Something you may or may not know about me: I have severe social anxiety. When I was a child, I was so shy I could barely function. It wasn’t until college that I learned how to engage with other people, so that I could actually have a social life with friends (I know, what a concept). I never felt comfortable in front of anyone, especially in crowds of people, regardless of whether or not I knew them. I’m not so bad these days, but networking and going to events on my own still causes me anxiety at times.
But I do it. I recognize how important it is to put myself out there and risk feeling awkward for the sake of both personal and professional development. My secret? Etiquette.
I know. I toss that word around a lot, but it’s true. The definition of etiquette:
It’s not just how to set a table or how to execute a proper handshake. These are rules of etiquette. The practice itself requires more than that. It requires knowing the standard of how to act in social situations.
As an introvert with social anxiety, the issue rests on not knowing how to act in social situations. This results in an overwhelming concern for what people think of you – having people think poorly of me? Pretty much my biggest fear of my adolescent years.
The thing is, it’s impossible to expect that others will follow the same guidelines for social interaction that you will. You can read all you want about how to communicate with other people, introduce yourself to strangers, and even mingle at a party, but that doesn’t mean much if your own social commitment and philosophies aren’t reciprocated.
The day my life changed and I turned into an outgoing introvert was the day I realized that social interaction takes TWO people. You feel awkward in a conversation? That other person is just as responsible for any tension as you are, and if they think the situation is awkward? Well, that’s their problem.
Poise. Knowing how to respond politely to an impolite question (once again, their problem, NOT yours). Confidence. How to make an introduction. Small talk. These are things that you can LEARN how to do. Once you have a basic understanding of etiquette, and the things required of you and others in a social situation, you just might magically find your anxiety disappear. And if the other person feels anxious or awkward in your presence? Well, that’s not your fault anymore.
Etiquette and Anxiety Resources:
- Hardcore Self Help: F*** Anxiety
- Good Manners for Nice People Who Sometimes Say F*ck
- Everyday Etiquette: How to Navigate 101 Common and Uncommon Social Situations
- The Amy Vanderbilt Complete Book of Etiquette
Please note – just like everything on this little blog here, this post is only a reflection of my own personal experience. I’m not suggesting that etiquette will fix everything; in fact, it’s taken a combination of medication, therapy, and learning how to interact with others that I credit for my current ability to participate in social situations. It is completely possible to have such a fear of being around other people that it isolates you from the world. For those who suffer in such a way, there are resources out there for you to get help! Not sure where to start? Check out my husband’s website, and get in touch with him if you just need help figuring out where to start. Best of luck!