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Posts Tagged ‘lack of social graces’

Girls on path (c) Lynda BernhardtOne of the aftereffects of child abuse that continues to kick my tail is the lack of social graces that I learned as a child. I didn’t learn any social graces beyond saying, “Please” and “Thank you” as a kid. Everything that I have learned socially I have “picked up on the street” by observing other people.

I know that Emily Post (or one of those etiquette women) said that etiquette is only needed for those who cannot be gracious. It is not that I don’t want to be gracious: it’s just that I do not know what other people’s expectations of graciousness are. Oftentimes, my attempts to be gracious just blow up in my face. I would read Emily Post, but that is apparently so outdated that I would wind up looking like an idiot, anyhow.

For example, my parents never wrote or taught me about thank you notes. Sometimes my grandparents would look at me pointedly and ask if I received the present they sent me in the mail. I would say, “yes,” and wonder why they had such little faith in the U.S. Postal Service. They never told me that I needed to send a thank you card, either.

A few years ago, I was so mortified at my lack of knowledge of social graces that I swore off parties for adults for a long time. A friend had moved into a ritzier part of town and invited her friends to her new house for a barbeque. I accepted the invitation on behalf of my family and came. There were easily 20 families there, each bringing along some sort of casserole or dessert. Hub turned to me and asked where our dish was. I told him that she did not ask me to bring a dish, to which he replied, “You always ask the hostess if you can bring anything.”

Nope. Never heard that one. The only thing my parents ever brought along were my sister and me to be abused by the hosts.

I spent the night fighting back tears as I figured that every person there thought I was a self-centered jerk. Then, I came home and bawled my eyes out in shame. I posted about all of this at my online abuse survivors message board, and my friends there were fabulous, as always. One said to come on over right now where she and her dog were hanging out in the backyard. Neither she nor the dog cared what I brought or what I wore. My presence would be the gift.

A friend at isurvive suggested that I ask, “What should I wear, and what should I bring?” with every invitation, and I would be okay. I do that, but I also try to avoid going to group parties because it is not worth the stress I put on myself. At least with children’s birthday parties, I know to bring a gift, but I still wind up doing things wrong even at those.

One of my problems is that I don’t know how to do the shallow chit-chat thing well. I am extremely good in the one-on-one setting, when pretenses are down and we are talking about things that matter. But put me in a setting with people I don’t know or barely know, and I am going to screw something up. My attempts to be welcoming to others are viewed as “too talkative.” My attempts not to be “too talkative” come across as “standoffish.” I cannot seem to find that balance.

And then there is the challenge of figuring out what to say. I don’t have the same background as most people. It’s not like I can say, “Yeah, that reminds me of the time I was buried alive and had to claw my way out of the ground,” in a conversation. Now that I am a parent, I generally fall back on kid topics, but it is still very stressful for me to generate idle chit chit. I still can’t seem to get it right.

Related Topic:

Warped Reality of the Abused Adopted Child

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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