Do you barely enjoy the times you have with friends or do you even struggle to make friends in the first place? Chances are it’s a case of social slavery. But there’s nothing to fear.
Social slavery is very common and normal and it is a manifestation of one or several other issues, most commonly low self-esteem.
In this post, I’ll be explaining what social slavery is, how it manifests, the causes of social slavery, how to overcome it, and the social skills you need to develop in replacing social slavery.
What is Social Slavery?
Social slavery is a psychological disposition where a person feels obliged to do things they don’t want or like in order to remain accepted in social situations.
Unlike conventional slavery where the person is forced by another person to do things they wouldn’t naturally do, in social slavery, the person is forced by their own insecurities and fears.
So you are a social slave when you feel you need social interactions to feel worthy but you think you don’t have the social skills to maintain mutually beneficial friendships and because of that you do things, even things you don’t want or like, just to remain “social”.
There are three building blocks for social slavery:
- the feeling that you need to have friends or a clique to feel worthy or complete or be a normal human
- the feeling or belief that you do not have the social skills or right personality needed to make and keep friends
- the compulsion to do things you don’t want or like in making up for your lack of social skills in order to satisfy the requirements of being a normal human i.e having friends.
The result of being a social slave is that you never get to enjoy your friendships or social interactions because they become more like a chore to you rather than a platform for self-expression.
5 Causes of Social Slavery
Life experiences generally affect our social interaction and can give rise to social slavery. There might also be a biological component to it since certain personality types and temperaments are more prone to tilting towards being social slaves. But social slavery is usually a combination of several factors.
Below are some possible causes of social slavery.
Introverts are more likely to fall into social slavery because, by nature, they are not energized by social interactions. This disposition, when influenced by other factors like peer pressure, can make them force themselves into becoming more “social” and since they naturally don’t want that, they begin to serve the social interactions and go with the tides just to remain there.
2. Low Self-esteem and Insecurity
Low self-esteem perfectly fits the first component of social slavery— the feeling of not being enough without friends. Because people with low self-esteem are always seeking affirmation from others, they will compulsively serve social interactions just to remain accepted.
Most cases of social slavery are a combination of introversion and low self-esteem; low self-esteem fueling the need for a clique as a criterion for worth and introversion fueling the feeling of lack of social skills.
3. Lack of Social Skills
One might not have low self-esteem or be an introvert but just find it difficult to make friends. If they believe having friends is a really important aspect of their lives, they might be forced (instead of learning the skills) into flowing along with people and doing what others want since they are convinced in themselves that they don’t know how social interactions work.
Most traumas leave their victims with insecurities. For instance, a child who lost his parents in an accident they were all involved in, might continue to think his presence will always mess things up and remain unassertive and equivocal in social interactions, just following what he sees everyone else do or want.
5. Social Pressure
In some ways, social pressure is a contributing factor to every other cause of social slavery, especially the social pressure to have friends.
A person who lives in a society where there’s so much noise about having friends and so much significance is attached to social status will do anything to have friends and maintain their social status, except they consciously set themselves free from social pressure.
Signs and Symptoms of Social Slavery
1. The inability to say no without feeling guilty
Because you are all about satisfying the desires of the other parties and doing things their way when you are a social slave, you will always say yes to every of their request since saying no means you think your idea is a thing.
And times when you get to say no, you keep feeling bad about it, worrying that you might lose that friendship.
2. The inability to ask for your needs
Again because you are all about satisfying the other parties and doing things their way, you feel your needs are insignificant or your desires are invalid, or asking for your needs might inconvenience them and they will leave you.
3. The inability to express your displeasure
Whenever other parties in the social interactions, especially those you look up to as “Social Pros” (who have the social skills, a flock of friends, and direct the social circles) do things you do not like, you are afraid to tell them because they might get offended and your friendship will be at stake.
4. The inability to set boundaries
Setting boundaries is putting a structure around having your needs met and your dislikes avoided. Since the two pillars of boundaries are inexistent for a social slave, they cannot set boundaries and people just rumble into their space and rumble out anytime they want.
5. Always with friends but never satisfied
Social slaves have no true friends and they know it. There’s always this feeling of lack of connection or loneliness despite always being around people. This is because they are tired of not having their needs met, being displeased, and having their boundaries crossed but they can’t do anything since their sense of worth depends on it.
How to Overcome Social Slavery
1. Understand your worth is not dependent on your social status
The first step towards freedom from social slavery is to dissociate your sense of worth from your social status. Yes, it is true that we need friends to enjoy life to the fullest, but we don’t need them in defining how normal or complete our lives are.
Rather than increasing your social status, staying in relationships where you have to be there decreases your social status because people can tell when you can’t do without them.
You also mustn’t have friends to satisfy society’s expectation for you to always have friends. If you don’t have friends and don’t want to, it is fine so long as you are sure you aren’t being avoidant because of some other issues that need to be solved.
If you don’t have friends and want to, rather than being a social slave, take time and learn how to make friends. It is a skill that can be learned.
Related: How To Become More Likeable And Make Friends
2. Appreciate your style of interaction
The second reason why you would remain a social slave is when you believe your social skills, style of interaction, or personality type is not good enough to have friends or keep friends. But this is not true.
Dynamism is the building block of social interactions. If everybody behaves exactly like you, relating with people will be monotonous and unexciting because you already know the response you will get.
You can just sit alone and relate with yourself and the experience will be the same as what you will get outside. But the dynamism created when people come together is beautiful and what attracts us to want to talk.
Since this is true, bringing your own style of interaction instead of copying what you see others do is important and needed in social interactions. Your difference is not a defect and not something you should try to hide or blend.
One mindset shift that can help you get comfortable with showing your style is to understand that you can’t get along with everybody.
No matter your personality type or style of interaction, there will be some people who will like and appreciate you for who you are and others who think you aren’t cool enough. So focus on being yourself and contributing your style (yes, it is a contribution) and you will attract the right people.
3. Insist on having only satisfying relationships
It is not just relationships we want but satisfying relationships. Satisfying relationships exist when both parties are having their needs met.
It is easy to assume the role of a giver in a relationship that you forget you should take also. Ideally, not taking from a relationship deprives the other person of the joy of giving, but if you’re in a relationship where the other person is only concerned about receiving and intentionally doesn’t care about your needs, staying there is nursing toxicity.
You are to speak up and ask that they change or you should walk away if they don’t want to. If you’re afraid to do any of the two, I understand, but you need to believe that you are worthy of the same quality of life everyone else has.
Related: How To Change Your Friends Without A Fight
Things can go your way too and you don’t have to always be at the receiving end. So here you must take a stand, stop playing the victim and ensure you are truly satisfied with your friendships. If you aren’t, you should walk away and not feel guilty about it.
Walking away and insisting your needs are met while you meet their needs is only possible when you have detached your sense of worth from having friends (Step 1). Until you have done that, you will continue to fear losing friends. So freedom from social slavery should follow the steps.
Social Skills to Develop in Getting Free From Social Slavery
I mentioned earlier that making friends is a skill that can be learned. For someone who is a victim of social slavery, these four social skills should be prioritized.
1. Saying no without feeling guilty
If you are still uncomfortable with saying no after detaching your worth from friendships, you might just need to get around it by coming up with less stern ways of saying no.
Instead of a short “I won’t” when someone asks you to follow them to the restroom when you don’t want to, you can say “I’m sorry I won’t be able to go with you right now. I’m not in a good position to.”
If they persist, insist. “Maybe I’ll go with you some other time but spare me for today” If there’s a reason why you don’t want to go with them you can tell them.
But if there’s no reason (you just don’t feel like it) or it’s a reason you don’t want to tell them, then the above statements work fine. Immediately after that, forget about it.
Don’t sit with the thought of what they might be thinking. If they leave you because you said no, you never truly had a friend in the first place. They were only taskmasters.
2. Asking for what you need in clear terms
Allow people to do stuff and go out of their way for you. In fact, expect them to. As explained earlier, if they don’t want to (even when you do things for them) the relationship is one-sided.
On the other hand, if you are only concerned about taking, you are the toxic person. There should be a balance between giving and receiving.
Now, you shouldn’t ask for what you need using suggestive words or behaviors; be clear and unequivocal about what you want. If you want a friend to bring the book you lent them to the motor park, say “I am at the motor park, come and give me there,” not “I am at the motor park, do you know the place?”
The second statement is suggesting that you want them to come but you are afraid of telling them to come. Just say it. It takes courage but these social skills can only be developed through practice. (I can feel how uncomfortable this feels even while writing it but we must practice it).
3. Expressing your displeasure verbally and clearly and expecting a readjustment
If people do things you don’t like or if they hurt you, tell them in clear terms “hey this is what you did and I don’t like it. please don’t do it next time!”
No grumbling, no grudges, no tale-telling. Expressing your displeasure is not the same as fighting or insulting. Simply state what they did and tell them you don’t like it. You can also explain why you don’t like it and the effect it has on you.
You do this by talking, not nagging. Mostly, friends will appreciate and respect you more when you tell them things you don’t like. If they get annoyed, again you don’t have a friend yet.
4. Setting boundaries and insisting on them
Your boundaries are structures you set around your life ensuring that your desires are met and dislikes avoided. They are the areas you don’t want people to cross and things you don’t want people to do or say around you.
Once you can set boundaries, you have accepted the fact that you should be respected and treated like a person of worth. Slaves don’t expect that.
People who will respect you will respect your boundaries. People who don’t respect you, shouldn’t be your friends.
Don’t expect to be free from social slavery in one day. Although you can make up your mind at this moment and choose to adjust, you won’t get comfortable with the adjustments all of a sudden. They are developed by conscious practice. The more you practice them the more comfortable they get.
Olusegun Iyejare is a career coach and certified counselor. He helps individuals discover and maximize their potential to live satisfying lives regardless of obvious limitations holding them back.