One of the most confusing handicaps of my shyness and social anxiety was being able to talk easily with some people, but freezing up around others.
And usually, the people I fell silent around were the ones I MOST wanted to talk to.
I’d be fine with most family members, current friends or people who were less “popular,” well-liked or successful than me. I’d even do well sometimes on vacation with people I felt I’d never see again.
But when I met:
- An attractive girl I wanted to like me
- A popular social group I wanted to fit in with
- A person I really wanted to be my friend
- Or an authority figure I wanted respect from
I became anxious, awkward and silent.
Have you experienced that?
What the hell, right?
What’s going on here and how can you act as naturally with those “intimidating” people as you do around everyone else?
Why You Get Awkward with People You’re Most Interested In
Well, let’s start with the obvious. The people you have trouble talking to are usually the people you “want” something from.
Now this could mean many things, but let’s just cut this short and say it all comes down to wanting some form of acceptance from these people.
- You want the attractive girl to like you
- You want your boss to respect you
- You want the popular or successful people to bring you in
It’s all about acceptance.
Ok, simple enough. But how does this make you get numb tongue when you’re around them?
Well for whatever reason, interacting with those people seems riskier to you. Maybe you see them as having higher value than others. But acceptance from these people means something more to you than from others.
So because of this, sometimes you say nothing to avoid being rejected by such “important people.” Or if you do talk, you’re so nervous you act weird and awkward.
The people you’re comfortable around on the other hand, you either don’t care if they accept you or you already know they’ll like you as you are. Because their rejection is unlikely or unimportant in your mind, you’re not watching your every word or trying to be perfect. You’re more natural and casual.
Why Talking to THOSE People Feels “Riskier”
This is the key question, because I believe the root of the problem is you feel your self-worth is on the line with these “high-value” people. It seems acceptance from them would mean you are more worthy as a person. Or that rejection and embarrassment from them means you’re a total failure.
In other words, acceptance or failure with these particular people would change the way you see yourself to a large degree. THAT’s why you feel anxiety around them; you’re putting your sense of worth in their hands. In turn, it’s this anxiety that’s causing you to be awkward and feel you have nothing to say.
Obviously, most of the issue here is just in your head. What others say or think about you is a very poor measure of your true worth.
Also, as I’m sure you’ve heard before, rejection and embarrassment isn’t the end of the world. There are plenty of other people out there and many opportunities to meet them.
- Approval or rejection from certain people feels more important because you’ve put them in a “high value” category in your mind
- The acceptance (or rejection) of these “high value” people has the power to affect your feelings of self-worth to a large degree
- Since interactions with these people are “high-stakes” for your self-worth, you feel anxious around them and get awkward
How to Talk to the Intimidating People Like You Talk to Others
So this all probably sort of makes sense and I feel it’s important to understand, but it doesn’t help you much in the moment talking to an intimidating person does it?
Telling yourself, “this attractive girl is NO different than girls I don’t find attractive. It’s all in my head” probably won’t matter. You’ll still stall and find it hard to talk to her.
That’s because emotion and fear trump logic most times. And while we may be aware of the truth, our subconscious mind holds tightly to its habitual ways of thinking. So how do you get past this? Here are some suggestions.
Permanent Solutions (That Take Longer):
Work at getting self worth from inside, not outside. If someone you barely know ignores you and you feel down in the dumps (thinking they don’t like you), you’re getting too much self-worth from others. You need to get more validation from yourself by being more aware of your qualities and strengths, striving for a life you love, and becoming comfortable with rejection.
Then you won’t be so needy around others in general.
And when you aren’t seeking their approval, they’ll often respond to you better. Even if you don’t have much in common or make “social mistakes,” it won’t matter so much. When people sense you have confidence and don’t need their approval, they overlook a lot.
Gradually spend more time around people who intimidate you. Yes this is akin to the advice of “just get out there.” But do it in a smart way.
Maybe at first you just, for example, make eye contact with the popular/successful people. Maybe next time you make eye contact, smile and say hi. The point is you keep getting more and more comfortable being around, then interacting with, the people you’re most interested in. You push further and further each time.
What you’re doing is proving to your subconscious there’s little reason to feel intimidated by these people. That even if the interaction doesn’t go well, you survive just fine. Eventually, your subconscious will realize the imagined risk of talking to them isn’t so bad after all. Then you’ll feel much more comfortable around them.
Slick Tricks (That Help “in the Moment”)
Constantly remind yourself others have issues, problems and weaknesses too. Often we put the people we’re fond of on a pedestal. We think so highly of people who are attractive, popular or successful while thinking poorly of ourselves.
Because of this, we think of them as “having it all” and by comparison we feel even less capable of engaging them successfully. But of course they are people too. They have their own flaws and weaknesses. And being human, they likely feel intimidated and uncertain in social situations also. What’s more, you probably have strengths and experiences they don’t have.
By reminding yourself of these things in the moment, you make your thinking more realistic. This helps bring your anxiety down a notch so you can interact more naturally.
Ramp up socially. Maybe it’s because I’m an introvert, but I view being outgoing like working out. If you’re doing a cross fit workout, you don’t just jump into it. You warm up and stretch first.
The same goes for socializing. You can’t expect to watch TV alone every evening then go out on a Friday night and easily chat up the most intimidating people you see. Instead, take the time to warm up socially.
- Talk to less intimidating people first to get your conversational juices going
- Call a friend to see what they’ve been up to
- Talk to the bartender or barista for a sec
- Chat up the guy or girl standing alone who you “aren’t that interested in”
What this does is loosen you up socially so you’re more prepared to tackle the higher stakes conversations.
Just remember, we all want acceptance from high-value people. That’s human nature and there’s nothing wrong with it. But when you NEED the approval of others to feel good about yourself, you severely limit your chances for happiness and social confidence.
(Image courtesy of BossTweed via Flickr Creative Commons)