisioned Jackson telling my supervisor Neo about my strange behavior.

I didn’t go to lunch with anyone any more. I ate from the facility’s vending machines at my seat in the classroom, while pretending to study but really just killing time, and I spent an inordinate amount of time in the men’s room. (Toilet stalls in public men’s rooms are a favorite hiding place for avoidants. I became familiar with the graffiti and fantasized about writing a sociological book about it). I ate dinner by myself in the hotel room and went to bed early, depressed.

The dam, breached [Wikipedia]

The next day, everyone was impatient to finish up and leave early. It was only Thursday and we’d been scheduled to leave on Friday, but everyone agreed that if we hurried up and finished class by lunch, we could get to Kansas City by mid-afternoon and take fly out a day early, yay. I was frustrated because I thought I needed another day to try and learn the new system. But I was outnumbered, so I didn’t object. The instructor skipped over a bunch of stuff. They all were in a hurry, hurry, hurry, and that put me in a hurry too. Hurrying makes me feel like I’m not in control of anything.

Though I’d ridden with Matthew Mark Luke & John on the drive from K.C. to Topeka on the way in, I rode back to K.C. with the Minnesota team. I was very quiet and sullen during the drive, watching the green hills of eastern Kansas pass by in the autumn sun. I listened to the Minnesota team talk about work-related issues back at their plant and personal issues at home. Normal people talk. I’m not normal.

We got to Kansas City International and parted ways, said so long, it was nice meeting you, say hi to everyone back in Seattle, etc.

I wondered how to go about changing my flight reservations to Stand-By, to get on to an earlier flight. I’d never done that before and didn’t know how to do it and I was worried I’d screw it up. I thought maybe it would be simpler if I just hung out at KCI all night and then caught my already-reserved flight back to SeaTac on Friday. No, that might be embarrassing. So, I got in line at the United ticket counter. With each person who finished their business at the counter, I moved closer. I got more worried about how I didn’t know how this Stand-By thing worked. Really. I mentally rehearsed what to try and say to the United clerk, how to ask to go on Stand-By and pretend I knew what I was talking about. Well, that wasn’t going to work. By the time I was next in line, I’d given up trying to save face.

That giving-up was more significant than I can perhaps describe. I almost never give up and reveal to others that I don’t know something, that I feel helpless. So, it was an almost physical sensation release as I was forced to accept that I really did not know what I was doing, and to pretend otherwise wasn’t the way to go. And so, seconds before I was going to be talking with the United clerk, an idea occurred to me: I was going to tell him the truth. I handed over my ticket and spoke.

“I had reservations to depart tomorrow, but I’m leaving early and I don’t know how to fly Stand-By because I’ve never done it before. Can you help me do I need to do?”

Dropping my defenses. What a concept.