Monthly Archives: November 2014

Don’t shy people just lack social skills?

The simple answer to this question is yes and no.

Before coming to this conclusion, it’s important to be aware of the various ways that nerves and anxiety can hinder conversational ability, and of the fact that many people who are nervous get very frustrated indeed with themselves and often end-up believing they are socially-inept and blaming lack of social success on it. They also end-up concluding that this is the reason they may have difficulties making friends. What’s more, when they do struggle with the issues that I’m about to illustrate, they often beat themselves-up, and put pressure on themselves to not be shy, not make mistakes and not slip-up which of course, only makes the situation worse; a double whammy.

O greatest importance, some of the symptoms, and more importantly, attempts to avoid feared judgements on the part of others can actually sabotage people socially and be misinterpreted as being aloof, distant, uninterested, bored, judging etc. and can thus make someone uncomfortable. Examples are things like avoiding eye-contact, zoning out in your head worrying about what you’re going to say next to fill the silence, deliberately refraining from saying things; e.g. can’t say that, sounds too… obvious, out of the blue, weird, inappropriate etc. (self-censorship). These behaviours are known as ‘safety-behaviours’ in cognitive behavioural therapy, and many of them play a massive role in hindering social success.

At the same time, people who are shy or socially-anxious can genuinely lack social skills due to the fact that some are severely isolated and don’t have much of a social life and/or are lacking in social experience, which is kind of understandable.

Shyness and social anxiety can be pretty cruel in the sense, in that it stops people affected from expressing themselves and can really give an inaccurate picture of what someone’s really like. What’s more, when shy or anxious people feel they didn’t perform to the beast of their ability, they often beat themselves-up and go over in their heads about how badly they came across or how inept the must appear.

Common conversational mistakes that can be seen as lack of social skills

Let’s explore to what degree some of these supposedly socially-inept qualities might be linked to anxiety and it’s related insecurities. Let’s see how anxiety can cause you to make mistakes, even if your social skills are fine and even if you’re perfectly capable in situations when you’re fully at ease.

Interrupting

This is often seen as a sign of lack of social skills but anxiety can play a significant role to. In situations and conversations where the fear of mind going blank or awkward silences play a part, one might be feeling so much pressure, or be so heavily focused on when the next silence is, or avoiding being quiet at all costs, that they might interrupt people.

Not listening

Again, an anxious person may be so heavily focused on what people around are thinking, when the next silence will happen, whether they’re saying enough, whether they’re coming across as boring, that they may have little capacity left-over to take-in hat the other person’s saying. This can come across to their conversation partner as not listening or being disengaged. Usually though this problem sorts itself-out once the anxiety-related problem is rectified.

Interrogating

Some of you have probably discovered that the best conversations you’ve had are ones where you really didn’t ask that many questions at all. Free-flowing conversations are usually a mix of question and follow-up statements that can be followed-up in turn, by more statements or questions.

One common, though by no means deadly, conversational mistake is to ask a series of closed questions, followed by one-word answer, followed by more questions and one-word answers. On-the-spot, on-the-spot, on-the-spot for both parties.

Usually, we find it easier to come-up with responses to questions and follow-up what people have said when we’re at ease. because we find it easier to recall relevant information in our minds. When we’re not at ease by contrast, we find this process much harder. When we’re not ‘at ease’ it really means we’re experiencing anxiety that inhibits our cognition, including our ability to recall topics and relevant information.

If the fear of being seen as ‘quiet’ plays a part in your social anxiety or shyness, and if trying to avoid being ‘quiet’ at all costs is a problem for you, then it’s highly likely that you go out of your way to avoid silences; asking as many questions as you possibly can being one way of doing so.

Sometimes interrogating people when you genuinely can’t think of anything to follow up can be a way of avoiding silences; a safety-behaviour.

Not responding much to people’s attempts to start conversations; giving one-word answers/little to work with

This is really the flip side to the above. Sometimes if we are shy, we might not say very much if people ask us questions, or if people try to invite us to talk by making statements which they might be expecting us to contribute.

There are a number of reasons why you might have difficult doing this and there are several social fears which could be playing a part. It’s important to note that there are two main reasons why this might be. The first is due to feelings of anxiety directly inhibiting you from thinking of anything to say (mind going blank; a symptom), and the second is deliberately ‘saying little’ to not draw attention to yourself, or to avoid self-disclosure, possibly out of fear of saying something ‘wrong’, disclosing personal information, or a sense that people are trying to judge you/make you jump through hoops (social fears).

If for example, you’re in a crowded situation for example, you might, as with above be more focused on what people around you are thinking. You might be carried away with the trying to say the perfect thing, that your mind is simply too paralysed and locked with anxiety to be able to recall anything to respond with, even if you do have plenty of cool things to share. In this case, a symptom of anxiety due to feeling uncomfortable.

If fears of self-disclosure are playing a part, then this could be one way you might be avoiding it, a safety-behaviour if you will. Sometimes ‘saying very little’ is one of those hard-to-identify, subtle avoidance mechanisms that keeps shyness and social anxiety going. For e.g. you might believe that people will look down on you, you might believe that people will think your boring if they find out you don’t have much of a social life, you don’t do much at the weekend, you don’t lead an ultra-busy life, or whatever you’ve bought-into (unhelpful belief) that leads you to expect a negative judgement. Self-disclosure-related fears will be covered elsewhere.

Talking too much about yourself, trying to brag, trying to prove yourself

Although this is a problem more associated with narcissism that with shyness, social anxiety and low self-esteem, it can be a hindrance to shy people too and it can be caused by insecurities related to shyness, isolation and lack of social experience.

You might well have bought-into the idea that you’ve got to put your best foot forward, that you’ve go to show who you are, that you cannot show any vulnerability at all. You may have bought into the idea that you’ve got to pass a test, that you’ve got to impress people before they accept you, that you have one chance to make a great first impression.

It can hinder someone socially because it can easily be too much.

In a way, it’s a very, very subtle form of avoidance behaviour. At the route, there maybe a more general fear of being open to other’s about who you really are, about revealing vulnerability. The social fears that play a role are closely-related to the fears of self-disclosure of personal information. In a way, this is a very subtle safety-behaviour.

Lack of eye-contact

It’s a well-known fact that shy people make less eye-contact. A lot of people find eye-contact quite intensive and it can be difficult to put your finger on exactly what you’re afraid of. In my opinion it generally revolve around a sense that people can read how you’re feeling and of which they’ll judge you badly by it, or that you’re being overly intrusive, you’ll will provoke or make the other person uncomfortable, or else they’ll read-into you badly.

In addition, if you’re in a social situation that you already find anxiety-provoking enough, such as a crowded, noisy social setting setting with lots of people to mingle with, you might fin maintaining eye-contact even harder. Again, you might be distracted with what’s going-on around you when thoughts racing around in your head about what people are thinking, how inept you must look (the #1 source of uneasiness of shy people in parties and other busy social situations). When that’s the case, it’s doubly-difficult to maintain eye-contact, due to that additional anxiety.

Lack of eye-contact hinders people socially because it can easily be misinterpreted as disinterested as disinterested, distracted, not listening, aloof, judgemental, bored, boring or can give the other person the impression that they’re making you uncomfortable; ‘what have I don’ sort of feeling; the list goes on. Eye-contact, as much advice will say is one of the key elements of communication.

Are these things always a result in a deficit in social skills? Am I really socially inept, crap with people, got no potential?

The short answer is NO. It’s clear now that a lot of common signs of ‘social ineptitude’ really are a result of nerves and anxiety symptoms, and the safety-behaviours employed to try and avoid the feared negative judgements. In addition, when we’re nervous in social situations, and our mind is racing, it can be HIGHLY DISTRACTING.

Whilst it’s definitely true that for some people might be genuine deficits due to lack of social experience, we cannot underestimate the role that anxiety and nervousness, as well as social fears plays in what we think is social ineptitude. The good new is that working on shyness or social-anxiety-related issues adn comfort zone WILL help significantly with any of the issues bought-up in this post if any of them strike a familiar note with you.

Upcoming;

fear of awkward silences

What can we be self-conscious of?

In some social and public situations, do you ever get uncomfortable at the thought that people around are looking at you & imagine they’re all thinking badly of you? If you ever feel like that, there’s always reasons though it’s not always easy to identify the source. We can become self-conscious of many things including aspects of our appearance, social performance, body language or behavior. This article is a list & brief descriptions of some common things.

Common things include;

  • Being the ‘quiet one’ in a social situation
  • The sound of your voice
  • Parting company
  • Awkward conversations
  • What we’re talking about; that we might not know a lot about pop culture (new)
  • Appearing nervous
  • Blushing
  • Trembling
  • Dancing; that you’re not doing it ‘right’ (new)
  • Not dancing; in a situation where you feel it’s expected but you don’t know what to do (new)

Why might we be self-conscious of these things?

The reason is simple, we may have the following beliefs about them;

  • That people around are always noticing
  • That if people notice they’ll think something badly of you
  • That if people were to comment they mean something mean
  • That if they thought badly of you for it the consequences would be terrible and long lasting
  • That if people are nasty to you about it you deserve it & they’re in the right

Self-consciousness is a major source of social anxiety and discomfort within social situations that can hinder our ability to socialize. If you suffer from self-consciousness it can sometimes be difficult to put your finger on what exactly you worry about people noticing. When in social situations, what do you feel that people are looking at? Identify any that are relevant.

Social performance

When struggling with social situations, we can sometimes become self-conscious of our performance. Some examples of things we might worry about people around noticing.

Being the ‘quiet’ one in a group

One of the biggest challenges of group conversations are those moments when you can’t think of anything to say & you start to worry that you’re being the most quiet one in the group, and that if we don’t say something people will think we’re boring or anti-social or if someone was to remark on it, they mean something bad. There are all sorts of reasons we can end up quiet in group conversations ranging from; the topic being about something we genuinely can’t contribute to, self-censorship, not being able to but in, or due to anxiety from other sources. Are any of the other sources of self-consciousness relevant during those times?

The sound of our voice

Sometimes when we’re nervous, we can struggle to get our words out, we end up stuttering, voice may go squeaky, we may trip over our words. When this happens in earshot of people we may worry that people are looking at this & that they’re think you’re stupid.

Parting company (a challenging situation)

How we say ‘goodbye’ to people, this is something some people find difficult & where people feel on the spot. We may feel we’re not doing it ‘right’ or get the timing wrong.

Awkward conversations

When a conversation with someone one to one goes awkward, one source of anxiety in a public situation can be the thought that people around are noticing your social performance & are taking the mick out of it.

What we’re talking about; that people will pick-up we’re not into pop culture (new)

Sometimes, we think we ‘should’ know certain things about movies, tv series, music, sports and other parts of popular culture. One sources of self consciousness can be the thought that people around will pick-up that we’re not too familiar with something that you ‘should’ know & will be laughing behind our backs.

Visible symptoms of anxiety & nervousness

If you find yourself getting any of the below signs when you feel uncomfortable and out of your depth, you might start to imagine that you stand out or that it’s highly visible. Do any of the following apply to you?

Facial tension

If this happens to you & you get self-conscious, you might worry that people around you will think you’re angry, weird or weak.

Blushing

If this happens and you become self-conscious of it, you might start to worry that people will think there’s something wrong with you, will think you’re angry or romantically-attracted to them.

Trembling

If this happens to you & you become self-conscious, you might be worried that people around you will think you’re weak, have something wrong with you.

Sweating

If this happens to you when you feel anxious, you may worry that people will think you’ve got something wrong with you, that you’re disgusting.

Other

Dancing

This is a major area people feel self-conscious about. When we get up we may feel like we don’t know what we’re ‘supposed’ to be doing, we may worry that we’ll look silly, that people around us are expecting us to know the exact choreography of the song that’s playing & that if we don’t get it they’ll be thinking about it forever. Again, it’s this idea that people are looking at us and thinking badly of us if they notice. In reality, people are too busy having a good time to think about why some random stranger is a bit unsure of how to dance. Even so, they’re probably not giving that much thought as to why, probably in the same boat as a lot of people. We may have had negative experiences in the past, dealt with people who’re hyper critical of us in the past or read some unhelpful advice online which no doubt can make us feel self conscious. People who behave like that are douche bags; if they’re friends, they shouldn’t be that negative & critical (at least you tried). If they’re total strangers & saying nasty things, they’re the ones giving the bad vibes, they’re the negativity brigade, not you.

Not dancing; in situations where it’s expected

In situations where it feels like there’s an expectation to be seen dancing we may feel self-conscious when we’re not, but at the same time we may worry that we’ll look silly, like we’ll look silly if we do, don’t know what we’re ‘supposed’ to be doing & we’ll be in the situation described above. Is this something you find challenging? Is this a source of discomfort for you in those situations? In this case, the thought is people will think we’re boring wallflowers, will see us as ‘shy and weird’ (where did that belief come from?) and that if we don’t, we’ll look awkward, stupid like we don’t have a clue and that people will look at us & be thinking badly. Here’s the irony; the less people feel like they ‘should’ the more they will.

*I want to see that feeling of ‘should’ (obligation), (tengo que/tiene que, il faut que, mozhna etc.) taken out of the equation when it comes to dancing settings.

Conclusion

When next in a social situation where you feel that people are looking at you, what is it that you fear they’re looking at? What is it you fear they’ll think or are imagining they are thinking? This has been to cover some of the most common things that people can get self-conscious over. Note that more than one might apply, it’s important that you identify any that are relevant. Self-consciousness is a major source of anxiety and hindrance in social situations so it’s important to identify your sources.

For more information see; unravelling the layers of self-consciousness

Why do shy people often have fewer friends?

Is it because people don’t like them because they’re shy? Is it because people are put-off by shyness and uneasiness? Is it because people genuinely do find them boring? Do they deserve it? Is it because they failed to impress? It’s got nothing to do with being unlikeable.

Key reasons shy & socially-anxious people struggle to make friends

  • Firstly they’re more hesitant to approach people to start conversations
  • They may struggle with small talk
  • They may struggle socially *in certain settings* due to anxiety and self-consciousness
  • Some may struggle with self-disclosure and answering certain questions, this can get in the way of getting to know people
  • They may take longer to warm up to people
  • They maybe less pro-active in getting contact details and making social plans
  • Avoidance of social opportunities to meet people sometimes plays a part

As a secondary factor, having very few or no friends can further restrict opportunities to meet people and make friends (the social catch 22).

*Note ‘in certain settings’; socially-anxious people are perfectly capable of functioning socially in settings that are not too challenging but may struggle in challenging settings (such as loud parties and nightclubs). This point depends on what types of social opportunities have been available. If all the social opportunities are restricted to settings that are too difficult they may not have been able to function.

Common conversation mistakes and problem areas that affect shy people

These can get in the way of building rapport and getting to know people;

  • Not listening (in certain settings due to distraction by self-consciousness)
  • Giving one-word answers to questions and leaving the other person hanging (this can cause awkward silences)
  • Following-up answers to closed questions with close questions (‘interview mode’; a common problem and a leading cause of awkward silences)
  • Being closed, guarded and defensive with certain questions
  • Having withdrawn body language
  • Not making eye contact

This isn’t to say that you need to be socially-perfect or that confident people never make any of these mistakes. These sorts of patterns are common hindrances to getting to that sense of rapport with people.

Shy people are not unlikeable

This is the truth about why shy people often end-up lonelier than average. It’s got little to do with being inadequate or unlikeable as an individual and LOT to do with how anxiety causes one to behave. This is the bottom line.

Common sources of discomfort in social situations

If you find yourself feeling uncomfortable in certain situations, it can be very helpful to put your finger on the specific source of anxiety. So many difficulties in conversation are caused by feelings of anxiety and discomfort, the quicker you identify them the quicker you’ll be able to move on. The first step to overcoming social problems is to identify your trouble spots. The purpose of this article is to help you identify any specific sources of discomfort, inhibition and anxiety that might apply to you so that you can go ‘aha, that’s me’. Think of a recent social situation you found difficult or situations you frequently feel uncomfortable in. See if any of the items below apply.

Common sources of discomfort, anxiety & inhibition within social situations can include;

  • Feeling unsure what to do
  • A feeling that people around are looking at you
  • Fear of being seen as ‘quiet’
  • Fear of people noticing signs of nervousness and anxiety
  • People talking about a topic you’re uncomfortable with
  • Pressure to be seen dancing (situation-specific)
  • Conditioned anxiety

Other factors that can influence your comfort levels include

  • Being in an ‘exposed’ location; on the edge of a group
  • Being in earshot of people
  • Crowded environments
  • The types of people around
  • How much you care about what people think

See if you can put your finger on any that might apply to you

Not knowing what to do or how to handle a specific situation

Discomfort & anxiety can arise when you’re in a type of social situation that you don’t know how to handle & don’t know what to do. This is particularly likely with people who’re socially-inexperienced. Common areas people might feel unsure about what to do include;

  • Starting conversations
  • Group conversations
  • Mingling
  • Being around people who all know each other

You might be worried about doing something wrong, or of people thinking you’re looking clueless and judging you negatively for it. This can be a source of anxiety. Generally, the more of the everyday social situations you feel able to handle and the less out of your depth you feel, the more comfortable you’ll be and able to function.

Fear of being seen as ‘quiet’

This is especially likely in group type settings or mingling-type environments. You may feel that there’s an expectation to always be seen talking to people & fear that people will see you as boring or anti-social if you don’t. People can become quiet in social situations for a wide variety of reasons, including;

  • the topic being something you genuinely can’t contribute to
  • self-censorship; not saying things for fear that people will judge you
  • not paying attention to the conversation (due to feeling self-conscious and worrying about what people around you are thinking, missing out on talking points)
  • mind going blank (due to any of other sources of anxiety which might be on this list)

For more on how to feel comfortable with this, see also It’s OK to be quiet!.

Worries about being seen as nervous

Within social situations, the thought that you might be showing visible signs of nervous, that people might be notice and think badly about it can be a source of anxiety itself. Some such signs of nervousness and anxiety you might be uncomfortable about people noticing can include;

  • Facial tension
  • Blushing
  • Trembling
  • Sweating
  • Voice going wobbly or squeaky

When you’re feeling nervous or anxious in social situations, do you sometimes think that people around will notice things like the above and think badly of you? Do you worry that people around are thinking you’re weird, weak, strange, angry, or anything else when you experience those?

People talking about topics you’re uncomfortable with

There are many topics that people might feel uncomfortable with, politics, religion, sex lives. The source of discomfort is that;

  • you fear that you’ll be forced to disclose things you don’t want to in front of people you don’t know that well, people in earshot may hear it
  • That people around might notice you looking visibly uncomfortable about the topic

This can be a source of anxiety which can lead to inhibition.

Pressure to be seen dancing

Many people feel uncomfortable in environments such as parties, bars and clubs where there’s people dancing, they might feel uncomfortable because;

  • They don’t know how to act, and maybe worried they’ll do it ‘wrong’ or else feel self-conscious
  • At the same time, they fear that they’ll be seen as boring if they’re not dancing, especially if they’re not sure what to do

Firstly, it’s OK to not be dancing and secondly, there are a number of things that can be done to feel more comfortable. The most important thing, we take off the pressure.

Conditioned anxiety

If some social situations cause you to feel anxious for no obvious reason, it could be that it’s subconscious. Your brain could have learned that the said situation is dangerous and thus puts you in fight flight mode. Some parts of social anxiety are learned through pavlovian conditioning. The situation in which you feel anxious has become a conditioned trigger.

Other factors that can influence your comfort level

Degree of conspicuousness

You might feel more exposed on the edge of a group or sitting further out. In some cases you may feel more conspicuous in environments that are less crowded.

Being in earshot

Some people feel less comfortable being in earshot of other people. The reason this could be that they may feel that people around are listening in and scrutinizing, or that any conversational gaffs will be visible. Some people actually feel more comfortable in loud environments.

The types of people around

Many people who’re shy and socially-anxious report that they find the following types of people more intimidating;

  • Younger people or people their own age
  • Highly confident & outgoing people
  • Attractive people
  • People who’re rough and tough
  • Drunk people

You’re more likely to feel more inhibited around people you see as unforgiving, people who’s dis-approval matters, and people who you’ll see as likely to pick on you or harass you.

Conclusion

When grading social situations from easiest to hardest it can be helpful to be aware of the factors that influence the comfort of those situations. People who’re socially awkward and who have social anxiety often struggle for years. A reason for this is largely because they don’t manage to identify their specific problems or end up working on social difficulties that may not be relevant to their situation. Hopefully this will help you to put your finger on things that you find uncomfortable about social situations

 

3 main levels at which social fears operate

If you’ve ever felt uncomfortable going to parties, meeting new people, going out, or going on dates. If you’ve ever become self-conscious about people noticing how awkward you might be, or being the ‘quiet one’, it maybe helpful to understand how social fears work. If you’re uncomfortable in many social settings, or find meeting new people, or large groups difficult, a lot of what will be talked-about might well seem familiar. Sometimes when in new social situations, it feels like nervousness, uneasiness and anxiety appears out of nowhere.

The truth of the matter is that there’s always thoughts regarding what will happen and go wrong, and what the other person may think that are lurking under the surface. Ever wondered why you feel worried about things going wrong or why you care if the thing you feared lead to a negative outcome? Maybe you have an exaggerrated idea of the consequences of an outcome? Truth is that social fears work a bit like the layers of an onion.

The three levels of social fear

Here’s a bit of a template for getting to know where your social fears might lie. In a nutshell, we are worried about making a bad first impression due to our behaviour, whether it be showing nervousness, conversation mistakes

Level 1; what you fear DOING, or what others might do

At this level are your fears revolving around what you might do or not be able to do, from which you might fear a negative consequence. The things you might fear doing revolve around the following themes;

  • feeling anxious, and showing visible signs of awkwardness, uneasiness or nerves or within the situation, you might become self-conscious
  • During interactions, you might be worried about what might happen; such as the infamous not knowing what to say, stuttering, becoming inarticulate and also. Likewise, in situations when these things happen, you might become self-conscious
  • Being asked questions where you might have to reveal personal information, from which you might be worried about people’s reactions. If in social situations where you feel anxious, you can put your finger on
  • Having to engage ‘small talk’, particularly if you’re not that practised with this

Why would these things be uncomfortable, what’s underneath the reason for this?

Level 2; what outcomes, reactions and consequences you fear from others

The reason you might feel so uncomfortable doing any of the above, or being put in a position by others, is due to fear of what you think people might THINK. Before we go on to WHY you might care so much what someone thinks, let’s familiarise ourselves with WHAT we might fear people thinking. In social anxiety, it’s possible to have an exaggerrated idea of what people might think even if the why is fairly resonable. It’s possible to have an overly catastrophic idea of what things like the showing of nervousness, conversation mistakes and revealing of personal information will lead to. For example;

  • you might be worried about appearing visibly nervous or uneasy because you think people might think it’s weird, they’ll be made uncomfortable, think badly of you
  • you might be worried about your mind going blank, because you’re worry people might think that you’re boring
  • you might be worried about messing-up being unable to speak because you’re worried that people will think that you’re socially-inept or stupid
  • You might be worried that if you appear nervous, people will think you’re weak or pathetic
  • If you reveal information about yourself which you’re not comfortable about, you be worried that people will think that you’re boring, weird or strange

If you have social anxiety, it’s highly likely not to rule out the idea that what you think people are thinking, will think, or did think might well be exaggerated and emotionally-charged. There are a few other things that operate at this level that should be taken into account;

  • You might well have an exaggerated idea of the outcome, such as if someone did think that, that’s it, they’d hate you
  • You might well have some maladaptive beliefs about how forgiving people really are that are causing you to over-estimate the amount of risk involved

Anyway, this may now seem like an obvious question, but why would you care so much if that happened?

Level 3; what it means to you

At this level lies WHY you might care what people will think. or if you got a bad outcome that an unwanted opinion of you might lead to. If the thought of the above happening to you seems terrifying, it’s highly likely that there’s other fears operating down here. Your only human after all, and it’s natural to care about the outcome. Here are some reasons why all the above levels might matter to you more than normal;

  • You might well feel like all your eggs are in one basket. You might well feel that every social encounter means the world to you.
  • Likewise, you might feel that every encounter is somehow a gauge or your worth to others, or somehow an indicator of how valuable you are socially, and of your future potential for friendships and relationships. It might be worth looking down at this level.

At this level, it may appear that it means the world. At this level, it ties directly into the fear that lies at the very bottom; the fear of loneliness.

Conclusion

Generally, the less worried you are about what an outcome will mean to you, the less you’ll care about what people think. The less you care about what people will think, the less uncomfortable you’ll feel in social situations about feeling nervous, making mistakes, or taking social risks, and consequently; the lower your anxiety level, and unwanted hindrances to conversation will be. Thus, the less inhibited you’ll be socially and the closer you’ll be to being able to ‘be yourself’ in social settings. I hope that this makes sense and will be of use.

If you feel bad when people comment ‘you’re quiet’ or ‘you’re shy’, read this

It’s incredibly common for people who are shy or who suffer from social anxiety to get frustrated when in social situations and people (often meaning no harm) comment one one’s quietness. I know jolly well myself, that this can easily feel like an insult, a sign that you’ve somehow failed. It can feel like ‘there you go, you’ve got no potential, you suck at socialising’.

When you’re in a social setting, meeting new people, at a party etc. you may well feel like you’re doing your very best to prevent ‘coming across as shy’, only to find that when someone comments, it makes you feel as if you’ve failed. Well dear my friend, here-in lies the problem. I’ve learned that you shouldn’t be FOCUSED on ‘not coming across as shy/costs’ at all costs, because this is by far the SOURCE of your anxiety that makes you mind go blank, that mutes you, and that RUNS THE RISK of resulting in a self-fulfilling prophecy (note ‘runs the risk’ vs. inevitably). The dots should join up soon.

This is what I want to get at today; WHY would you feel coming across as shy or quiet is a BAD THING? Today’s post will be looking at WHY you might feel this way and also to show that being shy isn’t necessarily that bad after all.

It’s your underlying beliefs about what being ‘shy’ means

My guess is that somewhere along the line, it’s highly likely that you bought-into the idea that shy/quiet=boring, unattractive, unmasculine (for guys), Stuck-up (for women)weak, pathetic, weird, weak etc. It’s also likely that you have taken to heart beliefs about the meaning of the word if someone comments. To you, the words ‘shy’ or ‘quiet’ strike a deep, personal note. You probably feel that if someone says you’re shy, therefore it means they don’t like you, you’ve made a bad impression, you’ve failed or worse; you read into it as proof that you have no social potential or value, that everyone you meet will dislike you. What a horrible way of looking at the world.

How focusing on our beliefs works

When you’re in a social setting, particularly one where you might meet new people, and particularly one that’s crowded, and even more so if you’re not used to it, you’re probably HIGHLY FOCUSED on NOT MAKING A BAD IMPRESSION. Likewise, somewhere along the line, you’ve also bought-into the idea that shy/quiet=bad, if someone thinks I’m quiet=they don’t like me. So based on this, the rule is; I MUST NOT APPEAR SO AT ALL COSTS!!! This is where the problem lies! It’s this very focus on ‘not making a bad impression’ that rouses anxiety, that causes your mind to go blank.

Role of the thinking mind

Now, suppose you’re within one of those afore-mentioned social settings; what if you find yourself feeling nervous, your mind goes blank and you become SELF-CONSCIOUS? Especially if you’re experiencing;

  • The fact that you’re the ‘quiet one’
  • Facial tension; that you might appear visibly awkward
  • That everyone around seems to be having what appears to be effortless, free-flowing conversation and there you are struggling

When in conversation

  • Stuttering
  • Tripping over your words
  • Mind going blank

What do you find yourself thinking If you experience any of that? What sort of thoughts might start going through your head?

My guess is that it’s things like ‘oh my god, what will happen? Will they think I’m unfriendly? Will they think I’m anti-social? MUST say something or else! Must stop appearing quiet! Will they notice I’m the quietest person in the room. You might also have thoughts about yourself, and beat yourself-up, maybe with feelings of anger and frustration; ‘If only I was more social, if only I had so-n-so’s charm/charisma’. Does any of this sound familiar?

Another thing, before you go into a social setting or meet new people, what are you FOCUSED on? Are you focused on ‘what if I’m shy, what if my mind goes blank? What if I look nervous? Or worse, I MUST not appear quiet/nervous/shy. Does that sound familiar too?

Whoaa! Too much pressure to be under, too much pressure! Take the pressure off, turn it down! There’s no way you’re going to be able to ‘be yourself’ with that level of pressure. Even visiting the Titanic in SCUBA gear wouldn’t subject you to that much pressure!

How it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy; a recap

Interestingly, when you’re in the situations where you might fear being seen as quiet, it’s likely that your quietness or awkwardness isn’t even that bad or even noticeable. It’s only when you focus on it and start imagining all the horrible outcomes ad ways people are going to read badly into it, which rouses more anxiety, making it worse, and leading to a short term vicious cycle. When you become focused on it (quietness, not saying much) you also focus on your beliefs about what it means (e.g. quietness is bad etc.) which the thinking mind uses to make anxious predictions or regarding how people will read into it (e.g. they’re going to think I’m weird, they’re going to think I’m boring) or assumptions as to how people might be thinking (they can see I’m boring etc.) or to put pressure on yourself (stop being so quiet, say something!) This only rouses more anxiety. The way that self-consciousness causes anxiety to escalate is talked-about here.

How beliefs about yourself affect the way you interpret comments about quietness

If you’re in a social situation, rendered inarticulate, your mind racing with thoughts and imaginings as to how quiet you must appear, how awkward you must look etc. and should someone comment ‘you’re quiet’ or ‘you’re shy’, how does that feel? If the underlying beliefs regarding being shy, quiet, socially awkward etc. that I’m about to explore apply to you, it may as well feel like they’re saying ‘you’re weird, you’re unlikeable, you’re crap at socialising, it proves no-one wants you around, get over it already’ it proves you’re unattractive, it proves you’re socially-inept, it proves you’re not capable of making friends or attracting a mate. Ouch!! No wonder it might feel bad! I’m pretty sure if you noticed someone was quiet, not fully at ease etc. you wouldn’t want them to feel that way? I’m sure you wouldn’t want your enemy to feel like that. It might not occur to you, but a lot of people who’ve made such comments might not be intending for you to feel the same way either. Questions is, why would you?

Well, in actual fact, the only people that would judge people harshly are narcissists.

Is being seen as shy really that bad? Or is it mainly your beliefs about what it means to you?

It’s very easy, if you find some of the aforementioned social settings difficult, you can easily to READ INTO SUB-IDEAL OUTCOMES to social situations in a negative light, that you failed, that you committed an unforgivable heinous crime, such as being the quiet one.

Upcoming;

Common unhelpful beliefs about being quiet and shy