It is instinctually difficult for us to walk into a social situation with unknown factors. Back on the Serengeti that kind of brazenness would get you eaten.
But times have changed. Very few people get eaten when they walk into an unfamiliar crowd. But our fight or flight response still kicks in. Who will be there? Will I like them? Will they like me? What will happen?
On the other hand…Researcher Dr. Brené Brown (http://brenebrown.com/) said, “[Human connection] is why we are here. It’s what gives meaning and purpose to our lives.”
A university professor shared an experiment he did with a handful of his students. They went to the lobby of the building and stood by the elevator bank. When an unsuspecting student came along and got on an elevator, they all piled in behind him and immediately turned to face of the back of the elevator car. The experiment was to see if the student would bow to social pressure and turn around with them, knowing full well that the only exit to the elevator would be behind him.
He did. The experiment was repeated, and again and again the students turned around.
We SO want to belong and be accepted. It’s equally ingrained in us, as the fear of rejection—(Getting eaten socially.) So, in sum, social interaction is both anxiety-inducing and necessary.
I worked with a client who had moved to a new city and wanted to building her social network by going to social gatherings. As an event approached, she would think about all the things that might go wrong and eventually talk herself out of going. What it came down to was that she was fearful of being vulnerable with people she didn’t know. (Who can’t relate to that? First dates, anyone?)
We talked it out and she came up with new thoughts to focus on that would minimize her anxiety and build her excitement about all the great things that could happen.
At the end of the session I ask her this:
“If your vulnerability was a strength instead of a weakness, what would it be?”
She paused and thought about it. Then she struck gold.
“If I am willing to be vulnerable,” she said slowly, “maybe it will allow others to be vulnerable too.”
If you are feeling shy, anxious, fearful, or hesitant to walk into a situation with unknowns, know two things:
Congratulations! You’re not a sociopath.
Your willingness to be vulnerable gives other permission and courage to be vulnerable as well.
Will you go first?