So Andrew Carnegie I’m not. Actually I have no idea how to “win” friends nor do I know how to influence people. I am not without skills but these are just not my specialty. I admit that I was going for the catchy title. I can tell you, however, about my personal experiences with trying to meet new people for the purpose of making friends.
I once read a definition of introversion which said that introverts derive their energy from being alone. I totally agree with this conjecture. I do not mind being alone for this reason. After a bit of needed isolation then I am ready to go out into the world and be social. But it sure isn’t easy for me. I remember missing many social events at work, much to the growing anger of my co-workers. I wasn’t so socially anxious while at work because there you have a clearly defined role. At a social event or party, things mysteriously change. All of a sudden the focus upon being social makes me feel anxious. What do I talk about? What if I look like an idiot? What if I blurt out something embarrassing? And too, what are the rules which everyone seems to intuit but me?
Fed up with my lame excuses for opting out of work get togethers, one of my co-workers confronted me. I felt like a bug under a magnifying glass when I confessed that parties and large groups of people scare me. I got the look of confusion as I was surrounded by mainly extroverts who could not understand being fearful of something which they got so much enjoyment from. So I tried harder to get over my fear through facing it head on. I wish I could say that it helped but the more I did it, the more drained I felt. After years of this I finally accepted that I am just not a party person. Yet I still did want to overcome my fear.
There are times I can absolutely act outgoing and behave in a gregarious manner. But these times feel like me putting on a new over coat. It isn’t the real me. I prefer intimacy and one to one interactions a hundred times more than I do chatting superficially within a group. I once heard a famous journalist say something akin to the fact that she felt shy people were selfish. That everyone feels afraid and unsure in social situations but that you have to stop dwelling inward about how you might appear. I have always disagreed with this notion because I don’t think everyone feels the same anxiety and fear. As a matter of fact, I know they don’t.
Several months ago I was feeling the need to get out and meet new people. I found a group on-line who advertised that they met in a nearby coffee shop. What attracted me to this particular group? Well it was a support group for the shy and socially anxious. It seemed perfect for me.
I have to tell you that although I knew the group members would be understanding of my shyness, I was still quite nervous. Meeting a group of new people is absolutely nerve wracking for me. I was already sweating buckets when I arrived. When I finally sat down to meet the others I got to hear some of their stories. Some had trouble holding down jobs. One person had been agoraphobic and had been self confined to their apartment for months. Still others talked of using anti-anxiety medication just so they could make it through the day. I began to quickly realize that social anxiety was on a huge spectrum and that my issues seemed small compared to what others were going through.
I tried to add to the conversation but I did feel awkward and stilted. I pictured myself with a bunch of extroverts and I imagined the scenario I am used to. When I am surrounded by extraverts I can ask a question and the extrovert will go on for days to answer it. They seldom notice that I haven’t said anything about myself. Not so here with other social scaredy cats. I used my interviewer style and got very short answers and long pauses. The silence made me uneasy so I asked more questions at a quicker pace. I was like Barbara Walters on speed. Until someone quietly pointed out that I didn’t answer any of my own questions. I blushed with embarrassment. It was absolutely true. This group of introverts had called me on my strategy to divert attention away from myself. It was one of those growth experiences where I realized I had been hiding myself in most group conversations.
The conversation became a little more easy going as the evening evolved. But then there just comes a point where I get weary of socializing. When I said my goodbyes I did feel a sense of pride. I had taken a risk, had met a group of total strangers, and held my own in trying to make conversation. And it is never too late to learn new things about yourself. What I am hoping for is not to become some party going socialite but that I will learn to not be so anxious over social situations. I have a long way to go but it is a start.
So how about you? Is it hard for you to meet new people? Are social groups difficult for you? How have you tried to overcome your fears if you have them? I am eager to hear about your experiences.