Are you the kind of person who has always spent time with friends, family, or co-workers one-on-one, rather than in small groups?
It seems to me that people tend to fall into two types, being either ‘group’ people or ‘solo’ people. I’m not naturally a group person. In the past I’ve never been one to suggest that a group do something together. “Let’s all go to the movies!” Nope. That was not me. I’m drawn to the individual, because one-on-one time feels well-spent, by which I mean deeper, more interesting, and less superficial.
But, as always, it’s in my nature to double-check my assumptions, to do a 360 degree walk around my habitual behaviors, to investigate myself. So, when I began to wonder why is it that I have spent more time one-on-one than in groups, I came up with the answer that it’s got to have something to do with growing up in an alcoholic household.
People who grew up in a family that spent a lot of time with other families and extended families where lots of people-centered events took place will grow up to find themselves comfortable and naturally drawn to spending time in groups. They were raised that way! (An image of a first-generation Italian family comes to mind — food-centered and family-centered gatherings of people, with large amounts of hot, homemade food, jolly conversation, and laughter.) In any case, the alcoholic family isn’t one like that — alcoholic families tend toward isolation. An alcoholic family tends to breed loners.
If we grew up in a family that was isolated because of its “illness” of alcoholism, then we’re not going to be naturals at enjoying group events. Just the opposite; we tend to feel extra-awkward, lost, or left out and insecure in groups of three, or four, or more. We grew up uneasy with our own spontaneity. We haven’t let our spontaneous self out to play very often, or not at all. We’re out of practice, and some of us are likely afraid that if we let our real self loose, we’ll be laughed at for being us, and ultimately be rejected.
Guess what? It’s harder to control one’s spontaneity in group settings. Spontaneity is required for groups, and it’s impossible to pretend to be what the other person seems to want when you’re in a group setting. (If you’re a people-pleaser, then it’s easier to be one-on-one and just reflect what the other person seems to need — not so with groups of people. )
Small talk and large groups go together like pasta and garlic bread (i.e., they go together deliciously.)
People from alcoholic families don’t feel very talented at making small talk (brevity is even a challenge on Facebook). Small talk is hard because we didn’t do much of it in our families. Talk in our families was loaded with meaning, accusations, longing, and suggestions of betrayal. And, so, we are hard-wired to REACT to what is being said to us. And, also, we never learned how to RELAX, stop reading things into every word people utter, and just have a simple, meaningless conversation. Let’s have more meaningless conversations, let’s just simply enjoy one another’s company! Lighten up, laugh. Let go of your old habit of unconsciously monitoring every conversation for threats to your safety. That’s an old habit.
So, why don’t we hang out in groups more often, and let our spontaneity out to play? Why not say ‘yes’ next time you’re invited out, or take initiative and invite a group of people to do something (don’t worry what people will talk about or if they’ll get along)? Wouldn’t it be a relief to let go of your analytical, over-active mind, your self-checking apparatus, and have fun?
I often admire eccentric, loud, or brash people — not because I like them, but for their spontaneity.
If you’re a narcissist, this may be hard because one-on-one situations are best for captivating (or would that be monopolizing?) a person’s attention entirely — you only have to fight one person for the spotlight, not three or four. And it’s harder to enjoy yourself in a group because you have to draw on skills that you infrequently use, like listening, having interest in what others have to say, and good conversation skills. But, do try it.
You’ll learn more about life listening than you will talking, I guarantee it. Listen with interest, not an agenda. This takes practice, incidentally! Get used to asking people “Why?” a lot, or “Really?” or just, “Yeah?” and waiting, quietly for the response.
Shut off your head, and open your ears.
We’re growing up, bit by bit.