A 'Fake It 'Til You Make It' Tutorial For Socially Anxious Introverts
Those of us who have lived with low self-esteem, anxiety, depression and mental illness are at times hyper-aware of the way we act, speak and appear to others. We often recite a reply or greeting two or more times in our heads before we actually give voice to it. Even then, we can stumble and trip over our words and inwardly cringe at our social ineptitude. For us, our introverted/awkward/nervous nature is a curse and it can cause us to isolate ourselves, leading to more severe forms of depression and social anxiety. People tell us to “fake it 'til we make it”, but wait, what?? No seriously, what does that even mean? It took me years to figure out how to deal with other people. Even now at 35 years old, working in sales and as a concierge for years and now a door attendant where I'm forced to deal with people on an every day basis, I still struggle. I still stumble and make a fool of myself. Every interaction can prove to be a challenge, and when you screw up, it can take a long time to talk yourself down to a point where you can let it go and move on.
Because I wish this article was around during my time of crisis, I've compiled a basic tutorial on how to “fake it 'til you make it” in terms my fellow introverts, misanthropes and sufferers of bipolar disorder and social anxiety peers can understand.
Body language is 70% of communication. This is why you can still get rudimentary messages across language and species barriers with rude gestures and raised voices to tell a stupid tourist to get out of your way, or yelling and flailing your arms around to frighten off a hungry bear. That pension you have for being hyper-aware of your posture and proximity can just as easily serve you rather than emotionally cripple you. It just takes practice. I know full well how impossible that sounds right now, but I promise you that with persistence, bravery, and learning how to forgive yourself for all the bazillions of hiccups and mistakes you'll make, it will get less difficult over time.
Attitude is Everything!
"Change your thoughts and you change your world." -Norman Vincent Peale
This quote is absolutely, frighteningly true. At the risk of getting all The Secret on you guys, I need for you to understand that you do not see the world as it is; you see the world as YOU are. If you think humanity is filth, if you think you're worthless and everyone is out to take from you until there's nothing left, that is all you'll see. Lemmie tell you, I've been in that place and your quality of life there is less than zilch. So this series of articles is designed for people just like you, or rather the person I used to be, to help you realize that isn't the case at all. It will take time, it will take practice, and this may not even be enough to get through to you, (which is why I'll be posting other media here in the future) but hopefully this will be the start of a brand new beginning for you... and thus a brand new world.
We'll begin with a lesson you were probably beaten about the head with as a kid-- sit up straight! The reason for this is that at least 50% of your attitude is posture. It becomes easy to be down on yourself when you're all hunched over, looking like you're mourning a loss or about to upchuck all over your shoes. In fact, when you're positioned this way, don't be surprised if more often than not, you feel like this. All that compression going on with your internal organs isn't healthy.
If you don't know what good posture looks like, don't feel bad because I don't know a single person who attended charm school.
- Your shoulders should be back and squared, not tucked into your chest. If you're sitting down, place them flat against the back of your chair with your elbows flush against your sides. If you're standing up, clasp your hands behind your back and remember the way your shoulders are resting. Now release your hands but continue holding your shoulders in that position. It may be uncomfortable, but try to keep it like that for as long as you can.
- This shoulder position will make your chest puff out. That's okay, it's what you want. This is a position of power. There's no shame in it.
- Your head should be kept slightly up at eye level, even while walking. For someone who's used to walking with their shoulders tucked in tight, hands in their pockets and eyes at the floor, this is going to take a LOT of getting used to. It will take practice and will feel unnatural at first, but keep at it and it will grow to suit you.
If keeping your shoulders back is a challenge, flatten yourself against a wall for reference. Walk with your hands behind your back. Practice walking with your head up, but not too high where you can't see where you're going. You don't have to practice in public. Use a mirror to gauge. If you suffer from depression so badly that mirrors are a problem for you, watch videos on youtube about posture and emulate what you see. Ask a friend to help you if you can.
Why is the way I hold myself important?
Ever wonder why you attract crazies and/or predators? If you present yourself like a frightened, nervous deer, you will alert the wolves. I'm not saying this to make you more nervous, vibes are very important and you can make them work towards your advantage if you know how. The first steps are as follows:
- Walk like you have somewhere important to be.
- Stand like you belong there, and
- Sit like the space was crafted especially for your butt.
A mysterious observation
A human being's neutral state is curiosity, which creates a fascinating conundrum of modern society. The more you fold in on yourself or cover yourself up with hoodies, the more the human brain will see you as a mystery or a puzzle to be figured out, and the more people will stare at you. The great irony in presenting yourself as open and honest is that you won't stand out as much; people will glance right past you as though you're perfectly ordinary and part of the scenery. Since I've changed my posture, I can walk down the street for hours and nobody looks at me twice.
That could also be because I'm not model-thin, nor do I fit the stereotypical standards of beauty. Feel free to experiment with this and post your own results.
Eye Contact Is Crucial
It cannot be stressed enough how paramount for your mental health it is for you to get right with making eye contact. This is how human beings mentally acknowledge others as an equal, and also to a certain extent how your peers non-verbally size you up. If you meet their eyes, you meet their standards; if you maintain their eyes, you meet their challenge. This is going to be very difficult, especially if you view yourself as inferior. I recommend you practice at it every day, every chance you get. Meet people's eyes while walking down the street and on public transportation, (but not too long!) when ordering at a restaurant, meet your server's eyes and offer them a smile. It might even make their day! Practice at the library, in retail stores, with your family, with your friends, with everyone you meet. This is a skill you will use every single day of your life and will only serve to help you.
I've gotten a lot better at eye contact over the years, but it's still a struggle for me to maintain the contact; especially when shaking hands. Working in the customer service industry was like being thrown into the Immersion Therapy deep end. I quite literally had no choice but to improve in this area, which looking back, I am grateful for. Sometimes the only way to overcome our fears is to be left with no other option but to plow right through.
Nothing less inspiring than a weak handshake
One of my favorite things to do is surprise a dude with a firm, strong handshake. They never expect it from a woman and they're almost always so impressed that they can't help but respect me a little for it.
~Smirks~ Just a little more than usual, which in my past experience isn't saying much.
However, I understand that as a woman, I do enjoy the luxury of occasionally not giving a crap what my handshake feels like. For a man, a firm handshake is non-negotiable, as men respect physical strength. In fact, this can spark an entire debate about the dangers that arise when physical strength is the only type of strength men recognize... but I'll leave the digressions for a later article.
Like I said before, this sort of thing must be practiced constantly and always accompanied by eye contact since it's yet another non-verbal way to assert yourself. It presents an incredible opportunity to leave a great first impression. And if you screw up, well... there's always next time. No experience is wasted if you're able to learn and grow from it.
Sit like a Superstar
For 24 hours, I want you to silently observe the people around you and pay close attention to the way people sit. Confident people use all of their space as though it belongs to them, as though the seat was just waiting to be graced by their behind.
Awkward people will sit close to a wall or pole, folding their shoulders in and keeping our gaze down in our lap as though the people around us have some weird disease. Oh gawd, especially when sitting in between two people who feel the need to encroach on our personal space. This is not wholly on purpose, confidence is feeling entitled to the area around you. There isn't anything wrong with it, per se, (even if you're repeating a desperate mantra of "please don't touch me" over and over in your head) just a difference in mindset. Believe it or not, that mindset changes things drastically for you. When you believe you're worthy of something, that you deserve it- nay, that you're entitled to it- it becomes part of your world and the rest of creation seems to follow your lead.
That could explain why go-getters and entitled brats (of all ages) always seem to get their way; most of the people who seem confident are only faking it, and the vast majority of humanity are followers who will flock to true displays of confidence like helpless, directionless moths to a flame.
The beauty of the entire process is, if you play a part for long enough, you become immersed in it. The "fake it til you make it" strategy is actually one of the great secrets of life because most of the people you meet, those people who seem so intimidating to you... they employ this same tactic! Isn't life hilarious??
Always Remember: In wanting to get better, you're already 2/3rds of the way there.
Isolation and loneliness lead to depression. Anxiety becomes worse the longer we go between interactions. Illnesses like Body Dysmorphia become worse the longer we stay indoors, dwelling in our own heads. There is a good reason for this. As much as they may annoy the hell out of us at times, we all need other people. We, the human race are interdependent and interconnected. Learning how to deal with others is a skill we must hone if we want to make our lives better and free ourselves from the worst of what our fears make us into. Socialization, at least once in a while, is the key to wellness.
Take it from a fellow introvert. The most successful introverts are those who can fake being extroverts just long enough to do what they came to do.
Faking it is going to require some resourcefulness at first. (Don't worry, we're all more clever than we realize!) Don't be afraid to watch youtube tutorials, emulate others' gait, style of dress, mannerisms and posture. It's something we'd have done as children anyway, only now we're trying on the ones that can better serve us rather than simply absorb whatever dysfunctional crap our parents passed on. There is no shame in trying these things on like suits when we're in private. Try them on and shed them like a dusty smock if it doesn't look or sound right. Perhaps get the opinion of a friend or family member? Let yourself sink into the role, then make it your own.
If you don't know what "your own" means, keep trying things on until you find something that strikes your fancy, even if it only does so for 5 minutes.
And remember to practice this stuff as often as you can. If you don't like the person you are, this is your opportunity to become someone you do like. I encourage you to comment about your own experiences with this. You are already amazing, you're just figuring out how to let others' know too. Good luck!