I Have a Problem with Being Uncomfortable in Social Situations

Reader’s Question

I’m 22 years old. I have had a problem with blushing, sweating and being uncomfortable in a variety of social situations, which started as long ago as I can remember. I like being around people but I often feel insecure. I get nervous around strangers and family alike. I have attempted several different solutions to this and nothing has worked. I have tried acting confident and looking people in the eye, avoiding situations, going to therapy, etc. However, I don’t think a therapist has ever really believed me or maybe I haven’t explained myself well, and now I don’t want to go back/can’t go back. Blushing and social nervousness has really taken a toll on my self confidence, and I wish I didn’t act so foolish in front of people. The severity of this comes in waves, but I just want it to go away. I also often regret past situations where I feel I’ve acted stupidly so much that I physically tremble when I remember them, which is often. Any suggestions on what I can do? I have heard that meditation is a possibility?

Psychologist’s Reply

There are several levels of social discomfort. At one level is a person who is introverted — uncomfortable around strangers and in crowds, preferring solitary activities. These folks are very normal and often choose careers/activities where contact with the public is avoided, working best with a group of trusted co-workers. From your description, you are likely an introverted individual with some social anxiety due to past experiences.

The combination of introversion and social anxiety creates difficulties in normal social interaction. In reality, most people have some signs of anxiety in social settings — some blush, some have nervous habits (hair twirling, rocking movements, avoiding eye contact, etc.). The big difference is that anxiety and introversion create an individual who has low self-esteem, is fearful of social embarrassment, is constantly evaluating their own behavior and comments looking for mistakes, and constantly feeling others are judging them.

Those on the other end of the scale — extraverts — are very comfortable in social settings. However, they still blush, sweat, and embarrass themselves as these are normal social experiences. The difference? Their social confidence allows them to use social skills to deal with the situations. I recently talked to a woman who blushed when our discussion began. She smiled and quipped “I’m blushing…I must like you!” If you listen to extraverts, you’ll find they have “press releases” for social situations such as blushing, sweating, or embarrassment. If they forget something, they smile and claim “I’ve got C.R.S…Can’t Remember Stuff”.

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There are a variety of treatments for social anxiety including meditation, medications, and various therapy treatments. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy works well as do educational-based programs that focus on improving social confidence and social skills. Introverted folks take themselves very seriously which creates most of their anxiety. In truth, if we interact with others as part of our daily routine, we will be making multiple mistakes during the day. Everyone does. If I don’t embarrass myself three of four times a day, I feel like I must be doing something wrong. I’d return to therapy/counseling to improve your social confidence. This is something that can be improved…although you will probably still blush. Just tell those around you that blushing is your “fun meter” — they should only worry when you stop blushing! It’s also appropriate to use a “press release” for your introversion or shyness, such as “I’m not much of a talker” or “Don’t get me started talking. If you do, you won’t be able to shut me up!” As you can see, most extroverts handle social situations with humor.

You might also research the internet for tips on improving social skills. Social shyness and introversion are very common.

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