Social Anxiety, Happiness, Fixing People You Love, etc.

Over the past few months I have been collecting articles that relate to many of the topics we have been discussing on this blog. I don’t think they merit individual posts so I am collating them here in one post. Please respond to whichever ones take your fancy.

I’ll begin this collection with the topic of social anxiety and other related subjects:
ME certainly does not like to socialize, and there have been several times when it was clear that speaking in front of a group was unpleasant for him and he was incredibly bad at it. He rarely wants to attend social events like parties, and he turns down all offers to have a pint or have a friendly interaction with Joe (or Mark from earlier series).

An article I read made me wonder about the origins of social anxiety and whether the humorous set pieces in DM where he unequivocally turns down an invitation to a wedding or an opportunity to join a group could also be associated with other events in his life and shed some light on the plight of people who suffer from social anxiety.

The article quotes, Stefan G. Hofmann, the director of the Social Anxiety Program at Boston University: “Social anxiety is a result of the fear of a possibility that we will not be accepted by our peers. It’s the fear of negative evaluation by others, and that is [part of] a very fundamental, biological need to be liked.”

“Social anxiety is a very normal stage that children go through, [along with] separation anxiety and stranger anxiety.”

Also, “Social anxiety disorder is the most common form among all the anxiety disorders. It actually is also ranked, in comparison to all the other mental disorders, as one of the most common disorders, next only to depression and substance use disorder. Thirteen out of 100 people meet criteria for social anxiety disorder [at some point in life].”

“The definition of a mental disorder is that it causes either significant distress, and/or significant interference in one’s life. So you might be able to perform normally during daily life, but you’re terribly distressed around these social situations, such as meeting people, giving speeches, or doing things in front of people.”

We have a pretty good example of this disorder in the character of Martin Ellingham. (BTW, I wouldn’t say that negates anything I said about him as a superhero. Because superheroes need to hide their identities they harbor a higher than average need to be alone and often do not socialize unless it helps them capture the villain.) He would rather stay at home, especially with Louisa and James, than attend any of the community events in Portwenn.

This sort of avoidance of social interaction also connects to another article that was in today’s NYTimes. This article brings up both being in social settings and how to achieve happiness. We might say that both ME and Louisa could use more of what we might call networking or perhaps associating with others on a personal basis. Like many people who work, they have plenty of interfacing with colleagues and clients/patients/students/parents while having very little with someone in whom they can confide. Along those lines there is a humorous article, also in the Times, about complaining. The author loves to complain and says, “Being a person is terrible. And complaining about it is the purest, most soothing form of protest there is. Complaining feels so good. It’s like casting off the oppressive wool coat you’ve been buried under since October on that first truly beautiful warm April day. Pointlessly yelling into the void about some minor injustice you’ve suffered is the perfect relief for the giant wave of anxiety crashing against your insides, a balm for the wounds that riding public transportation with people who don’t use headphones while they listen to music can inflict upon your weary soul. It doesn’t even have to be verbal. The shared grimace and eye roll between me and the other woman who was inconvenienced by the oversize suitcase the man in Seat 3B tried to sneak past the flight attendant can feel better than a long hug. Complaining is a hot bath for your feelings.” Obviously she would not recommend anything close to repressing one’s feelings. In fact, she might consider ME’s outbursts about the townspeople very healthy for him. Not only that, but the occasional shared eye contact between ME and Morwenna or Louisa connects them in a somewhat intimate way.

That leads me to another article that recently appeared in the NYTimes. In this article the wife of a married couple, Peter Pearson and Ellyn Bader, who have established a couple’s therapy institute is quoted as saying,“he’s lots of things that my best friend isn’t, but my best friend is lots of things he’s not.” Her point is that having a close connection to one’s spouse does not satisfy all of our needs in terms of having someone to talk to and divulge intimate thoughts to. Sometimes those thoughts might be about one’s spouse! This pair also challenge “the notion that you shouldn’t get married to change someone.” ‘I think that’s what marriage is about,’ Dr. Bader says. ‘It’s where some of the juices come from, and it’s also how you get the best out of the person you marry.’ Of course we know that part of the reason ME and Louisa don’t have personal friends is the constraint of the show. Whereas they bring in all sorts of outsiders during each series, and in S8 we seem to have at least one new addition in each episode, most of these are “one and dones,” as they say. We will never see them again and they do not develop into anyone who becomes a confidant. Louisa has had Holly and Isobel, but they did more confiding in her than she did in them. Martin has had Roger Fenn and Chris Parsons very briefly and not often. With them he listens and rarely reveals much, especially after S1.

The change comments are interesting. We might argue with that position; however, there is certainly some indisputable validity to them. If we don’t acknowledge that we change throughout our marriage, we would be denying the truth, and I doubt any of us has never tried to change something about our spouse.

In regard to the notion of changing someone you love, there was another article in the NYTimes that engaged with that topic. They distill their argument by saying, “To make us feel loved and valued, our spouse must convey appreciation for the person we currently are. To help us grow, he or she must emphasize the discrepancy between that person and the person we can ideally become, typically by casting a sober, critical eye on our faults.” They admit that this balancing act is very demanding and hard to achieve yet extremely gratifying. Their examples appear to recognize that it usually falls to one spouse (or partner) to fulfill this task. In the case of ME and Louisa, we could say that ME is fairly comfortable in his role as GP and the sense of accomplishment it gives him and that it’s Louisa who is still searching to find that level of satisfaction both at home and at work. We might actually want to applaud ME for pushing Louisa to raise her competency both at home and at work, and even in her new endeavor to become a child therapist, if it weren’t for the fact that he rarely demonstrates any affection or loving support for her. He’s more in the territory of belittling her and showing off his own abilities and knowledge. She could use more expression of love and appreciation!

I am clearly always thinking about what we see in this show while I read the newspaper. These articles also appeal to me on a personal level. I’m interested to see what kind of reaction I get from all of you.

6 thoughts on “Social Anxiety, Happiness, Fixing People You Love, etc.

  1. Amy

    Not sure where to begin! We have no power at home after the storm, so I am sitting in the library, trying to catch up. So let me see what I can add.

    On social anxiety, as an introvert and once-insecure teen/young adult, I can relate to that and still at times experience that feeling of being an outsider. In fact, we were recently at an event where I felt that very acutely until I started talking with people and realized that I was not on the outside. But I think that unless social anxiety interferes with your ability to function and be “happy,” it’s not a mental health issue, as you noted. So does it really interfere with Martin’s ability to function or be happy? I don’t think so. He seems to prefer missing those events and is quite content to stay home alone or with his family. Not everyone needs social interaction to be happy, do they?

    Which brings me to another point in your post: what if Louisa needs that social interaction and Martin does not? Does she need to drag him to events to be happy? And if so, does his social anxiety THEN become a problem because it creates tension between his personal happiness and his wife’s happiness?

    And that then relates to your third issue—can or should she try to change him so that he is more sociable, more connected to other people? If he willingly attends events as he has a couple of times in S8, is that enough to appease or satisfy Louisa? Even if he only does it reluctantly and has no fun? I think that dragging a reluctant spouse to an event just so you have an escort is probably counterproductive.

    I read that NYT article about marriages and best friends, and I can’t say that I agree. My husband is definitely my best friend, and why would I want to talk about him to another person? If we can’t talk to each other about our complaints or problems, what good does it do to tell someone else? On the other hand, he could not be my ONLY friend although he is my best friend. My women friends provide a different type of interaction and insight, and we share different perspectives. And some of them are also “best” friends in a way. But in our marriage, we are each other’s best friends.

    I think that Martin and Louisa could possibly have that kind of relationship if either truly let their guard down and shared their deepest secrets, fears, and hopes. I don’t see either one of them ever trusting anyone else enough to make them a best friend. (I wondered if they were going to develop a closer relationship between Louisa and her fellow student/driver, but it appears that she will not be returning to school!)

    Thanks for posting, Karen! I am already getting a bit wistful knowing that there are only two more new episodes. I still am not sure how I feel about this season, and I look forward to an overall assessment at some point.

  2. Santa Traugott

    I’m not so sure that Martin does have social anxiety. Of course, it is a real problem from which a surprising number of persons suffer, but he seems to me to be more curmudgeonly than anxious. He thinks most of the social situations on offer are likely to be “ghastly.” He appears to have vast contempt for most of the residents of Portwenn. [Ex: when Louisa remarks that her former pupil is a sociopath and rude, he says, ” a local girl then.”] In fact, I could see Martin Ellingham, the hotshot London surgeon, in his own milieu, quite happy to attend certain social gatherings or cultural events.

    Delving a little deeper, I think he has learned that people disappoint and hurt him, so it’s just better to stay away and not be vulnerable. But that learned reaction is quite different from having panic attacks at the idea of having to be at a social event.

    WE keep returning to the idea of whether or not one person can change another. My view on this is that our self is more fluid than we usually think. As a social psychologist named Hazel Markus remarked (and I cannot find the citation!) “self is a verb.” I interpret this to mean that different circumstances and different people bring out different aspects of our character, which has many more sides and aspects than we know. Or rather, the way one presents oneself can be very different in different circumstances. So, to that extent, yes, one person can “change” another, in that they can bring out the best, or the worst, of them.

    Now I say this knowing that a strong ego is a really important part of healthy functioning, and that means having a deep sense of “knowing who you are” and being able to keep that sense in different situations. People who are all over the place in response to changing circumstances, are not in very good shape. But maybe that’s a balancing act: knowing that you contain multitudes (Walt Whitman?) One can be maternal, one can be a hard-nosed boss, one can be an abstracted scholar — and it’s OK, as long as you know that all those various possibilities are “you.”

    Anyway, that’s a long-winded way of saying, yes, of course people can change in interaction with others. And perhaps long-term interaction brings about deeper and more lasting change.

    And related to change, I want to pass on something my husband said in a little speech celebrating our 50th anniversary. He said that in his view, as he thought over 50 years, the key to a lasting and successful marriage was not that people stayed the same, but that as people grew and changed over the years, their partner was able to support them in that process, and adapt to the changes. Now in our series, we see Louisa making some big changes. That’s going to produce some reaction in that marriage, inevitably, both good and bad probably.

  3. Dale Marie

    I am going to address changing people you love or are married to. I was married, for 22 years, to an extremely smart man who is on the autism spectrum. When we met and married in 1970’s there was no such diagnosis for him. I, as well as others who knew him, just thought that he was severely introverted. He was also depressed but I did not recognize that, at first, because I had no experience with depression.

    He is in so many ways like Martin Ellingham. I won’t bore you with all the similarities. He has social anxiety and finds it difficult to speak in public. This was a problem because of his job. He was a college professor of botany and was a super researcher but it was painful to watch him present his research at a conference. He spent a lot of time in his lab and published many papers in refereed scholarly journals and was in his element spending time alone working in his lab. Like Martin with Louisa, he also thought (still thinks) he was smarter than I was/am even though I am as educated as he is (we both have Ph.D.’s in botany). He never said “I am smarter than you are” but it was nevertheless made clear to me in many small ways He, like Martin, was always the “the smartest person in the room”. His view of himself as smarter than I have never changed even in light of the fact that I have had a much more successful academics career than he had.

    I am by nature a fixer. I will be honest about the fact that when I first met my ex I thought that he need help/ to be fixed and that I was the one who could fix him. 22 years and 2 children’s later I realized that I had failed. He is not fixable because, like Martin, that is who he was. He was NOT the “science project” I obviously thought he was. I think we need to take people as we find him and this is sometimes difficult. I do know that one can influence changes people’s superficial behavior patterns but there is no changing the essence of who they are. This clarity came after divorce.

    Ruth told Martin at the end of S6 that he needed to change if he wanted to save his marriage. In my view, he has not really changed. He is studiously observing Louisa so that he can find things that would make her happy and give those things to her. He has also changed some of his behavior because he thinks that will also make her happy. The whole thing looks to me like a research project or college course. Louisa 101. In the latest episode he thought he knew what car Louisa should get and he had to instruct her in driving. He still thinks he knows what she needs better than she does.

    In S7 E8 when Louisa said she was obsessed with everyone bring normal I interpreted that to mean she wants people to be conventional (whatever she perceives that to be). She had an unrealistic mold that she wanted people to fit in. It is rather curious that having lived in Port Wenn all her life she still thinks that. The people in that town are all unusual., I think, like me, she wanted to fix Martin. She seems to have given up on that.

    Like Amy, I am also wistful that there is only 1 episode left. I see now how they are going to keep us interested for the next 2 years. I actually feel anxious and worried about Martin. I couldn’t sleep on Thursday night after watching about E 7. 😊 I have been a bit ambivalent about this series but after E 7, I am fully engaged.,

  4. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    I find your opinion about whether ME has social anxiety intriguing. As you say, he disdains the people of Portwenn, and rightfully so in many cases, and he would rather stay away. However, there are some occasions when he appears to be anxious about a possible social event, e.g. in S7 when Louisa first tells him she has arranged to have a party with him as the host. We do have to allow for how Martin Clunes decides to play the scene, but I think he looks rather aghast until she laughs and says it was only a joke. I think this is the difficulty in trying to psychoanalyze a character whose behavior may not strictly follow what would happen in real life. As for ME finding it pleasurable to be around people he admires, he certainly doesn’t want to stay at the meeting with Edith, although that is also because of Edith. Otherwise, we only see him interact with Chris Parsons on a friendly level. Every other time he’s around doctors he barks at them or treats them condescendingly. He really seems almost impossible to please when it comes to socializing. It’s only when the activity involves Louisa that we see him want to be there, and that’s not every time. From what we see he considers himself superior to just about everyone.

    I agree entirely with your husband’s remarks and your 50 years together attest to how you and he have adapted to each other throughout the years. It’s a wonderful achievement that I hope to reach too.

    Louisa wanting to change jobs, or at least doing some training in preparation for a new career, might cause some rebound effects. We already know that ME has no more respect for her professor or what she’s learning than he had for her position as headmistress. Accommodation to each other is certainly fundamental to a good marriage, and we’ll see where they take this.

  5. Amy

    Dale, thanks for sharing your story. I can imagine how painful it was to realize after 22 years that your husband was not going to change, and I think in many ways that is true for the character of Martin Ellingham also.

    I think that Santa’s discussion of change is a different type of change—not in someone’s fundamental nature or core identity, but in some of their behaviors. People can be made aware of how their decisions, words, and conduct hurt or anger other people. (That may not be true for someone who is on the autism spectrum—I don’t know.) I think we are seeing some of those changes in Martin. He has changed around the edges. But I don’t think it was Louisa who changed him.

    I also think we are seeing how he is different with others. He no longer really barks at Morwenna and was very kind to her when her mother was ill; he is kinder to Mrs T. He even is kinder to Penhale and Bert and many of the patients. I think the writers want to convey that the marital crisis and therapy have given him more insights into himself and his effect on others and that he has changed in some ways. He will never be a teddy bear, but he is a better version of himself. I don’t think Louisa did that. I think the much-maligned (for good reason) Dr Timoney is supposedly the one who did that.

    Like Dale, I am very intrigued by what happened in E7. Where are they going with this? Will this event shake Martin to the core? If he lost his ability to be a doctor, what would he have left of his positive self-image? Louisa has always loved him in part because of his skills and work as a doctor. And is his blood phobia really worse? Will this be the event that finally forces him to confront his demons and deal with the blood phobia?

    I have found this series rather themeless although amusing, but now I wonder what they have been building up to with this event. Where are they planning to take us in S9? For a few reasons I feel optimistic that S9 will be the season that brings all the characters to a new level and will give us a satisfying sense of closure. Here’s why:

    Morwenna and Al are both finally acting like adults. They have a fairly mature and balanced relationship with honesty and give and take. They bring out the best in each other—we see that in the gig race when Al convinces Morwenna that helping Alice is more important than winning a race.

    This is the first season that Penhale has shown some depth. I never liked this character until now, but I am finding him less cartoonish and more three-dimensional. He admits to being lonely, he wants to connect with people, he seeks help from Ruth. He solves a crime, he helps an injured man. He is definitely less slapstick while still being funny (more so than anyone else in the show right now).

    Mrs T has lost Clive and she is searching for comfort. She is still pretty cartoonish, but we’ve seen her as being quite capable as Doc’s assistant (though not as his driver or receptionist). I think this crisis with Martin may bring out some qualities in Mrs T that we haven’t yet seen.

    Bert has finally let Al grow up. He’s still a wheeler-dealer (or gonif, in Yiddish), but he is letting Al run the business.

    Louisa is experiencing growing pains and leaving her comfort zone at the school. She is realizing how smart she is and won’t be sold short by Martin and treated like “just a schoolteacher” any more.

    And Martin—well, what I said above.

    The only character who shows no signs of growth is James Henry! Damn, that kid is useless!!

    Sorry for babbling on, but like Dale, my head’s been spinning a bit since watching E7 last night.

  6. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    For the most part, Amy, I would agree with your rundown of the characters in this series. I also have considered the series themeless and really all over the place. I have been mulling E7 and will be putting some thoughts down in a post soon. Then you and everyone else can contribute your thoughts too.

    I am also planning to throw around some ideas about the series as a whole. As you have noticed, I haven’t found much to write about so far. That is mainly due to the fact that I keep waiting for something to bring some coherence to the series. With only one more episode to go, we’ll see how it adds to our view of the whole.

    They have to end the series with some sort of suspense or S9 wouldn’t be worth waiting for.

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