Good news for people with social anxiety: research published last month suggests that embarrassing moments may actually draw people closer to you. More information is available here.
People with social anxiety dread standing out in ways that make them look bad: saying something awkward, stumbling, etc. Now it turns out that the embarrassment we experience when having committed a social faux pas can actually send out a signal to others that we are invested in social relationships. In turn, that makes people regard us more positively.
It makes sense. Imagine two people who each do something others might consider a little odd or unfortunate. One person is indifferent or doesn’t acknowledge what happened, while the other notices his or her error and becomes rather flustered. We’re likely to think of the second person as more tuned in to other people, more vulnerable, and to feel a certain empathy with them. It is appealing. The guy for whom the moment rolls off his back? Not so much.
One of the challenges of social anxiety is that it creates a “feedback loop.” Anxiety creates self-consciousness, which distracts us from meaningful social interaction, which creates more anxiety and self-consciousness. (Anxious mind chatter is a problem about which I’ve written before.) The challenge is to step outside of this preoccupation with the self and focus more on those around us. By worrying less about potential embarrassment or awkwardness, we can form closer relationships with those around us.
As in so much of life, the appropriate goal is progress, not perfection. This study suggests that it is our imperfections that sometimes draw us closer to others.
For some suggestions on how to overcome shyness and social anxiety, click here and here.