Family gatherings and office situations are the main areas in life where I have to deal with the kind of people I find most difficult, and as Christmas is approaching, I am trying to mentally prepare for this. These people aren’t mean, crazy or unusually aggressive. They are very normal people that most people seem to like, but with me something is just always off, and I cannot avoid them. This stresses me far more than people who are openly hostile or annoying to everyone.
While I would like these people to like me, and get along with them, they have an almost allergic reaction to me and just do not like me whatever I do or say. Since they do not really have a clear reason to dislike me, because I am not behaving aggressively towards them, they do not usually show this openly, but I notice it in details, like how they look at me, how they react to things I say. I wish I would not even notice that they dislike me, but I do.
Nobody stresses me out as much as them. They make me feel like a freak, like something is completely wrong with me. I see myself through their eyes, see somebody unlikable, and I feel so off and unbalanced that I am losing contact with myself, and when I leave the table and look in the mirror I almost do not recognize myself. They make me feel guilty, ashamed and angry.
I recognize that I am the one who overreacts, but this does not really help. Most people probably are able to simply accept that there are some people around them that they do not especially get along with. They just brush it off, cool down their tone of interaction and are in equilibrium again.
I on the other hand immediately assume that I am at fault if a relationship feels weird and uncomfortable, and I have the strong urge to try to fix it, by being extra nice, interested, and in general submissive to them. Has this worked even once? No. And yet I am trying again and again.
These last months, I took a mindfulness class. We especially trained being mindful during social contact. This means feeling your body, your feet, your hands, while in conversation with someone. At first, this felt very weird, really rude, to leave the conversation for a millisecond and feel my feet, but with time, I got used to it and I noticed something changing. When I apply this technique while I am listening to another person, the other person often seems to relax. The connection becomes more natural, and I feel more accepting of myself and the other person. The teacher claimed that this is because we can only really understand, and relate to others through our body, where we mirror, and thus empathize with, what the other person tells us with words and with body language. What surprised me is how the conversation partner seems to notice this change in me almost immediately, although I have the impression that nothing on my outside has changed.
I am usually very tense in social interactions with people who seem to dislike me, and my brain is working very hard. When I feel my body during the interaction, it is impossible for me to also simultaneously listen and think all the typical things I am thinking about while I am in conversation, which is mainly about what the subtext of the conversation is, what the mood of the other person is, and, most of all, what the other person might most want me to say or do. Praise, understanding, supportive words, encouragement. I noticed this very strongly during the exercises in mindful conversation.
Of course, in this way I am not really relating to the other person. Everything the person says and everything I say seems to go through an analytical filter, and because analysis is slow, this often goes wrong, and I say something that in retrospect sounds off and artificial. I dislike my voice in these conversations. I notice that my hands are incredibly tense, and if I have some object nearby that I can secretly destroy with my hands while talking, I will do it.
So what I am going to try this Christmas is mindful conversations even with people in my most difficult category, the category of people that I want to get along with, but that somehow do not seem to like me. This is very hard. I tried it only once until now, and it made me realize my physical discomfort around this person even more, which was incredibly tiring. But maybe it is good if I recognize this strong physical discomfort, maybe that is the right way to finally letting go and accepting that I will not get along with someone for reasons completely out of my control. I did already notice a small difference in how this person reacted towards me, too. Very small, but it was like this person had discovered, on some level, that I am present as a person and not only as a shadow. And again, this is not surprising: when you do not feel your body, you are a shadow.
The thing that I have to learn is not turn into a shadow if I feel rejected by someone, and not frantically try to fix the relationship, but just accept how I feel when I feel rejected, look at it like I would look at an oddly shaped stone that I found in my pocket, instead of fearing it like a landslide that knocks me off my feet.