If you are very shy then this is likely due to a level of social anxiety. This social anxiety can be caused by a number of things, but is likely to rear its ugly head every time you are due to speak up in a public environment in front of lots of people. Like most forms of anxiety this then takes the form of doubts and concerns forming in your mind just when you’re about to speak – what if what you say isn’t funny or interesting? What if you stutter and can’t get your words out? What if they don’t hear you and you end up getting drowned out? What if you end up looking like a fool?
These are all concerns that we have all had at one point or another, but if you are very shy then they will be regular. This can then extend itself in other ways. As you are too concerned to speak up when in public hanging out with friends, this will then mean that you don’t want to put yourself in those situations. So you will try to avoid meeting new people and even try to limit the time you spend with people you do know. This then means that you end up turning down invitations to events and staying in for the evening while you’re friends are at parties.
This will then only get worse with the time. The more time you spend not talking to people, the more time you will worry about it the next time you need to. You end up becoming more and more unsociable and if you don’t stop this pattern before it goes too far, then it can get to the point where you don’t want to leave your room at all and this can end up becoming a real phobia of social interaction or even agoraphobia. So how do you nip this in the bud and stop it before it’s too late? Here we will look at what to do.
The first and most important thing to learn is that it really doesn’t matter what you look like when you are speaking up or interacting with people and that if you look like a fool then it’s really not the end of the world. If you find that you’re time speaking to these people is not overly successful and you leave then thinking that you’re some kind of special case – then you never have to see them again and it doesn’t really matter. You might not have made any friends but then you wouldn’t have made any friends by not going out or talking to them either so no harm is done. At the same time the ones who are your friends who you already get on with are hardly going to stop being your friends because of a few weird things you say or a few times you stutter – in fact they are more likely to find this endearing.
Trial by Fire
You need to recognise then that if you start speaking to the group, stutter, and fail to say anything… that this doesn’t matter and you can just carry on as you were. There’s only one way to test this theory though of course and only one way to believe it and that’s to just put yourself in that situation and let it happen. So in other words, next time you are nervous speaking and you start to stutter – just let it happen. Say ‘d’uh sorry cat’s got my tongue!’ and then see how people just don’t react. Once you’ve done this a few times then you’ll find that you end up not as concerned about it happening again in future. You need to fail a few times before you realise it doesn’t matter and ironically once you stop worrying about it you’ll find you stop stuttering. If you stress about it then you will only reconfirm in your brain that speaking to people is something to be concerned about. So relax and let it happen, and in fact see it as a good thing because each time it does happen it is teaching you to be more relaxed next time.
If you really want to test this theory and you really want to force yourself to be okay with your stuttering then you can also enjoy the same benefits by purposefully putting yourself on the spot in conversations with people you don’t know. For instance go into a shop somewhere that you don’t go regularly. Now purposefully speak with a stutter and if you like a funny accent, and say things that are plain embarrassing or unusual. What you’ll notice is that the shop attendant doesn’t react at all and this will help to ease your mind next time you’re speaking to someone normally.
At the same time you also need to get out of the pattern of not going to things and to start plunging yourself into social situations. Whether or not you enjoy them at first see them as the same as eating vegetables – something you make yourself do for help purposes. So go with your friends to whatever events you are invited to and then just endure them – chances are you’ll find that by the end you start enjoying yourself. And if you don’t and things are a bit awkward, what have you lost? The hope though is that over time by being in social situations and having a good time you will come to associate socialising with having fun and this way you will start to get over your fear.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
As we mentioned a lot of social anxiety comes from the doubt that can creep into your mind and then trip up your thoughts so that you stumble over your words or doubt what you are saying. This is all obviously very negative if it means that you end up unable to socialise properly, so if you could eradicate those doubts it would hopefully be possible to feel a lot more relaxed and to avoid choking when in social scenarios.
There are many ways to do this but one great method comes from CBT or ‘cognitive behavioural therapy’. This is a school of psychology that teaches people to identify negative thoughts and then replace them with healthier ones. This might mean for instance noticing that you often think things like ‘no one will find what I’m going to say interesting’ and then replacing this with ‘if they don’t find this interesting then it really doesn’t matter’.
To do this you need to become aware of your thoughts by listening to the contents of your mind. If you notice yourself thinking these things then use positive affirmations to prevent them getting in the way by repeating over to yourself something more constructive such as ‘it doesn’t matter what they think of me’ or ‘I am entertaining and confident’.
Make it Pleasant
Finally you can make yourself more social by not just waiting to get invited to events, but also by organising them yourself. This is perfect because it allows you to organise events on your own terms and that way you will be able to enjoy them more and to be more relaxed. For instance invite a large group of people to see a film that you quite like, or invite them around yours to play a game you enjoy. From here you can then increase the amount of people and gradually expand your comfort zone. At the same time if you get nervous you can simply focus on the part of your event that you chose – the game or the film for instance.