"Benefits" Of Being Really Shy And Awkward
(And Why Your Results May Temporarily Dip As You Improve Your Confidence And Social Skills)
The issues described in this article don't happen to everyone, and even when they do, the effects usually aren't crippling. I still wanted to write about it because it is something that can happen to people as they work on their interpersonal skills.
The quality of your social life doesn't always neatly increase as your confidence and communication skills improve. Some people who started off very shy and awkward notice their results drop for a while as they chip away at their problems. The reason this can happen is that while being very awkward has its obvious disadvantages, it sometimes has benefits. Those benefits go away when you graduate to being just sort of awkward, on the lower end of socially average.
As I'll cover soon, many of the so-called "benefits" of being super-shy and socially inexperienced are dubious and limited. However, they can still feel nice at the time. It can be discouraging to lose them and feel like you're worse off even though you're working hard to turn your life around. You can find yourself in a No Man's Land where you no longer have the perks of being really awkward, but you're also not at the point where you can cash in on being confident and socially savvy.
The solution to this problem is to not give up, and continue to practice your social skills. Accept that things may get a little harder before they get better. Before long you'll pass through the rough patch and gain the true, healthy advantages of having half-decent social skills.
Some "benefits" of being extra-shy and awkward
People can be more tolerant of your mistakes
If you're blatantly clueless about social etiquette some people can be more forgiving of your gaffes, because they realize you don't know any better. As you become socially adjusted everyone starts to expect more from you. If you make an insensitive comment they'll be put off, when before they may have just chuckled and shook their heads.
The downside of this "benefit" is that it prevents you from learning from your mistakes, and can get you stuck in bad habits. For example, you may think you've got a charming edgy sense of humor, when you really just blurt out tasteless nonsense, but no one's ever called you on it.
People can be more likely to start conversations with you
Some people are likelier to chat to a shyer-looking person at a party. They may have a compassionate streak and want to help them feel comfortable and included. They may be shy themselves and following the mingling advice of "Find another wallflower to talk to." They may be insecure and see shy people as less-intimidating. Either way, a super-shy person can grab the attention of certain guests the way another average face in the crowd can't. When you become a bit less shy parties can feel worse because everyone assumes you can handle things on your own and won't approach you, but you're still too hesitant to go up to anyone yourself.
It's not all bad that your extreme shyness may get you into some conversations. However, one problem is that some of these interactions have no potential to go anywhere. The people are only talking to you to be courteous or to ease their own anxiety, not because they truly want to get to know you. Maybe you're fine chatting to someone like that anyway, but maybe not.
(Note: This point and the next are not trying to say every conversation you find yourself in when you're really shy is only because the other person is trying to make you feel better out of pity. However, it certainly can happen every now and then.)
People may chat to you out of sympathy or politeness
You're really shy and awkward. You try to start a conversation with someone at your book club. They don't think they have much in common with you, but can see you're quite nervous and doing your best, so they politely talk to you for a few minutes. They even do their part to keep the conversation going when they sense you don't know what to say next. After talking a bit they pleasantly say they've got to go catch up with a friend.
You're only a bit awkward. You try to start a conversation with someone at your book club. They don't think they have much in common with you. They also pick up on your semi-awkward vibe and aren't thrilled at the thought of having a halting, so-so conversation. They unenthusiastically reply to a question or two then turn away to speak to someone else.
Like with the last point, these polite exchanges are sometimes dead in the water. You may feel like you're getting to know someone and potentially making a new friend, but they don't see it that way.
People may befriend you for questionable reasons
Someone may take an awkward person under their wing because:
- They want to make you their social fixer upper project (on the off-chance that they're good teachers they may actually help you, but the underlying motivation is still patronizing)
- They like the idea of having a cute, bumbling, awkward sidekick
- It makes them feel better have someone around who's socially worse off than they are
- They want to have someone beside them who literally makes them look better in comparison (e.g., so they'll look more confident and attractive while hitting on people at a bar)
- They only want to hang out with people they don't see as competition (e.g., an insecure guy may not want to be friends with someone who's more outgoing and charming than he is)
- You're unassertive / desperate for friends / don't know any better, and put up with insults and mean-spirited "teasing". They like having someone to rip on. (More on this under the next heading)
- Your undeveloped social instincts cause you do and say a lot of odd, inappropriate things. They like having you around to laugh at.
- One of the social mistakes you make is that you're too "nice" in the sense that you give lots of favors, gifts, and emotional support. They like having you around for the things they can get out of you.
The darkside of this "benefit" is obvious. Your shyness may have got you some friends you otherwise wouldn't have, but in the many cases the relationships are toxic and will chip away at your self-esteem.
You may be more likely to put up with poor behavior from "friends"
Such as people who disrespect, use, or try to control you. If you're insecure you may think that's all you deserve or the best you can do. If you're socially inexperienced you can literally not know their behavior is unacceptable. The con of this "benefit" is clearly that it's damaging in the long run to be mistreated. The pro is that even if your "friends" act badly, you still get to have some sort of social life. As your self-respect and standards rise you'll start avoiding those kinds of people. Steering clear of them is better for your mental health, but you may still feel lonely until you can make some more supportive friends.
You can be less socially anxious, because the idea that you might be doing something inappropriate is never on your radar
Many socially awkward people have always been nervous and inhibited. They have a central fear that they'll make a social mistake that will rain judgment and embarrassment upon them. If they want to approach a group at a party they may worry, "What if everyone thinks I'm weird and annoying for talking to them when they don't want to be bothered?" They're aware there are better and worse ways to approach any given situation. It's not horrible that they consider how their actions might impact other people, or that they take a second to ask, "Does this group seem like it's open to meeting someone new?" They're just overly focused on how things might go wrong.
There's another, rarer, type whose awkwardness comes from obliviousness. It never occurs to them to think "Is it appropriate to do this?" or "How will what I'm about to do look through other people's eyes?" If they see a group they want to talk to they just barrel into the middle of the conversation, say the first thing that pops into their head. They may even stride up to everyone confidentially. There's a subtype of oblivious people who mistakenly think they have great social skills. They don't have the self-insight or life experience to know where they actually stand. Sometimes their ignorance-is-bliss fearlessness backfires, but often enough they don't do anything too odd or offensive, and it all works out. (Plus, if people can tell they don't know any better they may give them a pass).
They lose their oblivious mindset when they learn about social norms and how to take on other peoples' perspectives. Their fearlessness often goes away with it. Hopefully it's replaced with a functional, healthy kind of inhibition, where they consider how their behavior may affect others, but without being overly frightened of messing up. The worst case is when they give up their occasionally-useful fearlessness and become socially anxious instead; they're now tuned in to all the ways they could act inappropriately, and it's paralyzed them with a fear of rejection. It's not fun for them that they have this newfound shyness they now have to get over, but they're still ultimately on the right path toward having solid social skills.
You may have a higher tolerance for disapproval and rejection, because you don't notice it
This is another upside of being oblivious. Not only may someone barge into a private conversation at a party, all the subsequent little signals that they're not welcome may go over their head. The other guests may begrudgingly chat with them for a few minutes, giving off, "Please take the hint and go away" vibes the entire time. The barger won't pick up on any of it, and walk away happy they had a nice interaction.
Their inablity to notice signs of disinterest can give them a kind of perseverance that occassionally turns out well. Like they may invite a co-worker to hang out several times, be given one excuse or another, and not read between the lines and know to stop asking. Eventually the co-worker relents, and the two find they get along really well outside of the office.
Of course, this oblivious persistence doesn't always have a happy ending, and can lead to some really unsettling, inappropriate behavior. It's better when it's gone, even if it leads to the odd accidental win. Once someone's more tuned into signs of disapproval they're less likely to bother people, but they'll also feel the sting when they make a mistake. They have to develop a healthy tolerance for rejection, and learn to stop doing the little things that can cause it in the first place.
If you're a straight guy, some women may see you as sexless and non-threatening
Some flavors of really shy, awkward straight guys have no problem making female friends. One of the reasons they get into these friendships easily is that the women don't see them as a sexual threat, or sexual beings at all. They unconsciously know, "This guy is innocent and harmless. I don't have to worry that one day he's going make some creepy move on me. He doesn't know how, and even if he did he'd be too scared to do it." They aren't being cold and evil when they come to this conclusion. They aren't purposely trying to disrespect his masculinity. That's just the impression they get of him. Some women have felt burned by male friends who made sudden passes at them, so a guy who seems like he'd never do that has appeal. (This doesn't mean all shy guy/woman friendships have this dynamic, but some do).
As that kind of shy, awkward guy becomes a touch more confident and socially capable he becomes less desirable to the type of woman who's looking for a harmless male buddy. That non-threatening safety factor disappears. She knows on some level that if he develops feelings for her he'll be confident enough to make a move. On the other hand, he's still awkward enough that she can't think, "This guy has a lot going for him. I'm willing to risk being friends, even though there's always the chance he'll catch feelings for me and ruin it."