I used to feel so alone in the city. All those gazillions of people and then me, on the outside. Because how do you meet a new person? I was very stunned by this for many years. And then I realized, you just say, “Hi.” They may ignore you. Or you may marry them. And that possibility is worth at one word.
How to Overcome Social Fear
Some of us have it more than others; this clambering fear that won’t go away when we are around others. You begin to sweat, your mouth begins to dry up, you have this strange pit in your stomach. Some of us feel it differently. Some more than others. It seems almost impossible to ‘be yourself’ around others you do not know.
I want to shed some light on why we have this fear, some things you can do to get over it and maybe shine some perspective on this fear that you have.
We All Have This Fear
The first thing you really have to bury deep in your mind is this idea that almost all of us have this fear; even that seemingly confident guy who can walk up to any group and strike up a conversation. This fear of meeting new groups of people is very biologically innate.
Millions of years ago all we had were sharp rocks and spears. Even that wasn’t enough to stop all predators. Our strength was in numbers and our ability to communicate with each other. That was the dominant ability which separated us from other animals. We were able to communicate, plan, and strike.
This innate communication ability however, made people less open to unknown people. Back then it was very rare to meet another human outside your group. In a lifetime you would only interact with only a couple of other humans at a time. So meeting someone outside of your group was simple met with aggression because it was unclear what the motives of this other person was. It was better to play it safe and chase him away or even kill him.
For this same reason we also have the fear of being excluded from groups. If you did something to upset the wrong people in the group and you were exiled you were pretty much dead. No other group would let you in and there was nothing you could do. So we have biological social fear of being exiled and we fear strangers as well.
It seems like infants have retained this fear of strangers. Infants have been observed to show anxiety around unfamiliar people at only 6 months of age. This irrational fear is only reinforced when parents tell their child not to talk to strangers.
What Should We Do?
Luckily these days we won’t outright murder you if you try to enter another group. So there are some tips on how you can appear a little less threatening to other people.
The first thing you need to change is your mindset when asking questions. A lot of people approach other people to ask a question because they want something. You are already dead in your tracks with that mindset. Instead approach the situation with the I want to learn mindset. One of them says that you want them to do something for you. The other one says you want to do it but just don’t know how. It is much less value seeking.
Quick example, say you’re entering data or something and you want the data formatted in tables or something and you don’t know how to do that. Now, I want you to imagine this situation in your head. You can say one of two things:
“Can you put this data into tables for me?”
“Can you show me how to put this data into tables for me?”
I’m sure you can guess which one is more inviting to the other person to actually solve your problem. One of them makes you seem like a under-waged worker, the other one makes you seem like a teacher. In addition, the other person can be assured (hopefully) that you will be able to do this yourself from now on.
Oh God, rejection! How many times have you been rejected? How does it feel? This is another one of our innate fears. It’s the whole fear of getting rejected from our little social group. We often preoccupy ourselves on how others feel about us and often we misinterpret these signs.
This is because we fear rejection so much that we become extra sensitive to anything which may signal rejection as rejection. This could be anything as small as a person not saying hello to you. Or a person not smiling or laughing at your joke. Any of these things can make your brain interpret that as rejection when logically it really makes no sense.
So if you are a woman if you’re wondering why that guy just left, it might be because you didn’t smile when he wanted or you moved your body too much at an angle away from him and he rejected himself. And to the guys I’ll say “That girl liked you dude!”
It’s helpful to just put yourself in the other person’s shoes. How many jokes have you not laughed at? How many times have you not smiled? I’m sure it’s a lot more than you can count. After doing this I am sure you can see how irrational your brain is being. If the signs of rejection aren’t clear as day then it probably isn’t a rejection. One of our biggest problems is that we tend to reject ourselves. It’s important to be conscious of this fact.
Confidence is shedding this social fear; this fear of rejection and caring what others think. Unfortunately this fear we have inherited from our ancestors is not helping us anymore, it’s only hurting us. This again is perpetuated by our society. If you don’t belong in a group you are automatically seen as weird, or socially inept. When was the last time you went to a movie alone? Or a restaurant alone? Most people don’t like doing these things because they believe they will face ridicule.
People are too busy with their own lives to remember what you did. Anything you do is forgotten every time by a casual stranger. Do you remember the last time you saw a stranger eating alone at a restaurant? What was the last embarrassing thing you remember somebody else doing? We always forget what other people have done but remember what we have done. Nobody points and laughs. Nobody even looks. If you begin to face these social fears that you have, you will only find that these fears have no basis. To be unshackled by these fears is what it means to be truly free.