The Belief Trap

Until recently I suffered from social anxiety. I struggled to fit in. Part of the reason for this was being an outsider, different to the mainstream. This social anxiety is a trap which self perpetuates until you really understand it and can put it behind you. The trap involved various belief structures.

A simple way of being sociable is to express what you think about any given situation and listen to others, balancing conversation between the serious and the fun. When what you think is different, many people won’t understand. This is fine, but when what an individual thinks is different most of the time, it influences behaviour, because of the way people react to the unusual. The outsider always feels part of a minority, constantly questions whether what they think is wrong and this saps confidence. Confidence is the very thing necessary to maintain being open and honest.

These negative reactions creates tension and unease. As social interactions become frequently fraught, the outsider is left feeling excluded from the group. The outsider hasn’t chosen to be excluded, they are just being honest. However the outsider may feel uncomfortable with their social position or dislike making people around them uneasy, conversations seem to cause problems . So, a strategy emerges of not being honest, to cover up the differences with humour and role play, to not be the awkward one. The difficulty then is for other people to distinguish when the person is being serious/truthful or being sarcastic/playful. I my personal experience of this, people often complained that they couldn’t tell when I was being serious or not. Really, this distancing and lack of clarity is a mask to hide behind from being feeling hurt or alone so frequently.

The outsider becomes aware and anxious socially, yet retains a desire to be open and honest with other people. The trouble with this honesty is that it is often not believed or seen as creepy disturbing behaviour. Not being believed causing one to act nervously, which compounds other peoples unease with the outsider. As this continues, the outsider may start to believe that they are actually creepy and disturbing and build up barriers between themselves and wider society. It was understanding why I was not being believed that enabled me to escape from this belief trap.

The belief trap operates such that as people begin to disbelieve the outsider, this affects their communications to the outsider. The outsider then begins to suspect that people are being dishonest with them and start not to believe what people are saying to them. This belief trap can quickly descend into a paranoid world where nothing one says is true, nothing one hears is true and the world quickly makes no sense at all.

The escape is simply not being concerned that people believe you, to ignore small group effects that separate one from the group, accept that in the wider society there are others with similar shared beliefs that validate the outsider individual. If people don’t understand then that is their problem, not the outsiders (providing that outsider is always open and willing to answer questions about their beliefs)  Why is the outsider not believed?

The outsiders understanding or motivation is not widely understood. Often an odd behaviour will be rationalised by others according to social archetypes. For example, the man seeking to talk to woman, may be construed as seeking a sexual relationship, it is the most likely motivation. However it is not the only explanation, so why are alternative explanations not explored?

Often outsider behaviour is viewed as creepy. Creepy being defined as manipulative behaviour with a hidden motivation. The idea is that the person is seeking something through not playing by the rules of the society, hence it is then easy to ostracise that person, to punish the anti-social behaviour. The trouble is that the outsider finds conforming to these unwritten social conventions challenging and unrewarding. Especially when traditions in society are being ripped up in favour of a tyranny of an unthinking majority.

There are those who have a good understanding of the social rules. Sometimes these people know how to be deceitful and manipulate people, whilst abiding by the rules. People are aware of deceitful behaviour and know that it often isn’t easy to spot. So, when an outsider appears to be obviously deceitful they can justify shunning the outsider as there behaviour has similarities with manipulative behaviour. If the example of the man seeking to talk to a woman is considered, then the honest and open activity of the outsider are misinterpreted and lumped together with the actions of the deceiving relationship seeking male.

There is a big risk for outsiders, who find a like minded community where they feel a sense of belonging. It sometimes happens that there is a terrible flaw in any particular way of being. Mis-truths generated within the community may be viewed as true and justify actions such as terrorism. So whilst a sense of belonging is great, it remains important to seek balance and perspective from wider society.

It is also important not to vilify any particular motivations, so individuals suppress there feelings. Listening and an active exploration of someone’s view will often reveal that the difference in opinion is not so great as at first envisaged.

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