After reading a book with a socially awkward main character and witnessing the behavior of a young man that I know who is, unfortunately, really socially awkward, I just had to write about this topic.
Basically, having become socially awkward once I hit puberty, and eventually working my way out of it, I get frustrated seeing socially awkward people struggle.
In Jane Hamilton’s novel, The Book of Ruth, the narator, Ruth, struggles the entire length of the novel with her utter lack of social skills. While she wants to appear smart and beautiful, she instead beats up her brilliant older brother and eeks through school as a wallflower to the nth degree. Also, her internal monologue and her dream life she relayed to her beloved Aunt Sid in her letters indicate to the reader that she is not who she appears to be at all from what others see when they interact with her. Squelching her ability to live in her true nature is a condescending mother.It’s painful to witness scenario after scenario of Ruth not living to her full potential. Over time, however, she comes to some startling realizations, one of which I will paraphrase. She realizes that because dead people can’t express their feelings for others, because she is alive, she must do just that. Of course, in Ruth’s case, making the realization did not entirely make her spring into action.
It’s important to take the time to consider what’s inside of ourselves and whether or not the world can see it. I own a piece of that statement: I, too, was an awkward kid. I knew it, too, but I felt like I couldn’t take any ownership over it. It’s just how it was for me. It was my normal. I passively accepted that that’s how I was. I dreamed about having interesting things to say to people to make them want to hang out with me. I spent too much time evaluating myself against what I didn’t realize was my own arbitrarily-derived evaluation meter. I missed the point so many times, resulting in further drawing in on myself.
Luckily for my own situation, things have changed tremendously. I don’t say that so we can all sigh in relief. What I want to do with my change is to help others.
As I mentioned, I know a young man who is very withdrawn around his peers. I don’t want to give too much away because I’m trying to protect his privacy. He always arrives late to the gathering in the context in which we know him. He’s already mad about that when he arrives. He’s lovely once he opens up, sharing tales about his family and their pets. His soft voice indicates a gentle nature, but he’s also readily able to almost brutally chastise himself when he perceives he’s done something wrong. The other boys his age, whose disposition is to be cruel to someone else in order to elevate their own statuses within the group, are quick to poke fun at him. He just doesn’t know how to relate to others, period. If you ask him a question, he gushes with paragraphs of things that he wants to share. He doesn’t, however, look you in the eye, nor does he ask you anything about yourself. I don’t think it’s because he doesn’t care for others – I am sure he cares deeply, as Ruth’s character does, and as I experienced when I didn’t know how to talk to others – he just lacks the know-how to engage in conversation with others.
There’s a cycle in which this awkwardness becomes normal. I thought that I was fine the way I was, but I assumed the world was flawed AND it was out to get me. I knew my innermost being and knew I was worth something. I just couldn’t figure out why others couldn’t see it. Instead, I chose to believe that people were stuck up or weren’t worth my time. I hated popular people because I believed they were up to something deceitful. I hated people who treated people nicely and then talked about them behind their backs. I labeled them as fakes and avoided them.
So what are steps that socially awkward people can take to come out of their shells? What can I do, now that I “get it” to help those that I see struggling with this disorder – which of course is what it is AND it has a lot of “friends” that come along for the ride, like depression, etc. It’s like you are driving the car – A.K.A., your life – but your buddy Socially Awkward has blindfolded you and pretends to care how to tell you to drive, and meanwhile, SA tells you that Depression and Anxiety need a ride to the store, so they sit there – classic backseat drivers – and tell you all kinds of lies about your driving abilities. Why drive impaired? Kick this crowd of losers to the curb!
I think there are several steps, that I can see from my experience, to working out our way of this disorder.
1. Taking an active role in your own life. Hold yourself accountable for anything you want to achieve. Stop blaming others for how you are.
2. Turn outward. Focus all that energy you’ve been using to evaluate yourself to, in essence, get over yourself. You won’t learn about yourself if you look in a mirror. You learn about yourself by interacting with others.
3. Believe with all your heart that you are of value. Think about the talents you can give to the world. Got time? Use it. Got a talent? Show it. Got money? Share it.
4. Be optimistic that you can and will change, for the better.
It takes times. Years, actually. Luckily living life requires that we wake up each day to face the world. We make a series of choices about how to spend our time, talent, and resources, and though we may not receive instant gratification, all goodness that we send out will return to us. I’ve seen it happen, time and time again.
I wish I could help this young man I’ve written about. I certainly should give it a shot. I feel for him as I am sure he thinks that the way things are for him is what is normal. I would love for him to know there’s so much more to life than dwelling on how other people treat you and constantly misinterpretting how they are treating you. It’s great to be able to reach out to others now that I have the eyes to see it from this refreshing perspective.