Category Archives: Myths about shyness & awkwardness

Social fears; fear of coming across as quiet

How many of you reading this worry about being seen as ‘quiet’ when going into social situations or meeting new people? That fear, what if I can’t think of anything to say. Ever been among a group of people or a mingling-type environment and had that thought in the back of your head ‘what if people notice I’m quiet’, ‘say something’, ‘they’re going to think I’m boring’! This is a big one for a lot of people. The idea that being quiet, unable to think of things to say is a big social faux-pas, that’s what we’ll explore today.

Reasons for being quiet

There are a couple of main reasons one maybe quiet or say little in a social situation that are important to be aware of.

  • Genuinely not having anything much to contribute or chip-in with at that moment
  • Being too self-conscious and anxious to think of things to say (other things here)
  • Being distracted and not paying attention (can be related to the above), this case, missing out on talking points
  • Self-censorship (e.g. can’t say that, too boring, too obvious, too out of the blue etc.)
  • The thought that people around are looking & noticing it*

Regardless of the reason, during those moments you’re quite it’s possible for self-consciousness to creep in & feel anxious about people thinking you’re quite. The fear of being seen as quiet can be a source of the anxiety that leads the mind to go blank & makes it harder to come up with things to say; ‘I’m not saying anything, they’re going to think I’m boring, weird, anti-social, yikes’. This is a common problem. The good news is that anything that can be done to reduce self-consciousness will also reduce the mind going blank, and make it easier for you to be yourself in social situations.

The layers of beliefs about quietness

If you’re plagued with anxiety about people thinking you’re quiet, it’s likely that some of the following beliefs apply

  1. That people around you are looking at you and checking how quiet and talkative you are
  2. That if people notice they’ll think badly of it; e.g. weird, boring, not worth knowing
  3. That if people were to comment, they mean something bad by it
  4. That if people do give you a hard time about it, they’re ‘right’

Commonly-feared negative outcomes of coming across as quiet; underlying beliefs

Beliefs regarding what people will think if said thing happens;

  • People think that being quiet is weird
  • People think quiet people are boring
  • you’re unfriendly
  • You’re anti-social
  • Find you bad company

We’ll be looking at underlying beliefs later. For now we’ll concentrate on reducing self-consciousness.

Quietness & self-consciousness

All self consciousness revolves around two layers, these correspond with the first set of beliefs & layers;

  1. Our focus of attention; re the thing you fear people noticing & being judged for
  2. Our thinking; re What you think people will think or are thinking

Both of these are very important for self-consciousness

RE The thing you fear people noticing; our focus of attention

People who are socially-anxious often imagine that the thing they fear people noticing is more conspicuous and noticeable than it is & to imagine themselves standing out like a sore thumb, & to focus on it. Quite often, this is exaggerated. In the case of quietness; ‘I can’t think of anything to say’ imagining yourself standing out like a sore thumb or looking like the most awkward person in the room, coming across as ‘quiet’ which leads you to imagining and thinking things such as all the terrible things people would think if they noticed. Are you really standing out as much as you think?

RE what you fear people thinking; our thinking

Not only might we be worried about people thinking badly if they notice the thing, what happens with social anxiety is that you may start to imagine people around you are thinking badly even if they’re not. In the case of quietness, you might be afraid the people will think you’re boring, anti-social, weird and so forth. What can happen in social anxiety is that during those moments you are quiet you may start to imagine people around you are thinking these things (mind-reading) when in reality they might not be. Also you may start to imagine all the terrible outcomes that would happen if they were to think that (catastrophizing). Ever felt like that? Are people thinking as badly as you imagine they are? It’s important to identify & question such thinking.

The spiral of self-consciousness

Both of these make you feel more anxious and uncomfortable and makes the thing you don’t want people to notice (in this case quietness) worse. Chances are, if you’ve had thoughts such as the above in social situations when that has happened, it makes you feel anxious, & more quiet. A loop can start whereby you get more anxious, you focus on it more, think about it more, get more anxious and so on. Here’s social anxiety’s dirty little trick; the more anxious you’re feeling in a social situation, a) the more you imagine you stand out and b) the more DARK your thinking becomes, the more catastrophic it becomes. The anxiety gets worse.

In addition, during moments of anxiety you may start to get other upsetting thoughts popping into your head such as ‘I suck socially’, ‘I’m crap at making friends’, no-one else ever feels like this’. OMG it’s unbearable! Will the ground swallow me up! So, what can we do to prevent and interrupt this evil little loop?

Part 1; Reducing self-consciousness in the moment

What’s most likely; more helpful thoughts

Maybe it’s most likely that;

  • People around you are not even noticing you being quiet as much as you think, after all, do you go round monitoring people around you?
  • Even if someone has noticed you not saying much, it’s not likely any decent person will think badly of it or not as badly as you’re thinking
  • If anyone was to comment it’s likely they don’t mean anything bad by it
  • If anyone has a problem with it, it’s more about them than it is about you. What they think is not your responsibility

Get to know your reasons for quietness

As mentioned above there are many reasons we can end up quiet in social situations, the above list is to help you identify yours. If the conversation is genuinely about something you can’t contribute to at that moment in time, it’s OK to be quite.

Get out of your head

Focus on the conversation around you rather than focusing on how you’re not talking as much as everyone else. A big part of the reason we might be quiet as mentioned above is not properly listening & missing out on opportunities to chip in.

Part 2; Longer term approaches

Identify other sources of anxiety that might be relevant

As mentioned above a major reason for quietness is being distracted. In those situations where it happens are there other sources of social anxiety present? For example do you worry about people noticing nervousness or blushing?

Identify any ‘safety behaviours’ that might be relevant

There is a high likelihood that during those moments you’ve been quiet and your head is filled with thought that people will think you’re weird etc., you may have gone out of your way to avoid quietness at all costs. Things such as;

  • Rushing
  • Asking too many questions
  • Talking lots of stuff about yourself
  • Shoe-horning your good qualities
  • Drinking more alcohol

Whilst these things can make you feel like you’ve escaped being seen as ‘quiet’, in the long term they do nothing but keep the underlying beliefs intact, in that they prevent you from having evidence to see that being quiet isn’t necessarily as bad as you think.

Identify what sorts of people this is worse among

Chances are you feel more worried and anxious around certain types of people than others. It’s likely that the types of people you see as likely to be unforgiving are those you feel most anxious around.

Question unhelpful beliefs

Somewhere along the line, it’s likely you’ve picked-up the belief that coming across as shy or quiet is awful, unlikable & is something unforgivable. It’s helpful to examine these beliefs and where they originate from.

Learn some strategies to deal with unwanted outcomes and negative judgements

You’ll find that you’ll care significantly less about what people think of you if you know some ways to handle negative judgements and bad outcomes should they occur.

Concluding

That’s quite a lot about ‘quietness anxiety’. As we can see we’ve divided it up into short term approaches that you can use use in social situations, & longer term approaches. Longer term ones highlighted lower down are strategies that can help reduce the amount that you care of what people think of you whilst the ones further up are useful for reducing your focus even if you care about what people think of you. There is a great degree of correspondence with the various layers of fear. Just to recap, the layers are a) things you fear people thinking of you b) the consequences or outcome of this & c) what the outcome means to you. The upper part is largely concerned with the upper points, whilst the longer term strategies concern what such an outcome means to you.

Are shy people unlikeable?

In this article, we’re going to look at some reasons shy people might struggle to make friends, and undo some of the unhelpful messages about shyness. Many people who’re shy pick up the message that shy=unlikeable, that to be seen as shy would be the worst thing in a social situation. There’s a lot of unhelpful narratives and beliefs that shy people are weird, unattractive and unlikeable. Advice such as ‘don’t act shy and weird’ is all too common. There’s a lot of unhelpful stereotypes too. Quite often within social situations, it can be this very pressure not to be seen as ‘shy’ which itself, is a major source inhibiting anxiety and unease, which can hinder the flow of conversation.

Ironically, when you’re not feeling under pressure to ‘not be shy’ you feel significantly more at ease and hence able to have better conversations. In this post we’re going to destroy some of these unhelpful messages, look at some of the real reasons shy people might struggle to make friends, and also, look at some alternative, more constructive, empowering & self-accepting ways to look at shyness.

Why do shy people often struggle to make friends?

The main reason I’d like to reassure you, is not because people are prejudiced towards shy people and decide not to associate with them. Instead it’s more helpful to consider likely reasons shy people might struggle to get conversations going and make friends;

  • First and most obviously, they may not approach people start conversations
  • They are prone to awkward silences; e.g. giving one-word answers
  • Some shy people can behave in ways that are disinterested or that give the impression of wanting to be left alone
  • In some cases, shy people can behave in ways that might sabotage social situations
  • Some shy people might have problems with self-disclosure, and might come across as guarded and defensive
  • Some shy people might struggle to make plans and meet up (step 3), even when they do hit it off with people

When shy people struggle to make friends, it’s nothing to do with the fact that they’re being prejudged and written-off as weird or unlikeable, nor that they’re failing to impress. A large part of the above basically get in the way of having flowing, enjoyable conversations and of getting to that place of rapport and comfort. (as talking about in step 2 of meeting people) It’s got nothing to do with failing to impress people. There are a few people out there who genuinely think that shy, quiet or awkward people are not worth knowing but, do you really want to know people like that?

What about people who think shy people are weird?

If I meet someone who’d say not talk to me again because they saw me as ‘shy’, my attitude is they’re not worth it, there’s better out there, and yours should be too! If you come across people who genuinely consider quieter people not worth knowing on a first impression, that’s their own shallow prejudices, not your fault. I don’t want you to go round expecting this from everyone you meet, or everyone from a certain group. The thing to remember is, you’re not responsible for other people’s opinions of you. Also, we’ll cover in more detail some principles of how not to care about what people think about you in later articles (it’s that which is at the root of self-confidence).

It’s OK to be seen as shy, quiet or awkward

Bear in mind, that some situations are outside of your comfort zone and you haven’t yet reached the point where you feel comfortable enough to put good conversation into effect. A lot of the above conversation problems are due to both a mixture of discomfort and a lack of ease. You likely simply haven’t had enough practice in those situations you find difficult. For the moment, I would focus on identifying what your common difficulties are in social situations and conversations, what your main sources of inhibitions are, what are your main sources of uneasiness. Did you know, that if anyone comments that you’re shy or quiet, it’s perfectly OK to say that you find the situation outside your comfort zone (especially large, loud groups, that’s WIDELY RELATED TO). Things like mind going blank, feeling nervous with new people, and hitting the odd awkward silence, feeling invisible are entirely normal and relatable to a lot of people, even highly sociable and extroverted types, even to those who seem socially-perfect. Just realizing this should help you feel less pressure to not be seen as ‘shy’.

Where does the ‘shy=bad’ belief originate from?

People who’re shy might have absorbed the idea that being shy, quiet or introverted is bad because they were maybe picked-on for it or they received messages from their peer group when they were younger. When many shy people don’t get the outcomes that they want from social situations, it’s thus easy for them to blame it on them being too shy and unlikeable. On close examination, this isn’t the case at all. These messages were most likely perpetuated by magazine and internet articles. Quite often, those narratives are other people’s own negative spins on why they didn’t make friends themselves, which add fuel to theses beliefs. Hopefully by now, you’re realizing it’s all a load of complete bollocks.

To end

I hope that what I have said helps you to accept shyness a bit more. When you stop focusing on ‘not being shy’ or ‘not being awkward’ and accept that at times you will be, and that’s it’s OK, you’ll find your sense of feeling at ease in social situations is significantly greater. you’ll find yourself closer to how at ease you are among people you already know and your closer family. The article was titled ‘are shy people unlikeable’ because the idea that shyness=unlikeable is a core belief that a lot of shy people have.

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

Aren’t shy people just anti-social?

Ah, my favourite misconception.

It might well appear on the surface (particularly from the eyes of those who are not adept at reading people), that people who appear initially uneasy, and who seem edgy and who take a while to warm-up are anti-social. More often than not, they’re likely overly focused on what people are thinking about them, what they’re going to say next, whether they’re making a good first impression.

They are certainly not being rude or aloof. If anything, the thought that they maybe perceived that way will do nothing but serve as another source of anxiety, another thing to be worried about. If anything, they maybe going out of their way to avoid making a bad impression.

I’m sure everyone’s able to relate to throwing themselves into a situation with people they don’t know, being worried about what you’re going to say, how nervous you’ll feel, whether anyone will noticed you being nervous and think you’re weird, whether you’re mind will go blank, not know what to say and be looked-down upon for being quiet. These are all very common social fears which many people experience, even seemingly confident people.

Anxiety inhibits your ability to interact socially..

If you are particularly shy, these fears can be of such a degree that they can literally paralyse you. They can inhibit your ability to interact with others too. Some examples of ways anxiety can interfere with interaction are listed below, they will crop-up in future posts, I can guarantee;

  • It can make your mind go blank
  • It can be distracting; when you’re focused on thoughts such as what people around you are thinking, it can be difficult to nigh-impossible to focus on what your immediate conversation partner is saying, making it difficult to  LISTEN (one reason why shy people often think they have bad social skills)
  • It can make it physically-difficult to speak and project your voice; lump in throat, dry mouth, stuttering; a lot of these things probably strike a familiar note when talking to a girl you fancy for the first time, but for some people, these things can be real pest in other, more lower-key situations
  • It can prevent you from remembering something someone’s said literally a second ago

Anxiety also causes signs that you maybe self-conscious of..

A big worry for a lot of people, particularly going into noisy and crowded settings with unfamiliar people, is what others will think IF you feel nervous and, IF they notice signs of tension, unease, awkwardness, blushing, trembling etc. I think that conventional advice given to shy people can if anything be a source of such anxiety.

Shy people are always told not to ‘come across’ as ‘awkward’ OR ELSE… They’ll make a bad first impression, they’ll be looked down on, people will think they’re weird, anti-social, creepy etc. Such advice is all over the net.

It’s not the nervousness that’s the problem,  it’s the self-consciousness of it, and the BELIEFS about it and how people generally react to it that are. It’s from this that if one gets self-conscious they may start ZONING OUT IN THEIR HEADS and IMAGINING how people will react negatively or to imagine that people have noticed their ‘awkwardness’ and are reacting negatively (these thoughts will be discussed in future posts).

What do you think this will do to someone in a social situation? How will this make them feel? Do you think that it’ll make them more comfortable and at ease? Do you think that it will lead them to have free-flowing conversations? Of course not! It’ll only trigger further anxiety, thus hindering their ability. This is what so much conventional advice doesn’t seem to get.

Conclusion

Shy people are certainly not anti-social. If anything, many are highly socially-adept, when they’re in a situation within their comfort zone. It’s the anxiety and the way it inhibit the ability to interact that could lead casual observers to conclude that they’re anti-social.

Sometimes, people who are severely shy may also be genuinely socially-clueless generally as an indirect result of lack of social experience as a result of their difficulties. Even so, one can’t be too hard on them and must give one the benefit of the doubt. For someone learning piano who’s not had access to one, you wouldn’t expect them to sight-read to an audience with no rehearsal what-so-ever? Why should people who’ve had no practice socially be expected to do the same?I hope that this post, and others to come will help dispel some of the misconceptions and ignorance that’s out there.Peace