Learning Social Skills

I wrote this in my journal at the end of December.  It’s barely edited, and so somewhat clumsy.  But it’s a good example of how I work with my issues through journal work.

I had dinner with Carolyn, and she invited me back with her.  I spent some time in her room talking after dinner.  She talked about a sister-in-law who didn’t have any social skills, so I asked her for more information.  Because I wasn’t taught any social skills and I spent a lot of my life feeling defective.  I’m wondering how and when I began to learn them.  I think of Eleanor, my friend who was horribly traumatized in her childhood, and wonder how she learned her amazing social skills.  She’s not only very good, but very honest, and uses Non-Violent Communication naturally.  Such a different response to trauma and abuse from mine.  I know she learned some of her skills from TV — she watched some family show to learn how to raise her younger siblings.  She ended up losing herself in trying to take care of others, I ended up isolating.

I think of how hard Eleanor works on her difficult friendships with a number of people.  She’s very good when she meets people — but that’s her front personality — and she has one for jollying along her parents, but I think that costs her way too much, so she avoids contact with people generally.  I found it almost impossible to communicate with my parents, I did not understand them at all.  I remember that NVC came just too late to use it with Mother.

When and how did I start to learn social skills?  I guess it started with Bettie’s criticisms.  “You’re not interested in people because you don’t ask questions.”  “You don’t have to lose your temper.”  — I remember using that one on Daddy.  I don’t actually remember losing my temper at all, at least in terms of attacking other people.  I must have stopped that one pretty easily.  “You don’t take a course because you are good at it.”  I remember working on myself in workshops and in therapy, but it was all about trying to fix myself, not about how to do relationship.  There was co-counseling, but that was also more about fixing myself than learning about others.  Though I did learn how to listen.

Because of Bettie’s criticism, I saw myself as defective and tried to learn to ask questions.  I continued to find it difficult and made myself wrong for not being good at it, until I wrote about the Fourth of July weekend.  As I cast it into a monologue, I saw that when I asked mother a question, she would make me wrong for asking.  I also saw that taking a course in something I was good at was an effort to protect myself from making mistakes.  I was terrified of making a mistake.

I did learn some things from Dana.  The distinction between caring about someone and doing what they wanted.  I remember how helpless I was when he began to stonewall me.  I also remember that I discovered my natural friendliness once I was on anti-depressant medication.

The issue of caring about people being the same as doing what they wanted.  I asked Dana to plant some daffodil bulbs for me because I felt too sick.  When he said he couldn’t do it, I said “You don’t care about me.”  His response was “I do care about you, but I can’t do the daffodils right now.”  Looking back at it, I saw that Mother couldn’t make that distinction, so that’s where I learned it.  I still struggle with this one.

One serious difficulty had to do with having no idea how I came across to other people.  Was I too loud or too quiet?  Actually I still don’t really know.  Though I think probably my intensity — and my intelligence as well — were too much for some people but attractive to others.  It wasn’t about me at all!  I’m just seeing this.

Here is an understanding that came while I was writing.

I remember when I went to Biddeford Pool for Aunt Betty’s memorial service, how I consciously made sure I got to talk to everyone I wanted to talk to, how I was able to escape from conversations I didn’t want to get stuck in.  I remember Josephine expressing admiration for how well I “worked the room.”

O yes I remember consciously working on relationships when I got divorced and knew I would need friends.  I worked on relationships with K and J.  But they both did/said things that hit my wounds.  Later, while struggling with Bella’s death, my S.E. therapist Caryn said I needed to ask for help.  I consciously set up relationships with five friends, and asked if they were willing to listen to me talk about my pain.  Gradually those relationships ceased to satisfy.  I remember consciously pursuing Barbara when she was also doing the hospice training.  And working on my relationship with Eve when we connected again.

I see that I actually have been working on my relationship skills for a long time, and I have in fact gotten very good at it.  There was a very painful incident (when I was a debutante, which I hated) when someone had given a dinner party for me.  When everyone was served, I waited for someone else to start eating.  That was the only way I knew it was OK.  So we all sat there not eating.  Finally one of the adults came up to me and said “You are the hostess, you must start eating.”  I felt hideously embarrassed, and only many years later, after I learned about Children of Alcoholics, did I realize that my parents had failed to teach me me any social skills at all.

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