I have over the last few years lost my ability to socialize. I have always been a quiet person but I hung out with the friends I grew up with and that was enough. Now they have all gotten married and are busy with their families and I really have no relationships. When I am with people it’s not so much that I am afraid to talk; it’s just that for the life of me I can’t think of anything to say. Can you please recommend some conversation strategies that could help me?
In your opening sentence, you state that you’ve lost your ability to socialize. In your follow-up sentence you describe your past socialization as based around your childhood friends. This seems to indicate that your socialization patterns and skills haven’t changed (or been lost); rather it’s your circumstances that have changed. Whereas your communication style worked within the context of your longstanding relationships with old friends, you’re having trouble transitioning to new relationships.
There are certainly communication and conversation strategies that can help people to become more conversational. Since this is not my forte, I will focus on thoughts that occur to me. I wonder whether communication and socialization skills are what you need. You describe yourself as a quiet person. Are you quiet by nature? In other words, are you happy with your understated personality or are you subdued because of external factors (like discomfort or fear of being judged)?
When you were with your childhood friends, did you like your role in the relationship, or was it simply comfortable? Were you happy with the way in which you communicated or did you wish that you were more involved? If you were simply comfortable within these relationships but always wanted more, in addition to identifying and utilizing socialization strategies you should ask yourself what bothered you about your relatively silent role. Did you feel that being more involved would be more enjoyable, or did you judge yourself negatively?
If you always wanted to be more involved, but were never motivated to change your communication style, you may gain from specific strategies. You also may recognize that the comfortability within your childhood relationships had a dampening effect on your natural development of a more engaged communication style. Though it may be more difficult to develop this later in life, it is by no means impossible.
If, however, you enjoyed the relationships with your old friends and were content with your part in them, what is it now that tells you that you need to change? Do you feel generally uncomfortable with the role that you used to appreciate, or are specific situations uncomfortable (due to awkward silences, lack of familiarity, etc.)? If your discomfort is situational, do you sense that the other people are uncomfortable as well? If so, do you think that they fault you for this, or do they perhaps feel awkward as well? Will time and closeness erase this discomfort, or do you enjoy being among people who are more boisterous?
I know that I raised more questions than answers, but I think that better understanding your thoughts and feelings can help you to determine the path that will ultimately lead you to better relationships and happiness.
Yehuda Lieberman, LCSW
psychotherapist in private practice
Brooklyn, NY | Far Rockaway, NY
author of Self-Esteem: A Primer
www.ylcsw.com / 718-258-5317