• Dr. Matt Zakreski

Socialling Is Hard (and here are some tips)

A dear friend posted, "How can I be effortlessly social like you extroverts?"

Before I knew it, my psychology hat was on and I had written a lengthy missive. But since so many people who are #neurodivergent struggle with socializing, I thought that I might share my thoughts here as well:

So my friends, the first thing is thinking about the word "effortlessly." I used to get so stuck on how the people in life that I admired did their thing so effortlessly (acting, singing, flirting, playing soccer, etc.), but when I got to see first-hand just how hard that person works at it behind the scenes, you realize that nothing good comes easy; the people we admire worked so hard on their thing that it *appears* effortless. Don't compare yourself with others; they're not you.

Second, no one is good in ALL social situations, or in all aspects of a particular social situation. I'm much better in a professional setting than I ever was in a networking/speed-dating environment. We always underestimate the power of environment. You're allowed to look for settings and events that play to your strengths.

Third, your social doesn't need to look like anyone else's. You get to define your success and what "social" looks/feels like for you. If that's "ten minutes of bullshitting before retreating to the kitchen for wine and canapés," then own that sh!t. (Plus, the people who are doing the same thing are probably your people). For many people, being "social" is being in the same space with others, listening to conversations and feeling safe/seen without having to interact. Let the extroverts dominate the conversation and organize elaborate party games. You're allowed to sneak off to play video games with a trusted friend (or cat. or yourself) just much as you need to.

Fourth, use metacommunication to talk set expectations and check in with yourself. If you have to be at an event (a black-tie fundraiser, for example) that isn't your preference, you're allowed to say that these things are hard for you, you're hoping that you're doing ok, you probably won't be able to stay for the whole time, etc. If you find yourself doing surprisingly ok, then say that yourself as well.

Fifth, people love to talk about themselves. Ask open-ended questions and sit back and let them social for you.

Lastly, extroverts are charged up by social interactions (I'm Exhibit A on this one); introverts are drained by them, save for a few safe "bubble" people. Use that knowledge to prepare yourself without blaming yourself. Find the people who make you feel best and gravitate to them; if they're not at the event, invite them.

To wrap up, You're already much better at being social than you think. Give yourself some credit for being you and for being true to you. And I'll always be your +1 if you need support.


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