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Social awkwardness is when you feel uncomfortable and out of place in social situations. It feels unpleasant, but being socially awkward has some benefits, too.
Social situations, especially when meeting new people, can be awkward. You may worry about saying the wrong thing, or say nothing at all while you overthink about saying the wrong thing. There might be some awkward laughing and uncomfortable silence.
This is all typical from time to time. But if this is your everyday experience, it can be draining. And you’re not the only one to experience this.
According to psychologist Ty Tashiro’s book “Awkward: The Science of Why We’re Socially Awkward and Why That’s Awesome,” around 15% of people have social skill challenges and communication difficulties that are considered to make them socially awkward.
In many cases, social awkwardness comes from extreme anxiety. Social anxiety is more than just feeling shy. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that
When you’re in a social situation, social awkwardness may mean that you are:
- having difficulty talking
- feeling self-conscious
- avoiding eye contact
- unable to read body language
- feeling anxious
Awkwardness, anxiety, and introversion
It’s important to note that the terms social awkwardness, introversion, and social anxiety disorder are often confused with each other. While they share some traits, they are not the same thing.
If you feel drained by interacting with others and need to spend time alone to recharge your energy, this may point to an introverted personality trait.
On the other hand, if you feel intense anxiety over being judged, avoid social situations through fear, or experience panic attacks related to socializing, this could signal social anxiety disorder, according to Dr. Nicholette Leanza, LPCC-S of LifeStance Health.
Is social awkwardness a good thing?
While it feels uncomfortable at the time, there are upsides to being socially awkward.
For example, “people who are socially awkward may be more observant and analytical, which can be beneficial in certain professions,” explains Dr. Alejandro Alva, a medical doctor and board certified psychiatrist based in California.
“They may also be more honest and sincere, which can be refreshing in a world of small talk and superficial interactions.”
How do I know if I’m socially awkward?
Consider reflecting after the next few social interactions to gauge how you feel afterward. This may help you decide how to best move forward.
Know that whether it’s social awkwardness, introversion, or social anxiety disorder, none of these are wrong — and you are not alone.
PsychCentral spoke to Leanza and Alva about how to overcome social awkwardness so you can start to feel more at ease in social situations.
Alva suggests the following tips for overcoming social awkwardness:
- Practice small talk. Consider striking up a conversation with a stranger, such as commenting on the weather.
- Make an effort to make eye contact. This may help you appear more confident and approachable.
- Focus on the other person. Ask questions and really listen to the answers. This will help you connect with them and help the conversation flow more easily.
- Try to relax and be yourself. Remember that everyone has their quirks, and you’ll be more likely to find a connection with someone by being yourself.
Leanza says it may help to practice understanding social cues. One way to do this is to focus on body language.
“It can be very difficult for socially awkward people to read other people’s body language or behavior,” says Leanza. “Since social cues and norms can be very hard for them to decipher, this can develop a lot of anxiety within a person and may make them want to avoid social situations.”
You can increase your social confidence by learning how to better understand social cues and the body language of others. “Practicing with loved ones to learn these skills can be very helpful, especially when needing to be in an upcoming social situation,” suggests Leanza.
If you find that your social awkwardness is making a negative impact life, you can also consider speaking to a mental health professional. Psych Central’s How to Find Mental Health Support resource may help.
Different communication styles
When you’re looking to improve communication, it’s important to note that each person’s style and manner of communication are different. This article mainly focuses on neurotypical styles of communication.
Neurodivergent folks, including autistic people, may communicate in different ways. For instance, avoiding eye contact and fidgeting may help them concentrate better or feel more comfortable in conversation and doesn’t always mean disinterest.
Using different communication styles doesn’t necessarily mean that the communication is less effective, though it often requires communicating with greater thoughtfulness and intention.
If you’re socially awkward, you can still have a thriving social life. You might start by getting to know yourself better and understanding how you feel in social settings, then trying some of the tips from our mental health experts to see if they help.
If you’ve felt socially awkward for a long time, it helps to be patient with yourself and give yourself the grace to overcome your nerves over time.