The art of socialising for introverts

Who are we?

We all have a personal setting, a unique framework if you like, that we can identify with. Let’s call it our comfort zone. It is the mode where we feel safe.

Type A – the social

For some this mode is tuned to be outgoing and social – let’s call them Type A personalities. They thrive in group interactions and love being seen and heard. Naturally outgoing they take up space and assume that others will be interested in what they have to say. Type A personalities enjoy meeting new people as they possess inner confidence, knowing who they are and what they’ve got to offer. Because of this, they are able to focus on someone else’s story and personality. This leads to positive human connections and they often find they are magnets for new friendships. But this is not who this post is for – unless your partner is an introvert in which case it is essential reading.

Type B – the introvert

Instead, this is for those of you who are not very comfortable in large groups, those of you who grew up as only children, the self-employed, the introverted, the shy, the geeky and the insecure. We’re going to call you Type B personalities and if this is you then please carry on reading.

As you already know, spending time alone is normal for introverts and you may actually prefer it to being in company. Not in a ‘I’ve got no friends’ kind of way but things are just easier when you’re doing things yourself. You find peace in solitude. Being heard and speaking your mind in group situations puts you in the spotlight, a place you don’t like to hang out, you like to retreat to the sidelines where you feel safe. Although many introverts enjoy meeting mates and tend to have very loyal and deep friendship circles you also have a need to check out, to regroup and process past social interactions before you can be at it again.

Crafty coping strategies.

In large groups of people (and I’m not counting partners and children in this as they tend to be an extension of ourselves) you are always ‘on’. For you, socialising is not very relaxing as you can’t be yourself. Does this sound familiar? Here are some classic coping strategies for introverts;

  • You tend to have besties. A best friend can take on the same role as a partner. You’ll share everything and feel safe and accepted – it is easy and natural to be yourself as your bestie always has your back. If you were to loose a best friend you’d be bereft.
  • You feel safe with gregarious and outspoken friends. The beauty of a loud friend is that you can hide. When the conversation gets hijacked the pressure for you to contribute is off. This leaves introverts feeling involved whilst simultaneously not having to participate actively at all.
  • You capitulate before you orate. You may have the most brilliant ideas yet in a group setting you’d automatically assume that others know better and fade out. Speaking up puts you at the centre of attention which is the last place you want to be. Being invisible is more important than being right.
  • You hate team work with a passion. In school, uni or at work you’d rather stick pins in you eyes than work together as a group. Your preferred way of working is solitary. You can produce a masterpiece if left alone.
  • You work alone. It is not a coincidence that introverts become writers, therapists and artists to name a few, working predominantly alone.
  • You love context. Introverts like you wants to know what hat to wear (metaphorically speaking) so that you can be comfortable in social settings. Work related events, a meeting, a book launch, a seminar, or wedding can all be fine because you have a part to play. You know why you are there and what is expected of you. In addition you know how long you are expected to be there which is important as you need to know when you can go home and be yourself again.

As a matter of fact that is the biggest reason why clients come to see me – they don’t think who they are, what they do, feel, think and look like is good enough.

– Birgitta Ronn

Why do we feel this way?

Not wanting to take up space or feeling socially uncomfortable can be based on not feeling good enough as we are, not feeling worthy of attention and not feeling that we have anything of relevance to add. As a matter of fact that is the biggest reason why clients come to see me – they don’t think who they are, what they do, feel, think and look like is good enough.

Social and group settings can bring up a mine field of insecurities for introverts. It alerts the mind that we may be under threat and that we need to get out, over compensate or hide away in order to survive the situation. This is also known as the fight, flight freeze response. In this part of our mind, things have not moved on much in the past thousand years and is still consumed with keeping us safe and alive. Being around groups can trigger a sense of a diminished self and social anxiety based on something we experienced or picked up on in childhood.

3 Reasons we may be struggling.

  1. We focus on our flaws. When we are feeling uncomfortable, perhaps when meeting a new person, we often focus inward and become self obsessed. No matter what our new acquaintance is saying, we are not listening. Instead we are concentrating on our internal dialogue which circulates fears about how we are perceived and how good of a job we are doing.
  2. We struggle to set boundaries. In a larger social group introverts are happy for others to take command as we feel flummoxed and in need of direction. We tend to overcompensate for our lack of sociability by being the good, reliable and trusted friend, doing what is being asked of us even though it really doesn’t suit us.
  3. We turn down opportunities. In order to play it safe we rather turn down jobs, networking offers and invitations to group settings as all of it resides outside our comfort zone.

Tips to help an anxious mind

I want to highlight here that being an introvert or someone who loves working alone is not in any way problematic. The problem arises when we don’t accept or like who we are and think we need to be someone different.

To change a behaviour we have to be aware that its there in the first place. What story are you telling yourselves when you are in social situations? All of us have stories about who we are, what we fear others think of us and what we can and cannot do. But they are just that, stories, that we have told ourselves for a very long time. That is why they feel true. If we start being aware of where our stories lead us astray, we can start to question their validity rather than blindly believing in them. Tell yourself this;

  • YOU ARE GOOD ENOUGH. Start by accepting absolutely everything about yourself today – your background, your job, your money situation, what you look like and your way of thinking. It is ALL GOOD ENOUGH and the great news is that you can improve. No one is perfect. Tell yourself daily that who you are is good enough to be loved and liked.
  • GET OUT OF YOUR OWN HEAD. When we get startled in social situations we tend to go within and focus on our flaws. We think about how we come across and whether or not the person we talk to likes us. When we do this we loose the ability to connect to others. Tip! Try to really listen and look at the person/s you are talking to. What are they saying? Focus on the content and whether you are in the moment or lost in your own thoughts? Rest assured that NO ONE knows about the doubtful inner dialogue you are having with yourself so there is no need to feel ashamed.
  • STOP BEING A PERFECTIONIST. We may think that our particular brand of social awkwardness makes us unlikable. But is that really true? If someone is not as good at writing, cooking or running as you are – would you judge them? You probably wouldn’t. You’d accept them for who they were, yet introverts often feel they have to be perfect to be barely acceptable. I tell clients that 6 out of 10 is good enough. The truth is that MOST people suffer from some form of insecurity yet we’d never know as people are experts at hiding their feelings.

So go out into the world and do you. As Oscar Wilde says “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken“.


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