Ask me anything: Our resident psychologist answers your queries about sex and relationships
Question: I am almost embarrassed to say this but my problem is that nobody seems to like me. I have always found it difficult to make and keep friends. I know that I do have a very strong personality and I don't take any nonsense. My brother has described me as overbearing and controlling and incapable of listening but we have never got on. I am in my late 50s and divorced with no children and have recently retired as I don't need to work financially and I got sick of putting up with the nonsense that accompanies my industry. I have no network as I worked very long hours. I don't want to date as I find it very difficult to sit through small talk.
Allison replies: It can be very hard when there are difficult and strained relationships across all the main roles in your life. I'm curious as to how you see yourself. You have described how people find you, what's your take on what they have said? In the core relationships in your life I don't have a sense of who you are, or how you feel about your current situation. Are you upset by it, lonely or do you prefer your own company?
Without making any assumptions, are you saying that you would like to make friends? You have said you don't want to date as you find small talk difficult to sit through.
A lot of people don't like small talk, it can be a skill some have in abundance and one we can all learn to tolerate and work upon. Is this something you would like to do?
'Controlling and incapable of listening' are strong words. It's not surprising that feedback has led to a fractured sibling relationship. I'm wondering about the level of reciprocity and responsibility on your part in your relationships, as relationships are most definitely a two-way process. Without a sense of who you are and how you really feel about this I feel I only have a part of the picture. There are many sides to understanding ourselves and many aspects that are unknown, hidden and obscured from ourselves through our own blind spots.
To help gain personal insight it can help to start exploring the give and take in your social exchanges that create a transaction each time you interact with someone. The good news in this is that each new social interaction could lead to new friendships.
How do you feel about relationships? Write out that word as it might be a useful exercise to draw out any beliefs, past hurts and feelings about what you expect of people and what you think they expect of you. Do you think people are kind and open, or challenging and intolerable? What areas of your life do you find intolerable? Do you get inpatient in social interactions, are you comfortable or anxious?
Can you lose yourself in a good conversation or do you feel every second passing by? How do you feel about yourself? Have you ever explored any of these questions with your GP or and a mental health professional?
A lifetime of difficult relationships is hard going. One of the main issues is that you can get stuck in your own expectations about yourself, the world and the people who live in it and it can become an actuality.
Limiting beliefs can often show up in areas of our life that are not working as well as we'd like them to.
Being in relationships takes a whole lot of work. No one receives any formal guidance on how to do this.
Relationships demand a high degree of flexibility, tolerance, personal understanding, empathy and listening more than talking. The art of listening is not inherent and even though many think they are good listeners most are listening to get in at the next pause.
These social skills that make people 'likeable' increase their ability to have mutually satisfying relationships. A good combination of 'likeable' traits include being well adjusted, good humoured, smart, but not overly so, good conversationalists, a nice balance of listening and talking, non-disruptive and good at managing awkward social situations. What is really helpful about this list of behaviours is that they are skills that can be learned.
If you decide today to take responsibility to change how you interact with people you will be pleasantly surprised at how contagious it is when in a receptive, open frame of mind. If we look at each encounter as a transactional analysis you can build, learn and grow with the goal of replacing intolerance with compassion.
Start by liking you, take your time with this, be patient, kind and courageous with yourself.
If you have a query, email Allison in confidence at firstname.lastname@example.org
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