Social Skills for the Depressed and Anxious
It can be a negative spiral. You feel depressed. You don’t feel like being social or you don’t know how. But your lack of social abilities leads you to be more isolated. And the isolation makes you all the more depressed. So what can a person do who suffers from depression and doesn’t want to live life as a total hermit?
I am going to highlight two major issues I feel impede social connection and some suggestions of how to overcome these challenges.
Poor self-esteem can sometimes go hand and hand with depression. Our depression can tell us lies about ourselves such as “I am no good” or “Nobody likes me” and it can even generalize to thinking that one is entirely unlikeable or unlovable to the entire human population. I am not saying this to make you feel better but if you are saying such things to yourself, you are basing your self-concept upon illogical inaccuracies.
If you go out into the world thinking of yourself as totally unlikeable then you will find a verdict which validates your assumption. In every person you meet you will see judgment and dislike. But if you turn it around and say to yourself, “I am not so bad” and “I am not perfect but I am still likeable” then you open the door to seeing possibilities for connection.
Not everyone is going to like you this is true. Nobody on this planet is liked by everyone. But this doesn’t mean that you are a bad person. This does not mean you do not have value and purpose. It means it is sometimes human nature to be fickle and to judge people on superficial qualities which do not matter. When someone does not like us without even getting to know us, it usually is more of a reflection upon that other person than it ever is upon us.
The trick is to stop looking for self-esteem from other people. You are thereby giving all of your power to others to deem you worthy or not. Don’t give others so much power over you. You are the one to decide how to feel about yourself. If you believe you are likeable and worth getting to know then others will too. Connecting with others begins with having the idea about yourself that “Hey, I am worthy of getting to know.”
Trusting too little or too much
Trust is a huge issue for a lot of people. Trust is one of those fundamental elements of relationships. If we learned early for whatever reason not to trust others, this has profound implications for most of our future relationships. One of the results of having your trust broken and especially in childhood is that we don’t understand proper boundaries. Many of us will enter relationships with extremes of not trusting at all or else trusting too much and giving far too much too soon.
There are levels to building friendships and connections with other people. So you meet someone for the first time. What do you do? You might begin to engage with some small talk. I despise small talk myself but it is sometimes a necessary ritual to ease into getting to know someone. If you enter into things trusting too little then your wariness may hinder the conversation because you don’t feel okay about saying anything about yourself.
Some time ago I had gotten some feedback about this from being in a group for those of us who are socially anxious. I first met the group at a nearby coffee shop. I remember feeling very shy and awkward. I attempted conversation in the way that I feel comfortable. I tend to ask people all about themselves. I ask a lot of questions. But I seldom give a lot of information about me despite the fact that I am asking it from others. I was told, “Maybe next time you could say a little more about yourself.” My constant barrage of asking others questions was a barometer of my lack of trust. I did not feel worthy enough to share about me because I feared being judged.
But if you want to connect with others you have to take that risk to share of yourself. Friendship is a two way street. You have to show some trust in order to receive trust back.
The other extreme is trusting too much. I am sure you have heard the acronym “TMI” which means “too much information.” Have you ever met someone who tells you their whole life story within minutes of meeting them? They so desperately want to be your best buddy that they share things you may not be ready to hear. I am an intense person myself and so I understand this to some extent. But for most people you come across, they are going to be turned off by this complete lack of boundaries. This is granting too much trust and too soon. It is better to go slowly and have a gentle give and take of sharing. If things go well then you will have plenty of time to share more deeply.
I tend to think of trust as a gate to your personal garden. You don’t want to keep the gate locked because then nobody will visit you. But you also don’t want to leave it wide open for anyone to come in and trample all over your garden. You control how open you will leave the gate and how discerning you will be about whom you will let in.
Self-esteem and trust are but two issues one has to contend with when going out there and trying to make new friends. It can seem all the more difficult when one also has a mood disorder which can exaggerate these challenges. But in the end it is up to us to choose connection over our fear. We might not always do well at connecting but I am here to tell you that it is worth the risk. It is part of our human nature to seek the friendship of others. You are not alone in that need. So keep reaching out. Keep extending your hand. It won’t be long before someone reaches back.