Social catalyst

I often find myself acting as a social catalyst. I’m good at bringing other people together, smoothing things over, improving people’s relationships with each other. I end up as an impartial outsider who helps out the social group without really being part of it.

Here are some examples of times I was a social catalyst:

  • When I was younger, I made friends with two people who were already ‘best friends’ with each other. When one of them was upset, I would immediately offer to leave the two of them alone to talk, because I knew they didn’t trust me as much and might not have wanted me around.
  • When I’m out with my friends, I’m often the one who interacts with strangers like waiters or salespeople on behalf of the group, because they’re often uncomfortable to talk to them.
  • When my friend was upset, I offered to go and send her partner to talk to her, because I didn’t know what I could say to help – but I just wanted her to feel better.

The general trend is that I prioritise the happiness of other people (or the group as a whole), over my own – even when they directly contradict one another. If someone is uncomfortable or upset, I often don’t know how to help. But I still want to help, so I try to find another way to make them feel better And usually the next most obvious response is to bring them another person who does know how to help, instead of me.

It’s quite difficult to write about, because the situation involves two directly competing urges in a single situation. One urge is to stay, socialise, enjoy the company of the other person – because I like them. The other urge is to alter the situation to make the other person happier – because I care about them.

In reality, I almost always end up choosing the second option. The first option might seem appealing but I know that I would find it difficult and uncomfortable anyway. I won’t know how to help, I’ll feel bad about that, and I’ll end up unable to enjoy any interaction with the person in the end. So I choose the second option. I give up my own chance at an enjoyable interaction (because I know the chance of it actually being successful or enjoyable is very slim), in order to make the other person happy without me. The options are either: both of us are unhappy and uncomfortable, or: one of us (me) is unhappy, and the other is (possibly) cheered up.

It’s taken me a long time to see that this is a thing that I do, and to be able to actually describe it to myself. I’m not sure what I should do now that I recognise it, though.

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