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“Why do I always feel so socially awkward? No matter what, I always think I’m saying or doing the wrong thing. It’s like I don’t know how to be a person. It always seems like people are going to judge me or think I’m weird.” – John
Do you struggle with feeling awkward around certain people or in various situations? Awkwardness happens to everyone, but it can certainly feel shameful and embarrassing. It can also be downright exhausting!
If you always feel awkward, it can affect your self-esteem. It can also influence your relationships and how well you perform in work or school.
This article focuses on the many reasons you might feel awkward. Our main article on how to not be awkward focuses on solutions for being less awkward. Let’s jump in!
Awkward has several different definitions, including:
- Lacking skill or dexterity.
- Lacking social grace or manners.
- Lacking physical grace.
- Lacking knowledge or skills to deal with a situation.
Likewise, there are numerous reasons why you might feel awkward. Let’s explore some common triggers.
Many people who feel awkward have social anxiety. There’s no doubt that anxiety can distort how you perceive yourself and others. It tends to make people imagine the worst possible outcome.
If you struggle with an anxiety condition, you might feel extremely worried in social settings. You may assume that others are judging you negatively. When this happens, it makes sense that you also feel awkward or uncertain.
Coping with social anxiety requires identifying your fears and making action-based steps to work through them. Start small and increase their social interactions as time goes on.
For example, you may set an initial goal to ask the grocery clerk how her day is going. When you feel more comfortable doing that, you can challenge yourself to strike up a conversation with a colleague at work, and so on.
Professional treatment can also help if you’re struggling with social anxiety. Many people benefit from a combination of therapy and medication. Remember there is no shame in asking for help. Although there isn’t a cure for social anxiety, you can learn how to live a happy life.
We recommend BetterHelp for online therapy, since they offer unlimited messaging and a weekly session, and is much cheaper than going to an actual therapist's office. They are also cheaper than Talkspace for what you get. You can learn more about BetterHelp here.
Here’s our guide on how to make friends with social anxiety.
If you have limited social experience, you may feel awkward around others. This can happen because you’re not sure how to read the room and make appropriate conversation.
Luckily, social skills are a skill like any other. The more you practice, the better you’ll become at it. Here’s our guide on how to improve your social skills.
If you worry about what to say and what to talk about, you can try shifting the conversation onto someone else. You could ask them something about the topic you’re currently talking about. If you talked about a movie you saw and the conversation starts running out, ask them something about the topic. “What’s your favorite movie genre?”
Or, you could compliment another person and ask them questions. (“I really like your shoes. Where did you get them?”)
You can prepare what to say about yourself if people ask. It may be helpful to rehearse a few standard answers ahead of time (“I work at X company. For the most part, I enjoy it because I can be creative. What about you? Where do you work?”).
Shifting the conversation like this can take some pressure off of you. However, when people ask you questions, practice sharing about yourself, too. It’s not true that people only want to talk about themselves. They also want to get to know who they are talking to. The more you practice talking about yourself, the better you’ll get at it.
Social cues are subtle things people do that can be hard to pick up on.
For example, it can be hard to know if someone’s looking away a lot because they want to end the conversation, because something has caught their attention, or because they’re shy.
Another example is the subtle facial expressions people make.
It can help to educate yourself on social cues. This guide from Inc highlights some of the subtle things people do to express their feelings.
Then, practice paying attention to people’s slight shifts in body language or tone of voice.
When we are in a new environment, we tend to be more self-conscious and uncomfortable.
We tend to feel more awkward when we don’t know how to act in a situation. For example, you might not know where the restroom is or who to ask for help. This awareness can feel awkward.
Rather than trying to gain control of the situation, you can remind yourself that you don’t have control over every situation. Mindfulness can help you be better at accepting situations.
Even making just one connection can help you feel less awkward when you’re in a new environment. Try to strike up a conversation with someone by pointing out something mutual between the two of you. For example, if you’re starting a new job, you can ask your coworker how long they’ve been working there.
See our guide on how to make your conversations more interesting.
Tell yourself that you can get through this. Remind yourself this mantra as often as you need. Your thoughts can shape your feelings, and the more you practice positive thinking, the easier new situations can feel.
Having a crush can be so exciting, but it can also feel so strange. Suddenly, you might feel incredibly awkward around the other person. You overthink everything you say, and you analyze everything they say back. This is why we tend to feel so awkward around guys or girls we like.
You might want to ask the other person out, but you feel awkward doing so, and you worry about rejection. This emotional limbo can make things even more awkward!
Remember that some awkwardness is normal. After all, we want to impress the people we like. Nobody wants to be rejected.
Keep reminding yourself that your crush is just a human. No matter how perfect they seem, they do have some flaws. They’re also probably wanting to impress you as well. Sometimes, the best tip for moving through the awkwardness is confronting it directly. That means setting a goal to talk to your crush – even if you feel terrified.
Shyness is similar to social anxiety, but it’s milder and not a medical diagnosis.
If you struggle with shyness, you may feel awkward around other people. There’s nothing wrong with being shy, but it can sometimes affect the quality of your relationships.
Overcoming shyness comes down to building social skills with practice. For example, you may start by challenging yourself to smile at a few people at a party. Over time, as your confidence grows, you continue to challenge yourself. If you want to work through your shyness, this guide from HelpGuide provides some practical tips.
Low self-esteem can make anyone feel awkward. If you think that you don’t have much worth, it’s natural to believe that others won’t think you have much to offer, either. Low self-esteem also makes it challenging to take social risks: If you fear rejection, you might avoid putting yourself out there. This video explains self-esteem in greater depth.
There are a few ways you can strengthen your self-esteem:
- Excelling at something – Focusing on strengthening a skill or talent.
- Putting your own needs first – Making a decision to set up boundaries.
- Stop spending time with people who disrespect you – Seeking out new social circles that can meet your social needs instead.
- Practicing self-care – Doing things that make you feel relaxed and happy.
- Practicing self-compassion – Talking to yourself like you would talk to a friend you care about.
Strengthening self-esteem takes time and practice. You won’t feel better about yourself overnight. But if you commit to this work, you’ll likely feel less socially awkward.
Sharing how you feel or what you think can feel jarring and uncomfortable. All forms of vulnerability can result in feeling awkward.
Usually, the awkwardness represents more of a shield for fear and shame. You can’t predict the outcome of what will happen next. You may worry about being rejected, judged, or disagreed with – even if the other person has been friendly to you before.
However, to form deep relationships with someone, you need to share things about yourself. It makes sense when you think about it: for someone to get to know you, they need to know things about you.
Practice sharing your feelings with trusted people first. Find someone you know will listen to you, and practice this skill with them. It can be as simple as saying, I’ve been feeling so stressed this past week.
The goal isn’t to necessarily feel better right away- the goal is to become more comfortable with social interactions and emotional intimacy.
ADHD affects focus and concentration. It can make social interactions difficult. You may struggle to connect with other people because it feels like you can’t turn your brain off.
To combat feeling awkward, it can help to practice focusing your attention on other people through active listening. Rather than thinking about what you want to say next, try focusing your attention on what the person is talking about
This skill takes time to cultivate, but it can help you stay more present with others. ADHD is a medical condition that a medical professional can help you with. Read more here.
Making mistakes can feel awkward because it leaves you feeling worried about what other people will think. If your mistake affected someone else directly, you might even feel more anxious and upset.
You can do the following thought experiment:
Ask yourself how a confident person would have felt if they’d made your mistake. Would they be devastated, or just shrug it off? Or maybe not even notice? You can make it a habit to get a “second opinion” of your actions through the eyes of this confident person.
As long as no one gets hurt or upset by your mistakes, people likely care less than you think.
However, if you have hurt or offended someone, take accountability for your mistake. “I tried to be funny but the joke came out wrong. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean anything bad with it”
Avoid making excuses or blaming someone else. Although it may feel tempting, doing so tends to make the issue more awkward.
While it’s important to apologize when you’ve hurt someone, excessively apologizing for things people don’t really care about can be a sign of low self-esteem, which we covered earlier in this guide.
Aspergers, or Autism Spectrum Disorder, is a complex condition that makes social interactions difficult, and it can make us feel awkward. Some people are aware of their autism diagnosis. Others are not, as autism can be misdiagnosed or undetected.
This guide from the Autism Society provides more information.
Many with Aspergers or mild autism are able to overcome some of these social challenges. You can start by educating yourself on comprehensive social skills. Here are several recommendations for highly-rated books on improving social skills.
Research shows that we tend to feel fear even before we cognitively recognize a scary situation. Sometimes feeling awkward is actually a feeling of perceived danger.
If this is the case, remove yourself from the situation immediately. Your body might be picking up on cues that something is wrong. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
If you struggle with loneliness, you may feel awkward even if you do have friends. That’s because loneliness isn’t just about physically being lonely. It’s about feeling disconnected or different from other people.
There are a few tips you can try if you struggle with loneliness.
It’s important to identify your emotions. Admitting your truth can help you recognize the need for change.
Sometimes, it helps to focus your attention on another person or thing. You may want to consider learning how to garden or adopting an animal. This can give you a sense of fulfillment and purpose.
Although it may seem counterintuitive, spending more quality time with yourself can help you build your self-esteem. Over time, this can combat feelings of loneliness. Do things that make you feel good about yourself. Try to engage in regular self-care by meditating, spending time in nature, or journaling.
See our guide on how to deal with loneliness.
If you’re clingy or attention-seeking, you might feel awkward around other people. Usually these behaviors stem from anxiety. You want to make sure that people like you. Unfortunately, these habits tend to push people away.
If you think you may come across as desperate to others, here are some tips.
Give the other person a chance to respond. Look back at your most recent message with a friend. Who’s doing most of the interacting? If you’re the one sending a bunch of messages, you may be coming across as needy.
Instead, try to avoid texting more than twice in a row unless there’s an emergency. Also, try to match the other person’s actions. For example, if they don’t typically text until evening, don’t text them in the middle of the day. If they usually respond with just a few sentences, don’t send multiple paragraphs.
Don’t give insincere compliments
It’s normal to want to flatter other people by praising them. But if you pile on excess compliments, it can be off-putting or even creepy. Instead, try to only compliment someone when you truly mean it. This is a quality-over-quantity priority!
If you’re always willing to hang out, it may come across as desperate to other people. They may think they’re your only source of entertainment.
Try to set some boundaries around your availability. For example, if someone asks you to lunch but you’ve already eaten, tell them, but let them know that you’d love to meet up the coming weekend.
Some people aren’t open to forming new relationships. Although this may seem unfortunate, it’s important to recognize when this is happening. Look for these signs:
- Closed-off body language (crossed arms, looking away frequently).
- Responding with one-word answers.
- Ignoring you for long periods of time, especially if you’re texting.
- Canceling plans frequently without making new ones.
- Always telling you that they are too busy to hang out.
- Making mean jokes or teasing you often.
It’s usually best to let go of trying to make these relationships work. Not everyone is the right match, and that’s okay. Trying to force it can make you end up feeling awkward.