Confessions of a Social Misfit

My best friend at the moment is a stranger I wave to every day on the beach – I like to think we have the perfect relationship. I suppose I could say that my wife is my best friend but that sort of feels like cheating – sort of like people boasting about getting a Valentine’s Day card from their mother . The reality is that I’m just not very good when it comes to making friends. I feel uncomfortable around other people, and I tend to rub them the wrong way. I suppose the real problem is that I just don’t have any desire to have this type of close relationship. I’ve always been a bit of a social misfit.

Shiny happy people

I Care About People but I Just Don’t Like Being Around Them

Despite my friend-phobia, I do genuinely care about people. I like to hear from those who are doing well in life, and it hurts me to hear that people are struggling. I may be lacking in some aspects of emotional intelligence, but I’ve no problems when it comes to empathy.

I became a nurse because I felt compelled to help people. Since giving up nursing, I’ve been spending some of my time trying to help people dealing with addiction. I don’t do this because I’m some type of do-gooder or I’m looking for some reward – it is just who I am.

I’ve also noticed in recent months that I can be out and about, completely minding my own business, when I’ll see a complete stranger, and for no apparent reason I experience this intense feeling of love for that person. It has nothing to do with sexual attraction because it happens with men and women – it can even happen with stray dogs. I have no urge to go introduce myself or begin stalking them – it is just this silent desire to wish them well. It’s all very strange, and I feel embarrassed writing about it.


History of a Social Misfit

I’ve no real opinion on the nature/nurture debate, but it does appear to me that I’ve always been a bit of a social misfit. Most of my earliest memories involve feeling uncomfortable around other people. I’ve said in the past that one of the reasons for why I turned to alcohol was that it helped me make friends – it would be more honest to say that it made it bearable for me to be around other people. In the beginning, alcohol took the edge of my feelings of discomfort, but it lost its potency for this as the year went by. Instead of alcohol being a cure for my problems. it just meant that I became a drunk as well as a social misfit – this was not a winning combination.

I’m terrible in social situations. I’m not unfriendly or anything, but I just feel awkward, and I end up saying too much. I nearly always walk away from these encounters thinking ‘what the fuck was all that about?’ I also become demand resistant when I’m part of a group. I always want to do the opposite of the group consensus, and this tends to rub people up the wrong way.

Since giving up alcohol seven years ago, my life has improved in many wonderful ways. The one thing that hasn’t changed is my discomfort around other people. I’ve made lots of online friends, and this is perfect because I don’t have to actually be around them. These people sometimes offer to visit me here in Thailand – to them, it’s a nice idea but for me it is like they are threatening to come and break my legs. With the exception of my family, I’d be happy to only ever have to deal with people online.

Dark Clouds on the Horizon

My painful encounter with career uncertainty last year led to a real breakthrough in letting go. I don’t think that I’ll ever have to deal with that type of fear again. I’ve been on a bit of a high for the last few months because of this new freedom. I’m beginning to suspect now though that some dark clouds are on the horizon because I’m witnessing all the signs that the universe wants to challenge me again. I keep on having intense dreams involving my relationships with other people, and powerful dreams were a bit part of my last encounter. There also seems to be increasing evidence in my waking life that my social skills need to be improved – it is like the universe is determined to make me face this challenge

I know that it must sound outrageous for me to say that the universe would go to the trouble of trying to change little ol’ me. I don’t claim to know how any of this works, but it is just what I experience. I don’t have beliefs about any of this. It just obvious to me that there is something else that is responsible for the positive changes in my life because I’ve been dragged kicking and screaming to all the good things in my life.

It will be interesting to see how things progress with my social awkwardness. Maybe I’m still in the denial stage because I just don’t see it as a problem. I also struggle to imagine what a cure would be like – nothing I can imagine appears very appealing.

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25 thoughts on “Confessions of a Social Misfit

    1. That’s what I often feel Tom. The experts say that we are social animals but a lot of this social stuff just seems to be acting to me. I like the idea of life being a dream, and I see no reason to believe that it isn’t.

  1. Hello Paul

    I found your site in looking for good ways to learn Thai, and read what you wrote about “How to Learn Thai the Mindful Way”, which I think is a very wise way to learn, and I thank you for sharing this insight.
    I just clicked away from your site after reading about mindfulness, but suddenly a thought hit me -why not look more about who write about mindfulness… I hit back button and decided to see if this webby of yours was still active.

    And yes it was =), and to read what you write made me get goosebumps, I feel the same about most of what you write “being a social misfit”. O.O
    And it made me happy in some way, that not to be alone in this world feeling that way, even though we not meet it feels like I got a close friend to share my inner thoughts with (strange eh?, maybe Im more of a social misfit then you o.O). Anyway, I have also been totally free from alcohol the last 4 years, and dont miss it at all, cause I think when looking in the past that it has hold me back from growing in mind in many ways. I wont go in to much about this now, just thought I would leave a message to you my friend.

    I wish you all the strength to keep being and doing what you are and do.
    Maybe we see each other in Thailand some day, you never know…

    Take care

    Joachim

  2. I think that this is very common and as long as you have ways of feeling connected when you need it that’s fine. Being isolated can be a major risk factor for all kinds of suffering, though. But people are a lot of work especially for us introverts. It takes time to develop the kind of trust that makes a relationship comfortable. I even find being away from my loved ones a relief at times because I feel freer to do my own thing. But I would like to have a big group of friends to have fun with sometimes 🙂

    1. Hi Liz, internet friends are my favorite because they come with a handy off switch 🙂 I can’t remember ever feeling lonely, so it must just be the way I’ve been programmed.

  3. Yeah I think for people who do get lonely, pets are nice because they can be very loving without asking much 🙂

  4. Hi Paul. I’m catching up on your writings and podcasts as I have been quite occupied the past few weeks. Thank you for another thought provoking and reflective post. Like you I’ve always felt like a bit of a social misfit as well. In fact at times I simply dread meeting other people, and it is rare for me to get comfortable with others. In fact, I find it almost physically and mentally exhausting to be social at times, depending on the nature of the encounter.

    I think a great deal of this has to do with a lack of trust, and also for many years I hid my alcoholism from others – a mindset and lifestyle which caused me deep shame and an almost obsessive need for secrecy. Strangely, I also do feel at times a great deal of connection to total strangers however, it’s a spontaneous feeling that I think comes about to compensate for my lack of connection with people I’m around with on a more regular basis (family, friends, colleagues, etc).

    I do agree with what Liz said about social interaction. There is no question that healthy social interaction is good for us. But, at the same time we certainly can’t be plugged in 24/7 with others. My issue is that 99% of the time I prefer to fly under the radar. As a consequence, people find me aloof, unfriendly, and not an interesting person to engage with socially.

    In some ways I think it may be too late for me to change or improve my social habits and skills. But like you I also know that I need to challenge myself and stop hiding from the world. I live in my head too much and that can be bad.

    1. Hi Tan, it is kind of strange that we can feel such a strong connection with people but struggle to be with them. I’m going to make an effort to be more sociable and maybe this is something we can try together?

  5. Tan, maybe you could do a little volunteer work at a hospital or something. It’s a great way to feel connected to humanity without any long term social commitment. I used to volunteer in an Emergency room and I passed out pillows and blankets and people really appreciated it and I felt good about it. I was free to interact as much or as little as I wanted. Anyway that’s just an idea. I liked it but not everyone would. But it’s never too late if you want to do something you just have to figure out how. Volunteering is cool cuz they need you and they can’t reciprocate so its like this pure giving thing and people treat you like a saint lol

    1. Hi Liz, this is good advice for all of us. When I was 24 a therapist talked me into this type of voluntary work. It made a huge difference to me at the time, and it is the reason I later trained to be a nurse.

  6. Also I only did the volunteer thing once a week for four hours and I was really surprised at how I came to look forward to it

  7. Yeah, volunteering is a well kept secret to happiness. Weird how unappealing it seems and then you give just a little and receive so much from people who can’t really “give” anything back to you. You really have to experience it to understand that you don’t have to be a self sacrificing martyr to enjoy it. I think you do have to try different things if the first one doesn’t give you any joy though because we are all different. Also if you volunteer in a place where you aren’t treated well, you may want to move on because volunteers are usually greatly appreciated and they should be.

  8. Hi Paul. Thank you for your encouragement! Actually, I have been making an attempt at trying to be more social recently, with mixed, but generally positive results. I need to stop viewing socializing as a “burden” (even though it can be) and understand that it has a lot of intangible and tangible benefits. My issue is that I have always been such an un social person most of my life, that I haven’t learned good social skills. Life is a learning process!

    By the way, sorry for the late reply… I am trying hard to stay on top of my depression, and in recent days I’ve largely been successful at it, which is good. But it does take effort. I do find that writing my thoughts is tremendously helpful (something you have recognized and advocated for long ago).

    Really, it’s something I should be doing a lot more often than I do, because it’s a strong tool that works for me. It allows me to confront the state I am in, my thoughts and emotions, and how it impacts my loved ones. But at the same time, there is a part of me that makes lame excuses for not being more assertive in trying to deal and confront with my depression – the part of me that wants to deny the fact that I have some mental health issues.

    That part of me sometimes keeps me from being more active in writing out my thoughts on a more regular basis. I’m trying to make more of an effort to write more, and share more, of my thoughts and emotions with others. Its definitely an important aspect to feeling better.

    Liz, hi. Thank you for the advice. Yes, I do imagine that volunteering on a regular basis is a great, wonderful thing. I know that in those times when I have helped people, I always have felt a rush of sorts, almost akin to the endorphin high that athletes feel.

    At one point in my life, I was even looking for a regular volunteering gig. My problem is not having the time or energy in between everything I’m doing. In between my job, wife, various side projects, etc., I can barely keep up with taking care of my personal life! But, I am always on the lookout for opportunities to help other people, something that does add to the light and goodness of life.

    1. Hi Tan, I’m glad to hear that you are enjoying some improvements in your life. I think writing things down is key because it gets the shit out of our heads to where it can do less damage. Do you track your moods? This is something I’ve been thinking about doing just to see is there a pattern.

      I remember during my nursing training it was explained to me that mental illness/health is a spectrum and we are all on it. We are all mentally ill to a degree, and where we are on the spectrum changes over the course of our life.

  9. Tan, it sounds like you already have enough on your plate, without volunteering and have a great openness to helping which is good for you and everyone else! It also sounds like you are really putting an effort into feeling better which I think is awesome. It’s not easy to do sometimes. I hope you have some time to relax and enjoy life, too. I am glad I found this blog because it is nice to feel a little connected with you all who have similar experiences and emotions. I find life a bit tough to bear at times but this is something that makes me feel less alone. Hugs all around!

  10. Paul, hi. I have yet to start tracking my moods, though I do know that a lot of folks recommend that. The main barrier for me, as usual, is that would mean adding on another thing to my “to do” list every day. I really do want to be more intentional about addressing my emotional and mental health, I just need to prioritize that. Sometimes, self-care is the hardest type of care to engage in.

    Liz, I definitely agree with you about finding this blog. There are plenty of other recovery or mental health web forums out there, and some are amazing resources. But they are so active with so many people, its overwhelming and fleeting at the same time, almost like a room packed full of hundreds of screaming strangers.

    This blog, on the other hand, more resembles a small group of people having a quiet and intimate conversation with each other vis-à-vis Paul’s writings. I’m glad I discovered it as well!

  11. Tan, I don’t know if this suggestion will help you or anyone else in the way that it has been helping me, but lately I have been thinking of wellness as my purpose. I don’t have any specific goals about it at the moment but whenever I think of it, which is usually when I’m feeling stress, I just run everything through the filter of wellness. To me wellness is actually the point of everything we do but we lose sight of it. If I’m living life and I’m full of stress it is like I’m sacrificing my present wellness for some future wellness that I will eventually sacrifice for some other future wellness! So this helps me focus on present wellness as the most important thing because even if everything else is wrong in my life, but if I’m able to relax, make a healthy choice and appreciate the moment and treat people in ways that keep their wellness in mind, then I am living in my greatest purpose and not suffering or creating suffering for others. For me relaxation is huge and I use liberationinmind.com hypnosis videos because they are the best I’ve found. For you it will probably be something else, but whatever it is that you find that is crucial to your wellness, if you think of wellness as your overarching purpose in life, maybe you will realize that this moment, right now it is the most important thing you can do. Wellness is the purpose of all our goals. Not trying to get all religious here but what did Jesus do? He went around healing people and forgiving sins. He was the ultimate wellness guru. He wanted us to let go of all the shit and be well and feel unbelievably great and love one another in this moment and all moments to come. Sure there are times when we sacrifice some part of our wellness for the sake of others but wellness is still the purpose, and we each have most control over our own wellness. Anyway, let me know if that made no sense but to me it is affecting me in a very positive way and even helping me learn to be kinder, which is the greatest social skill of all, by the way 🙂

  12. I like that approach Liz. Particularly how it addresses our interpersonal responsibilities as well. Too often, I spend time locked in my own head, and I’ve noticed that most “self-help” books tend to do the same (focus almost exclusively on personal recovery at the expense of relationships). I really need to be able to connect my well-being with my wife’s well-being, and I never really thought of things in terms of wellness. Really, a healthy relationship wouldn’t be dynamic if well-being and wellness wasn’t connected. Great thought!

  13. The question I ask myself frequently is how can I enjoy wellness right now because if I don’t remind myself I will hurt my back doing something I think is important or give up on healthy actions because I neglect to find a way to make them pleasant or fit my current emotional need. I’m not forcing anything, just remembering that all aspects of wellness contribute to well being, be they physical, spiritual, social, emotional. This kind of thinking reminds me to play the radio in my car or have a cup of delicious tea or notice that there is a slightly purple shade among the grays in the clouds during a long drive. Wellness is to be enjoyed and our joy is good for us and our relationships, I think…

  14. Enjoying your new series of articles. I think occasionally it is a good idea to go back and revisit periods of our life that gave us great distress and situations that determined where we are today and what prompted us to seek the roads we traveled. Never shut the door on the antithesis on who we think we are, even if we don’t like what reflects in the mirror. Impermemance maybe the rigor to our lives, complacency maybe our demise. Keep write, I’ll kept reading.

    1. Hi Eul, I agree there are some valuable lessons to be found in the past. When I’m feeling philosophical I like to ponder if it would have been possible for me to choose a different path – looking back, it all seems kind of inevitable.

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