I learned this morning that I have developed a mental shortcut to dissolving cognitive dissonance. When I signed onto Facebook, a picture of a friend appeared having fun with others. It hurt – I hadn’t been invited to the fun and I had struggled with loneliness this weekend. This came on the heels of being witness to a conversation between a couple of other people who were planning their weekend activities – without even considering to invite me even though I was right there while they were planning (and, no, they weren’t strangers!). The pain, it seems, might come from two beliefs I am holding (or trying to hold): I am lovable (or some variation like “people enjoy spending time with me”). And “people don’t invite me to do fun things with them.”
I realized that I seem to gravitate towards a couple of ways to dissolve this dissonance: I tell myself that I am not lovable. I tell myself that I am boring. Or I decide that I don’t want to spend time with people anyways, thank you very much. So, our beliefs – there is something wrong with me, I am not good enough – that are a reflection of shame are a way for us to dissolve cognitive dissonance. Similarly to slavery, we don’t look at the cultural ways the dissonance could be dissolved. In this case, the cultural assumptions that introverts are boring and enjoy spending time with a book more than playing around. And there’s also a cultural assumption in me at play: That it would be rude to say “Hey! Don’t plan your weekend in front of me when you’re not including me!” or “Don’t tell me you want to spend more time with me when you do everything but!”
Or something like that. Honestly, I am having trouble holding onto my sense of self-worth when faced with what seem like observations of exclusion (or at least not inclusion). Maybe the cultural myth here is what Eva Illouz talked about: The idea that we can create our sense of self-worth independent from others. We can’t, Illouz points out. We are social beings, thus we need the mirror of others. And it seems like the mirrors others hold up is that they just don’t want to spend time with me. Hehe. And I can hear my inner judge commenting: “Well, of course not, when you mope around like this!” Yet, it’s been puzzling me for some time now: Why am I unable to break this cycle? Why do I seem to be unable to build those friendships I so long for? (And, of course:) What’s wrong with me? Or a more analytical variation: If there isn’t anything wrong with me, why am I so isolated?
I feel a bit embarrassed posting this… The voice that this will just drive people away is very strong… And, yet, I want to understand, I so want to know if there is another explanation out there… I would even welcome hearing something “I prefer spending time with people who do xyz – and you don’t do that.” At least I would know!