For many, it is a mystery why there is a portion of the population who just doesn’t like to be around other people. Human beings are social animals by default, and when we are alone for extended periods of time it tends to have negative effects on our mental state. Most people can’t bear solitude for very long, requiring regular contact with others in both physical and social contexts. We are a highly gregarious species, much like a single living organism that needs the other parts to live a healthy life.
For people like me, however, the situation is very different. Unlike most people who become recharged when they spend time around other people, the act of engaging in social activities is far more like work than pleasure for someone who struggles with anti-social tendencies. The anxiety that comes with having to spend time with people who have expectations that you might not be able to meet, or simply the fact that you have to behave in a certain way to accommodate the basic social contract requires more effort for some than others.
The phrase “no man is an island” is often used to encapsulate the idea that we all need each other in one way or another. While quite true, some people take this too far in an attempt to apply their own view of how people should behave onto others. I was many times guilted into participating in social events that I really didn’t have any desire for because I was made to feel selfish for not wanting to go through the inevitable discomfort that being around other people tends to cause me.
To be fair, there are certain social situations for which I have little or no anxiety that are quite social, so it really depends on the specific circumstances. For example, I never felt anxious when I was with a group of friends participating in a game of Dungeons and Dragons because my focus was on the epic story and playing a character rather than the social expectations of those around me. We all had a singular, common goal which was to participate in a fantasy adventure. The potential for awkward social issues was very low in such situations.
Perhaps the most dreaded event I can be asked to attend is a party or celebration. In the first place, I’m one of those people who never felt comfortable enough with my body to learn to dance, and no matter how many times people have tried to get me to put myself on display that way I have never been willing to even try. I don’t like feeling awkward; I need to be in control. Dancing is almost by definition the release of control to let your body do whatever. It is abhorrent to me.
Upon reflection I begin to realize that anti-social behavior, for me at least, is largely based on this need for control. When you are by yourself, you have nearly complete control over your environment and you never have to worry about what anyone else thinks of you. The moment you enter into a space with other people, you have given up a significant portion of your control and you are now negotiating for how much of it you get to keep with those you are spending your time with. For a person who likes order and discipline, this is a frustrating situation.
At the same time, no person can be alone all the time and be mentally healthy. We all need human interaction in our lives, even if it’s only a few hours a week. This requires being willing to give up our control for a while so we can get that much needed social recharge that even the most anti-social of us require. It simply needs to be understood that this comes at a cost for us, and people shouldn’t take it personally when we yearn to go back to our solitude. It isn’t you specifically, just our need to get back to the peace and control of our preferred environment.
I stated once before that the real difference between an extrovert and an introvert is the flow of energy when it comes to social situations, and I’ll repeat it here for those of you who might not have read that particular article. An extrovert draws energy from social interactions; a party is a place where they go to recharge their energy and fill up their spiritual cup. The introvert, on the other hand, expends energy in these kinds of exchanges, the people around them soaking up their energy, and it is only when they are able to get back to peace and solitude that they are able to fill up their respective reservoirs.
One of the hardest things to do is really learn something about yourself and come to accept it. While it would be nice for me to be able to waltz into a party and be the center of attention, that just isn’t me and it never will be. I’m the guy who hangs back by the bar, trying to minimize how many people I have to talk to and just waiting to get back to my nice, quiet place. While many will not understand that way of thinking, I’ve accepted it about myself and if this way applies to you then you should to. Never be afraid to be who you are; the only expectations that matter are your own.