Social Interaction: Apologist vs Positive Strength

Hi all – this is going to be a post about a pattern I’ve seen in social interaction – mainly the contrast between two different approaches. I’ll just call them “Apologist” and “Positive Strength”.

The General Features of Each

The first, Apologist, is marked by anxiety, fear, and not wanting to “bother” other people. There’s a sense of reduced value here, as if one’s contributions will detract from the other person’s experience, or at least be highly questionable or vulnerable to criticism and rejection. There’s a big sense of risk involved, but it’s seen as necessary in order to even have a chance at positive interaction.

The second, Positive Strength, is more grounded in a sense of one’s own value and personal goodness. You can approach the other person in good will because you know the value and goodness of your own intentions. There’s nothing to hide, and so there’s a sense of openness here, and that includes to however the other person might respond, even if that means rejection or criticism. One is far more likely to be concerned about the state of the other person, too, and wanting what’s best for them. With openness, there’s also more of a heartfelt sense of empathy, as well as acceptance of the other person. Sometimes, there’s a sense of courage and vulnerability here, in that you’re open to such criticism, but for the most part, there’s also a sense of ease – social interaction flows more naturally from this position, rather than operating in starts and stops as little anxious bumps are overcome. You both give and receive openly.

How Value plays a part

Value contributes here because if you don’t value what you’re putting forward, you’re going to feel more like that you’re looking for something to be given to you, without having anything to give of value of your own. Without a sense of contribution, you can end up feeling like you’re just receiving things, and might be “undeserving” of such. You might feel bad or guilty that you have nothing, and dwell on it. You’re, in a sense, reduced to the position of a beggar, and you feel impoverished. You end up having to collect value from somewhere else.

On the other hand, if you do find value in what you have to give, then you’re able to give it with a sense of good will. Yes, maybe the other person won’t be welcoming to what you have to share, but you can also approach that in a way you feel is of value, such as with understanding, empathy, receptivity, or care. Listening, too, is a contribution or a gift.

Sometimes, we can be thrown into doubt over the value of what we have to give. This might be when someone criticizes or rejects something we’ve done or said. This can sometimes be a misunderstanding, even, where we perceive rejection without the other person really intending it. Maybe they just were having a bad day. Regardless, even if they’re a valued friend, and even if they honestly do not value something we did, doesn’t mean that the value we see is a complete lie. Yes, the doubts we have over something may be important to consider, but we don’t need to blindly tear apart our behavior, either. If we have doubts over what could be of value, that’s something we can reckon with ourselves, and come to our own conclusions. No one can determine the value of what we give for us.

We may feel like we’re honoring the other person, also, to feel crushed, or to withdraw all contributions so as not to “bother” – but then we fall into the “Apologist” paradigm, and that itself can end up hurting the way we interact with other people. Finding that place within us where we can contribute with a sense of personal value, and working our way through internal debates and doubts over it, can help us to find an honest sense of value and approach things from a more positive place.

Power – Personal vs External

Another aspect to this issue is the question of power. In the “Apologist” mode, the power rests in the other person – it’s up to them whether they accept or reject your approach, and that becomes what matters. In “Positive Strength”, you’re the one in charge. You contribute, and you respond to whatever comes from the other person.

So why does the other person have the power, and how can it become localized again to yourself? Well, part of it has to do with the perception of victimhood. If you’re a victim, then the other person can “save you” from whatever situation you’re a victim of. Circumstance, also, may “save” you – you’re at the mercy of external forces, that may act randomly and not give you the things you most desire out of life, leaving you to feel even more like a victim.

Why be a victim, though? For one, when we don’t feel anything we could do would work, one way is to give up, essentially, and leave it up to circumstance, including the actions of other people, to get us out of it. On a social level, this might mean feeling that no matter what we do, it’ll be of no value, no contribution, and no substance for the other person – only a bother. Abandoning the search for what would be good in a given situation on your end, you end up having victimhood as the only alternative, in which everything is in the hands of what’s external. And the external forces may be very forgiving! It may involve many loving, giving people! But it still can put you in the “Apologist” paradigm, where you don’t feel empowered in your interactions with others, and your sense of gratitude might not even be there.

The Other Extreme: Bulldozing

On the opposite side from “Apologist”, you might feel inclined to approach everything positively, and to feel positive, confident, and just all-around strong and forthright in your social interactions. The problem with this is that you cannot control your feelings, and your perception of the value of your actions, even when subject to your own evalutions, might be lacking. Sometimes, when we say our actions have value and goodness, we might say this not because we actually feel they do, nor after reflection, but rather because we want to have that result of being able to approach things positively. As a result, we can end up with social interactions where our approach is rather one-sided, and rather than being open to the other person, we’re closed, and see only the mission we’re on, viewing doubts and self-reflections as obstructions to that mission, and as such they’re ignored, tossed aside, or minimized in order to make way for the goal.

The thing is, no one likes to be on the receiving end of this behavior. While honest doubt and self-reflection might be inconvenient and uncomfortable, they’re necessary parts to the process of being flexible and open open. You need them as you change responses, update them, learn and grow, while being sensitive to the surroundings you’re is contributing to. Ignoring the issues here, it may seem like everyone who doesn’t like your actions is in the wrong, and that you are always in the right. This restriction will reduce the quality of your interactions too, and isolate you from other people, even as you think that they’re in the wrong for pushing you away, or not acting entertained or amused by your actions.

On this extreme, it’s crucial to be honest with one’s self as well as to do what you can to be open, aware, curious, and, most of all, to feel. Whatever your feelings are, you’re not going to find a healthy path unless you deal with those feelings where they actually are. The problems you have with yourself, the doubts, the discouragement – everything plays a part. Find your answers, but make sure to be lost before you do – otherwise, you won’t even think you need a journey to begin with.

Beyond Social Interaction

These issues of “Apologist” vs “Positive Strength” applies to all realms of action, not only the social ones. Victimhood, powerlessness, negativity, anxiety, guilt – these feelings can be with respect to anything. So too can openness, relaxed strength, and a sense of one’s own value and personal goodness.

Do you act within reality merely hoping that things won’t go wrong? Or, do you approach reality ready and open for whatever comes, acting in ways that you feel are good for your own reasons, while aware that new information may change your opinion?

Not much else to say here – just wanted to note that this issue can be relevant in other areas of life as well.

An Exercise: Moving from Apologist to Positive Strength

This exercise is designed for you to try working on this issue yourself – the steps are as follows:

  1. Look for an area of your life where you earnestly want to do something socially, but feel discouraged or doubtful. Write a list if you have to, but boil it down to one particular action you’d most like to take, but just feel you can’t.
  2. Why can’t you? What’s the problem with taking that action? Again, write a list if you have to, but look for the main problem, or a main theme among the problems. What’s wrong with the idea?
  3. What is true and false in relation to this problem? What feelings do you have in relation to this problem being there?
  4. Find a way to resolve the conflict you have, without ignoring the priorities you have both in wanting to do the action, or with having the problem you do with it. Something in you fuels both sides after all, so ignoring either amounts to ignoring yourself and prolonging the conflict. Instead, write out the internal debate the two sides might have over this issue, till they reach a place of agreement – a truth that both recognize as true. You might feel this as a sense of release, or in the sudden recognition of an action that actually works for you in this situation, something you’d feel good about. Indeed, it may have that sense of “positive strength”, even if there’s still a sense of vulnerability in the direction you’re going. The choice should’ve become much easier to make.

Note: for prolonging the conflict, this can go two ways: (1) you ignore your doubts and questions, and end up faking confidence when you really have your doubts, ending up isolating your real feelings from the outside, potentially feeling fake, cut-off, or isolated; or (2) you devalue your actions, and do nothing, which can lead to stagnation, regret, guilt, avoidance, slowness in life, and living in a smaller way than you personally would really like to. Thus, actually finding a workable solution can be of great value, so you can avoid these downsides, and find the way that feels good to you on multiple levels.

Conclusion

I hope this helps you to have more positive social interactions with people, whatever kind of relationship it might be. I hope, too, that it helps you to not put your sense of the value of who you are and what you do into the hands of other people, as well as gives you an avenue for how to deal with things when you do. That is, you can always look for, identify, and work through those internal conflicts, till you find the solution that works for you.

I leave you with a picture that reflects on this topic in its own way, and might resonate with you:

If you want to say thank you, don’t say sorry

All the best,

-Oliver

Additional Reading

Negativity – giving up and negativity go hand in hand – and getting negative on yourself socially can make it a real issue. This article also goes into where honest positivity can come from, and what it takes to work through a negative state.

Anxiety – social anxiety can have a huge role in this issue, and be tough to work one’s self out of in any given instance. This article covers anxiety in general, and approaches one can take to working through it.

Shame – we can end up feeling ashamed of ourselves, our actions, or our interests, and this can put us in an “Apologist” position, and harm our social interactions. This article goes into this issue, and how things like self-kindness can help us find a way out of it.

General Wikipedia Article on Social Anxiety

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