When you walk into a room, does it sometimes feel like everyone is staring at you? Does the thought of starting a conversation with a stranger make your heart pound and your palms sweat? Do you avoid social interactions and find it difficult to make friends?
You’re not alone, and you’re not hopeless. You can learn to overcome social anxiety and meet new people in the process. You can become that assertive and commanding presence you admire so much.
The problem stems from a lack of self-confidence. When you walk into a crowded room, you feel like there is a spotlight shining directly on you, and it’s not a good feeling. It’s not like you’re on stage, starring in a Broadway show. It’s more like you’ve been caught doing something embarrassing. You think maybe it’s silly, but you still feel incredibly self-conscious.
There are two ways to address the problem. You can approach it cognitively (to think about it differently), or behaviorally (to change how you act). I recommend combining the two!
To change the way you think, you need to understand that feeling self-conscious is perfectly normal. Everyone has felt self-conscious at one time or another. Every single person in the room has felt what you’re feeling, so they’ll understand if you’re a little nervous.
Another key cognitive element is acceptance of imperfection. You don’t look perfect and you don’t act perfect. You’re not the nicest person in the world, and you’re not the smartest. There are good things about you and things you’d like to change, but in the end you’re just you, and nobody can expect anything different. You can’t expect anything different from yourself. If you can accept that you’re just as perfect as everyone else (and just as flawed), you’ll immediately feel more confident.
Changing the way you think is tough, but changing the way you act can be a real challenge, especially if you’re shy or you have social anxiety. People put on their best faces in social situations, so what you tend to see in public are peoples’ shiny exteriors. You feel pressured to conform to these standards and hide your quirks, and the gap between what shows and what’s real is called anxiety.
To approach the problem behaviorally, you have to start acting like yourself. Do you tell bad jokes? Are you socially awkward? Are you a terrible dancer or a compulsive giggler? Instead of being miserable and assuming nobody will like you if you let your facade slip, start revealing your true self and then you’ll actually know who likes you (the real you!) and who doesn’t.
Have you spent any time with people who don’t hide their flaws? They’re easier to be around, because you don’t feel any pressure to be perfect in their presence. In essence, that’s what self-confidence is all about. It’s not about being perfect, it’s about accepting your flaws and letting them show.