I can't be the friend you want me to be right now: Lessons post lockdown
Updated: Jul 25
Although I hide it well, I am a) fundamentally socially awkward; and b) an excellent performer and very good at my job. This means I use skill set b to compensate for the lack of skills set a...and I generally get away with it.
Rather than sit shyly in a corner at someone's gathering seeking out the one person I can have a quiet chat to, I will organise the gathering and place myself in the role of hostess introducing you all to each other with a perfected smile. Instead of worrying about how you are judging me - I ask instead about you (stopping short of "tell me about your mother") as I unleash my role as a psychologist. I use my strengths not just to compensate for my areas of weakness, but in doing so I also enable myself the opportunity to improve with practice...my "performance" self fully supports the growth of my authentic self.
Perhaps you do the same...and if you don't, consider whether you would find it helpful to focus not on what you lack, but on what you have - and how expression of those skills can help development of the areas you perceive to be weaker.
This method is not without its problems though...so if you do in fact do the same - perhaps you use your humour to cover up the fear of critique (eg. I'll laugh at me first); or maybe you rely on your maverick self to charm the way out of issues on behalf of someone (but then you're still left needing to deal with a person who generally only sees the charismatic "nice" part), then it's also time to pay heed to your inner needs too.
We can get quite caught up in "performance". Because that adaptive character we have created can open doors, is perhaps a gateway to the life we desire, and actually has many many positives for us personally, we can sometimes confuse where our authentic input within that trait stops, and our amplified adaptability begins.
If you have ever questioned why people don't seem to see the "real you" anymore - lockdown may have given you a welcome break from that spotlight!
As lockdown is easing, one thing I have noticed about myself is that I don't actually want to engage with as many commitments as I did previously. I spoke about this on Radio 5 where I explained that even though we can now visit others - it doesn't always mean we want to...and for some of us our "excuse" has been removed. This can cause some people just as much concern as locking down in the first place (and thus restricting our social contact) did for others.
There is a complexity beyond the scope of this article when it comes to understanding anyone's personal preferences and their reasons for them, but here are my tips for trying to explain a continued need for space for yourself post lockdown:
"I can't be the friend you want me to be"...This is fundamentally stating "It's (really) not you, it's (totally) me" - and unfortunately there's still no guarantee that the person you say it to will not take it personally, but I find this far more kind than "ghosting", and a little clearer if a gradual "drawing back" hasn't worked.
"I still need to catch up on seeing my family"...This is often very honest. If you only have so much time and energy to give - especially if your family also expect a little more "glimmer" than you would normally choose to display - this is not only probably true, but an understandable division of time (and labour!) I now have a rule not to see anyone outside my immediate family/circle of friends - if I haven't at least spent the same amount of time with said friends/family first.
Actively seek out the people you love - for me they are the people who know me at what I call my clumsy, insecure, irrational "Bridget Jones" best. All of them also know, applaud - and commission - my professional side but they also welcome - and actively support - the awkward one through their own wonderful nature.
THINK before you make offers to those you know are not within that circle - is this your adaptive enthusiasm talking, or an authentic desire to see that person again!
You do not have to be all things to all people. I am reminded of a great episode of Elementary where Sherlock struggles with shutting down a blog using (without initial permission) his thoughts expressed in addiction support meetings which nonetheless provided great help to others. You sometimes need to protect yourself - no matter how much you may be of use to others...especially if that drains you so you cannot be who you want to be for your own life and for those whom you love. If anyone makes you feel bad about that, they aren't the sort of relationships you need.
Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist and author. Listen to her podcast Retrain Your Brain here; and catch her practical masterclasses Psych Back to Basics on DisruptiveTV & Energy Top Up for resilience For quick tips and tools: click for SKILL PILL and Q&A videos and here for Media appearances. Twitter/IG @draudreyt