In 2015, 264 million adults were suffering from various anxiety disorders worldwide.1
Whether your social insecurities stem from anxiety or not, this staggering number should offer you a bit of comfort; you are not alone when it comes to the fears you may have about socializing.
Meeting new people, making conversation, and navigating crowds are just a few examples of things that can trigger a variety of symptoms ranging from mild (racing heart and sweaty palms) to severe (panic attacks and avoiding social events altogether).
But social insecurity does not have to follow you forever; the following four tips can help you to overcome the fears that prevent you from having a happy, healthy social life.
1. Determine Your Social Strengths
The first step is to figure out what you’re good at when it comes to social situations (and you are good at something, so don’t tell yourself otherwise).
You can do this by simply making a list of things you’re confident doing and/or enjoy doing.
Figuring out your social strengths will not only give you a sense of purpose in social situations, it will also boost your confidence as a result of focusing on your positive attributes.
Once you have determined your social strengths, it’s time to learn how to use them.
2. Apply Your Social Strengths
Now that you know what your strengths are based on your personality type and/or the things you enjoy doing, you can put them to work.
The key to applying your social strengths is putting yourself in situations where your social strengths will be relevant.
If one of your strengths is your sense of humor, it won’t do you any good to introduce yourself to a group of people who appear solemn and are engrossed in a serious conversation.
Instead, you will be setting yourself up for success by introducing yourself to a group of people who appear light-hearted and upbeat, because you will have an opportunity to 1) apply your social strength (your sense of humor) and 2) receive positive feedback for it (because you chose your audience well).
When you experience success by following these steps, your confidence will begin to increase as your social insecurity decreases.
In my case, I am confident introducing myself to people who look alone or intimidated (despite the fact that I myself am alone and intimidated) because my compassion for that person’s situation is greater than my fear of making conversation with strangers. This is one way I can apply my social strength.
Read more here: How to not get intimidated by others.
Remember, you can (and do) have multiple social strengths. It is wise to practice applying each of them so that you can become more socially versatile.
3. Celebrate Your Successes
When you have overcome a social insecurity by applying one of your strengths in a social situation, it’s important to give yourself permission to make it a big deal.
Reward yourself for stepping outside your comfort zone and experiencing success doing something you were previously too afraid to even attempt. Positive reinforcement is key to teaching and learning new behaviors, and you can (and should!) use this strategy on yourself.
In addition to rewarding yourself for having a success, keep a journal where you write down each victory. Detail exactly what you did, what happened as a result, and why it worked. Note any changes you would make in the future to improve even further.
This is a beneficial practice because
- You will be developing a manual for yourself on how to successfully socialize so that you know what to do next time, and
- When you’re feeling down, you will have a journal of victories to look through as a reminder of how far you’ve come.
4. Turn Your Failures into Action Plans
Unfortunately, there will be times when things don’t go exactly as planned. Sometimes this is a result of something you did or didn’t do/said or didn’t say, and sometimes it’s a result of the other person.
Acknowledging when you’ve made a mistake is an important part of the process.
First, you will come to realize that failures are not the end of the world. The more you experience both victories and setbacks, the more you will realize that this is the natural cycle of life and everyone experiences it.
Second, acknowledging that you’ve made a mistake is the only way you can begin to fix it. While many people advise that you should just “brush it off” when something goes wrong, this is poor advice; if you aren’t intentional about determining why the mistake was made, you will have to live constantly in fear of it happening again.
In the same journal where you record your victories (or a different one, if you wish to keep them separate), write down exactly what happened. What were you trying to do, and what happened instead? Why did it go wrong, and what can you do differently next time?
This strategy puts you in control, rather than allowing you to become a victim of constant “accidents” that will tank your self-esteem and reinforce your social insecurity rather than your confidence.
Although your social insecurities may have been years in the making, the human brain is malleable and can be trained to both behave and respond differently. You do not have to live at the mercy of your insecurities. You have power over your thoughts, and following these four steps will help you change your mind and, as a result, your social life.
What social insecurities are you working to overcome?
- World Health Organization. 2017. Depression and other common mental disorders: Global health estimates. p 10.