By Elizabeth O’Brien, LPC-S
I see a lot of clients who suffer from social anxiety. Many of them begin to isolate because of their discomfort.
When we deconstruct their social experiences, more often than not many clients report that they strive to appear interesting to others and hence spend the bulk of their social exchanges talking about themselves. This is a manifestation of their anxiety.
While we all have potentially compelling stories to tell, failing to attune to others can be tantamount to social suicide. Connecting to other people successfully requires reciprocity—something that’s sadly anemic in this age of virtual connection and social media. It’s an easy fix but simply doesn’t come naturally to many, particularly those who were not raised with secure attachment—who did not learn “mirroring” from birth—or young adults who have been weaned on digital communication.
Instead of working so hard to appear interesting to other people, the key to healthy interaction is to become interested in others. Expressing genuine curiosity about their lives, careers, families and interests paves the way for true reciprocity and ultimately, friendship, even romance. This is a hallmark of emotional intelligence.
How many times have you been at a party, cornered by a self-involved person who goes on and on about herself without asking you a single question about yourself? This should be a major red flag, and an excuse to politely move on. How much better does it feel when someone actually wants to get to know you…someone who’s looking for some common ground or who’s fascinated by your experiences?
There’s a trap on the other side, too. Some people deal with their social anxiety by keeping the focus exclusively on the other. By doing this, they hide. They don’t allow themselves to be seen. And since so many people—“the interestings”— need little encouragement to talk about themselves, the “hiders” remain safe, unexposed—and disconnected.
The truth is that unless we show ourselves—our human, vulnerable selves—to others, and attune to them as well, we will never make deep connections. And as neuroscience reveals, we thrive on connection and fail to thrive without it.