Panic At The Disco
“What if I say something wrong?”
“What if they don’t like me?”
“What if I have nothing to talk about?”
“What if they see that I’m anxious?”
So, yeah. Social interactions don’t come easy to everyone.
If this is true for you, you’ll know that the anticipation of the social situation can be especially difficult, often because:
Past social experiences are recalled and an inventory of every social mistake is taken, exaggerated, and mentally re-lived.
An unspoken code of social conduct is assumed (one that you don’t know, and will therefore violate and draw attention to yourself).
Rumination about what others will think of you gears towards obsession. You might realise you can’t control their thinking, but something inside you insists that if you at least consider what their thoughts could be, you are closer to controlling their thinking than if you don’t (and when you’re anxious, it’s control that you’re after).
These mental tactics do nothing to reduce the discomfort of impending social contact – they actually increase it. As the social situation looms, you might recruit greater control strategies, which include:
Establishing negative beliefs about yourself by choosing to believe statements such as “I can’t talk to others”, or “I am too intense”. Having these beliefs before you enter social situations provides a way for you to prepare for the worst, which you assume is likely to happen.
Being overly vigilant to signs that others dislike you (the signs are interpreted in ways that confirm your negative beliefs). For example, noticing that no one greets you on arrival, or deciding that someone’s body language means they are trying to escape conversation with you.
Hiding what you don’t like about yourself and only presenting the qualities you think are likeable. You might even fake certain qualities or interests in the hopes of improving your likeability.
Avoiding opportunities for interacting with others. Should you determine you’ve extremely low odds for prospective social success, and high odds for social incompetence (for example, saying the wrong thing or doing something others would see as foolish), you will look for ways to avoid or minimise interactions. The aim of these strategies is to avoid vulnerability with others.
The problem is, avoiding vulnerability in relationships actually means avoiding real relationships. Real relationships require vulnerability in order to be fulfilling. Vulnerability is, simply put, authenticity. We can’t connect meaningfully to others if we are not ourselves.
Here’s a few suggestions for approaching social experiences authentically:
Willingness to risk letting others in by sharing things you normally avoid sharing. This could be something that’s on your mind, or an emotion you are currently feeling. You don’t need to do this with everyone, and you don’t need to share everything. Remind yourself that you don’t need to impress.
Accepting the discomfort of not knowing what others think. Many people have intolerance for uncertainty. This is why the uncertainty of not knowing what others think feels uncomfortable. Instead of resisting this discomfort, be aware of it and allow it to exist. Just because it feels uncomfortable doesn’t mean it’s bad.
Balanced thinking about your social capacity. Negative beliefs like “I can’t talk to others” and “I am too intense” aren’t usually completely accurate because they are entirely one-sided. Rather than assuming their accuracy, we need to consider a more balanced perspective. For example, you might experience some difficulty talking to certain people, but you might also manage a few great conservations.
Certainty that you are worthy of acceptance and love. How much we believe others will like and accept us is often influenced by how much we like and accept ourselves. We can think about all the things we’ve done wrong, and all the ways we fall short of where we should be, and assume we aren’t worthy. But it’s actually neither our self-approval, or the approval of others, that determines our worth. By design, we are worthy of acceptance and love.
Vulnerability takes practice. Think of it like a muscle that is strengthened through deliberate and repetitious use.
At times, the practice is painful. Vulnerability requires something of us.
But what we get in return is connection with others that is honest and meaningful. Relationships based on these qualities are the ones that satisfy us most.