Developping Social

I've been writing about the Social blindspot.  We all have a blindspot, but when we have the Social instinct as the lowest end of the Social/Self-preservation/Sexual totem pole, it comes with its unique challenges in life.  Of course, the challenges that come from having Self-Preservation or Sexual at the bottom also present an equal set of challenges, but they're for a later blog post.

People with a social blind spot are - you guessed it- more likely to stay at home, and more likely to decline invitations out with groups.  They're the homebodies of the world, and enjoy luxuriating in the space they've created for themselves and lapping up the sights, sounds, and sensations of their family around them.  Or they just simply like knowing that the temperature, energy, and noise level is going to suit them in their own home, thank-you very much, and they'd prefer those comforts than the strangeness and hullaballoo of being in someone else's home who doesn't make coffee the way they like it, or who doesn't vaccuum their carpet enough, and they predict the cat hair is going to be clinging to their feet when they get home. 

However much we derive comfort from our own systems, however, we can't escape situations that call for the social instinct.  We're going to need to attend funerals and volunteer meetings; at work, we may need to network, or at least attend Christmas parties, and attending workshops means socializing during the coffee breaks.  Even in a monastery where men and women have taken vows of silence, there is an energy that a person carries around with them that people pick up on- does this person feel comfortable with us all being in the same room as her, or would she like us to leave?  People can tell without even knowing how they know. 

Therefore, if you don't have it, you're going to need to develop it.  But how?

This is not to say that people with the social blindspot don't want to be with people- we all want to be with others, and we all love spending time with others- it's just that we tend to have preferences for different social setting configurations.  We may crave an intensity with one other special person, or perhaps a more family-oriented activity.  For a social blindspot person, it's partly going to depend on which instinct falls into the second spot on the totem pole: sexual or self-preservation.

As awkward as group situations may feel to the Social blindspot person, it may be comforting to know that our brains have been wired to be social since before civilization.  Daniel Siegal calls our brains the social organs of the body.  We actually all have the wiring in place to become socially adept- it's already part of our biological make-up of being a human being.

According to Siegel, a thread that's been running through neuroscience literature since the 1920s is an injunction to use the social circuitry in our brain for the purposes of becoming "social" with ourselves (ie. having a self-reflective life), and when we can be social with ourselves-- and this is simply my extrapolation of the principle-- we can be more comfortable in situations where the social instinct is called for.

So what does it mean to be social with ourselves?  That sounds a little weird and perhaps narcissistic.  But Siegel makes the point that developping a mindfulness practice is about learning to have compassion and empathy toward ourselves, even lovingkindness.  And of course, we've all heard that in order to love others, we have to first love ourselves. 

Let me give an example from my work.  I work in an elementary school, so I see little kids interacting all the time.  Once, I saw three girls at the fountain.  Two girls were talking and the third girl was trying to make a contribution to the conversation.  At one point, she leaned in and, with her face lit up, inserted a comment, speaking more in the direction of the "leader" of the group, but the "leader"- who was in the middle of her sentence, looked in her direction for a split second, but - not out of spite, but just simply wanting to continue the momentum of her sentence- finished what she was saying to the other girl, and no sooner than she finished her sentence than the other girl interjected, and the gap was closed in the conversation.  The "outside" girl's shoulder's hunched, she exhaled, and the three of them walked back to class together.  The "outside girl" didn't try to pick up the thread again. 

Now, I've also observed that a kid with higher social, on the other hand, will try repeating what they've said, or will drop the idea altogether to respond to something else that someone else said.  I believe that these socials know that their contribution is important, because they've been attuned to before in a group, and this time should be no different.

But now I'm straying from Dan Siegel.  We should get back to science, and I'm going to pick up on the neurobiology of attunement next post.  Attunement being this ability to connect, to not only physically see a person and hear their words and understand that there's another person in front of us, but to also make them feel seen, heard and understood.  Siegel says, "Attunement is how one person focuses attention on the internal world of another.  This focus on the mind of another person harnesses neural circuitry that enables two people to feel felt by each other."

And this is the missing piece when we feel we don't belong in a group- that ability to "come back to ourselves" after a contribution we've made to a conversation doesn't come across as well as we intended, lick our wounds, so to speak (or have loving compassion on ourselves) and go back and make another go of it.

"This state [of attunement] is crucial if people in relationships are to feel vibrant and alive, understood and at peace.  Research has shown that such attuned relationships promote resilience and longevity."

To be continued...

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