Below is a confession of a former (accidental) misanthrope:
I am a slightly extroverted introvert. When I was 10 years old, my teachers thought I was mute. ‘Why don’t you talk to your classmates?’
I didn’t reply. The truth was, I wanted to talk, but what would I say? I was in panic every time I approached someone. So I stayed quiet.
The challenge with someone like me is that though we crave relationships with other people, starting those relationships bring us an unsurmountable amount of anxiety.
I don’t really know what causes the anxiety, but that when I was very young, I did not know how to stop it. Truthfully and embarrassingly, I have only recently learned how to slightly calm it at the age of 25 (two years ago).
Bringing even a single new friend into my life causes me to panic, so I used to intentionally push people away from me. Every time I felt somebody getting closer to me, I would start to become anxious. Maybe they will find out that I can’t really do small talk. Maybe they won’t like me because I can’t really go out with them all the time. Maybe…
I would start to behave in such a way as to distance myself from this person. It was often successful. Unsurprisingly, I did not have many people who would call me their close friend.
Even with the friends I did let into my life, I kept a distance. Up until recently, I rarely shared personal moments with them, choosing instead to delve into more concrete topics such as academics, career or their problems.
They were deep and important topics, but not very personal. I revealed theories and understandings of things I knew and observed to people, but rarely did I talk about myself and how I felt.
So, for a very long time, one word described my relationships with people: distant. I was also distant from my family. I cared for them and did many things with them, but I was never able to connect with them on a personal level.
For a little while I did wonder why I could not. I tried, but failed many times.
In the end, I realised that it was because I didn’t know how to do small talk. And, admittedly, didn’t want to.
I failed at the one thing that bonded a person to another person on a deep, emotional level; and that was storytelling.
I never told people my stories and I never asked them for theirs. At the time, I felt these were too trivial. I even hated that people were so shallow; is this what you talk about most of the time? I wondered.
I realised later that I was too deep, a little different from most people. To fit people into my own mould would be a subtle form of discrimination.
So I learned to tell stories about myself. I told stories about my gangster father, when I lost my house to a fire, my mother’s struggle as a semi single mother, my fears of being outed as introvert and so on.
After I told many of these stories, I realised that storytelling and small talk are not trivial. They are life.
People feel a personal connection with you when they read something that you were so afraid to write and tell the world. More than once, I had people come up to me in person, or online to tell me how my story made them feel less alone.
So now, instead of focusing only on deeper topics or problem solving, I listen to people talk to me about their stories and also, telling more stories about myself to anyone who wants to know.
So here is my status with people now: improving.