Friday, 30 October 2009

Paranoia

A question for you: What is the thing you are most worried about, in terms of how others see you? What do you think that others think is your worst trait?

For me, it's being annoying. I guess that's a bit vague. I'll try and pin it down. Whenever I meet new people, I'm convinced that the majority of them find me annoying. Mainly because I have very few powers of self-censorship. I open my mouth, and stuff comes out. Loads of it. Constantly.

It's not that I'm particularly offensive. I do possess some powers of tact, some social skills. But there are two problems: (a) I get terribly enthusiastic about things that I've thought of, and once I've thought of them I have to express them. And I have no self-consciousness about speaking up in the presence of strangers. (b) The whole thing is magnified when I'm nervous. If I'm new to a bunch of people, I want to impress them, and I feel like I should do this by saying lots of stuff. And I forget to stop talking.

I do it in print too. If I join a new internet forum, for instance, rather than doing what most people do - which is to lurk for a while, get to know the feel of the place, build up the confidence to say a cautious hello - I just jump in with both feet and write a million long posts in quick succession.

In one spectacular recent example I alienated a whole internet forum, and my name is still quoted as a prime example of their worst member ever (I can't help it, I still lurk there - and recently someone said of another annoying member "He might be a bit bad, but he's no Beleaguered Squirrel"). It wasn't quite that simple - it was actually rather a horrible place, with a nasty culture, and I got picked on by the resident bully. But if I hadn't done that thing of leaping in at the start, shooting my mouth off and not censoring myself, it never would have happened.

Recently I've started a new job, and the usual paranoia is kicking in. In lots of ways it's gone really well. I've made several friends, who seem to genuinely like me. But I have this lurking suspicion that the majority of my colleagues regard me as intensely annoying. I don't even have any proof for that, apart from one email. I tried to organise a Friday night curry, suggesting that it would be nice to meet up for food and a natter - and got one response which simply said, "What's the point? You'll be the one doing all the talking." And then when I asked to join a Facebook group several colleagues belong to, I didn't get an instant response (by email) and was suddenly thinking, "Oh no, they don't want me to join because they've all been using it to moan about me!" Of course I then got the email inviting me to join and was obviously wrong about that.

But the worst thing about this kind of paranoia is deciding how to deal with it. Sometimes I tell myself, well duh. Rather than constantly agonising about this, why don't you start censoring yourself a little better, and remove the issue altogether? But other times I think, it's just paranoia. You're irrepressible, it's who you are, and it would be a shame to take that away from yourself. Yes, there'll always be people who are annoyed by you, but that would be the case whoever you were. Most people don't find you annoying, or not unbearably so, and those that do are obviously not the best choice of friend for you. And anyway if you were to ask people what they hate about you most, they'd probably come up with something completely different, that you hadn't even thought of.

The problem is that, as long as I keep vacillating between these two mutually-opposed positions (change yourself, accept yourself), nothing will ever be resolved.

So what about you? What is the thing about yourself that makes you wince, when those unwelcome memories pinch you in the small hours?

19 comments:

JJ Beattie said...

Oh dear, I try really hard not to think about these things... They can get so out of control. When I'm shy, I retreat (and stick my nose in the air, so I'm told) so I worry that people think I'm either boring, or snobby or both! If I start tormenting myself - because that's what it is - I fall down on the side of 'if they think that of you, then they aren't the right friends for you. It's their loss.'

Yah, who am I kidding?

Danielle said...

Mine is being non-descript, being discussed as being annoyingly boring. I am so scared of people thinking that. I am usually shy with new people and can chatter to bridge teh uncomfortable silences :) So I feel your pain.

I love your response to your own doubts though, that it's important to be who you are regardless. I agree. Fab name btw :)

Beleaguered Squirrel said...

JJ, you're right! If they think that of you then they really aren't the right friends for you!

I feel bad now though, for digging up your demons...

Beleaguered Squirrel said...

Danielle, thank you. And it's good to know I'm not the only one.

Karen said...

I like your long posts - they're eloquent, interesting and full of insight. Of course I've never met you in real life, but I think you're on the money when you say that the people you suspect you annoy are not the right friends for you, and I doubt it's possible to change that much, however hard we try/want to anyway.

I don't think I annoy people, but I worry, or have worried in the past, that I'll be dismissed as too quiet before they've got to know me properly - it takes me a while to warm up :o)

Beleaguered Squirrel said...

Thankyou Karen!

How interesting that three people have all cited similar - and in some ways opposite to mine - worries about themselves. I sometimes long to be quiet, shy, enigmatic. But if I were I guess I'd feel the opposite way.

Sarsparilla said...

About the colleague who thought you talked too much ... If you were your own colleague, would *you* think that you talked too much?
If yes, then maybe you've got something to work on, to find other ways to rationalise and process the nervous awkwardness we all feel in new situations.
If no, then don't worry about it, it's *his* baggage, and there's no reason you should carry it.

Beleaguered Squirrel said...

Good point, but not unproblematic... sadly I'm not capable enough of stepping outside myself and my insecurities. Sometimes - often - I think that if I met myself I'd hate myself. And that, yes, I'd be annoyed by a colleague that talked as much as me. But then again, I know and love plenty of people who are equally loquacious. I really don't think I can ever get enough perspective to know the answer to that. The fact is that I do censor myself, constantly. And also I'm not oblivious to the cues that people give. I shut up when I notice people getting pissed off. I open my mouth sometimes, and then shut it again cos I know there are other people who would like to speak and I've said enough already. Do I exercise those restraints often enough? Fuck knows. We'll have to find one of my colleagues and ask them! But that particular colleague... is about my least favourite, and not someone whose opinion I would normally seek. So of course I shouldn't have been upset by what they said, but life is rarely that simple.

JJ Beattie said...

Bel. Squirrel, don't worry: my demons aren't that well hidden! ;-P

Debi said...

Don't ever change, m'dear! The thing about you is that your verbosity never bores and always feels useful/constructive/thought provoking etc etc.

And - most importantly - you're not the kind of person who speaks but never listens. Quite the reverse. Your generosity is recognised and greatly appreciated in all the right places.

And of course you also know that not everyone in this world can like you and if they did, it would probably mean you'd blanded yourself out to the point of invisibility. And that would be a terrible crime!

Christine Gram said...

Oh this is brilliant. I love it and generally go crazy for people like yourself. You have PASSION my friend! This is a very wonderful thing. Just go for it. Sure there will be people annoyed, but I bet they might just be jealous. IMHO I think we could do with a whole lot more folks like yourself.

Sorry, I'm hooked. I'm going to go jump into your archieves now. I'll try not to blabber all over the place and muck it up.

mike said...

"Whenever I meet new people, I'm convinced that the majority of them find me annoying."

Well, I won't deny that you were a lee-ttle bit full-on, when we first met online. But when we first met offline - at that big do in Manchester, remember? - you were an unqualified Big Hit with all parties, my dear!

To answer your question: I worry about being tactless. Thoughtlessly hurtful. I have a long-standing habit of saying awful, inappropriate things through the implied perspective of a comic persona who might say such awful things - but without adequately communicating that I'm talking through that persona. (If that makes any sense.) But I also understand where that tendency comes from, and I have got better at reining myself in.

My advice would be never to lose sight of the position/perspective of the person you're talking to, i.e. what would *I* think, if I were listening to me?

B said...

what a bloody rude reply from your colleague! i would have been pretty upset, unless it was from someone i considered a friend and knew was joking.

me, i say stoopid things. that's the worst thing i let myself remember. the worst things, i blank out pretty fast or i'd never speak to anyone ever again. every so often i don't blank them out fast enough and i obsess and end up really upset.

i think this prob isn't healthy, but it gets me through...

Queenie said...

You're not at all annoying, how could you be? You're so like me!

Perhaps not exactly like me, though, because I don't do paranoia. If I stop to think about it, what worries me is my opinions, because - in social situations - I am quite uninhibited about voicing them, even though they're not always received positively. It's the memories of some of the negative receptions that pinch me in the small hours, and I wonder why I don't think these things through. But in the light, when I'm with people, I'm always convinced they will find my opinions as entertaining as I do. When they don't, I spiral through remorse and guilt into self-loathing. It strikes me that a healthy dose of paranoia could be quite useful in helping me to avoid this pattern. Can I have some of yours, please?

hilaryusfun said...

Regarding face to face encounters I could have written that word for word - and all I can do is remember that I do have friends who either don't mind or find it endearing. I just remember we are who we are (mostly, or panic at 3am)

Online though I tend towards reserved and think I miss out more due to that.

Beleaguered Squirrel said...

Christine, thankyou. And please do blabber as much as you like - I do it to everyone else so will feel greatly reassured if someone does it to me!

mike: "a lee-ttle bit full-on, when we first met online" Tee hee. I bet you're not the only one would say that. Very reassuring to know that I didn't freak you out when we met in person though!

It's so funny to hear you say that about being tactless. I never would have tthought that of you.

The funny thing, of course, is that for many people the thing they worry about is not actually a problem at all. Sometimes that's cos we're so aware of it that we actually mitigate it far more than we realise. Sometimes it's cos the thing we worry about is more a reflection of our own hang-ups than it is of any genuine problem in our outward-facing selves. Then again I my skin is thick where others' is thin (and thin where others' is thick) so you may have been super-tactless when we met and I didn't even notice... ;)

B: "what a bloody rude reply from your colleague!" Wasn't it! That was the correct response. Thankyou. :O) Actually this guy is quite famous for his tactlessness (and trust me, mike, you don't even come close) to the point that he seems to be purposefully trying to hurt people. He probably isn't. I should really make a little more effort to work out what his problem is, cos he seems to exist on another planet.

As for saying stoopid things... are you sure? Doesn't everyone say stupid things from time to time, and don't we all recognise that and forgive a certain amount as a result?

Queenie: "It's the memories of some of the negative receptions that pinch me in the small hours, and I wonder why I don't think these things through" Ah yes, but that's where tthe paranoia comes in. I too am confident in the moment, and it's only afterwards, on revision, that I start to worry. I can't say I've ever noticed you voicing any offensive opinions. I like it when you voice your opinions. They're interesting opinions!

hilaryusfun: "all I can do is remember that I do have friends who either don't mind or find it endearing." Yeah, me too. And then one of them says something affectionate or joiking about me being annoying, and the paranoia starts all over again...

hilaryusfun: "Online though I tend towards reserved" How interesting. I wonder why the mismatch?

JoeinVegas said...

We all have doubts like that when encountering a new group. You have to tell yourself that the ones that count like you, and you have a nice home to go back to.

Captain Black said...

I think you may be using the term "annoying" as a catch-all. People have many traits, characteristics and behaviour. Most of us recognise, in ourselves and in others, that the whole package is a complex mixture. Some things come with a price. For example, being outwardly intense and passionate (see comment from Christine, above) about a subject means that some will react in ways that are more polarised that usual. Unfortunately there can be extreme cases of this effect, as per the bully.

One important thing is that you are aware of the situation and can therefore adjust things, if you choose to. From my own limited experience of interactions with your good self, "annoying" is very far from the truth. Even if it wasn't, I think I'd prefer that to "half-hearted" any day.

My cringe-worthy situations usually involve too much alcohol and appalling chat-up attempts.

hilaryusfun said...

Can completely relate to your observation about remembering your friends love you etc but in my case it then having terrible flashes of memory of cretinous behaviour...

and the mismatch between on and offline? I type fast but not as fast as I talk....