Remember back in school that one kid who was a social pariah?
You'd cringe just looking at him because he seemed so shy and uncomfortable.
Maybe he was a little overweight, had a bad complexion, and just seemed a bit dorky. He was sometimes the target for teasing or behind-the-back cruel comments -- comments that didn't go unnoticed by him.
He sat alone at lunch. He walked the halls alone. He never attended social events. Even the teachers stopped calling on him in class because he so loathed having the spotlight on him for just a few seconds.
It was clear he just wanted to disappear into the woodwork -- but at the same time you could tell how much he longed for acceptance and companionship.
School is the first place where we develop (or fail to develop) social confidence, learn social cues, and figure out how to behave in various settings. It's also the place to discover where we fall in the social pecking order, at least for those years we are in school.
These early experiences, combined with our own natural personality traits and our parental influences, can impact our social abilities as we grow into adults. Naturally extraverted and confident kids, even if they weren't the most popular in school, can overcome early social problems and mature into socially poised adults.
Even introverted or shy children can eventually learn the skills of confidence and effective interpersonal skills so they feel comfortable in personal and professional social settings.
But there are some people who remain shy and socially awkward well into adulthood. There are many possible reasons why this happens. Some of the causes include:
- Having more sensitive, inhibited, and anxious personality.
- Having a lower built-in need to socialize.
- Being intellectually gifted and unable to relate well to peers.
- Having non-typical personality traits.
- Having different interests than most of your gender.
- Having many solitary interests.
- Having poor social role models growing up.
- Being very sheltered or restricted as a child.
- Moving to different cities a lot as a child.
- Immigrating to a new country.
- Being bullied as a child.
- Having a physical difference or disability or feeling unattractive.
- Experiencing tragedy or abuse in childhood.
- Having mental health or developmental issues.
This is not a conclusive list, and certainly not all socially awkward people have experienced these causes. And not all people who experience one or more of these situations will be socially awkward.
However, this list does offer a window of understanding about why you or someone you know might be dealing with social problems and feelings of awkwardness.
The more important question isn't, "Why am so socially awkward?" but rather, "What can I do to improve my situation?" Difficult circumstances from the past can't be altered, but you do have the power to change the trajectory of the future.
We all have the desire to feel loved and accepted, but when you always feel like the misfit in group conversation, it's hard not to feel rejected and dejected.
If you've been socially awkward and shy for many years, you have some ingrained beliefs and habits that reinforce your fears and discomfort. You also may be lacking in some basic skills that can alleviate some of your suffering if you learn them.