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Humans are meant to be connected to each other. Our basic biology and physiology says we require loving touch and connection in order to thrive. When children grow up without those things they’re more likely to be frail and sickly. This need for attachment, for connection doesn’t end with adulthood. In fact, I’d say it’s more important than ever. Not only for ourselves, but for our children as well.
If we don’t have strong bonds with friends and neighbours, then we’re more likely to have difficult relationships with our children, and, in the future, our grandchildren.
Humans are hard wired for connection. Over time humans adapted for better communication have become the norm, the ones who work well with others are often more successful. The people who have strong friendships into adulthood are more likely to live longer, healthier, more fulfilling lives.
The brain’s default network looks almost identical to another brain configuration—the one used for social thinking. It makes sense of other people and ourselves in a social context. The default network directs us to think about other people’s minds—their thoughts, feelings, and goals. Whenever it has a free moment, the human brain goes social. The brain forms only 2 percent of our body weight but consumes 20 percent of its energy and uses its limited resources on social thinking, rather than conserving its energy.
Our brain spends so much of its time and energy getting ready for social events and situations. When we generally expect positive outcomes, this can be great at allowing us to have even better experiences. However, when we’re anxious or worried about social situations, and we don’t change those thought patterns, then our brain spends a lot of time reinforcing those fears.
You Get What You Focus On
Humans are exceptional at creating self-fulfilling prophesies. There’s countless stories of kings trying to prevent prophesies from coming true, and in turn create the exact situation that causes the prophesy.
Our daily lives work the same way.
What ever you’re focused on you’re going to get. If you focus on all the ways friends may leave or how social situations can go wrong, then they will leave and they will go wrong.
But why does this happen?
It’s really because our brain, for all it’s vast intelligence, isn’t very clever. A large part of our brain only wants to protect us, and when our beautiful Neo-cortex is focused on a problem, the rest of the brain wants to protect us from that problem. But the part of the brain that protects us is very emotional, reptilian if you will, and doesn’t reason very well.
When we’re working from this portion of our brain, we’re unable to be resourceful and come up with actual solutions to our problems. Instead we just sit there and worry more and more while the situations we feared come true.
How to Shift Your Perspective
- Take A Deep Breath
No matter what you’re worried about, taking a few deep breaths and calming down helps.
Some people find it useful to tell their brains, “I know you’re worried about this, and I’ll deal with it in a minute, but first I want to think about it.”
Recognizing that you’re not running from the problem, but actually willing to think about it is often all you need to relax a little bit.
- What Could Go Wrong
This step needs to be super short. At most 5 minutes – even less time would be good.
Write down or fully verbalize one thing that could go wrong. Only One. If there’s more you can come back to this step later.
- Has It Happened Before *If no, skip to step 7
Check to see if your fears are based on reality, or not. If it has happened before, ask yourself how long ago it happened. For instance an almost 40 year old woman still letting elementary school bullying impact her social life isn’t really based on reality. But if a 40 something woman had been generally sociable, but had an experience in the past 2-4 years where a friend backstabbed her, or hurt her in some other way, then those fears could be based on reality.
- What Worked Well
If you’ve experienced an unpleasant social experience in recent years, what did you do in that situation that worked well?
Did you talk to the person? What did you say? Maybe you ended a friendship. Explore the situation and take note of what worked well.
- Even Better If
After you know what worked well, then look at what could have been even better. Spend no more than 15 minutes on this, shorter is better.
- Repeat Steps 2 – 5 *if there was more than fear or concern
- Imagine What You Might Do if That Situation Happened
Whether you’ve already previously experienced something similar or not, this step is the same.
Imagine you’re in a social situation and your fears begin to happen. What might you be able to do to change the outcome of the interaction so it ends favourably for you?
See yourself responding. What words might you use? How might you stand?
- Decide On A Plan
After imagining several different possible ways to approach a situation, decide on a plan that you think would be your best option. Be clear on this plan, what will you do or say? When the situation is over, how do you want everyone to feel? How will you know if you were successful?
- What Resources Do You Need
In order to follow through with your plan from the previous step, what skills or inner resources might you need to develop?
Before You Go Out
Before you go out or attend a social situation, it’s important to define what a successful event will look like.
If your usual is to leave in tears, then expecting yourself to be happy and fully enjoy the event is unrealistic and setting yourself up for failure.
Instead start small. If your normal is to leave in tears. Then give yourself permission to leave before you cry. And then consider what your body tells you before you hit that point. If you can feel your chest tighten, then you know that you have enough warning to graciously leave at that point. On your own terms. A success.
Maybe a successful evening would be going out, chatting a little bit, talking just enough, but also giving yourself permission to just listen.
What ever way you want to define success. Be sure you’re clear.
The only way you can be successful is if you know what it looks like.
Acknowledge Yourself and Your Effort
Often times we cut ourselves down and say things like, “Why does this have to be so hard?” or even more painful, “It’s not like anyone else has to do this, so why can’t I just be normal?”
I need to be very clear here, those questions are neither kind nor helpful. They’re also based on false ideas.
Most people have difficulties with certain things. Many people have difficulties in social situations, even the people who appear to be very extroverted.
Acknowledge the work you’re doing to make it easier on yourself. When you follow through and attend a social situation, acknowledge the effort it took and the success you had.
We’re All Connected
We are meant to be social creatures. The connection between other people is so strong that it impacts our health. If we aren’t confident in our friendships or believe we don’t have enough friendship, then we’re more likely to be sick.
We are born needing love and affection and remain healthier and happier when we’re social. Yes, some people enjoy solitude, some people are truly happy on their own. However, the key here is the person’s choice. They are happy with their choice and don’t desire more contact or more friends than they already have. When we’re alone due to fear the outcome is very different. We often have decreased health and decreased life satisfaction when our social life doesn’t live up to our hopes and expectations.
There’s a huge difference between a person who’s alone because they want to be and the person who’s alone because they’re afraid of being social. I want to help connect people and help people gain confidence in social situations. I’d love to hear how these tips help you. Or if you have your own tips that have helped you be more confident in social situations please share so you can help lift others!