You call yourself an introvert to shrug off other’s teasing remarks, but ultimately, you know you are painfully shy, which is why you go out of your way to avoid social events. Talking to new people ― or any people, for that matter ― can be intimidating for everyone, extroverts included, but introverts tend to find the experience especially draining. Fortunately, it is possible to become socially competent without completely changing your personality. Here are a few introductory steps to feeling confident in any social situation.
A Refresher on Social Behavioral Distinctions
Most people use the terms “shy” and “introverted” interchangeably, but psychologists note that the two are distinct types of social behavior with unique challenges and strengths. In fact, the stereotypical representation of the “shy” or “introverted” individual ― sad, fearful, lonesome ― may actually be a depiction of another obstacle altogether: social anxiety disorder. The key to altering your behavior is understanding exactly what social behavioral category you fall into.
Introversion is not a condition; rather, it is a deep-seated personal preference. Introverts tend to require less stimulation than their counterparts, which means they enjoy smaller get-togethers and tire quickly amidst large social gatherings. It is possible for introverts to “turn on” in social situations, but they require more quiet time to recharge afterwards.
Meanwhile, shyness is a condition that is present in both introverts and extroverts. At its core, shyness is caused by insecurity or fear of negative judgement, which means a shy person avoids the party not because she is content to stay at home but rather because she is afraid of humiliating herself in front of others.
Social anxiety disorder (also called social phobia) is essentially shyness amplified: A sufferer of this mental illness feels overwhelmed performing even the simplest of social actions, such as eating in public or speaking to a store clerk. Shyness and social anxiety can overlap, and both require concentrated effort (and sometimes, professional help) to overcome.
However, no matter what social behavioral symptoms you exhibit, you should avoid labelling yourself with one of the above personalities or conditions. Even if you suffer from clinical anxiety, your response to other people does not define you. Instead, you should strive to see yourself as a collection of qualities ― good and bad ― that combines to form a complete, unique person. Once you value your individuality, you can begin overcoming your social fears.
The First Steps to Social Engagement
You probably hate hearing that talking to people is easier than you imagine it to be, but it’s true. Small talk requires incredibly little from people, which means it is the perfect starting place for overcoming your shyness. When you leave home, you should commit to making light conversation with at least one person. When you feel comfortable enough, you should increase that number to five or 10. Varying the location and qualities of people you engage is useful, as well; the bus, the elevator, and the grocery store are all convenient places to practice small talk with strangers.
The Importance of Trying New Things
Having hobbies is beneficial for many reasons, but when it comes to overcoming shyness, hobbies are like gateways to kind, interesting people. Right now, you should think of something you love doing ― perhaps running or cloud chasing ― and then think of a way to meet other people who enjoy the same thing. For example, you might participate in a race or comment on your favorite vaping blog.Conversation comes easier when you know you have something in common with those around you, so trying new things may just trick you into conquering your shyness.
A Few Confidence-Building Practices
In addition to simply getting out there and talking, there are a few tricks to looking and feeling more confident. Here are some shy-person dos and don’ts:
- DO stay lighthearted. Introverts have a habit of delving deep into discussion relatively quickly, which can make others uncomfortable. At least initially, you should try to keep conversation casual.
- DON’T advertise your shyness. Telling strangers about your anxiety will only draw their attention to your behavior, which will make you more uncomfortable in the situation.
- DO know your strengths. Even though social engagement is a weakness of yours, you definitely excel elsewhere in your life. Like having hobbies, knowing your strong suits will help you direct conversation to easier topics.
- DON’T self-sabotage. It could be years before your inner voice stops telling you that you aren’t good enough to interact socially, but if you keep refusing to listen to that made-up voice, eventually it will stop whispering criticisms and start whispering praise.