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How To Overcome Your Fear Of Social Occasions And Develop Real Social Confidence

I used to be terrified of social occasions. Often I would refuse to go, and if I did go I would stick very close to someone I knew. Generally I was the first to leave, and I left exhausted and was relieved to get home. I just didn't feel socially adequate. I am a bit of a nerd, and interacting with women scared me. And there always seemed to be some dominant alpha male who would make me feel even worse. I had a "Hollywood movie" understanding of social occasions and thought the idea was to be stellar, macho, sexy, impress everyone, and be liked by all and the general center of attention. This was completely beyond my reach. I used to feel crushed and any small social mistake would be replayed in my mind for weeks. On any social scale from 1 to ten I scored myself as a zero. I had the wrong notion that if wasn't a "somebody" that I must be a "nobody".

Eventually I realized that many people at the gatherings I went to were just like me. They also did not feel socially adequate and did not really want to meet a "life of the party" type who overwhelmed them with brilliance. They were quite happy if they found someone who was kind, who listened to them and accepted them and who had a reasonable sense of humor. So I started focusing on the normal, average people at the gathering (rather than the stars) and quietly making a few friends in the crowd (rather than trying to be the center of attention). Once I changed a few behaviors and had realistic goals and expectations such as "being friendly and having a pleasant evening" rather than unrealistic goals such as "getting everyone there to like me" then I enjoyed social occasions and found them much easier to cope with.

The fears involved in social occasions are numerous - fear of rejection, fear of failure, fear of new people, fear of being unfashionable, fear of making a mistake, fear of crowds, fear of embarrassment, fear of going home alone, fear of being asked to speak or tell a joke or act in public, fear of humiliation by important people and even fear of the change in routine. Some people resort to alcohol or drugs to cope with these fears and to appear confident. There are seven keys to overcoming social fears and they all involve managing the inner thoughts that create the anxieties that cripple us socially:

1. Aim low. Don't load yourself up with aims and expectations that may not be fulfilled. Set an achievable goal such as "to have a pleasant evening and meet a few nice people." And don't "catastrophize" the event ("it will be the end of the world if.."). The world will keep on turning, life will go on.

2. Don't mix career objectives such as impressing the boss, with legitimate social objectives. Impress the boss with quality work and a good attitude in the office. Keep the party as a social event only and it will be much less stressful.

3. Don't set yourself up for failure. For instance if you are an average guy don't try and flirt with the "super-model" that everyone is paying attention to. She will just pay attention to someone else and you end up feeling dumb and crushed and alone. Find a charming companion who is 'like yourself" who you can be natural and normal with and who appreciates your attention.

4. "Float" through the anxious bits like you are in a dream. Floating is being slightly detached from reality and switches off the nervous "fight or flight" panic response. Floating conquers the tangled anxieties of difficult moments. When you are being introduced to someone important - "float" up to them, "float" through shaking their hands, "float" through the pleasant remarks and "float" off to join the rest of the party afterwards. Let time pass. Let the evening just flow past you. Its almost like you are in eternity where there is no fear.

5. Be totally unreactive to those who delight in putting others down.. Pretend you are an impassive piece of granite rock. Neither retaliate nor cringe. Practice controlled strong silence. Feel the power of managing your reactions to them. Don't let things get to you, don't let small slights make you cringe, brush off the minor injustices and put downs and move past them. You don't need their approval and their comments have no effect on you. You are strong.

6. Remember its just a party. A single social event doesn't define who you are, how important you are, is no measure of your worth and does not place you on the social scale. Your worth as a human being is determined by the life-long loveliness of your actions. Its a sum of what you have done and how you have loved and what you have contributed to life. That is not at all affected by the nasty reactions of a few snobs.

7. Pray and ask for God's help and for His peace and courage. God is very kind and will often set up a "coincidence" that makes the evening a pleasant one. By committing the evening to God you are placing it under His control and He is now responsible for the success of the occasion. This takes the stress of you and puts it on God - who can handle it.

With the seven keys you should be making a good start on dealing with some of your key social anxieties. But if you are as bad a nerd as I was you may need a few clues on how to make the best of social occasions. Here are the "top thirty" tips I have found to work:

1. Make a confident start. Stand straight, walk tall, smile at everyone, look people in the eyes and shake hands firmly. Confidence builds confidence.

2. Listen attentively, be really interested in people, show you care about what they are saying. People will instantly like you if you graciously listen to their story.

3. Don't be profound except around people that have you know for certain like "profound". Most people are uncomfortable with deep conversations.

4. Generally friendly works better than sexy.

5. Everyone likes a good joke, especially if its new. Go on the Internet and find half a dozen short funny clean jokes. Print them out and keep them in your pocket.

6. Work out how much alcohol you can have before you definitely start being embarrassing - then never drink that much ever again.

7. Don't get into arguments. Also avoid being an expert, or an intellectual or talking down to others and definitely don't show off your karate moves! And if someone picks an argument with you don't get too involved, exit at the earliest opportunity and find someone better to talk to.

8. Don't try to impress people. It seldom works and often fails. Also there is no need to "validate" yourself through boasting or talking about your degrees and credentials.

9. Read the invitation carefully, arrive on time and dress at the average level of your group.

10. Move from person to person. Button-holing makes people avoid you next time. Force yourself to move on.

11. Don't be the last guest.

12. Don't t try and top every story and beat every joke.

13. Don't be too intense. If you are naturally intense then it may help to find a social group that can handle intense people..

14. Be "like an old pair of slippers" (and I don't mean smelly), just friendly, easy, normal, likeable, and showing that you like others.

15. Don't talk endlessly about very self-centered topics such as your divorce, your children, or your operation. Pick topics on which you both know something so the conversation can go back and forth. The weather is one such topic!

16. If you get drained and "peopled out" don't leave the party or go silent. Take time out, read a magazine for five minutes or play a game of pool or other non-verbal activity and recharge your batteries - then come back and interact.

17. Listen to cues and clues from your close friends. Also watch what others around you are doing and copy them, particularly when unfamiliar etiquette is being observed (such as using fish forks or passing the port in a certain direction).

18. Give yourself plenty of time to be accepted. Let time pass, don't worry and hurry. Don't get too anxious, too early.

19. Don't let a small success go to your head. Its then you are most prone to make mistakes.

20. Join social groups that have a reputation for being easy on newcomers such as churches and citizens groups.

21. Don't get caught trying to please people who are frequently critical. Most of these people give off a false aura of personal importance and believe they have the right to evaluate others. Treat them politely but keep them at a large distance and do not give in to their demands.

22. Prefer honest and true friends over glamorous ones.

23. Be honest, faithful and true yourself and you will keep your friends forever. Even important people like someone who is "true".

24. Do not repeat gossip. This marks you socially. Also avoid the company of angry and discontented people because if you learn their habits it will lead to social isolation.

25. Do not talk about your financial needs, especially around wealthy people, it will cause them to avoid you.

26. Bring an attractive handmade personalized gift, it need not be expensive.

27. When invited to the house of an important person do not eat or drink too much. It will be noted. Rather, show restraint.

28. Be kind and gracious and develop the art of "saving face" and ensuring that others feel comfortable. Smart, sarcastic people are a dime a dozen, but truly caring and gentle people are rare, and are always appreciated and invited out again.

29. Match people's moods and gestures, this is known as "congruency" and is an important social skill. If everyone is laughing, tell jokes, if they are talking business, be professional, but if everyone is quietly comforting a widow, then just join in quietly and graciously.

30. Don't give or take offense. Be generally positive and upbeat and unflappable. Don't let one small thing ruin your evening.

Where to go from here? Print this article out and place it somewhere where you can read it once a month for the next year. I can guarantee that if you put these things into practice that in one years time you will have mastered most of your fears and will be far more confident on social occasions. You may never be a mega-star but you will have made new friends and learned how to enjoy an evening out.


This article may be freely reproduced for non-profit ministry purposes but may not be sold in any way. For permission to use articles in your ministry, e-mail the editor, John Edmiston at johned@aibi.ph.