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Socially Awkward: Symptoms and Facts

March 5, 2018

Young man shy from being around others

Humans are naturally social creatures. However, the ability to interact effectively with others doesn’t come easily to all people. While most people have experienced social awkwardness at some point, having done so consistently is an exceptional thing. For those curious about this unique type of psychological misfire, below is an outline regarding the phenomenon of social awkwardness.

What Is Social Awkwardness?

Social awkwardness, researcher Joshua Clegg explains, is the feeling we experience when we believe that our desire for being accepted by others is threatened in a given situation. This feeling incites us to turn inward, increase our self-monitoring, and attempt to behave in ways that will better our chances for acceptance.

Socially Awkward: Symptoms

People who are consistently socially awkward have certain traits in common, Dr. Ty Tashiro explains. Socially awkward individuals:

  • Fail to notice minor social expectations
  • Find routine social situations difficult to traverse
  • Can have unusually intense focus, particularly on topics governed by rules, such as logic or mathematics
  • Often show enthusiasm for taking things apart, studying the components, then methodically reassembling the parts differently
  • Are less intuitive when it comes to social graces

While social awkwardness may be uncomfortable, it is not necessarily a bad thing, Tashiro explains. With more intense focus comes certain skills in systematic thinking. In fact, socially awkward individuals often excel in specialized areas, bringing a unique perspective to their work and lives.

Another feature of social awkwardness is how often it is mischaracterized as other personality traits or mental health conditions. Comprehending these differences is key to ensuring individuals get the understanding and support they need to thrive.

Social Anxiety vs. Social Awkwardness

While social awkwardness may describe an alternative way of living in the world, social anxiety is a defined medical condition that can cause severe social impairment. According to the Social Anxiety Institute, social anxiety disorder (SAD) describes an intense, recurrent state of emotional stress in social situations. Individuals with SAD may fear:

  • Being introduced to others
  • Teasing or criticism
  • Being the center of attention
  • Being watched while doing something
  • Meeting authority figures
  • Social encounters, especially with those whom they don’t know
  • Public speaking, even in small groups
  • Interpersonal relationships

When placed in these situations, those who suffer from SAD may experience physiological symptoms, such as a racing heart, excessive sweating, trembling, difficulty swallowing, or other reactions. While individuals who are socially awkward may or may not address their awkwardness, those with SAD suffer from a disorder that often requires treatment.

Introversion vs. Social Awkwardness

Social awkwardness may also be confused with the personality trait of introversion. First described by psychoanalyst Carl Jung, introversion and extraversion are opposing psychological preferences that describe how individuals focus and gather their energy, the Myers & Briggs Foundation explains. While extroverts look to the outer world, introverts orient themselves inward.

Introverted individuals are often seen as “reflective” or “reserved.” They get their energy from interacting with their own thoughts and ideas and often take time to reflect before deciding to act. They prefer to know a few people well instead of a wide range of individuals, and they are generally comfortable being alone.

Ellen Hendriksen, of Quiet Revolution, says that introversion, like social awkwardness, is a personality trait rather than a disorder. Those who are introverts are not necessarily unaware of social norms äóî nor do they fear them. Rather, they simply prefer their own company to that of others.

Autism vs. Social Awkwardness

Autism is another condition commonly confused with social awkwardness, though it is true the two conditions share similarities. Like those who are socially awkward, those with autism have difficulty understanding social norms, may fail to navigate social situations effectively, and may display remarkably intense focus on certain subjects.

However, autism is also a broad disorder that manifests itself through a spectrum of symptoms. According to the National Autism Association, additional signs of autism may include:

  • Difficulty regulating emotions
  • Avoiding eye contact, especially when young
  • Repetitive behaviors
  • Avoiding or resisting physical contact
  • Communication difficulties
  • Being upset by minor changes
  • Showing intense sensitivity to stimuli

Furthermore, the degree to which autism affects individuals’ lives can be far more extensive than that of social awkwardness. When someone has “low-functioning autism,” for example, they additionally suffer from cognitive impairments. This makes it difficult to carry out daily living functions (dressing, bathing, eating, etc.) without assistance, and it often deters their ability to learn.

Despite this, writer Scott Barry Kaufman of Behavioral Scientist notes that autism is a misunderstood disorder. “We’re now understanding what people on the autism spectrum have rather than what they lack,” Kaufman says. “And what they have is social creativity and an unconventional social style.”

Individuals with autism were once seen as lacking empathy and unable to fully conceptualize what it means to socially interact. However, research has shown this to be false. Those with autism desire human connection, care about others, and express similar concerns about how their behaviors impact others just as much as those without the condition.

The distinction between autism and social awkwardness, then, seems to lie in the factors that surround the condition. While people with autism can be socially awkward, socially awkward people do not always have autism.

Human interaction is undoubtedly a curious and complex phenomenon. Those who seek to better understand its nuances can get the training they need by earning the right degree.

Understanding the World of the Mind

For individuals seeking to build a career based on studying the human mind, the online Bachelor of Science in Psychology degree at King University provides an exceptional means of advancement. At King University, students receive a comprehensive course of study that prepares them for positions in human services, social services, business, and more. Designed to be completed in as little as 16 months, the program offers a convenient fast track to success. King University’s online B.S. in Psychology program was voted one of the best of its kind in 2017. King was also rated one of 2017’s Most Affordable Online Colleges for Psychology Degrees.