I find that I am pretty quiet in social settings. People have often referred to me as shy. I enjoy one-on-one contact and find groups kind of superficial or even scary to be in. I am trying to fit into my community by getting involved in teams that do projects together. I am fine working on things together, but really I am not a major talker or social butterfly. Sometimes I feel there is something wrong with me. I can’t seem to just accept myself as different from others. What can I do about this?

There can be a lot of pressure in social situations to be very engaged, talkative and knowledgeable about the topics being conversed about. This doesn’t work for everybody.

Some of the questions you need to ask are what is scary about groups for you? Are you afraid of criticism? Often the first group we belonged to is our immediate family, when we are children. What was that experience like for you? Did things happen that scared you? If so, you may need to revisit the events to understand the issues. You may also want to ask your parents or grandparents what you were like as a very young child and how you were perceived with your siblings, relatives and friends closer to your age. Were you ostracized or bullied? Shy people are often afraid of what others will think of them, and become too self-conscious and then nervous, afraid and quiet.

Introversion is a bit different. Introverts get energized by deeper contact with few people and drained by groups and especially chit chat. Noise and crowds often cause too much stimulation which can drain and distract an introvert, who then needs to recharge by being alone. It’s best for an introvert to find a quieter place to focus on work or hobbies and be behind the scenes a bit. Although many public speakers are introverts who can connect well with a crowd if they are not too close to them. In groups, introverts speak less, however, because they listen and are very observant, their contributions can be thoughtful and interesting.

Sorting out where you are in the spectrum of introversion and extroversion can be useful for you.

People are also affected by the relationships and settings they are in. Finding a group or setting that allows you to be yourself is the key to self-acceptance.

The United States is a more extroverted society and introverts feel at odds here. However, I suspect you are harder on yourself than your friends or family. Many people really appreciate being around quieter, more thoughtful and observant people. Have you experienced that? It might be difficult for you to ask for space when you don’t want to listen or interact too much.

Therefore, limiting your time in groups, leaving a social event early, sitting with a friend or two at a lecture can all be ways of respecting your introversion.

Alzak Amlani, Ph.D., is a counseling psychologist of Indian descent in the Bay Area. 650-325-8393. Visit www.wholenesstherapy.com

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