The ability to perform wheelies does not increase social confidence
May 15, 2012 1:18 PM   Subscribe

How can I boost my confidence in approaching social situations?

I'm a very self-conscious person. I'm also a wheelchair user, which does nothing to ease my social anxiety in public situations, as I get a lot of stares, weird personal questions from strangers, etc. All of this adds up to me feeling like I can't approach people I don't know well without freaking myself/them/everyone out. I realize I'm making ridiculous anxiety-ridden generalizations, but even so I continue to psych myself out. Help me moderate my social anxiety, please!
posted by clavier to Human Relations (9 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I think it can be a matter of self-imposed exposure therapy. Force yourself to interact, and the more times you do it, the less fraught with meaning and import each subsequent interaction is going to be. You can't get used to something you don't do, and things are always more difficult in your head than they turn out to be in the real world, I've found.
posted by xingcat at 1:21 PM on May 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yeah, people are idiots.

Just resign yourself to the fact that you're going to get some stares and odd questions. It's not you, it's them.

Have you thought about getting an assistance dog? For some reason an animal calms people down and humanizes the person in the chair.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:22 PM on May 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Alternatively, you're by no means the only wheelchair user, so it might help to ask others how they respond to awkward questions from strangers (yes it's not you, it's them, but you do still have to deal with it, ugh). And then once you have a pile of responses you're happy with, practice them- with your friends, and out in public.

(Personal possibly unrelated anecdote: I've been wearing an allergy mask full time for the last few weeks; people do the weird stare thing, but hey, I can breathe. The worst part about it though is that I smile at people; but they don't know I'm smiling! Now that the trees have calmed a bit I'm really enjoying being-mask free and thus able to nonverbally communicate again.

I'm not sure why you're in a wheelchair, but assuming it doesn't affect your ability to smile- it's incredibly powerful in easing other people's concerns and greasing the social wheels, as it were. Make use of it!)
posted by nat at 1:34 PM on May 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Someone told me, when I was admiring his social skills, which is to say his ability to blather on about pedestrian nonsense in the way that normal humans do at a function, that he knew that everyone else was uncomfortable too, so he's just sort of taking the hit for the team by saying 'nice weather this weekend!'

I'm not so evolved, but I found it a really nice way to look at going on on social auto-pilot--the notion that you don't just do it for yourself, you do it to smooth things over for the room. Every now and then I can manage to do it, but I've been trying to force myself to recently, like instead of standing awkwardly with a coworker while microwaving food, I try to actually say something like a normal person.

Basically the reason trivial social niceties like talking about the weather exist is so that people don't have to be all Oscar Wilde all the time because few of us can hack it. It's tough when you're shy and sensitive, because your radar is really set to pick up and pounce on the smallest flicker of awkwardness, but it helps to realize that the awkwardness is really there and it's okay to let it be and plow on anyway.

I so much admire people who do this naturally and easily.

I hope this doesn't sound like I'm saying it's your responsibility to fix social situations with people who are dicks, though.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 1:37 PM on May 15, 2012 [17 favorites]

>>it helps to realize that the awkwardness is really there

I mean, it's there, but not in the quantities it seems to be there when you're the sort of person who picks up on these things, and it doesn't have the same weight.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 1:39 PM on May 15, 2012

"Fake it until you make it."

Confidence, especially in social situations, comes a lot from pretending to have confidence in social situations. Or that's how this introvert handles it.

You'll find that with practice it'll be easier to do, and with practice you're confidence won't even be faked anymore :)

Also, you know you're different and so do others, a lot of your attitude about yourself gets reflected back. So just be normal, act like being in a wheelchair is no big deal. Yeah, some people can be rude about it, and those people are not worth your time - skip them and move on. If ppl get hung up on why you're in a chair, have a quick, one-way answer ready that doesn't prompt more conversation. Sometimes even a white lie helps here if you're trying to deflect attention away from why you're in a chair and avoiding bringing up a tired-for-you topic.
posted by jpeacock at 1:53 PM on May 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have a serious medical handicap but it isn't obvious. There are good points and bad points to that. On the upside: Sometimes it allows me to pass for "normal". On the downside: When I can't pass for normal, they don't know why and often think I am being rude or something. It can be quite challenging to cope with the social fallout when that happens.

My points: A) There are good points and bad points to being obviously different -- for example, people are probably not accusing you of rudeness over the things you obviously cannot do. B) Just because someone isn't obviously handicapped doesn't mean thay can't genuinely understand and relate to your situation. Some of us are seriously impaired but in less obvious ways and, really, we know all about coping with limitations, being asked weird or inappropriate questions, etc.

Give the seeming "normies" a chance. We might not be as different as you think. :-)
posted by Michele in California at 2:27 PM on May 15, 2012

I have major depression and social anxiety, but what helps me get outside is telling myself that I will find at least one person that I can connect to. Surprisingly, this advice that I came up with hasn't failed me. I just have to be open to the opportunity.

I also find that getting myself in a good mood before leaving the house helps me feel better about myself. And, when I feel better about myself, I feel like the day will be better too.

I think the more you put yourself out there, the more you will realize that you are NOT any different from the rest of us. And, we are not any different from you. Look for someone that seems happy and start talking to them. Look for someone with open non-verbal communication and approach them. Approach people in small ways first by asking for the time, when the next bus will arrive, or whatever. Then, slowly, do other things like going to the park, going to community events and meetups. And, eventually you will realize that there is at least one person that you can approach and connect with regardless of where you go.

There will be people such as myself and many mefites out there. You will notice people that do not judge you for your wheelchair. People that enjoy talking to you. And, people that will not be freaked out by your wheelchair or treat you any differently because of your wheelchair.

Because at the end of the day-we all have something that makes us feel different. But, how we assume others will perceive us may be more harsh and critical than how others actually perceive us. My best friend was born with a crooked face-thin lips, squinty eyes, and a very small and crooked nose (her words), but to me she is beautiful. I don't think of her as the girl with the crooked face and holes in her heart. I think of her as someone that I've been friends with for a very large part of my life.

If I met you, I wouldn't judge you for your wheelchair or feel freaked out by it. It's a wheelchair. You're a person, just like me. I would use it to describe you from the rest of the people that you are in a crowd with. Just like I would say "the girl with the funky librarian glasses" or "the guy with the cool pink hair" or "the person with the beautiful tattooed arms" but by no means is this in a negative way. It's just a way to identify you in a crowd of other people.
posted by livinglearning at 2:54 PM on May 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

the best way to increase social confidence is to have "success" socially.
posted by cupcake1337 at 11:58 PM on May 15, 2012

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