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Blaming Mom and/or Dad


I recently turned 42 and blame my parents for my lack of social skills. We moved to four different school districts before I was 8. At 12, I had a few friends, but Dad was arrested, my parents divorced, Mom and I moved again, and I was told that he had been using drugs and had been jailed before. I became depressed, felt that no one cared about me, and would not talk to a counselor, who I assumed wouldn’t care either. When I was 17, Mom remarried, and I went to yet another school. I have been living in one place now for 11 years but have no friends. I talk to people, but have never been able to start conversations, feeling that that no one cares what I have to say. Is this because of the childhood moves or something else, and is there something that can be done to fix it now?

Yes to both. The moves in childhood have something to do with your present social difficulties. And yes, there’s a lot you can do to remedy the problem now. Your situation illustrates the conclusions children invariably draw when parents are too preoccupied with themselves: If no one is paying attention to my needs, then those needs are not worthy of being met, or I don’t deserve to have them met. Those self-blaming conclusions live on as beliefs that no one is interested in talking to you.

Make no mistake: There are loads of elements of your childhood that contribute to social difficulties. Moving to a different school puts extraordinary demands on social skills. Having a parent in jail can be a source of shame, an agent of alienation, and a deterrent to getting close to others.

Here’s the catch, though. Once you get to adulthood, you’re in charge of yourself. You can finish the job your parents botched and learn how to make friends.

Blame, however, keeps you anchored in place. Blaming your parents turns you into a victim proclaiming your own powerlessness. No question, there’s plenty of room for blame. Your needs took a backseat to your father’s need to stay a step ahead of the law. But blame doesn’t get you what you want—friends.

Your letter, however, is a very positive step, suggesting a new readiness for change, and there are more you can take. The first is to discard the belief you acquired as a child that no one cares what you have to say.

Then get busy acquiring and polishing social skills. Choose an interest—books, movies, puzzles; that’s the surest way into a social life. You can join affinity groups that hold casual discussions online and off. You can observe what others do before offering a question or observation of your own.

Small talk is important because it leads to big talk. Some core principles: Ask open-ended questions (those that can’t be answered with yes or no), and ask others to tell you about themselves. There are many online social skills classes where you actually get to practice introductions, starting conversations, and more. You can take action right now.

An Ex Who Texts

My girlfriend and I have been dating for eight months, and she still is “just friends” with her ex. They text often and sometimes get into long exchanges. She knows this makes me uncomfortable. Sometimes she forwards me jokes he sends her, and that drives me crazy. I’ve asked her to stop, but she insists that he is like a brother. Is she right that I should “get used to it,” or am I missing something?

What you seem to be missing is the knowledge that you can’t force people to change their behavior. But that doesn’t mean you’re stuck with the way things are. You and your girlfriend badly need a kind and honest conversation in which your feelings for each other are made clear. That reassurance may be enough for both of you, but it’s more likely that deeper concerns need airing. For example, it would be good to know whether she gets something out of the contact with Ex Man that she isn’t getting from you. Does Mr. Ex bring some welcome light-heartedness into her life? Has she been able to confide things to him that she hasn't yet told you? Still, outside relationships that are felt as intrusive can stress the romance.

Much depends on the reason her texting bothers you so much. Is it possible that the contact is her way of prodding you to be more demonstrative?

Carve out some time to talk so that conversation can flow organically. You might start by telling your girlfriend how much you care about her. It’s OK to say that the texting makes you uncomfortable and honestly explain why. I wonder whether you are just waiting for the right time to be with him. Or I worry that he is just trying to get you back. Or Do you get something from him that I don’t give you? The constant contact makes me feel that you care more about him than about me.

What you are looking for is the deep reassurance that she cares about your feelings and about what you need and that she is willing to adjust her behavior in a way that you can both live with comfortably.