Is Social Anxiety A Disorder?

Candlelight, 8 1/2" x 11" Sennelier oil pastels on paper, by Robert A. Sloan.
Candlelight, 8 1/2" x 11" Sennelier oil pastels on paper, by Robert A. Sloan.

It is for some people.

 Social Anxiety Disorder is a psychological condition that cripples people's ability to socialize at all. It is a real disorder that can be treated with medication and therapy -- best in combination, any decent therapist or psychiatrist will tell you that statistically, medication alone is at best a stopgap unless the patient has a strictly chemical disorder.

I think it may be overdiagnosed though -- and that's where the therapist can be helpful, because a good therapist should be able to spot it when there's good external reason for the anxiety.

There's one test a person can apply for themselves about social anxiety disorder that's as simple and common sense as testing for alcoholism by drinking half a glass of wine. If you can drink half a glass of wine, stop there, put the rest away and not even think about it, going on to something else like watching a movie or eating cake or whatever, then you're not an alcoholic. You're someone who might enjoy a French eating style of half a glass of red wine a day to reduce heart problems.

Here's the test.

Sit down and sort out all the social situations you feel anxiety in, and look at the stressors involved. That's the psych term for Things That Bug You.

If it really is Social Anxiety Disorder, you can be going to social occasions with people who genuinely like you and have a lot in common with you, doing activities you love, and still get a lot of panic attacks for no reason at all. That is the definition of mental illness -- it's when reactions are irrational and not related to their real-world context.

The real kicker and the thing that gets me about mental illness is that it gets used to stigmatize anyone who doesn't fit into any number of social situations that are cultural, highly conformist and repressive. If you don't fit in, there's something wrong with you. You must be sick if you don't enjoy going to parties, getting drunk just for the sake of getting drunk or going to bars where you don't actually talk to any of the people around you but just get potted.

My son in law is an anthropologist.

I've been into psych most of my life, partly because I never fit in at all in the context I grew up in and was curious about how people worked. Partly, largely because as a writer I wanted to understand human beings and write about them. Psychology is only one way of looking at people. It's only one way of looking at human conflicts either -- and it can get very skewed if every problem anyone has in life gets defined as being an internal problem they have, whether or not it has any external basis.

My son in law opened my eyes to a whole different way of looking at people and social situations and a whole new set of terms. Disconfirmation -- it hurts. It's how it feels if everyone at the party is looking at you like you crawled out from under a rock. Or worse yet, all turning away and trying to pretend you're not there so they don't have to make eye contact. Or talking over you very fast while ignoring what you said, because they don't want to hear it.

Patterns of living. Standing back from things like materialism and seeing it more as a status display, not all that inherently different from chimps yelling or gorillas beating their chests. The money and things, the brand names and stuff, are all ways of showing off and getting social approval. Most of the stuff would be overpriced and may be useless without that social approval.

A friend of mine online complained about people constantly pressuring to conform -- to "act your age", to go to parties all the time, get drunk just for the sake of getting drunk when not shopping for designer clothes.

Getting drunk at parties where there's no depth to the conversation is a catharsis. It evens everything out. It's letting go of the tension built up from constant negative criticism and by making it all very simple, setting a custom that you don't have to do anything to get social approval but keep raising the glass till you throw up. Then everyone laughs.

Chart off some things. How many times during the day do you get criticized by someone? What is the criticism about? Keep that record for a week, just jot everything down. Not as the "get back at you" list but just the "What happened?" list. It'll help show who's doing it and why.

Did the person who criticized you most get sadistically happy about it anytime you made a mistake or did something that could be criticized? Social bullying is socially acceptable in many, many American social groups. What my friend described was bullying -- was social pressure to get into something they didn't want to.

That pattern of bullying and victimizing is so endemic that in affinity groups where the organizers and moderators police against it, newbies rave over how warm the group is and how safe they feel. People from other countries get boggled at the level of "Mind games" that Americans put up with every day.

And stress related diseases are epidemic. This kind of aggravation gets treated as background -- as normal. People are supposed to just put up with it and then think it's somehow something wrong with them that they don't have a thick enough skin about criticism -- yet who can enjoy life when they're constantly under social attack?

It means that bad bosses and workplaces never lack for people who need the job or want the money, too. You can buy an emotional punching bag just by offering a job. You can keep that person in your employ just by alternating praise and threat and jacking them around so much they don't know what to do to please you -- only that their survival is now linked to pleasing you. It's no surprise when that's so easy and happens so often that a great many people wind up in toxic situations they never expected and wind up bringing toxic patterns home  to everyone they live with.

Conformity is a huge pressure in America. You're supposed to eat, think, worship, dress and act like everyone else according to stereotypes of age, gender, ethnic background and occupation. Then be interchangeable. This makes it very easy for other people to know how to treat you, whether to look down at you or pick on you or whether to toady up to you. The aggressive competitors playing King of the Hill are no healthier or happier, they all have higher-ups in the hierarchy playing mind games on them too and have a deep gut awareness of how rotten it would be if they lost even a notch of status. How fast their untrusted rivals would trample them on the way up.

Conformity is also a defense.

If you keep your head down, never mention anything individual, just parrot what everyone's saying and swim with the middle of the school, then you are less likely to be the one bullied. You get to be left alone for the most part. It's living in fear unless you so genuinely fit the stereotype that you don't notice it's there -- because people are reading you accurately and predicting your reactions to things accurately.

Most people don't.

Schools do a lot to create that conformity. The bullying system in schools establishes that group defense against bullies and the number of kids that live in constant terror of physical or emotional attack is -- the majority. Most adults too if they stop to recall what it was really like will remember times they couldn't eat or sleep because they were continually stalked or picked on by sadistic kids.

It sets up for the pattern of everyone continuing to act that way in the workplace whether they get a smidge of authority to abuse or get stuck at the bottom of the ladder being everyone's punching bag. It gets taken for granted that life's like that -- that work is rotten, that you're stuck doing something you hate for most of your working hours only to get enough money to survive and keep up your socially expected lifestyle.

Break the pattern and it does threaten the social authority of the bullies. Break the pattern and it might mean the whole little tyranny falls apart. This does happen inevitably in the worst abusive workplaces or under the worst supervisors. One really competent employee will recognize that he or she could do a lot more elsewhere and get paid better for it on top of that, or that the money isn't worth it, tells off the bully and walks out.

Then half the shop walks out too and the bully's left standing there with orders unfilled and nothing getting done and a need to spend the next month interviewing desperate people for the next set of victims.

Some companies turn that into a pattern that's profitable, because they only have to pay entry level wages and the turnover keeps ticking along steadily. I've read articles where that's discussed as a strategy -- either promote them or fire them, wash out anyone but those who are going to rise in the organization, it's cheaper to pay newbies.

So if that's a hideously common pattern of culture, then maybe social anxiety isn't irrational at all. But if it isn't irrational, what can you do about it?

Cabo San Lucas, pastel, 9" x 12" by Robert A. Sloan.
Cabo San Lucas, pastel, 9" x 12" by Robert A. Sloan.

Solutions are Personal

 What you do to resolve your social anxiety, especially if it does turn out to be external context rather than inner psychological problems, is make real changes in your life. What those changes are have to be personal.

What works for me may sound idyllic to you or it may sound as obnoxiously boring as those parties did to my friend. I'd suggest first, if it's getting to the point that you'd rather be alone than spend time with hostile, critical people and have identified that it's hostile critical people causing the problem, it would help to take some time alone to relax and think about it. In whatever context makes you the most relaxed and happiest.

This could be something like a religious retreat. I used to go to Unitarian Universalist retreats, it was a cheap weekend camping trip twice a year in a pretty area. Half the folks at the retreat hung out at the main hall doing activities like crafts or various classes, mostly not on religious topics at all but just entertainment classes, the rest  wandered off into the woods with a good book and lawn chair or went hiking or did things alone and there was no pressure to participate a lot or not.

I'd get very social on those because my disabilities make it physically hard to get out of the house and meet people. So having a lot of people I'd like to meet all gathered in close proximity in the main hall was a real break, I would sign up for any classes or activities I enjoyed and socialize all weekend. I volunteered at it too, that was also good for socializing -- hanging out in the kitchen helping half a dozen people prepare a meal was sociable versus being alone to fix my own food most of the year.

Those overly stressed by too much social contact and too much hostility in it find that being alone in a physically spacious, natural environment can be really relaxing.

Or maybe that's the appeal of bars where people don't talk to each other -- the custom being that no one talks to anyone, you're socially safe and no one's going to criticize what you chose to drink or ask why you're drinking. It just didn't provide the relaxation I wanted because I was usually lonely from not being able to get out and meet people interested in the things I was -- books, roleplaying games, creative activities like art or novelwriting, philosophy and politics especially with a liberal, inclusive, accepting slant.

Find the situation where you feel safest, where you feel most comfortable, and think about what you really want your social life to be. What's missing? What's overabundant and not worth doing?

Those choices are yours. For all its miserable conformity and lack of a culture -- my anthropologist son in law pointed out that America is not a culture, it's a superstate -- it is still a free country. It is not illegal to go dress up like an elf and spend the weekend bashing other people with foam boffer swords if that's your thing. Or to spend the whole weekend hanging out with other fishing nuts talking about tackle and reels.

What's emerged in this country is a pattern of Affinity Groups. People who are happy in their lives usually rely more on affinity groups -- clubs and associations based on a common interest in a topic or activity -- than in family activities or religious activity, although a religion can easily become an affinity group if it's your main focus of interest.

Revival movements include both modern paganism and fundamentalist conservative Christianity. They're more than a political slant and a religious view. They include a lot of social activity that is not strictly speaking, religious. They have ice cream socials and church barbecues and charity events. The pagan groups have crafts gatherings and environmental charity events and pot luck suppers and the whole gamut of religious-social activity the fundies do. The customs and beliefs are different -- but they both serve the purpose of structuring free time with safe predictable enjoyable social contact.

Members of a revival movement expect and sometimes get uncritical acceptance from the group as long as they can keep up with the activities and are passionate about the group. It fills a real emotional need.

I think some atheist groups are revival movements too in this way, certainly they can sop up your time with political get togethers and discussions of morality that aren't based on religion or belief in anything supernatural.

Many large cities are a patchwork of little ethnic neighborhoods that are essentially small towns nested together stitched to several unrelated ones at their borders. People trust their neighborhood and nothing outside it. Those neighborhoods wind up with a lot of shared activities and often are immigrant communities. Fine if you happen to have a reasonably pure ethnic background and grew up in a neighborhood like that.

If you didn't and don't, then the source of a broader social life than just your spouse/lover and children winds up being affinity groups based on your real interests, the things you actually enjoy doing.

In terms of workplace, it's important to keep a journal and figure out if that's the problem. Sometimes it is. Sometimes a person whose life is otherwise well balanced and who is doing a job that by the nature of the work would be satisfying just winds up drawn into some bully's personal little abuse kingdom and doesn't know why everything else in life went south. Solution, look for a job with better working conditions and be choosy. Interview the interviewers about what the atmosphere around the shop or workplace is like. Meet people at the job before applying.

You're more likely to get it if you know someone anyway, so why not start socializing in advance of a job search and by observation figure out which company is best for your personality -- where you have the best fit.

You as an individual have many more choices than the organizations, companies, groups, churches do. It's like a reef. These groups and companies are all sitting still in one place filtering whatever comes along on the current. You can swim over and sample and choose where to settle down. The best basis for that is to find where you fit in without changing who you really are.

If you have to lie to make someone like you, they don't like you. They're just someone human who likes what they do and got lied to. If you have to lie to them to make them love you, it's the same thing but heavier and it's more heartbreak on both sides to find out that no, they really don't love you, once they know, they are sick at heart for losing the fiction they did come to love.

One thing I did pick up in all the psychology stuff was Social Zones. It's important to prioritize them and understand them, to be a happy human being it helps to have good relationships going at all levels.

Family/intimate is your absolute closest friends for years whom you'd trust with your life and family members whose presence is a joy, who are genuinely supportive and trustworthy, who treat you well and are there for you if anything goes wrong. Abusive family members do not belong to this circle even if by kinship label they feel entitled to it. Merely obnoxious or boring family members can just be shifted to outer circles without too much damage, treating the relationship with as much depth as it really has can help a lot.

Next is friends -- people you know pretty well, people you trust, people you like and spend a fair amount of time with on purpose, enjoying their company.

Next is coworkers/acquaintances. This would be people you socialize with often by circumstance but wouldn't have chosen to spend time with and this may include distant relatives too, if you see them or contact them at long intervals for family events. They might have nothing in common with you beyond the connection they have and it's best not to assume you know anything about them beyond what you do.

I suppose one could also chart a zone of "people to actively avoid" where you know there's going to be conflict just from who they are -- this is where the office bully that's on your level belongs or the neighbor who's seriously annoying, where you're not suffering any major loss or difficulty avoiding them but both your lives are a lot easier that way.

It is a whole lot easier on both to avoid them than to criticize them and try to pressure them to become someone you'd enjoy their company. They can't and won't do it, it would be unhealthy for most of them if they did, you don't know all their circumstances and if you did you still might not understand their world view. Better to just leave them alone.

Somewhere in these important relationships, most Americans also have fictive ones. Television is a member of the family in most families. I know for years and years I'd get real sick and use it as a substitute for human contact. Just leave it on in background if I was lonely to hear people talking, not really paying attention. Or get involved in a show in one of the genres I liked.

This surrogate can be unhealthy to substitute for real contact, because those people on television are fictive. They don't actually exist. They don't know you or care about you, they're never happy to see you, and on top of that your connection with their lives is interrupted every two minutes by a demanding loud interruption -- watching television is like trying to read a book while a toddler is screaming for attention.

The commercial breaks have a cumulative social stress that can wear down anyone's patience -- but if what you do to relax is watch TV to have surrogate people who aren't personally criticizing you just being there and not noticing you, then those interruptions that have noticed you and are directly inviting you to open your wallet or use your credit card carry way too much emotional impact. No matter how sophisticated you are and inured to sales resistance, the effect of repetition can get real nasty.

You might see two dozen restaurant commercials and be unmoved to go out to any of them, but the constant presentation of treat foods will possibly send you to the kitchen to overeat. Food's social. A lot of human activities are. If someone did a two minute commercial that showed someone barfing, the number of viewers who'd vomit just at the sight and sound is enormous.

So television is a stopgap, though it can also provide a topic of convenience if you mention very popular shows, quote their jokes, connect with others who like them. A safer topic than "do you like painting with oil pastels?" or "Did you ever date someone a third your age too?"

Social anxiety disorder is a real mental illness. But social anxiety can come into anyone's life even if you're psychologically strong and healthy, well oriented, have a good connection with a good social support network and just ran into a really disruptive situation.

Moving creates a problem. People move often for job reasons or other reasons, most peolpe seem to relocate every five years according to something I read. This leads to any number of problems because you don't have the long term friendships and local connections to know who you can trust and who to avoid, who to confide in and who never to mention anything that might be remotely embarrassing or painful or you will suffer for it.

Most people are dealing with the stress of getting used to a new context. I moved so much that I got pretty good at it, but even so, a lot of the loneliness in my life was caused by those moves and by my mobility limits.

I've tried in this hub to keep to the anthropological view -- to avoid judging one revival movement or affinity group over another, not to tout my own particular affinity groups and activities as the best. You're who you are. You might have a great time doing something that would bore me to tears and vice versa. You might think that spending a weekend with a bunch of Unitarians doing plein air painting and crafts would be miserably boring and much prefer to spend it at a Nascar rally or a drunken party with a lot of ex-college-buds or some gardening club get together or hiking up a mountain that I couldn't get to the start of the trail.

What I'm suggesting is that if you're not happy with your social life or lack of social life or social anxiety, to sit down and sort out why on a common sense basis. Ask what's missing. Ask what's there that you want to get rid of .Ask why you've got anxiety about social events and which ones cause that anxiety and why.

For years and years, for decades even, people around me were very concerned about me because I seemed to suffer extreme depression, apathy, social anxiety and a host of other psychological problems that I don't have. I even tried antidepressants for a while on samples from a psychiatrist only to find they did absolutely nothing -- then I got accurate diagnoses for several physical disabilities and diseases that include two or three multiple reasons to have chronic fatigue.

I could be doing something I really enjoyed, run out of steam, fall asleep or get apathetic about it right in the middle because I was on my feet too long in interesting conversations and got physically exhausted. One thing that helped show that was looking over the times in my life I'd been more socially active -- and finding out that in the South, where there's more of a tendency to sit around on porches for long conversations in comfortable chairs with arms, I was much more socially accepted than in Northern states where conversations at parties are peripatetic. No one sits down for long, everyone physically circulates.

Works fine online if I don't get out of my chair, it can't work that way in real life, ever. So I'm happier living in Southern physical customs and know that social fit involves both the person and the context being happy with the arrangement. Plenty of good people who would've liked me a lot in the North never got to know me because I couldn't get up to literally follow the conversation and still make sense rather than just overtired babble.

So life taught me the hard way not to accept the first diagnosis that gets thrown on any discontent, however extreme and uncomfortable it is. (DIscomfort is a medical term that includes "screaming agony on up to suicidal level" but is intended to include every type of sensation that can produce that, including itching so bad that people rip their skin off.). If one approach does not work, look at it from a different angle. Social anxiety is something that can have internal causes, external social causes and for me, external physical causes that are purely logistic.

I think though, that there's a general stereotype that anyone sad or exhausted or nervous must have some internal psychological reason for it, that everyone's neurotic. I'm not sure how mental illness got into the same category as the common cold, but it seems to have. The stigma has shifted. Some people treat therapy or medication as punitive -- and disconfirm the person's feelings and troubles by suggesting they need medication or therapy or both, because what they want is the therapist to make that person conform to their group's expectations.

Groups have identities as distinct and different as the people in them. In a healthy culture, about 5% of the people don't really fit and would be happier in a different way of life. In this country, 25% of the people wind up with clinical depression and that is way too high a statistic. To me that means something's wrong on the level of how the groups behave, not that all of a sudden five times as many people have chemical health problems or scars of traumas.

Even if some of the traumas are so common they get disconfirmed and treated as if they should not have any consequences, like childhood bullying and first adolescent love/heartbreak. They're real and people grieve them and are not happy and functioning at peak content with their lives and fitting their context when those traumas happen..Why is the suicide rate among teenagers so high?

i think that culture clashes and bad social fit are endemic. That they're as big a problem to American health as the dietary problems of living on Big Macs and sugary shakes, have as much bitter consequences to life and health as the bad eating problems. Why are so many people addicted to comfort eating if there aren't endemic social pressures so unendurable that they need comfort to face them again?

It may not be pathological at all -- and it may be more solvable than it looks if it isn't.

Your life is yours. Ultimately you are the person who needs to decide what to do to make it happier and healthier -- believe me, no one else knows the situation as well as you do. I'm only suggesting you ask yourself some questions and see what you get for answers.

If the answer is that you fit in well with everyone around you but wind up having unaccountable mood swings and panic attacks unrelated to any external prompt, then yes, seek medical help and therapy. Social anxiety disorders can be caused by brain chemistry and ruin the lives of people who'd otherwise get on fine with their context. But if that's not the problem, try to find out what it really is instead of beating your head on the psychological brick wall the way I did. No amount of therapy ever straightened my crooked bones or made it possible for me to "circulate" at parties.

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Comments 12 comments

pgrundy 7 years ago

This was very thoughtful and quite excellent. I like this sentence:

"In this country, 25% of the people wind up with clinical depression and that is way too high a statistic. To me that means something's wrong on the level of how the groups behave, not that all of a sudden five times as many people have chemical health problems or scars of traumas."

I was on lots of antidepressant medication for years. I do think it was necessary at first, because I was severely depressed and suicidal, but after a few years it began to seem to me that the drugs made it possible for me to continue in a corporate lifestyle that was toxic for me physically AND mentally. Of course I got the whole "don't go off your meds you must take them for life!" thing but I did go off them, all of them, and left my corporate job. Now I walk an hour to two hours a day, work about 5 hours a day (sometimes more, some days less), and do other things that matter to me, and I've never felt better.

No, I don't have a lot of money. I'm going to have to file bankruptcy. But I make enough to get by and my quality of life is incomparably better.

I think that antidepressants and other medications of this type can be lifesavers, but right now they are being widely abused. They are like 'soma' in "Brave New World" for lots of people. It makes it possible to ignore underlying issues that are more political and social than psychological.

We have such a toxic way of life right now. I really believe that. Sometimes the 'crazy people' are the sane ones--they're the ones actually feeling and responding to reality. The 'sane' people who seem to function so well are quite mad.

Thank you for this, Robert. It's excellent.


Mighty Mom profile image

Mighty Mom 7 years ago from Where Left is Right, CA

I'm with Pam. This is a very comprehensive discussion of social anxiety on multiple levels. I liked reading about what you enjoyed when going to your Unitarian Universalist retreats. I am heading to an all women's retreat this weekend. I feel the anxiety rising already! But I'm going because I know it's not healthy for me to live as much of my life as I have been behind the computer screen!

The good thing about Hub Pages is -- and I mean this sincerely -- it does provide a safe place to put our thoughts and feelings out there. I am sure this hub will be helpful to others. Thank you for writing it. And btw, I love your artwork! MM


robertsloan2 profile image

robertsloan2 7 years ago from San Francisco, CA Author

Pam, coming from you this means so much. I've enjoyed so many of your thoughtful hubs and social observations. You're right about the corporate lifestyle and its toxicity. Very, very few people fit easily into that way of life.

Those that do wind up neglecting important real needs and it may still catch up to them nastily in middle age with stress diseases. Or they fit so perfectly that when they retire, it's a death sentence.

One of the worst things about a corporate lifestyle is "it's not personal." It's not personal yet it's expected to be the most important priority in your ilfe, ahead of love or children or pleasure or religion or anything else, the company's interests and one's status in the hierarchy are to be the only thing that matters.

One really ugly attitude this creates under everything is that anything personal is unimportant. Academia has its own version of that, or did when I was growing up under it. My parents would throw cocktail parties and I'd get told that my dad's status depended on how I looked and behaved at those parties. The house, its furnishings, my mother's cooking and appearance, the kids and their appearance were all being tallied to evaluate whether or not he ought to be promoted.

Later on I met people working in banks or companies where they did the same thing and on the management levels carried enormous social obligations including the obligation for family members of the person being evaluated for promotion to also "play the game" and suck up to the bosses. This level is something I always thought of as twisted and inhumane -- and ironic, because the people who get all the money don't get any chance to enjoy it either. Everyone's miserable.

Your life choices are good. That's what bankruptcy is for -- in other hubs you've described the reasons for it and they don't have to do just with changing a corporate lifestyle to a more reasonably paced happiness/creativity focused one. It's easy to see why your quality of life is so much better in all regards.

I'm still amazed at the health I'm gaining and the results of my daughter and son in law's nutritious good cooking. Digestive problems I had all my life up and vanished. Just cured themselves. I never bothered seeking treatment because I already had too many prescriptions on my plate and now I'm glad, because I doubt a doctor would've understood what my daughter did about my eating habits and activity patterns -- it's still pretty unique and affected by disabilities.

You're so right about the overdiagnosis and overprescription of psychiatric medication. It's like it's filled in the myth of soma -- and parents want it for their teens so they aren't facing cultural conflicts in their own homes. Even in the sixties people were questioning "mother's little helper" and the way society expects quick-fix pill cures to any and all difficulty in life.

Very many strong, sane, healthy people get labeled crazy and pathologized if they struck out in their own direction culturally or socially and don't buy into the toxic patterns that are routine, socially acceptable and "normal."

MM -- thank you! Have fun at the retreat, it sounds wonderful for you.

One of the things I've found over the years since online socializing closed a lot of the gap between my disabilities and having a social life is that long term online friendships do turn into offline ones eventually. People in online affinity groups do get togethers offline and travel sometimes quite far to meet in person. I'm getting asked by a number of artists I know on WetCanvas if I'm going to the IAPS trade show/convention or to various gatherings and shows I don't have the resources to get to yet -- and know that if I got prosperous enough to make it, I'd love that. I'd want a power chair, enough money to travel comfortably (especially if I got a car) and a nice budget of several hundred dollars for the "Candy store" of art supplies. And then probably not buy any new clothes for the event because I'd rather save that for getting pastels. My thing -- but when online friendships get close, it's natural to start moving toward an offline meeting too.

Hope you meet some very cool people on the retreat!


RiaMorrison profile image

RiaMorrison 7 years ago from Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada

At the risk of running on way too long here, I'll just post a link where I give my most salient comments. But overall, an excellent article to read and one I feel no qualms about passing on.

http://eternalism.livejournal.com/329381.html


pgrundy 7 years ago

Great comments, Ria. Are you in a call center? They're pretty brutal. I wouldn't beat yourself up to bad for not fitting in THERE. You should be proud you dont' fit in and it drives you crazy. It IS crazy.


MindField profile image

MindField 7 years ago from Portland, Oregon

As always, RS2, your insights are nothing less than brilliant.

Here are three that stood out for me:

- You can buy an emotional punching bag just by offering a job.

- Sometimes a person whose life is otherwise well balanced and who is doing a job that by the nature of the work would be satisfying just winds up drawn into some bully's personal little abuse kingdom and doesn't know why everything else in life went south.

- These groups and companies are all sitting still in one place filtering whatever comes along on the current. You can swim over and sample and choose where to settle down. The best basis for that is to find where you fit in without changing who you really are.

I could write on and on about how what you've written about has manifested itself in my life and the life of others I care for. Instead, I'll just say here at the moment that you've made me realize I'm on the right path of trying to remove myself from other people's control, especially bosses whose expectations and entire way of doing things is so completely oppositie of what I need and believe. Thank you, Robert, for continuing to be my guru.


robertsloan2 profile image

robertsloan2 7 years ago from San Francisco, CA Author

Thank you, lovezan and MindField and Pam! Much appreciated. I've seen this time and again, back when I was working in regular jobs in the late seventies and eighties I used to wonder why no one else noticed this stuff. I tended to quit at the first sign of it, especially once I learned typesetting and had a skill that was in demand.

Job hunting was nowhere near as stressful as job-putting-up-with in those brutally abusive office situations. It seemed like they got worse every year too, especially during the Reagan years. Then after I washed up in New Orleans and the last one got me thinking about self employment instead, I realized I was right -- and started hearing worse and worse stories from friends who still had jobs.

Most of the stories had one thing in common -- the friend asking "What am I doing wrong, why can't I please this boss?" Answer -- by doing what you're doing, jumping at any reach for the whistle and living in terror like that, giving up any and all priorities in favor of said boss's mood swings.

Then I'd also hear people complain about the service in companies and stores they did business with and why no one ever seemed to actually care about the customers, why they always had to deal with someone who was beaten down, depressed, distracted and shuffling. That's why.

Not all companies are that sucky. The one thing that I noticed correlated with it was that if the store or company had really good service, chances are they also had good working conditions behind the scenes. From the reactions I get to notes I send to Blick's customer service -- tons of them just research queries about products I decide not to buy -- I am pretty sure they work reasonable hours, don't get harassed, get hired for a genuine interest in art and art supplies and have a good atmosphere in the office. It's not just one or two knowledgeable goodnatured people who don't mind an extra communication or two -- it's all of them, and they throw in little tips and extras and freebies, sort things out in my favor, point me to upcoming sales.

This tells me that they get a hefty employee discount, get enough time to paint when they're home and get hired from the artist and art hobbyist affinity group, they are typical customers. A niche business can have that high morale atmosphere and be a joy to work for if you share that interest, fitting in becomes a matter of following your genuine interests.

Over the years I also noticed low turnover -- people who answered my questions years ago sometimes turn up again on the rota and answer them again, they know me. So that tells me the customer service department is fairly stable and not using high turnover to shuffle abuse victims out the door before they can warn anyone.

The credit union I do business with has that kind of atmosphere. The one I went to in Minneapolis had a plaque three years running for "Best Psychologically Healthy Workplace" and there was no drudgery, no hangdog looks, no resentful body language among anyone I observed in the place. So the good jobs are out there and can be found.

Paradoxically, deciding to filter for them and interviewing the interviewers about working conditions is a good way to get hired at one, because it shows you're awake and conscious, capable of maintaining that kind of socially healthy workplace, care about it and are willing to work at maintaining it by not starting office politics. It'll also wash you out fast from the abusers' openings because you'd stand up to the local bullies. You can tell a lot in an interview but in a good place, the confidence to talk about these issues can imply you know your work is worth something.

Mindfield, Pam just did a really great hub on landscape gardening as a self employment opportunity -- and she's right, she is so right. It pays well at many levels of expertise and skill. Click on pgrundy and follow it back to her hubs, that one is very good and the advice on pricing and marketing goes for many other types of self employment too from tailoring and alterations (another high demand low supply one), laundry services (Kitten did that for a while and got swamped just on some index cards at local groceries -- just taking people's laundry to the laundromat and doing it for them is a service in screaming demand year round), odd jobbing, moving help, just any chore you can think of somewhere out there are a ton of people who need it and have money and don't have the time or ability to do it themselves.

If I was living alone I'd need a landscaper and Pam is the one who'd be my choice for being willing to help me set it up the way I want and maintain it, advising me well and not hurting herself at it but also not taking over the project to try to make it look like everyone else's. I feel like she'd have understood what I needed -- cut flowers to paint that are easy to work from and some massed bed flowers that look good in paintings, quasi-Monet in a tiny patch rather than garden that looks suburbanite-normal.

That and people who need their apartments cleaned up or landlords who need vacated apartments cleaned out are a constant source of clients. It's very easy for people to be self employed at all sorts of things but Pam's outlined all the pitfalls and success strategies well for anything like that -- and that's for people who have no interest in writing or art or anything creative like that, who'd just rather work at something reasonably well paid and not answer to a boss.


MindField profile image

MindField 7 years ago from Portland, Oregon

Thanks, Robert, I will read Pam's hub on landscaping. As with yours, I always find so much to enjoy and learn from her hubs.

I was thinking mostly about a brother who is going through tough times (he and his wife recently lost their jobs within two weeks of each other ). He's a smart man with excellent skills who finds himself working for bullies. When I was still doing that, before I realized I couldn't take it any more and had to become an independent editor or suffer from nearly constant physical and emotional ills, I found the same.

The more talented and sensitive you are, it seems, the more bully-bosses and, yes, even bullying co-workers come out of the woodwork. I'm definitely going to pass on this hub to him. He'll get a lot out of it, I know.

When you're ready to put your insights into a book, don't forget to contact me at www.brookmanediting.com!


MindField profile image

MindField 7 years ago from Portland, Oregon

A note to Ria and all others who agree with everything Robert has so beautifully delineated here: I have to beg you to read Ted Zeff's book, The Highly Sensitive Person's Survival Guide and also another book I've already talked about in a hub, Introvert Power by Laurie Helgoe. Oh, and a third book, Robert Fuller's Somebodies and Nobodies.

The world really does need us - desperately. Surely it's time to demand a place of importance for those of us who see clearly what needs to be done to create a peaceful and equitable world and who understand how utterly mandatory it is becoming to replace cruelty and apathy with empathy once and for all.


robertsloan2 profile image

robertsloan2 7 years ago from San Francisco, CA Author

Hmmm. That book sounds interesting, MindField. I'm more of an extrovert who had to survive hostile environments but used to be accused of being Too Sensitive throughout my unendurable childhood because I was too perceptive and refused to accept the assorted double (triple, quadruple) standards, hypocrisy and assorted social lies prevalent at the time.

Inevitably that is ond of the first accusations of an abuser, if you object to any demoralizing treatment you're Too Sensitive.


Army Infantry Mom profile image

Army Infantry Mom 7 years ago

This was an excellent hub,..gave me a lot of insight. I know a young girl coping,..well trying to cope with Social Anxiety.


myownworld profile image

myownworld 6 years ago from uk

Am training as a psychologist, so you can imagine how much I must have loved reading this. Great insightful hub. One can learn so much from your hubs...

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