Social Face

A few weeks ago when I posted about having gotten frustrated, I mentioned that interacting with people generally requires two days of recovery, very roughly speaking. A commenter asked if this was true of my Significant Other, Nee. The answer to this is, happily, no. He does not drain me nearly so much as most people. That got me to wondering precisely why this is – what’s different about him?

I suspect there are several contributing factor to this, and generally to why different people drain me to different degrees. One of them is the touching thing, which also posted about a few weeks ago. If I don’t want to touch a person, than dealing with something like a handshake is challenging and unpleasant, whereas people I like and am comfortable with, like Nee, I actively enjoy touching.

Another factor is the Social Face, and that’s what I want to talk about today. When I am going out and interacting on a social level, I wear what I call my Social Face. It isn’t just about being in public, as I do very little with my Social Face in situations like the grocery store. It’s largely about interacting with people on a personal level. Now, I don’t know for sure, but I suspect that everyone has some form of Social Face, and I suspect that everyone’s Social Face is different. I want to say I suspect that everyone’s social face is draining, but then I remember about extroverts and people who are energized by socializing. That doesn’t quite mesh with my idea that a Social Face is draining for everyone, so I’ll simply assume that the highly extroverted work ENTIRELY differently from me and just leave it at that.

Before I go any further, I’m going to give a brief rundown on what my Social Face is/what I’m doing when I’m wearing it:
*cutting down on the stimming
*instituting correct/appropriate facial expressions
*remembering to reciprocate social questions
*working to look directly at people/make eye contact
*making sure I keep a friendly tone of voice
*dedicating a rather large portion of my internal resources on social awareness and rapid processing

Some of these items I am slowly dropping, or at least putting less and less energy into. I constructed my social face over the course of years of trying to Be Like Everyone Else, well before I ever knew why it was so challenging for me. Which basically means much of my Social Face is deeply ingrained at this point, and taking it off in social situations is actually quite challenging. I tried to do it for a few minutes a few weeks ago, after feeling particularly stressed and overwhelmed and wanting a brief break before going back to Being Sociable. I was only able to do it by requesting that the person I was with ignore me entirely for a few minutes, and even then most of it stuck around. Like tar.

The hard part is that dropping bits, even bits that I think shouldn’t be important, carry consequences. As I allow myself to stim in public more and more, I face the fact that people are going to judge me and draw perhaps unjust conclusions from it when they see it. Even people who mean well can be derisive and condescending (possibly without meaning to) about stimming, and it can be hard to deal with sometimes. And sometimes, if I’m just too tired or too stressed to keep it on, my Social Face slips. Once while socializing I didn’t look at a friend of mine the entire time we were together. I actually had no idea I was doing that, but she felt hurt by it anyway. So I have to make sure it stays on, even during the times when it’s falling off on its own due to my own limitations.

A big thing is that my Social Face is draining. VERY draining. Downright exhausting. As I am realizing this I am starting to resent the Social Face and my partly self- and partly externally-imposed need to keep it on.

So I’ve slowly started to dissect my Social Face, in order to figure out what all it’s made of (I imagine there’s more to it than what I’ve listed so far), figure out why I do those things, and figure out what is important and what I put there simply out of a desire to Be Like Everyone Else. I’m pretty sure the no stimming thing was out of a desire to be normal. Reciprocating social questions, on the other hand, is something I actually care about and want to do more of, as well as remembering to spontaneously ask social questions. Other things are iffier, like eye contact and the dedication of resources to processing. I’d like to tone those down, but I worry that the social consequences of doing so will be greater than the personal consequences of wearing the Social Face. I’m honestly not sure what the right answer is.

Cycling back to the beginning – a huge reason why Nee drains me so much more slowly is that I do not wear my Social Face around him. I can stim and he doesn’t care. My facial expressions can be all over the place and it doesn’t phase him. Our social questions are minimal, I can go for days or weeks without looking directly at him, and he does not seem to mind when it takes me an oddly long time to process it when he randomly says something at me. So at home my Social Face stays in its box (or wherever it goes when I’m not wearing it. may as well be a box, right?) and I stay much more fresh and comfortable.

Maybe someday I’ll minimize my Social Face and it won’t be so stressful or exhausting to wear, and maybe someday it will be ok to be different in public.

I’m curious – to anyone who feels like answering, do you have a Social Face? If so, what does it look like?


Filed under personal, ponder

10 responses to “Social Face

  1. susie

    I have only just (in the last 6 months) learnt to wear my social face when i need to.. and it stays on automatically until i get home. the problem (or not a problem at all) is that the longer i live where i am, the more i go to my sons school/ shops, the more people i meet. so i usually pass alot of people i know when i’m out. so maybe this is why i have learnt to keep my face on. its so interesting. i have never considered this before reading your blog. i usually reflect on my day when i get in. i’m surprised i missed it. or it just hasnt come to the surface yet. i am quite surprised by how ok i am now. i can hold off my anxietys while in social situations its as though i am on automatic.but when i’ve been wearing my social face for too long i have a desperate need to get home. away from everyone. even my family who i am really close too. I believe absolutely (while having a thinking surge whist writing this) that my feeling awful about who i am forced me to be ok in situations where i never used to be is due to creating this social mask/face. its my saviour and my enemy. i’d like to get to a point where i can accept this is just a front to not only get through a day but to thrive through it . because i enjoy the feeling of pride i feel when making conversation and learning something new from it. about others and myself. i would like from now on to get in.. hang up my coat and mask.. and still smile. but thats not my face really. and i wonder if my children notice . i think the wonderful thing about children is that they accept everything. thankyou for the insight x

  2. You’re exactly right! I wear my social face(s) in much the same way. I don’t really stim, and if I do it’s subtle. When I’m really about to explode I’ll tap my fingers together or against whatever I’m holding–at a gallery opening my husband knew it was time to take me outside because my fingers were about to tap right through the wine glass I had. Social Face wears out fast in a crowd of 100-120 strangers milling about in a tight space. There’s the grocery store Face, which is kind of a “I’m busy, minding my own business” face to avoid talking to people or making eye contact (because ostensibly I’m too ‘busy’ looking for whatever). Church Face is another one. I have yet to master Party Face because that is especially draining and usually looks like panic haha. You’re right about significant others, too–my husband is the only one who doesn’t see Face all the time, and he’s also the only one who doesn’t drain me. Social Face, I think, is a necessary evil for the time being, but it is nice to let parts of it slip and not have to pretend all the time.

  3. To start with a quote from a song “I’m not a man of too many faces, The mask I wear is one” (Shape of my Heart by Sting if anyone is wondering). I have a Social Face as well, though i am not as sure what mine includes yet. To borrow from your list the ones i can identify immediately are cutting down stimming, reciprocacy of social questions and comments and social awareness and processing. A few more i can think of off the top of my head are dealing with anything that is triggering my sensitivities and not getting too nit-picky. The only place i take it off is home as well, even then i have to keep some things in mind like the recipricocity.

  4. Tricia

    I find this post so very interesting. I am horrible at making and keeping eye contact with anyone. “Once while socializing I didn’t look at a friend of mine the entire time we were together. I actually had no idea I was doing that, but she felt hurt by it anyway.” I wonder how many friends I have accidentally hurt by not looking at them. I know that this is a “feature” of mine and I should work better at it, especially with new people, but of all the quirks I have, I think it’s also one of the hardest for me to work on because I’m so unintentional when I don’t look.

    “do you have a Social Face? If so, what does it look like?” I’m sure I do, but it’s going through a major change right now that I don’t want to get into until later this month. (Or just email me and we can talk there – I’m just not up to public discussion on it yet.)

  5. Thank you, that is a great post and a very interesting topic. Very relevant list of ‘social face elements’, and explanation about why they are draining.

    I’m curious – to anyone who feels like answering, do you have a Social Face? If so, what does it look like?

    I’ve got 2 answers…

    First, in a literal sense no, I don’t put on specific face expressions when I’m with other people. I do however find social interaction draining, and here is a quick brainstorm of what I’m aware that I do to be social in the right way:

    *Try to sit properly and be self-aware of my movements, try to not fiddle around with things, and to avoid movements that seem childish or inappropriate in some way
    *Make sure my face expression doesn’t express something I think of/imagine that is unrelated to the conversation, and inappropriate when interpreted as if it relates to the conversation and people around me
    *Manage eye contact / pretended eye contact and try to balance it so it is ‘correct’
    *Constantly monitor a conversation partner’s face expressions, looking for signs of boredom, discomfort or satisfaction, trying to balance my inputs accordingly

    *Remember to reciprocate social questions! (that’s directly from your list…)
    *Try to direct conversations along paths that are pleasant for others and interesting for myself. Look for interesting sub-topics in conversations, where I can ask into details and get to learn about unique insights (e.g. in a profession, field of study, hobby) while make the conversation partner feel interesting and listened too
    *Dedicate a large portion of my internal resources on social awareness and rapid processing (I use your phrase here, it is spot on)

    Above are just examples from the top of my head… There are many more reasons than that.

    I also spend a great deal of energy observing social group dynamics, such as:

    *Who has authority? How do people stand relative to each other? Who are cliquing together? Who talk most, who are most listened to? What do people do with their body language? How do they move around?
    *Am I consider an insider or an outsider? Indications: do people ‘build on’ things I say, or do they ignore what I say. Do they laugh of my jokes? Do they interrupt me, or wait to respond until they have heard what I say?
    *If I am excluded – is it worth spending more time here? (no.)
    *If I am included: who is including me? Why? Is anyone else left out – Indications: same as above (do people ignore everything a particular person say, interrupt, turn their back on the person? Why? (I may A. Try to include the person or B. Study the situation/social dynamics, just out of interest)

    Second, in my case background noise is such a major obstacle that it overrules ‘social face’ concerns. So: I don’t have much of a ‘social face’ in relation to going to parties and dinners, because I so rarely go out that I don’t have much practice in having that type of social face. Just coping with the noise and hearing what people are saying is so great challenges in noisy social situations (= indoor) that all the factors mentioned above become secondary and barely relevant.

  6. I can relate to what you say about your social face being deeply ingrained. It does make contact easier in some ways, but I also resent it because it is not me, not honest.

    My social face looks like this: concentrate on not frowning. Work hard at not being completely expressionless most of the time. Respond even if it feels unnecessary. Concentrate on tone of voice and body language. Try to actually SEE other faces while speaking instead of hearing only your own words.

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  8. i totally have an awesome Party Face, one that makes me happy to be in a public space and lets me enjoy my time there. it became an impossibly overwhelming effort a few years back and i had to stop socializing in groups larger than 3 for awhile. i really miss my Party Face. i wonder if i can rebuild it?
    i’ve never had an every day Social Face, tho. folks just think i’m weird and, mostly, i’m ok with that
    this is also why i knit in public – i wonder if that counts as stimming?

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