Are you secretly relieved that social distancing is giving you a built-in excuse? Few social demands, fewer social gatherings, canceled group activities?
Remember how you used to feel when you were invited somewhere? All kinds of things went through your head as your discomfort grew:
How many people will be there?
I prefer one-on-one.
I’d rather be alone.
I don’t like being in a group.
I don’t want to go.
Most people enjoy parties, reunions, conferences, and group activities of all kinds. But there’s a fairly large subset of people who feel so exquisitely uncomfortable in a group that all they can think about is:
When can I escape?
How many times have you thought, or said, one of the sentences above? If your answer is, “Many,” I want to assure you that you are not alone. Being in a group requires a different level of confidence and different social skills than spending time with someone one-on-one.
Having talked with countless numbers of folks who avoid groups, I can say with confidence that most likely it’s not the group itself that you’re avoiding.
Actually, you’re avoiding a particular feeling or set of feelings that you have when you’re in a group.
Here are some of the feelings I’ve heard described over the years by folks who are uncomfortable in groups:
What causes these feelings? What is it about being among a number of people that would cause a person to have any of these uncomfortable emotions? Is it a result of anxiety or depression? A social phobia? Is it a weakness or a fault?
Sure, some of these can be possible. Depression can make you feel like isolating yourself, and anxiety or social phobia can make you too nervous to enjoy the company of others.
But if you’re reading this looking for answers, I want you to dispose of the idea that your discomfort is a result of personal weakness or fault. Neither of those is the answer.
And now I’d like to give you a far better explanation than any of those. Chances are high that your discomfort in groups is caused by one of three factors.
Notice that none of these potential causes of your discomfort are a product of the group itself. The actual people in the actual group are not the problem. The problem is a feeling that you have; a feeling that you bring with you wherever you go.
And now the good news.
You can’t control other people (except perhaps unconsciously, thanks to Self-Fulfilling Prophecy). But you can control your feelings. Feelings can be managed. And now, during the pandemic, while the pressure is off, it’s an excellent time to start working on your discomfort!
These people are fine. They’re not the problem.
You’re an adult, and no one in this group can hurt you.
You’re a good person and you belong here.
It doesn’t matter what other people think.
It’s just a feeling. It’s old, and you don’t need it anymore.
You’re a person, on equal footing with everyone else here. And you matter.
To learn more about Childhood Emotional Neglect, The Fatal Flaw, and how to overcome both, see the book, Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect.
This article was initially published on psychcentral.com. It has been updated and reproduced here with the permission of the author and Psych Central.