Almost everyone has met someone who just did not quite fit in with everybody else. This friend, family member, classmate, or colleague always seemed to just stick out. They often seemed to say the wrong thing at the wrong time or they could not quite pick up on the joke that everybody else was laughing about. This person may also have seemed quite weird in the way they carried themselves – dressed in ill-fitted clothing, gesturing in wild ways, or staring awkwardly or even creepily at others during a conversation.
Even though others may have tried to be friendly at first, eventually the person was regularly shunned. Very few people felt brave enough or nice enough to truly befriend them, which is why the awkward person was often seen eating alone. And when seen at a special event, many would ask why the person was there as they were clearly out of place and looked like they did not want to be there anyway.
A Reason for Awkwardness?
While nobody likes the feeling of being the odd person out, there is at least one good reason why awkwardness exists. Some psychology experts believe that awkwardness signals a person that something socially inappropriate has occurred or is occurring. This causes a person to stop the inappropriate behavior; rethink the situation; and then vow not to do something similar in the future.
For example, if the person makes a grand entrance at a party but receives a room full of boos or snickering remarks, they will most probably avoid doing so in the future. The feeling of discomfort causes them to re-evaluate their idea of being “cool,” allowing them to adjust their behavior for the next event (provided they are brave enough to attend the next one).
However, there are those who seem to be perpetually awkward, always repeating the same social mistakes, and even adding newer ones. It is as if their internal warning sign is not working or it takes them much longer than usual to learn from their past bloopers. Many classify them as being “socially awkward.”
What is Meant by “Socially Awkward”?
The general idea of social awkwardness is that someone behaves very differently than others in a social setting. This may include how they speak (tone, use of words); how they answer questions and give comments (out of context, extremely graphic); and how they move about (gait, gestures, head movement, stance). Because of this, others find them weird and may choose to minimize contact with them or avoid them altogether.
As to why they are so different, some believe that such people are either unaware of the social norms in their area or are having difficulty learning the social cues. Another possibility is that they simply do not care about how their behavior affects others. Other possible reasons may be because of some past trauma that has affected their behavior or other underlying issues (autism spectrum disorder, lack of socialization as a child).
On the other hand, there are experts who think that socially awkward individuals do have a style of their own; it is just not what others are used to. As this style of theirs is not in line with the current social setting, such people are viewed as strange to other people.
Thus, it may not be because they are truly awkward; they might just be having difficulty adjusting to the new norms or they may be holding on to their preferred ways of socialization.
What it is Not
Social anxiety is a condition that some suffer from. It is a mental health disorder where the person is extremely fearful of social situations. The sufferer usually believes that something terribly embarrassing will happen to them in a social setting causing others to further judge them negatively because of it. Hence, when placed in such a situation, the person exhibits very clear symptoms of anxiety and fear (e.g. body pains, difficulty breathing, lack of focus, trembling).
Because of this fear of socialization, some believe that social anxiety and social awkwardness are just interchangeable terms for the same condition. But this is not correct as the socially awkward person is quite unaware (at least at the start!) that they are socially different, which is why they still try to interact in their own clumsy ways.
It should be noted, however, that a socially awkward person can develop social anxiety later on if they suffer enough bad social experiences, causing them to unreasonably fear social interactions later on.
What a Socially Awkward Person is Like
The following are some characteristics of a person who is labelled as “socially awkward”:
- Has difficulty learning the social rules in the area;
- Has problems picking up on social nuances;
- Clearly stands out (in a negative way) in how they dress, move, or speak;
- Struggles to properly start, maintain, or end conversations; and/or
- Is generally more focused on themselves than others.
Being socially awkward, however, does not mean that one is entirely ignorant about what is happening around them. The following are things the awkward person may notice:
- They suspect they are being left out of social plans (e.g. meetings, parties, other activities).
- They may feel uncomfortable in social encounters.
- They may sense that others are not comfortable in their presence.
Social Awkwardness and Its Effects
While everybody has the right to be different, those who are socially awkward often find that they experience many negative consequences.
Someone who regularly feels like they are out of place in a social situation will eventually begin avoiding such events. The more they feel like a social outcast, the higher the chance they will decide to simply avoid people in general even if at school or work.
Should this occur, the person’s self-esteem may take a major hit, possibly causing loneliness, hopelessness, and then depression. And as stated earlier, a person may then develop social anxiety which will further cause them to feel bad about themselves.
Another problem of social awkwardness is how it affects a person’s relationships. Their isolation and depressed mood may drive loved ones away. Most people try to steer clear from negativity. So someone who is always downcast and alone may become an emotional burden to others, causing friends and family to break away.
Effects on the Children
And for those with children, since a socially awkward parent would most probably opt to avoid social gatherings for children (e.g. birthday parties, play-dates, school activities), chances are that the child will miss out on a lot. Though the child may not necessarily follow in their parent’s footsteps, still their socialization skills may be underdeveloped and they may miss out on a lot of potentially fun experiences.
What Can be Done to Improve
Just like with many personal issues, something can be done for someone who is socially awkward.
Transform the negative thoughts
Similar to many of life’s battles, it is necessary to control the mind. If one has already lost the inward battle, then there is no point in fighting the external one. So for someone who believes that they are “socially awkward,” this idea must be overcome within. If not, then the negative thoughts of saying the wrong things or gesturing in the wrong way will really come true.
The person needs to first realize that there is no one to blame. Everyone grows up in a different way so it is okay to be a little behind in such matters. But then the person needs to own up to the challenge of thinking positively that they can and will become better as far as socialization is concerned.
Once this mental switch has been made, they may then enter social situations with a better mind set. For example, rather than expecting the worst, their internal conversation should be something like: “I will do my best tonight to be sociable and likeable. But if I mess up a bit, it is OK. I’ll just learn from it and try again. I can do this!”
Start thinking about others
Perhaps the biggest contributor to such awkwardness is the person’s focus on just themselves. When a person is solely concerned about how they feel or what they think, they miss out on the social cues that the people around them are giving – that they are bored, tired, or annoyed with what is being said or done.
To prevent this, the person needs to pay more attention to what the other people are saying or doing, process the information, and then give the appropriate response. The more sensitive they become to others’ needs, the faster they will be able to pick up on the social cues and finally fit in. Though this will take time and practice; eventually, improvements will be seen.
Prepare for conversations
It always helps to be prepared, especially if one regularly has difficulty. For someone who is socially awkward, this means preparing for conversations instead of just winging it. Having prepared greetings, come back lines, comments, and life stories can be of great help. While these may not always be used, having them may still reduce awkward moments of searching for something proper to say.
Having good conversation questions is particularly useful. At social gatherings, most guests are usually inclined to talk about themselves. If the right questions are asked, the other person may feel happy about the attention and prolong the interaction.
Whenever possible, it helps to practice with a friend (if any) or family member. Input can then be given about whether the right lines are being used. But if this is not possible, at least the person has something they can use for their next social interaction.
Generally, social gatherings are meant to be enjoyed. Instead of viewing them as torture tests, the person should try to have fun. Witty comments or funny jokes can help lighten the mood. And even if they are not delivered that well, there is still the chance that the tension can be eased as the other person may still appreciate the attempt.
Having a warm smile is another way to keep people at ease. Most people are naturally drawn to people with genuine smiles as they feel the person is friendly and approachable.
Practice the real thing
Although it helps to first practice with a friend (if any) or family member, nothing beats the real thing. To overcome social awkwardness, the person needs to put to use their positive thinking and prepared conversation lines by actually talking to people in social settings.
One should first start small, such as a quick interaction at the local grocery or café where they can purchase something with confidence and a smile. If that seems manageable, in their next visit they may then ask the cashier or server about their day so far. After that, more conversational items may be added the next time around.
The idea is to do things slowly so that one is not overwhelmed at the start. In time, this will become much easier to do.
Christian Counseling for Socially Awkward Behavior
Though I walk in the midst of trouble, You will revive me; You will stretch forth Your hand against the wrath of my enemies, and Your right hand will save me. The LORD will accomplish what concerns me; Your lovingkindness, O LORD, is everlasting; do not forsake the works of Your hands. – Psalm 138:7-8
Although socially awkward behavior is not necessarily a life-threatening condition, if left unchecked, the effects can hurt a person’s self-esteem and their relationships. This is why it is important for the person to recognize their condition and find ways to remedy it through positive thinking, preparation, and practice.
But despite the various self-help options, some people may still have problems overcoming their situation, particularly if their self-esteem has been badly damaged or their relationships have been severely affected. In such cases, one should seek help from a Christian counselor.
In Christian counseling, the latest therapeutic techniques will be used to help the client view themself in a positive light. And if there are any underlying issues affecting them (e.g. autism spectrum disorder, major depression, past trauma, social anxiety disorder), the trained counselor will have the tools to help them.
But most importantly, in Christian counseling, the client will be introduced to the love and mercy of our God through His Son, Jesus Christ. Many who have been regularly shunned in life feel down spiritually. In order for them to heal completely, they must realize that it is only in Christ that they can become whole once more, and that they will need the help of the Holy Spirit as they face future social encounters and life trials.
If you suspect that you may be socially awkward, seek Christian counseling soon. As the Creator of all things, only God can make you complete.
“Friends”, Courtesy of Helena Lopes, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Hiding”, Courtesy of Fernando Dearferdo, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Bubble gum girl”, Courtesy of RobinHiggins, Pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Outing”, Courtesy of Priscilla Du Preez, Unsplash.com, CC0 License