I remember when I was around 15 years old. We were making a stew for family dinner. I claimed it needed more chili, but I used too much. It was barely edible. I’m still hearing about it today, 15 years later…
In my family, we were always ready to bite when someone messed up.
Same thing with my “close” friends, we were always criticizing each other when we messed up. There was not much support to be had. You’d better choose your words carefully in a situation like that.
If I came to school with some particularly embarrassing acne, I knew I’d be hearing of it. Not that we bullied each other. It was just the way we talked to each other. I think we thought it was “manly” to be tough on each other and never talk about feelings. We were desperate to be cool and masculine.
I cringe thinking about how immature we were, trying to be “mature”.
As you can probably figure out, you don’t really want to open up in that sort of group climate.
We mostly talked about superficial “cold” topics like computer games and stuff like that. FYI, that’s a surefire way of never actually getting close with your friends. If you never open up about your deeper feelings, how can you truly feel you know someone?
Needless to say, my relationships was not exactly at an all-time high.
I had friends. We’d hang out together and do fun activities, but that’s the extent of it. So I wasn’t lonely on the outside. I just didn’t have any friends that I could REALLY talk with or who would support me emotionally.
My failed attempts at getting a girlfriend
That’s probably why I always longed for a girlfriend. I thought it would solve all my problems. Someone I could give all that bottled up love, who could love me back. But naturally, I was too awkward and shy to actually make anything happen on that front.
I think this image illustrates some of my efforts to entice a girlfriend (it did not work out).
Eventually, I got into college. I got more interested in psychology and joined a sort of self-help group. I remember the first big concept I learned about that changed my social life completely: It was the concept of not judging people. I think I learned about it because I wanted to become a personal coach. And a lot of the techniques when you listen to someone opening up is based on not judging what you hear.
One of the most important decisions I’ve made socially
So one day, I decided I would just stop judging others. I wanted to become someone people felt good being around. I would never complain needlessly on my sister or judge my friends when they opened up. Instead, I tried my best to be supportive.
This was a deal breaker for me. I noticed it in my family relationships first. My sister still didn’t trust me completely at first. It was as if she still expected me to somehow trick her. But eventually it faded away and we started enjoying each others company again. Today we can talk about almost anything and she’s one of the most important persons in my life.
I found new friends in college and especially in the self-help group I joined. I noticed many of them started opening up to me, people told me all sorts of personal stuff.
It was as if people could feel that I wouldn’t judge them, that I’d listen.
This helped me form close friendships with a few select people I really liked. Friends I could talk about anything with. Friends who called and wanted to hang out with me several times a week. In the end, it actually became a bit too much for me, I had too many good friends and I didn’t have time or energy for all of them. But that’s another story.
This got a lot broader than what I was thinking of writing. There is so much more I want to tell you about all the concepts I learned. And how those concepts changed my social life from the core out.
With this story, I wanted to show you the power of giving value, and how it can start with something pretty small. Like when I decided to stop judging people, it didn’t change that much in my interactions. But it was like a butterfly effect, it changed my social life from the core and out.
It slowly tipped the balance in my social interactions from taking value and sucking energy, to giving it.
How can you try tipping the balance in your next social interaction? Can you try being more supportive, listening more closely or just not judging or criticizing the next time someone shows a vulnerability? Do you have any bad habits or behaviors you can try to eliminate?
David and I would love to hear your stories in the comments below!