I’m what you could call shy. Here’s what happens when I am in a conversation with people I don’t know very well.
- My joints start to feel stiff and my breath gets shallow. Everything feels hard to move and I have to concentrate on breathing normally and not clutching one arm with the other.
- When I have something to say, I run it through my mind several times to see if someone could misunderstand it. But by then the moment will have passed and I keep it to myself. The result is that I sit around for a long time feeling like I’ve been working hard at the conversation, but without actually saying anything.
- Eventually I realize that if I want to speak up I’ll have to forgo the review process and just say something as it occurs to me. Often what comes out is indeed insensitive or ungracious in a way I didn’t mean, but apologizing feels like it would just make the whole situation even more awkward (and would mean looking for another moment to interject), so I clam up again.
- Finally, I retreat into my own world for the rest of the conversation.
|Guess which alpaca I am.|
I know that this is something I should work on if I want to make new friends more easily. The internet advice on becoming more self-confident in social situations generally falls into three categories, and I can see how they would be helpful:
Get comfortable being uncomfortable
- Practice coping with discomfort by trying new things regularly. Do something daily that’s a little scary. Accept that meeting someone new may always be uncomfortable but resolve not to let it stop you.
I’m 100% on board with this idea, especially since trying new things is something I already approve of, although I’m not systematic about it in any way yet.
Fake it ’til you make it
- Smile, adopt an open and expansive posture, and generally do what you think someone who feels at ease would do. Eventually, you’ll feel genuine self-confidence.
I do sometimes “fake it” in this way—I have yet to “make it,” but it does make the process less awkward for the other person.
- Tell yourself that people will be happy to get to know the real you. Imagine yourself interacting with people and it going smoothly and easily.
I don’t do this so much, because it feels silly, but I imagine it would help.
So I have this problem, I’ve known for a while what I should be doing about it, but I haven’t made much of an effort. Why not? If you’re being charitable, you could say that I just haven’t gotten around to it yet, but after some introspection I realized there is another reason:
I don’t want to be confident.
Here’s why: when I think about people I’ve met who seem to exude confidence, I have no desire to be like them: they take up too much space, they talk over me when I try to get a word in edgewise, and in general they make me feel even more like retreating into myself. I don’t want to do that to other people. So I may not enjoy being shy, but I don’t approve of the alternative.
Or rather, I don’t approve of what I have perceived as the alternative. But here’s what I realized next: Self-confidence doesn’t mean being the “alpha male” in the room, someone who gets a boost by being superior to everyone else. No, it is the opposite; self-confidence is freedom from needing anyone else’s approval. That led me to my third realization:
If I learn self-confidence, and feel free from trying to earn others’ approval, it frees me up to pursue other outcomes for my conversations. In particular, if I value making other people feel comfortable, then I can spend my self-confidence on that, thinking about how I can help people feel at ease and safe. I can aim to have the people I meet leave feeling good about themselves if I’m not worried about whether they feel good about me.
So that’s my new goal for developing my social skills: learn to feel sufficiently at ease in social situations that I can stop thinking about myself and focus on how to benefit other people.
Care to help me with this project? I have some questions for you.
- Have you had a history of social anxiety or awkwardness? What has helped you?
- What are some times you have really felt comfortable around someone you didn’t know very well yet? What did they do to make you feel safe or understood?
Let me know in the comments!