Last night, a customer walked past me at work. As she drew near, I looked in a different direction so as not to stare. Social skills are difficult for me to understand, but over the years I have learned not to gaze too long at someone but try to look them in the eyes at other times. It is really rather confusing.
Instead of proceeding past me, the woman stopped in front of me and demanded, “Smile!”
Confused, I opened my mouth and looked around nervously. While I tried to keep from running away in embarrassment, she peered excitedly at my face. In a jeering manner, the woman continued. “I see that smile on your face. Ah, there it is!”
At this point, I began to wonder who this person thought she was. And who did she think that I was? The game of trying to get someone in a bad mood to smile is an old one that my sisters and dad did to me. Being teased in this manner as a child by my family was difficult enough. A complete stranger doing this to me bewildered and frustrated to me. Honestly, I was trying not to start crying or say something rude. I might not have a huge smile plastered on my face, but that did not make me grumpy or unprofessional.
Finally, the lady back off a bit. “Are you having a bad night?” She inquired.
“No,” I mumbled, shaking my head rapidly. Well, now I was, but previously everything had been fine.
With a shrug of her shoulders, the nosy woman left me alone. Shaking with anxiety, I rushed back into the kitchen until she was away from my hostess counter. Being aspergian and having social anxiety make my work difficult enough. Her words made the whole evening more difficult. They reminded me of being teased by peers, scolded by adults, and “encouraged” by many others.
So I decided to use a coping skill to calm down and continue my job. The skill I chose was blocking her out and ignoring her.
This skill is very hard for me to use. However, in the past week, there have been several times when I have needed it. Many of us have friends, family, co-workers, customers, and other acquaintances who are unhealthy and damaging influences on our lives. How do we deal with them?
Blocking them out is one way to manage this. Although this skill is not an option for someone that you are with most of the times (like a child or parent), doing this can be an empowering and helpful tool.
There are differently levels of reducing the influence of these people in your life. Here are several of them:
- Total Elimination – Here you totally cut off interaction with someone. This is the most drastic measure and only works for those you can break away from completely. Sometimes, this is needed. Years ago, I did this to a good friend of mine when I realized his verbal and emotional abuse. Doing this is painful but very important for getting rid of dangerous relationships.
- Reduced Interaction – When you need to seriously decrease the amount of time you spend with someone, this is a wise step. I recently realized that I am holding onto a relationship that is bringing me depression and self-hate. However, this person can still be a friend in a different way. Thus, we will remain close while spending less time together and keeping our interactions on a surface level rather than going deeper.
- Surface Communication – This is used for people you want to totally eliminate for some reason. For example, I could not stop serving the customer last night. Other examples might be a family member or neighbor. So you choose to not share important or sensitive information with these people. Instead, only interact when the need arises.
- Timed Split – If you need some time away from a friend or family member but hope to have a relationship later, try this. In junior high, I struggled with one of my dearest friends. For several months, we did not talk. However, time helped us to mature and heal. Now, we do not talk often but are still close. Sometimes people need space and time apart to mend a relationship and work on personal issues.
- Momentary Break – My family uses this with each other nearly every day. This is when you just need to be away from another person for a few minutes or hours. After having some time alone, you can both return in a better frame of mind. It might be difficult to do this when you are upset and want to prove a point, but it is so much more helpful than arguing and becoming more furious.
No matter what measure you take when blocking someone out, be sure to do it in a kind way. This coping skill is not about being rude or harsh; it is about having healthy relationships. Sometimes doing this can be painful and frightening. However, I am rarely upset when I block out someone who is causing me harm.
I encourage you to think through your current relationships. Are there some people you need to block out? If so, what level of separation do you need? Please do not be afraid to stand up for yourself by cutting off harmful relationships.