Surviving Those Awkward Moments

Let’s talk about awkwardness. First there’s awkwardness the a human experience that can happen to anybody under the right social conditions. Then there’s awkwardness that occurs frequently enough to be considered a personality trait. But what is awkwardness? Awkwardness occurs when your concern about another person’s opinions, judgments, or feelings outweighs your ability to confidently be yourself. 

Given my definition, the opposite of awkwardness would be self-confidence. Here the scales are tipped more in the direction of comfortably being yourself. Taking your cues mostly from what you independently think and feel in the ‘inside’ of you. It’s common to go through periods in life when other people’s opinions and feelings about you are too important.

When you are not really sure of yourself it’s easy to use other people’s evaluations of you to evaluate yourself and make them so important you worry about them. It’s this worry that can lead to an experience of awkwardness. Awkwardness is mentioned here in a post on love-life issues because it can be a  common and understandable experience in the initial stages of a love encounter or relationship.

Two people meet, fall in love, and begin relating on a regular basis revealing more and more about themselves to each other. There are plenty of places in this process to feel awkward. The question of acceptability is in the air. What do I say after I say hello? Will he/she accept what he/she is finding out about me? Will I still be loved for my true self as the relevant details of my life become known?

The uncertainty in this love-life situation can create moments of awkwardness. Ordinarily, this is an experience that tends to resolve as a couple becomes more familiar with each other and their mutual love more certain regardless of revelations. At least, this is what most couples hope for.

When awkwardness is frequent enough to be considered a personality trait, an individual has learned to react in interpersonal situations with a little too much ‘self-doubt.’ The insecurity this entails sets the stage for awkwardness to repeatedly occur in social interactions where judgments are suspected. The personal experience of discomfort this involves can be quite painful and scary.

Never knowing when awkward exchanges will take place can obviously take the fun out of relationships, dampen the development of a more active social life, and encourage defensive forms of withdrawal and isolation. The point is, the unpredictability of this can be devastating on a person’s ability to live comfortably with others.

The cure for this kind of emotional problem has to involve diminishing the importance of other people’s judgments, feelings, or actions. Easier said than done for sure, the change needed is in the direction of greater psychological independence. Another fancier phrase for this process used by psychologists is ‘individuation.’ What this simply means is becoming the ‘individual’ you truly are on the inside of you.

The fundamental idea is that we are all unique individuals right from birth (check your thumbprint if you don’t belief me). Your uniqueness as an individual is your birthright. If and when you live true to that sense of personal uniqueness, you’ll know true health and happiness. You see, we were all supposed to be the unique individuals we truly are openly and fully expressed in the world.

Unfortunately, things happen in life to discourage uniqueness from emerging. With repeated discouragement people become unsure of themselves, and learn how to manage this discomfort by taking cues from other people, rather than learning how to go with how they think and feel on the inside. They become self-doubting as I mentioned earlier.

If you are serious about decreasing the power other people’s thoughts and feelings can have on you, you’ll have to deal with another related issue. Most awkward people I’ve met in my life secretly believed they could ‘change’ other people’s thoughts and feelings with their own actions whatever they might be. I like to think of this kind of thing as an ‘error belief.’

Common in our culture to be sure, the reality is you can’t change anyone’s thoughts or feelings. Only they can do that. You might think, what I’m saying is pretty obvious and why am I making a big deal out of it. I assure you, this kind of belief is very resistant to change.

If you truly accept the fact that we’re all responsible for creating our own worlds and very active in doing just that, you’ll begin to experience a sense of relief. It’s like letting go of a burden you’ve carried around for years. Once you stop trying to ‘work on’ other people’s choices without their knowledge or permission, you’ll have no other recourse than to put all that energy and effort back into just being yourself.

It sure simplifies living. Now all you have to do is follow the cues you’ll get from time to time from the inside of you. Self-confidence and self-determination are the natural consequence of this. With practice, awkwardness will be relegated mostly to those moments in love when you’re worried about losing love.

Have any awkward love-life experiences for my readers? Love to hear from you. Dr. T. Jordan







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Dr. Jordan

Dr. Thomas Jordan is a clinical psychologist, certified interpersonal psychoanalyst, author, professor, and love life researcher.

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