social interest

3 Tips To Increasing Social Interest & Curbing An Avoidance Lifestyle

Adler social interest
Seeing with the eyes of another, listening with the ears of another, and feeling with the heart of another.” –Adler

I’m a firm believer that the higher the social interest, the lower the anxiety, depression.

What is social interest?

“This term refers to the individual’s awareness of belonging in the human community and the extent of his or her sense of being a fellow being. Social interest is a capacity inherent in all human beings which must be developed and trained, analogous, in this way, to the capacity for language and speech.

Below are 3 tips to expedite the process and rocket your social interest into a different damn dimension of existence. 

Tip 1. Understanding The Confrontation

This is one of those mind-benders, you know, one of those hip-out-of-joint conceptual wrestling matches that leave you questioning your sanity. 

Befriend your pain for the sake of others

Yes, one of those. 

“So,” you might be thinking to yourself, “you’re saying that the only profit incentive of confronting our pain directly is to establish a paradigm for others to follow?”

Yes and no. 

Yes, we want others to follow the pattern but the reason is twofold:

  1. Because it decreases the severity of our issues by mitigating avoidance behaviors. 
  2. It increases our social interest thereby strengthening the bonds and connections that act as support during such confrontations.

As you can see, the profit is ours. We don’t give up the prize for the sake of another. We just find out paradoxically that together we are a prize to one another. 

What we model is often the only lessons available for those who cannot hear.

So when you hear the recovery adage that “you can only keep it by giving it away,” that doesn’t simply refer to showing up at hospitals, institutions, and incarcerations. It’s not a membership on a committee. Instead, it’s a posture of the heart. Our lifestyle should be a service to others, not simply an act of kindness here and there. 

Edgar Guest, in his radical poem titled Sermons We See, powerfully captures this:

Tip 2. Understanding Avoidance

First, it’s important to apprehend the idea of compensation. 

“In psychology, compensation is a strategy whereby one covers up, consciously or unconsciously, weaknesses, frustrations, desires, or feelings of inadequacy or incompetence in one life area through the gratification or (drive towards) excellence in another area. Compensation can cover up either real or imagined deficiencies and personal or physical inferiority. Positive compensations may help one to overcome one’s difficulties. On the other hand, negative compensations do not, which results in a reinforced feeling of inferiority.”

An avoidance lifestyle simply compensates for feelings of inferiority (being sick, toxic relationships, being a failure/victim, even hallucinations). 

Alfred Adler was keen on this phenomenon, actually, he even coined the concept. He observed, 

“A man of excellent family who had never achieved anything because of a poor education, held an unimportant post as a clerk. He had given up all hope of ever making his mark. His hopelessness weighed heavily upon him, and in addition his stress was increased by the reproaches of his friends. In these circumstances he took to alcohol, which provided both a way to forget his worries and an excuse for his failure. After some time he was brought to the hospital in a state of delirium tremens. Delirium is closely related to hallucination. In the delirium of alcoholic intoxication, small animals such as mice, insects or snakes frequently appear. Other hallucinations related to the patient’s occupation may also occur. 

Our patient came into the hands of doctors who were strongly opposed to the abuse of alcohol. They put him through a strict course of treatment and he seemed to be completely cured of his alcoholism. After he left the hospital he did not touch alcohol for three years. Then he returned to the hospital with a new complaint. He said he constantly saw a leering, grinning man who watched him at his work; he was now a casual labourer. Once when he was particularly angry because this man was laughing at him, he took his pick and threw it at him to see whether he was real or only an apparition. The apparition dodged the missile, but promptly attacked him and beat him badly. In this case we are not dealing with a simple apparition, because the hallucination had very real fists. But the explanation is not hard to find. The man was in the habit of hallucinating, but he threw his pick at a real person. 

Although he had been freed of his desire to drink, he had in reality sunk further since his discharge from hospital. He had lost his job, been evicted from his house and now had to earn his living as a casual labourer, which he and his friends considered the most menial kind of work. The mental stress under which he had lived was undiminished. In being freed from alcohol he had actually lost an important consolation. He could do his previous job with the help of drink, for when he was reproached too loudly at home for not accomplishing anything, the excuse that he was an alcoholic seemed less shameful to him than his inability to hold down a better job. After his treatment he was again face to face with reality and in a situation no better than before. Should he now fail, he had nothing to console himself with and nothing to blame his failure on, not even alcohol. 

In this stressful situation, the hallucinations reappeared. He identified himself with his previous situation and viewed the world as if he were still an alcoholic. This behaviour announced to the world, ‘I have ruined my whole life with my drinking and nothing can be done about it now.’ By being ill he hoped to be freed from his undervalued, and therefore very unpleasant, occupation as a ditch digger, without having to make a decision about it himself. The hallucination described above lasted for a long time, until he was finally admitted to hospital again. Now he could console himself with the thought that he could have accomplished a great deal more if his alcoholism had not ruined his life. This strategy enabled him to maintain his sense of self-worth. It was more important for him not to lose his self-esteem than it was for him to work. All his efforts were directed towards maintaining the conviction that he might have accomplished great things if he had not been visited by misfortune. This was the state of affairs that enabled him to feel he was as good as anyone else, but that an insurmountable obstacle lay in his way. The desperate search for a consoling excuse produced the hallucination of the leering man; this apparition was the saviour of his self-esteem.”

Of course, not all of us compensate to the degree as the illustration above. Sometimes it’s subtle. For example, years ago I struggled immensely with social anxiety. Consequently, when I entered a room full of people the first thing I would do is yawn. It was like clockwork, utterly predictable, to the point that my peers would poke fun at the routine. However, in hindsight, I yawned so that I would appear as tired. If my social performance was poor, which I felt was inevitable and would ultimately result in rejection from others, I would appeal to being sleepy. I always had an out. Always had an alibi. See how that works? 

Find your avoidance behavior. It will blow your mind!

Tip 3. Understanding The Goal Of Life

Brené Brown, master of imperfection and vulnerability, embodies this truth in her writings,

We must celebrate our flaws because our specific imperfection is the key to Self-mastery

Nancy Coilier, helping those who think they need self-help, which is strange – self-help for those addicted to self-help 🙂 Anyway, she notes that this life of imperfection is ultimately a life of deep spirituality and serenity.  

“Most people think that spirituality and self-help are the same thing. They’re not. In fact, they are fundamentally different. We have tried to turn spirituality into self-help, another method for correcting ourselves, but to do so is to misunderstand and eradicate the most profound (and beneficial) teaching spirituality offers.

True spirituality is not about fixing ourselves spiritually or becoming spiritually better. Rather, it is about freedom from the belief of our unworthiness, and ultimately, about acceptance. Spirituality, practiced in its truest form, is about meeting who we really are, and allowing ourselves to experience life as we actually experience it. 

In this way, it is more of an undoing than a doing. 

In truth, we need to take the risk that it is to lean back into who we actually are. We need to do that before we even know that who we are will be enough, or even that there will be anything there to catch us. We need to relinquish our self-improvement plans before we believe that we have the right to stop improving. The whole thing—true spirituality—requires a kind of faith. It’s not faith in a system, story, or methodology, but a faith that trusts that we can’t think our way into what we truly want. No matter what path we practice, there comes a point where we have to let go of the reins; when we have to give up the quest to be good enough.  

What happens when we stop trying to change ourselves into something better is nothing like what we imagine: We envision stepping off the self-help train and landing smack inside someone incomplete and unsatisfactory. And yet in truth, the simple (but not easy) act of inviting ourselves into our own life has the effect of placing us at the center of something beautiful and extraordinary. Giving ourselves permission to be as we are miraculously creates a kind of love for ourselves—not so much for our individual characteristics, but for our being. It’s not just for our being, but for the truth, whatever that is. It is as if whatever we find inside ourselves, whether we wish it were here or not, is okay and we are okay. Ultimately, we shift from trying to become lovable to being love itself. And amazingly, from this place, the not-enough person we thought we were has simply vanished, or more likely, never was.”

I’ve also written elsewhere that the concept of perfection precludes the ability of mastery. 

“…when I think of exceptionally talented artists or athletes, I don’t think perfection – though the sentiment is appealing – I think that their particular imperfection is what makes them really stand out. 

For example, Slash is one of my favorite guitar players but he can be a sloppy guitarist. Nonetheless, that’s what creates the Slash sound! It’s not his perfection I admire, it’s his imperfection that makes him who he is – an incredibly unique and masterful musician.”

I’ve heard it said that “practice makes perfect. What a ludicrous idea –  Instead, let’s apply the German saying from which this motto was derived:

“Der ubung macht den meister,” which literally translated is “Continuous repetition makes the master.”

Perfection is out of reach, but mastery is possible. Actually, as noted above, mastery depends on imperfection! The best painter is known by the idiosyncratic imperfect strokes of his brush. Hallelujah! 

So embrace your idiosyncrasy. 

Intentionally and imperfectly create.

And diligently deconstruct the lie. 

Follow these tips and your social interest will naturally increase, which means an organic decrease of all those emotional bugaboos. 

social interest

Works Cited

Brené Brown: The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are

Alfred Adler: Understanding Human Nature: The Psychology of Personality

Are We Weak-Willed? 7 Signs Our Culture Has Sacrificed Character For Image

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/inviting-monkey-tea/201602/when-is-it-time-stop-trying-fix-ourselves

https://behavenet.com/social-interest

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