The Lies We All Believe About Social Interaction (Debunked)


"Different faces, different fears / Different failures lead us here / Show us how we're all the same." — Tenth Avenue North
I love throwing parties.

From birthdays to hangouts of no greater purpose than to just chill and play board-games, I love drawing people together. Not much brings me greater joy than filling a house with friends and family and seeing that everyone is well fed, has a full cup of tea or coffee, and are partaking in blessed fellowship: no one left out, no one lonely, the sweet hum of voices a testament of the comforting truth that everyone belongs. To be amongst people I love can make my heart want to burst with happiness. I circulate the room, joining conversations, meeting people’s needs, making them laugh, confiding in friends, or teaming up to best others in a game. As the night goes on, subdued conversation about the deeper things of life are punctuated by sleep-deprived laughter over the randomest things, and by the time everyone departs, we are already planning the next social event. There are so many adventures to be had, and beautiful people to have them with. I love being with people.

Yet at the same time, I can hate it.

In fact, I can dread throwing parties. Even though I may have a thriving relationship with every single person I invite, there is a selfish gremlin buried in my soul that just wants to curl up in bed and have no one but the cat for company. Maybe not even the cat. I frequently ask myself hours before an event: “Whose idea even was this?” The awkward moments when the first people arrive are a struggle (“What do I do with them? Do they want to sit down? Where? Should we play a game right away? Chat about nothing until everyone else turns up? Awkwardly stand in the kitchen and stare at the cupboards? Offer them tea or coffee, or is it too early before food? Snacks? How was your week, even though I saw you two days ago? Why am I sitting on the floor? How did I spill that on my shirt? Everyone thinks I’m a slob, I’m a terrible host when-can-this-be-over-Iamsodoneplzhelp”).

Once everyone does turn up, the house is full of voices. LOUD voices, all mingling and cutting each other off and escalating to become its own obnoxious white noise that makes it difficult for me to think above. The sudden pressure of being a good host and responsible entertainer weighs down on me and I become preoccupied with wiping down counters and preparing snacks to give my hands something to do. The fear I am leaving someone out can make me randomly cut off some conversations in order to join others, but honestly I do that in part to opt out of deeper subject matter that my cowardly heart doesn’t want to get entangled in this early in the night. Small talk, on the flip side, doesn’t make things any easier. With my brain somehow checked out and at a loss as to landing on an appropriate topic, I make do with self-deprecating stories that will draw laughter from people, which hopefully eases the mild social tension.

As the night winds down, I find myself feeling calmer, yet at the same time, my tongue gets looser and I find myself saying things in my delirious tiredness that I probably shouldn’t say. I worry that I’m being too this or that, yet I also stress about making sure I’m being real, so that by the time everyone goes home, I feel like I probably overshared my heart and now one of those things I miscommunicated will come back to bite me later. I fall asleep thanking God it’s over, with my exhausted social tank reading well below empty.

While this is an exaggeration of some of my worst attitudes and experiences, it would be inauthentic of me to act like they never occur. The reason why I share it is because I’ve realised that there are so many lies we believe about ourselves—and others—when it comes to social interactions precisely because we don’t share these experiences.

For example, what most people see and assume of me when I’m being social is that I am a natural extrovert. As I described in my first paragraph, they watch the way I interact with people, the way I laugh, how I am interested in others or make conversation and think that these interactions are effortless; that my extroversion connects readily with others and puts them at ease (as if being an extrovert is just some magical gift that causes people to like you and laugh at your jokes). This however is an inaccurate assumption. The truth is that I am quite an introvert. I have always hated—and still do—the first moments of arriving at a party where I don’t know everyone. I detest small talk. I feel awkward and out of place. If there is someone there I do know, I feel too clingy. I want to approach new people, but am often afraid to open up a conversation and I can’t even really tell you why (it’s not like people bite; you’re not saying “Hi, what’s your name?” to a shark). If possible, I will even ask others to order my food for me because I hate being put on the spot talking to a stranger about what I want. Though I have improved in many of these areas, I’d be lying if I didn’t say it still wasn’t often a largely invisible struggle I deal with.

So why do my actions appear to be so far removed from what’s going on inside me, you ask? I credit much of my social adeptness to the way I was raised. I was told to always look people in the eye when you speak to them. To shake hands firmly. To be interested in the other person by asking good questions. To read body language. To discern the difference between intelligent conversation and drivel (learnt the hard way by trial and error, let me tell you). To do what was difficult because it was right (like apologising for speaking said drivel and asking forgiveness). To practise thoughtfulness and hospitality. To listen well. To be patient. To be compassionate. To show genuine interest. While these many valuable lessons have served me well in my dealings with people, it does not mean that they all come easy. Far from it. Most of these good habits are still difficult for me to practise.

Which is exactly where it becomes easy to believe lies about ourselves and others:
“I will never fit in the same way they do.” 
“If I were more like them/more popular/charming/charismatic, perhaps this would be easier.” 
“I’m awkward and don’t belong. No one else feels this way.” 
“I’m a social misfit because I don’t like being around people.” 
"I can never change, this is how it will always be.” 
“I’m an introvert, which means I’ll never be able to interact with people in a healthy way.” 
“I’m an extrovert, which means I’ll always overwhelm and annoy people.” 
“I’m the only one who hates small talk.” 
“I can never make friends.”
The list could go on and on. But as someone who may be seen as one of the people who have social interaction nailed, don’t be fooled. We don’t have it all together, and you don’t have it all wrong. We are all people just trying to get along with one another; billions of us completely unique and different, yet at the core, desperate to be known, understood and loved in the same way. We all want to belong, and while there may be those who find socialising a piece of cake (or they just have a rad mask), most of us are fumbling our way through it the best we know how: putting up a flashy front and hoping to goodness no one discovers just what a fraud we are. So allow me to debunk some of those lies, and tell you the truth about yourself, along with some tips on how to better navigate social situations:
  1. You are not a failure. I don’t care who told you; if it was your parents, your school frenemies, a girlfriend/boyfriend, or peer group. You aren’t a failure if you don’t feel like you fit in. Most of us don’t. We all know deep down our insecurities, quirks, imperfections and junk we carry. That knowledge can separate us from feeling like we belong. But don’t fret! You may not see it, but the next person is just as jacked up as you are. You are not a failure if you struggle, and you’re not a failure if you struggle with people. You’re human. Just like the rest of us. Don't buy the lie that being socially adept is the be all, end all. You are more than your social skills.
  2. You are allowed to be—and laugh at!—yourself. In fact, the sooner you learn this, the happier you’ll be and the more success you’ll find in social interactions. Be yourself, and learn to laugh at yourself. Since we are all just as deeply flawed, learning to laugh at your flaws can give people the chance to laugh at their own. Being real about the ways we are imperfect, and the fact that that’s totally okay will take the pressure off those who have their people-pleasing masks in place, and they will feel free to let down their walls. Being yourself makes other people feel safe, which makes it easier to connect with them. It’s a win-win, because if some people don’t like you for who you really are, then they aren’t real friends. Go find some new ones who love you as you are!
  3. You can learn. Just because social interaction can be exceedingly taxing and difficult, it doesn’t mean you’re incapable. Often in the very midst of social hangouts or spending time with heaps of people, I will go to the bathroom just to have a time out to refocus, breathe, and pray before re-entering the fray. Don’t believe the lie that good social skills are impossible for you. You CAN learn new skills and new ways to help you cope and interact with others better. Though it may never cease being difficult or challenging, it can become more effective. Give yourself grace, but don’t be afraid to show up and continue practising the messy art of peopleing. It’s worth it!
  4. You can choose your focus. One of the biggest cripplers of successful social interaction is a preoccupation with self. My worst moments in social settings are when I am hyper-aware of how uncomfortable I am, or how much I don’t like the circumstance. However when I shift my focus to other people, things are often vastly different. If you want a challenging, but easy out, simply ask other people questions! “What do you do? How do you know [this] person? Where are you from? Where did you go to school? What are your hobbies? How do you spend your free time if you’re not working? What would you study if you could? Do you like music or movies? What would be your superpower? Do you have a favourite subject to debate?” You can even google icebreaker questions if need be. Honestly there is no better connection builder than genuine interest. Find a person’s favourite point of interest and then run with it, shooting as many questions as you can to exhaust the topic. Bonus, you never know what you could learn by listening well!
  5. You are not boring. A lot of people believe that an inability to engage in small talk makes them a boring person. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Operating on a different plane of conversation does not make you boring! Along the same lines as focus, if you wait for other people to be interested in you, you will undoubtedly be disappointed. Give your interest to others first, and eventually you will get the chance to share from your own heart. Wherever you have picked up the lie that you are not interesting, you have nothing to say and you’re not enough, kick it out of your head. You have a voice, a story, and a point of view that is worthy to be heard. Don't base what you believe about yourself on small-minded people who can’t see you for who you are based on five minutes of awkward small-talk.
  6. You can be honest. At the end of the day, tracking your way through the maze of social interactions can be a mixed bag of joy, exhaustion, fun, disappointment, insight, or end up leaving you with more questions and doubts than answers that buoy you with confidence. You don’t have to pretend that everything is fine all the time. You have the freedom to be honest about how you feel. One of the defining moments in the formation of one of my closest friends came when we were chatting at a party and I randomly admitted in the middle of the conversation, “Sorry can you repeat that? I just completely zoned out and didn’t hear a thing you said.” She appreciated my honesty so much that it led to a deeper conversation about being authentic with one another, and it added another layer to the trust we were building between us. Sometimes it pays to just be up-front with people: “I’m actually really tired and am having trouble paying attention. I’m sorry, I just don’t feel like people today, thankyou for being patient with me. I may not talk much tonight because I’m a bit out of it.” Let me say it again: You. Are. Allowed. To. Be. Honest!
  7. You are not alone. Lastly, even if your attempts at connecting with people crash and burn with spectacular failure, don’t lose heart. You are not alone. Even Jesus who invested Himself into His friends with perfection and was the standard of social interaction was abandoned by those closest to Him in His greatest hour of need. While there will always be things about ourselves that the rest of the world simply won’t get, God does. God’s love for us is enough to cover the gaps left by our failures, and the failures of others. You don’t have to despair. Tomorrow is always a new day, and God’s mercies are there for you to guide you and grow you further than you were the day before. It is not the end. If you screwed up, do your best to make amends and learn from it, but don’t beat yourself up over it. We are all going to fail at this! It’s what we choose to do after we fail that matters. 


There is a song by Francesca Battistelli that is still timeless for me. The lyrics read: “don’t pretend to be something that you’re not, living life afraid of getting caught; there is freedom found when we lay our secrets down at the cross. So bring your brokenness and I’ll bring mine ‘cause love can heal what hurt divides and mercy’s waiting on the other side, if we’re honest.”

This is me being honest.

As a result, I hope this gives you the freedom to be honest with yourself, and with others too. People are not half as scary as we make them out to be, and all too frequently we give them more power than they truly have. We don’t have to get this perfectly right. This is why we have Jesus. We’re all the same at the foot of the cross.

So next time you have to face a room full of people, think of me, and I’ll think of you. We’ve got this. The greatest offering we have to give is ourselves. As Christ did for us, so we can do for others. He is with us. There is nothing we cannot do.

Let’s get out there and people together, shall we?
"Let Your love get inside our bones / May it deep within us grow / May we bring in the ones left outside." — Tenth Avenue North
Further Listening:
"We're All The Same", Tenth Avenue North
"If We're Honest", Francesca Battistelli

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2 comments:

  1. Great post, Jasmine!!! I'm sure a ton of people can relate to this, as I do! Though like you say, practice has helped a lot, and forcing oneself to do the 'scary interaction things actually does accumulate 'faith points' to where I'm not so internally frantic any more.
    But I used to be! So yes, to anyone who is still there, just keep pushing, it can get smoother for us all! :-)

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    1. Thanks, lovely!! I love what you mean about ‘faith points’, it’s so true. Faith is like a muscle. It doesn’t mean it’s always going to “feel” good to exercise, but it grows your ability!

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