Loosen Up To Be More Socially Successful
One broad way to do better with people is to lighten up a bit. For a subset of people with social difficulties, a core issue they have is that many of their behaviors and attitudes are too uptight:
- They get irritated by social annoyances that most people let slide.
- They care too much about whether or not people are acting in ways they view as inconsiderate and thoughtless.
- They look down on what they see as silly, immature behavior.
- They think they always have to be controlled and proper and well-behaved. They have trouble letting loose and enjoying themselves.
At the heart of uptightness are traits such as:
- Having rigid, unrealistic standards about how you and other people should act, and how the social world should be.
- Being too sensitive to little irritations from the social world, and in people's breaches of your standards.
- Being too touchy and tending to overreact when things do go wrong.
Being uptight is one of those mistakes where just being made aware of it, and being told not to do it, can help... so try to loosen up. Do your best not to get too upset by little things that go wrong when you're around people. Beyond that, here are some more thoughts:
Have a realistic idea of what to expect in social situations
There are lots of slightly irritating, but common and unavoidable, behaviors and events that come up in social situations. A buddy may be unreliable about showing up to a get together. A group of friends may all start interrupting and talking over each other during dinner. A party may be overcrowded and full of sloppy guests who keep jostling you. Most people know these types of things just come with the territory and don't let themselves be too bothered by them.
If you're more socially inexperienced though, the same things can really irk you. You haven't been around enough to know they're not supposed to be a big deal. In your mind, you may have the expectation that a social situation should and can go a certain way, and then feel upset when people "ruin" it. The thing is, in practice it may never have had the potential to turn out the way you pictured it. For example, if you believe you should be able to have an in-depth conversation at a nightclub, you'll always get peeved that it's too loud to do so. If you accept that's just not possible or part of that experience, you'll have a better time. Just like someone shouldn't get bent out of shape for not being able to go nuts and party at a library.
Some of the articles on this site describe what real social situations are like, and try to indirectly reduce any uptightness you may have by going over how things really work.
Don't take yourself too seriously
Uptight people often see themselves as important, refined, intelligent adults who are above the silliness normal folk engage in. They think they're more mature than their peers, and look down on their antics. They think they have to come across as contained and in control at all times. Actually, it's okay to be a normal dopey human. You can watch dumb movies with your friends while gossiping and making crude jokes. You won't lose your Intellectual card. No one will care. In fact they'll probably appreciate it. No one's keeping track of whether you're always acting sophisticated.
There's nothing wrong with light, brainless fun
Uptight people often don't have a very high opinion of anything goofy, pointless, or mindlessly entertaining. They think it's beneath them, and that they have to be serious all the time. Being serious has its place, but there's nothing wrong with having a good time either. Having fun just feels good. There's nothing more to it, and that's fine. Not every conversation has to be about how the first world exploits developing countries.
Don't be too zealous about following the rules
Uptight people care a bit too much about obeying the rules, and they think other everyone else should too. They can be overly stringent about following them and can get really irritated out of principle when others inevitably don't do everything they're told.
The rules they care about could be explicit laws, like not to drive too fast. They could also be general social guidelines they've decided are important, and which they think everyone should never deviate from (e.g., don't talk loudly at a restaurant). Finally, they could be more abstract principles that they expect other people to follow too closely, like thinking everyone should be thoughtful and considerate. In a broader sense, they want everyone to act perfectly, and get upset when that doesn't happen.
It helps to make peace with the fact that in practice most people don't follow smaller rules to the letter or obey them 100% of the time. They bend and selectively ignore them. If they don't get caught or hurt anyone, what does it matter? The effect following a rule or not will have on everyone's good time often comes into the equation. An uptight person who rigidly thinks people should never jaywalk, or always be completely polite and urbane, will go crazy.
Don't overreact to certain activities
There are certain social activities uptight people often get annoyed about. Anything that involves people acting loud, stupid, and immature will do it. What also gets them is anything with an aura of rule breaking, danger, and sketchiness. So anything involving partying or recklessness really.
They dislike faux-dangerous things because their uptight worldview gives them a tendency to view them as more sketchy than they actually are. Like they may see drinking as this horrible thing, when 95% of the time nothing much happens when people do it. Or they may see something like skateboarding as a hobby where young punks are constantly causing trouble or cracking their heads open.
Accept you can't control everything
I don't think this applies to everyone, but at the root of some people's uptightness is a need to be in control and have everyone act the way they want them to. If you can let this need go, and just accept that people are often going to behave in a way you may not like or expect, it can do a lot to help you take on a more relaxed mentality.
Address any conditions that can cause seemingly uptight behavior
Even if you don't hold a bunch of uptight beliefs at your core, some conditions can make you seem touchy and inflexible:
- Anxiety - If you're chronicaly anxious you can try to create a rigid, tightly-controlled comfort zone, and become tense and irritated if anything threatens to push you out of it. Being in a near-constant state of nervousness can also make you overreact to little annoyances. Working to slowly lower your anxiety can help you go with the flow more easily.
- Being on the autism spectrum - People with autism often prefer a predictable routine and get upset if they have to deviate from it. They might not take it well if social plans are changed at the last second. They may never learn to be as flexible as a quote "regular" person, but can become better at taking things as they come.
- Sensory sensitivities - Some people are naturally more sensitive to stimuli like bright lights or certain sounds. They can appear tightly wound when they shut down and become grumpy around, say, loud music at a bar. They can't totally change the way they're wired, but can find ways to avoid or increase their tolerance for the things that bother them.