Like a wolf out of water

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When it comes to social situations, I often feel like one of those feral children who were raised by wolves.  And while I do not sniff people’s butts as a form of greeting (anymore), I still find certain human social interactions and rituals quite confusing.

I know whence these feelings came.  Growing up, our family was quite isolated socially.  My parents had no friends (which makes me incredibly sad in retrospect) nor family that we ever socialized with. We never had company, nor did we ever go out.  I simply never learned certain social niceties as a child.  And while I have since learned how to behave in group social gatherings, it doesn’t feel natural.  When placed in situations like parties I feel like a fish out of water – emotionally flopping about gasping for breath and desperate to get back to my own small, murky home. 

For years I dealt with the anxiety of social situations the good old fashioned way – lots of alcohol.  The alcohol eased my anxiety making it easier for me to get up the courage to talk to strangers and hopefully find someone I connected with.  If I was lucky to find such a person, then you would find me in the corner with them having a “deep” conversation.  I never was the girl with the lampshade on the head.  I was not a silly, happy drunk, but rather a very intense one. 

After I quit drinking and decided to actually treat my depression rather than self-medicate, I took a break from all parties and social events.  The anxiety was simply too great.  Even at on-site work parties that I would organize myself, I would find excuses to be elsewhere during the actual party.  (That was during the period in my life where I would lay under my desk whenever I got too overwhelmed.  That is, until my boss told me to knock it off because I was scaring the rest of the staff). 

Eventually, there was a social event I really couldn’t refuse.  It was a friend’s wedding and I knew she would feel very hurt if I didn’t show up.  It was there that I realized that social situations are simply a fact of life, much like going to work.  We don’t necessarily have to like it, but often, it is simply enough that we show up and not complain about it. 

Over the years I have mastered the art of looking content at such gatherings.  While I seldom have a what would be called a good time, I know how to act in such a way where I simply blend in.  However, if the host has a pet, that’s usually where you’ll find me looking genuinely happy.  I guess I’m happiest when I’m with my peeps – peeps who just happen to have four legs and fur.

Hmmm.  Maybe I really was raised by wolves. 

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29 responses »

  1. This was wonderful ti read .. as in, me too *grin .. my parents had many (alleged)friends, social gatherings were frequent from the start .. but i still felt the same, dealt the same (as i got older) … perhaps i’m not so sure i want/desire/need to blend in .. perhaps i’d rather be the wolf .. reading other peoples’ books and talking with their pets, one eye on the horizon … but you’re right .. for a Friend i’d behave impeccably … but then a Friend would leave me out the latest stuff to read and make sure that pets were at the ready …

  2. I can relate on many many levels. A very sheltered only child does not learn how to deal well with peers for a Very Long Time and still carries a boat load of insecurities in that area. Oh, how often have I felt as if I am 13 again? Too many times. Yes, take me to my furry friends, for they truly understand!

  3. I’m going to guess that what you’ve descibed is as much nature as it is nurture. In other words, it’s just your personality. As it is mine. And as you grow up you just feel more comfortable with it. Also, the peer pressure to conform reduces, because most of your peers have just gotten old. I was a wolf out of water at 20 and I am still a wolf out of water at 40. Though I can also trace my own tendencies to particular circumstances while growing up, I think if you and I were natural socialites, that would’ve overcome that kind of conditioning anyway. Certainly, it has with most others I know.

    Becoming a buddhist and an ‘inner being’ has been the perfect solution for me. For the first time in my life, I don’t have to rationalise why I don’t want to be a part of the scene, why I don’t want clammy attachments, why I’ve always hated Samsara, even though it was always just one big party to everyone else. And it explains that deep seated suspicion that, while everyone else looks like they’re having fun, in fact they’re not really. It isn’t really fun. It’s all just a desperate attempt to deny their state of suffering.

    I think quite a few buddhists I know, especially those who become ordained, seem to share these traits.

  4. Also, I just struggle with small talk.

    I really do. At least verbally.

    I seem to have no problem with small talk in its written form. As you no doubt already know.

  5. I can relate as well. What bothers me is that sometimes people just don’t understand what we’re going through in these situations. It especially upsets me when you can’t make it to their party because of a terrible fear you’re having and they’re made at you and just can’t understand why…

  6. Yeah i can totally relate as well.

    Ron what you say really resonates too. It’s a great feeling when you realize you don’t have to dive in to the the messed up pool of material life. Wahey, enjoy the best of life without getting all involved.

  7. I feel like a fish out of water – emotionally flopping about gasping for breath and desperate to get back to my own small, murky home.

    sounds mitey normbal to me ~ but look whoze tawkin

  8. Hi Harry

    Yes, I don’t really get involved with anything anymore, which suits me just fine.

    In some ways, I’m an extreme case. I haven’t actually been an active partipant at a real party in years. I have these tricks where I show my face, then go for a long walk, then come back – and people think I’ve been there all along.

    I can’t really blame it totally on an underdeveloped small talk faculty. To some extent, having to go to parties and socialise on a broad scale is an annoyance – it interrupts my thinking. I have severe limits when it comes to being in gatherings. Something in me just wants to get out. On the other hand, I’ve always had lots of friends.But I simply don’t get on with them when they all get together.

    When I was younger, I think I was thought of as maladjusted. But people get kinder as you get older. Now they just think I’m eccentric.
    Ha ha.

    Anyway, now I’m in the habit of hanging around with other buddhists mostly. And oddly enough, this doesn’t make me quite as uncomfortable, even at bona fide social events. Probably because most of them have some level of maladjustment too.

  9. Lol, i’m exactly the same. Most of my family are musicians and artists, and mad new agists. I always end up having to participate in masked tree-hugging parties, but like you i always manage to squirm off into the quiet.

    I’m the same with friends too, much prefer them one at a time.

    I think for years i really struggled cause i felt there was something wrong with me, that i didn’t quite fit in. 24 now, and the older i get the more i start to feel grateful for being the quiet type. I no longer feel so much pressure (especially my own pressure) to participate in the excitable ups and downs. Bit like an old man, me, just want my peace and quiet. I do enjoy a bit of banter with a good mate tho. When i was a teenager my dream was to be an old man! How weird is that?

  10. Hey LB… this post hits close to home for me at this particular time. The Deistette is very much like this and I simply don’t get it. Not at all. I am your (and her) polar opposite. I find it very easy and actually thrive being around people.
    Although, to some degree, I consider myself an introvert in that I recharge by being in solitude.

    ~jules
    p.s. – not that I’m wanting you to sniff my butt (unless of course you really, really wanted to), but I’m still looking for a picture of my hiney for you and MelonGirl. ha ha ah : )

  11. Shell – Welcome back! Good to see you again. I would like to start a new trend in parties – the Wolf room. This room would be equipped with comfy chairs, books, and critters. Anyone is welcomed, but small talk is prohibited – unless you’re making the small talk with one of the critters. That would be fine.

    TPGoddess – You are always welcome to join us in the Wolf room – a room where the people understand and the critters just don’t care.

    Ron – You make an interesting point re: the nature vs nuture. I am an introvert by nature (I’m an INTP for you Meyers-Briggs fans) though when the conditions are right, I can be quite extroverted. For years, I saw my introversion as something pathological and therefore the result of my f*ed up childhood. Later, as I become more accepting of myself I accepted my introversion. But, there is still the anxiety that is left over as part of the nuture part of this equation.

    I think that becoming a Buddhist has also been a big help. Part of my discomfort socially was that I believed that I was the only one suffering – somehow I believed that everyone was happy and normal. Yet, talking to people, and from the response on this post, it is clear that I am hardly the only wolf out of water.

    BreatheWithMe – Welcome! I hear ya. It’s hard enough going through it yourself, but then to have friends not be supportive? Ouch. When you’re feeling stronger, it may be good to educate your friends about anxiety disorders and how they impact your life. A lot of people who have been very fortunate not to have to deal with a lot of bad stuff in their lives, have no clues about the very real impact depression and/or anxiety disorders have on someone’s life. If they are true friends, they’ll appreciate your honesty and maybe be more mindful in the future. If they’re not your true friends, f*k ’em. 😉

    Harry – Welcome to the Wolf room. Not sure how you feel about the critters, but you are more than welcome to grab a cushion and meditate for a while.

    Kangaroos – Funny thing, I’ve seen you in action in social settings, and you are more Wolf than Wolf out of Water.

    Monkees – You are right. Nothing like helping others to help us get our heads out of own asses. My problem, in social settings, I get all flustered and confused and self-judging about what is the proper thing to do? The fear that I’m doing it wrong can be quite the obstacle, ya knows?

    Jules – Be gentle with the Deistette, and sensitive to the fact that social situations feel quite stressful. If you can convince her to go to a party with her, stay close by her side until you are certain that she feels comfortable. The Boyfriend is more like you. He loves being around people. I sometimes think of him like a big friendly dog who just goes wandering off with his tail wagging eager to talk to anyone who will listen. And I’m left standing by myself holding the leash feeling really stupid. So, now we’ve got an agreement that he stays on the leash and brings me along for the ride.

    I await with bated breath for the ultimate Deist butt shot.

  12. Hi LB

    I do relate. Like you I’m not the world’s greatest introvert. That’s not the only issue with me either. Complexity is a bitch.

  13. My folks were quite sociable, my father amiable/ my mother diligently doing everything correctly — and raised me to be so, but it never took, and I always felt I disappointed them (mostly my mother to whom I was such a polar opposite to her outgoing, active, up to the elbows in people, vibrant self). I could barely force myself to make a phone call, and do NOT like the telephone to this day.

    It was a huge relief when I came across an opportunity to do a Myers-Briggs test and discovered that I was a poster child for the INFP temperament. Reading about it I felt someone had been following me around all my life with pen and paper writing down all my quirks — but there I was! It was ridiculously a freeing moment to realize there wasn’t ‘something wrong with me’ == I was just ME.

    I’ve been so much more forgiving/loving of myself since then, and a lot more understanding of (even when still annoyed by) other people and the way they act.

    I would hang in the Wolf Room of any party with these folks who frequent your path here. I always feel like I’m hanging with the Cool Kids when I slip in here and enjoy.

    Admiringly,
    Shu

  14. I like how you put it “…mastered the art of looking content…”, this is what I need to do because I seem to have mastered the art of looking aloof!

  15. I’m with you on this one, I don’t feel comfortable at social gatherings unless they are with a very few select people. Otherwise, I usually find a drink and sit in a chair i nthe corner. I myself, however, have not mastered the art of looking content. Quite the opposite. I look miserable. The Wife gets mad at me whenever we go somewhere and there is a gethering of this sort. I don’t know that I’ll ever change. I don’t know that I even want to.

  16. On the other hand, INTJ also seems uncannily like me in most ways. So…who knows. This system looks like a slightly more scientific zodiac. I think we all grasp at these identities when we’re given the chance. But I’m an INTP, so I would say that. 🙂

  17. I’m an INTP as well. I think we’re the smallest Meyers-Briggs set.

    The best INTP summation I saw was something like this: “You are not a leader, nor are you a follower.” Exactly so. Let me go my own way, and I do fine.

    I am likewise uncomfortable with parties and big crowds of people (unless they get so big they’re just a mass, like at New Year’s Eve downtown… then I’m just alone in the crowd).

    I worked as a reporter for many years, and had to learn some rote social skills to survive in that line of work. But I still preferred being alone.

    Now I’m retired, and while I have learned how to make small talk, I don’t feel the need. I have a circle of friends who understand that I am liable to sit down with them at a table in a restaurant, spend an hour with them, then leave without having said anything more than ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye.’

    Things are as they are. What am I to say about them?

    I’m somewhat inspired by the Zen/Taoist poet Cold Mountain, who lived a large part of his life more-or-less isolated in the mountains of eastern China:

    In their wisdom, the wise spurn me.
    In mine, I reject the stupid.

    Because I despise both your camps,
    Let us agree to avoid one another.

    I choose to bray at the cock-eyed moon,
    To dance through mountain clouds at sunrise.

    Why immure my hands in my sleeves,
    Lock up my tongue,
    And sit rigid as a chair?
    My hair cascades!

  18. Harlen – yes, there are times I’ve desperately wanted to live in the “bliss” of ignorance. Yet, we know that ignorance really isn’t bliss, it’s just suffering. So simple or complex, we all suffer. Some just seem to look a while lot better while their doing it.

    Shu – It’s such a relief when we realize that our quirks and preferences aren’t truly wrong or weird. That’s just who we are. I’m starting to sense a trend here with the INs here – the Introvert/Intuitives. I’m scored really high on both of those – the other two not so much. Anyway, you are welcome in my Wolf Room anytime. 🙂

    Lilli – Good to see you again! I started out doing the aloof thing, but I think it was because I still wasn’t truly comfortable with myself. The aloofness, for me, came from insecurity. The expression changed to contentment as I realized there was nothing wrong with being quiet, even at a party. So, I’ll focus on watching other people have a good time and try and be genuinely happy for them. And with that, I find I can actually feel content and not merely look it.

    Adam – Geez, why look so glum? At least you can have a drink. 😉 Maybe you won’t be able to master the look of contentment, but you may want to work on your poker face if you don’t want the wife to kill you, nor offend your hosts. Ya know?

    Ron – OK, pal. Now this is getting a wee bit creepy. If you tell me you’re an Aquarius born in the Year of the Bore, I’m going to start thinking I’m talking to myself in an alternate universe.

    McCarp – thank you for that lovely bit of poetry. “My hair cascades”. I love it!

    Since we seem to have a lovely group of Introverts here, I would suggest getting together . . . Nah, let’s all go to our respective corners, read, listen to music or write. I think we’ll all be happier that way.

  19. Well, thanks for pointing out this system, LB. I’ve just taken another test and yes – I’m INTP, quite strongly so in all departments. Mid seventies to 80 in all of them. You’re never too old to learn new things, huh. Just for your interest, there’s quite a good profile by a guy called Paul James online. Actually, it’s pretty harrowing. I’ve just spent an hour reading it, caught midway between laughing and crying, because it is incredibly penetrating and rather uncomfortably close to the bone. I have to admit, the one thing I don’t really like is self-analysis. One of the things buddhism has over Jung – you’re able to disassociate from the bits of yourself that aren’t that photogenic. I think if I were to dwell too much on my personality type as described by Jung, I would be quite depressed. But I can see what you mean now about how discovering your ‘self’ is really such an important step in enabling you to negate it. Anyway, all this is interesting, certainly. Now I’m going to move on to something more dharma-related.

  20. I love to people-watch also, and being genuinely happy for those you are observing have a good time is how I feel, but my exterior sometimes fails to show that. Maybe I should just smile more…I do like smiling.

  21. howling at the moon the wolf surprised to see it is merely the oncoming headlights of the truck he failed to catch

    if ya dunt fitin then day will stop inviting you ~ sounds like a win/win 2 me.

  22. This was interesting. I’m surprised how many people seem to feel this way.

    I’ve always associated my bouts of shyness with social anxiety. So many things in this comment section sounded familiar, especially preferring one or two people to large groups.

    The shy thing has always been something I try to overcome. It’s not consistent though, some days I feel very outgoing and I can embrace the world, and other days even talking to my best friend feels uncomfortable and awkward. I don’t know what causes such extremes.

    Whatever it is, there’s something endlessly comforting in knowing that shyness or reticience isn’t such an odd thing. It’s comforting to not be alone.

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