Contrary to popular belief, introverts can be the most social people at parties. That is if they’re talking about something they’re passionate about.
Having a rich inner world does not mean you have to be stuck as a wallflower. However, introverts with social anxiety are in a bind that can make it difficult to find people and relationships that resonate with them.
Here’s how you can have a flourishing social life and overcome your social anxiety as an introvert:
Introversion vs. Social Anxiety (Introversion Defined)
It’s become almost trendy to call yourself an introvert, but actual introverted behavior looks like this:
Preference for solitary activities, self-reflection, and working alone.
Inward orientation to one’s mental life over social life.
Feeling drained by social interactions (even when you’re enjoying them).
Preference for calm, lowkey environments over loud social events.
It’s important to know that introversion and social anxiety are not the same thing.
A socially anxious person cares deeply about others’ opinions. A healthy introvert would not need another person’s approval.
A socially anxious person feels like they need to perform for the people around them. A healthy introvert would not feel obligated to please everyone they meet.
A socially anxious person avoids social situations for fear of embarrassing themselves. A healthy introvert avoids social situations they find obnoxious or unstimulating.
A socially anxious person hides their true interests and opinions. A healthy introvert will talk for hours about something with a person they feel “gets it.”
Social anxiety and introversion often occur together. And it’s true that whether you’re introverted or extroverted, human beings require deep social connections to feel fulfilled.
Introverted nature plus social anxiety put serious barriers between an individual and the social life they want. People will often use introversion as an excuse for their social fears, and quietly accept that that’s “just they way they are.”
There is nothing wrong with being an introvert, but social anxiety can make it difficult to have a fulfilling social life. If you take the right steps, you can beat it forever, introverted or not.
1. Raw Practice Approaching and Talking to People
You overcome social fears by putting yourself in situations that make you uncomfortable, voluntarily, on a regular basis.
That might sound overwhelming right now, but let’s look at the benefits:
You’ll build your courage.
You’ll be able to approach and talk to anyone, in any situation.
Each exercise will be a little adventure, and you’ll start having real life experiences and stories to tell.
Here are some ways that you can get raw practice in for facing social anxiety. You can ramp this up by making a list of things that scare you socially, and going out and attempting them in a hierarchy.
Ask random people for the time when you’re out doing errands.
Give a compliment to every cashier or server you deal with. (It has to be genuine and not contrived for the sake of the exercise).
Make a genuine comment to someone about the situation you’re in (the party you’re at, the coziness of the cafe, the vibe at a concert).
Just go out and sit in a busy social environment without talking to anyone (A bar on a Friday for example, do this for 30 minutes).
Test your limits and get creative (Go into a Subway and ask for a Big Mac, ask strangers if you can borrow $100).
Yes, you might studder. Yes, you might have trouble making conversation. Yes, some people might not be receptive to you, but that’s the lesson. You should not care or try to control what people think of you.
In building your courage like this, you’re building your self-esteem, and that means you won’t feel the need to get approval from others anymore. And that’s freedom.
If you know that other people can’t take your self-worth, then you’ll have nothing left to be anxious about.
2. Put Yourself in Situations Where Socializing is Necessary
This is leveraging your daily activities to get more practice in.
For example, take a part-time job that requires you to talk to people regularly, like being a server or working a phone in customer service.
You could challenge yourself further by joining an organization like Toastmasters, which is a service that matches you up with public speaking engagements to improve your communication skills. Socially anxious introverts can master these activities as well as any extrovert.
For all the discomfort you might feel up front, you’ll find that making the smallest steps will carry you forward, especially if they’re done daily.
3. Be Introverted in Public
In keeping with the theme of being proactive, you need to find ways to turn your introverted activities into social ones (not to take away the joy you get from doing things by yourself, but at least sometimes you should try and do them socially).
Here are some examples:
If you love reading and writing, decide to read on a park bench, or in a local coffee shop. This will give you opportunities to be social.
Join hobby groups or meetups or clubs. Take your passion, find its social equivalent, show up, and participate. These are environments you’ll be familiar with, and you’ll have a high chance of finding someone you can connect with.
In a social situation like a party, instead of trying to gravitate around some big social activity, make your own zone. Do your own thing, have your own conversations, and make your own fun, even if that’s just joking with someone about how much the party sucks.
4. Self-Belief and Caring For Yourself
Having a “bad” social interaction (rejection, being ignored, making a mistake) can be devastating for a person with social anxiety. It can shock you on a level that might stretch all the way back to childhood.
But you lose nothing in the attempt, even if it hurts in the moment. If you’ve shown up in an authentic way, you’ve just found a person that you weren’t meant to connect with.
The more you prove to yourself that you can walk past the barrier of your fear, the more you know who you are and what you’re capable of.
There’s a lot of loneliness in the world right now, and an increasing number of people are finding it easier just to isolate themselves. But that’s not where connection is. That’s not where strength is. That’s not where life is.
Care for yourself through this process of growth and freedom from your social anxiety. Don’t feel like you’re failing, even if it gets hard. It’s all experience. It’s all progress.
Just keep going.
Introverts Make the Deepest Connections
Your natural introversion does not have to hold you back, and social anxiety doesn’t have to either.
Get as much practice talking to people as you can to build your self-esteem, confidence, and social skills. When you’ve pushed yourself once, you can do it again. Every time is a chance to grow.
Give your introverted activities leverage by finding their social equivalent and participating in them daily.
Make socializing necessary by taking jobs and activities that challenge you socially.
Care for yourself throughout this process, and praise your social risks and efforts over the results you get. Loving the process is key here.
The world needs bold people. The world needs more rich connections and memories made in real life, not behind screens. Seek that, and you’ll find the connections you’re looking for.