The Science of Why We're Socially Awkward and Why That's AwesomeBook - 2017
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Chronically awkward people can feel like everyone else received a secret instruction manual at birth titled _How to Be Socially Competent_.
So what do you call someone who is not autistic, but has considerable difficulty with social skills, communication, and an unusually obsessive focus? I would call that awkward.
The relationship between autism and awkwardness illustrates a broader concept in clinical psychology and psychiatry, which is that people who are considered in psychological terms to be “normal” can have milder forms of characteristics that are associated with serious conditions. Just as people with melancholy characteristics are not necessarily diagnosable with major depressive disorder and people who are unusually orderly are not necessarily diagnosable with obsessive-compulsive disorder, people who are socially awkward are not necessarily autistic.
I have repeatedly found that a little patience with awkward individuals’ clumsy handling of minor social expectations is well worth the wait. Someone’s social grace has little to do with their sense of fairness, kindness, or loyalty. In fact, awkward people sometimes have a heightened sense of fairness or compassion because they know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of unfair or unkind acts.
It took me a long time, well into adulthood, to learn that moving toward a deeper level of emotional connection with someone can be like a game of chicken. When two people first begin to gather emotional momentum, it’s an intense feeling that is so good, they fear the feeling could burst. They feel the rush of speeding toward something unknown and as they near the point of contact, their feelings can grow so intense that a protective mechanism switches on at the last second. A mechanism that leads one or both of them to turn away.
Here’s what loyal friends believe about you. Loyal friends believe that you contribute something unique to their lives. They value you not for extrinsic things like wealth, social status, or power. They believe that you will rise from your toughest times. They trust that you will emerge through adversity as a better person. They have faith in not only who you are, but who you will become. There are few things better in life than having loyal friends, people who have stubbornly committed to making a long-term investment in you for who you are.
Mentally preparing kids for social interactions is no different from the parents next door having to give extra help to a child who is slow to read or who struggles with math. When parents try to gloss over their awkward children’s rough social edges, they lose an opportunity to make meaningful change by coaching them in concrete skills that actually make a difference in their ability to smoothly navigate social situations and form meaningful ties.
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