How To Free Yourself From Social Anxiety When Meeting New People
Do you feel nervous or anxious before meeting new people? Do you clam up when you find yourself in a room of people you don’t know? Have you ever stayed home from a party because you know there will be too many unknowns there?
Are you scared of strangers?
That question may sound funny to you—normally, when we think of being “scared of strangers,” we conjure images of a creepy man with a windowless van offering candy to children—but for many of us, stranger danger is defined by a very real fear of interacting with people we’ve never met. Sure, we might like to act tough, but we have no problem admitting that we deal with social anxiety and nervousness. These are just euphemisms for fear.
That’s why, even though today’s focus is going to be all about social confidence as it pertains to meeting new people, we’re going to use the words “scared of strangers.”
So, why are we scared of strangers?
That’s a very complex topic that would take hours to unpack, but the short answer is that sometimes, we just are. Let me give you an example:
Recently, I was walking with my son, Zahim down by a river, and on the way back to the car, he picked up a stick and said that he was going to use it to whack anyone he sees on the path. Thoroughly intrigued by this curious statement, I asked him why he planned to do that. He explained that he would have to do it before they hit him first. We went back and forth on this topic a few times, but it was pretty clear that he had established this innate apprehension regarding strangers. Within moments, a couple of young ladies came walking up the path toward us—I greeted them politely, and they returned my greeting, walking calmly on by. All the while, however, there was Zahim, standing by the side of the path, holding his stick and watching them suspiciously. When they’d passed, I asked, “Did it seem like they wanted to hurt you?” He admitted that it didn’t, but continued to eye down anyone else who passed while holding tight to his stick—he just wasn’t sold.
Right about now, you might be thinking, “What’s the big deal? The kid was taught that strangers can be dangerous.” Sure, nature versus nurture might come into play a bit here, but if that were the case, then our other son, Armand, who is the most gregarious little man ever to live, would behave similarly around strangers. To be honest, though, Zahim has always been wary of new people, and Armand has always been excited to converse with anyone who crosses his path.
So, what’s the explanation? Maybe that’s just the way he was born. And maybe that’s just the way you were born.
I can see this difference very clearly in my two boys. Zahim is extremely sensitive—he feels things very strongly and senses energy very naturally. Hence, I think that maybe he feels sensations within his own body more strongly as well, including fear.
Some of us just come into the world with our dials turned up to 10.
We see a situation we think has the potential to create danger, and we automatically assume the scariest outcome. I know that I was that way when I was younger, as well. Whatever the reason we find ourselves to be the suffers of stranger danger syndrome, understanding the root of the problem isn’t likely to eliminate that fear.
The good news, however, is that we can work to eliminate that fear, regardless of the root cause.
Many of you may have seen videos or read tutorials through my YouTube channel or blog discussing exposure, friendly greetings, setting a minimum number of strangers to say “Hello” to every single day—but today is all about a brand new strategy: try to view strangers from a new—and more personal—perspective.
The next time you’re out and about doing errands or sitting in a café having coffee, take a moment to look around and pick out one stranger to focus on. Now, don’t worry—you don’t need to stare this person down or get weird—all you’re going to do is choose one person, imagine you can zoom into his or her mind, and try to see just one story from that person’s life.
Of course, whatever you see will be completely made up, but the point is to see this person as an equal—a whole, unique, complex, profoundly deep person, just like you.
If it’s a middle-aged woman, do you see her laughing with her kids at the dinner table, or crying on her wedding day, or criticizing herself in the mirror as a teenager? If it’s an old man, do you see him comforting a wounded friend in a war, or getting made fun of as a kid, or sitting on a porch enjoying the sound of his grandkids running around?
Really take some time and try to see that person’s three-dimensional life. Whatever comes to mind is right—all you’re doing is fleshing that person out and removing the impression that he’s some mystical, harsh, rejecting, angry, perfect being who judges everyone.
When we’re scared of strangers, it’s often the case that we treat them like they’re special and have some power over us.
Well, guess what . . . nobody is going to whack you with a stick as they pass you on the path. Each one of us is just going about our life. We’re each struggling in our own ways and experiencing simple joys in our own ways. We each want to feel happy and find a sense of purpose, self-worth, and love. We each want to be healthy and go through life with as little pain as possible.
All of us really just want the same things. How we go about them may be different, but the common denominators are mostly the same: health, happiness, and love. If you can begin to view the people around you with more depth, you’ll be closer to grasping the idea that each person you meet is really just like you. Once you reach this point, that feeling of separation will begin to disappear and you will start to experience togetherness rather than separation as you dissolve your fear of strangers.
If you’re lucky, you might even notice that by viewing others with curiosity and compassion, you’ll be too busy to feel fear.
Please share your experiences with this work in the comments below! What have you noticed about people as you focus on them with more compassion and depth? How has this practice changed your mindset? As always, I also invite you to “like” this post and subscribe to this channel so that you can become a member of this amazing community and receive notifications about updates as new posts come out. I can’t wait to chat with you again in future episodes. Until we speak again, may you have the courage to be who you are and to know on a deep level that you’re awesome.