Q I am trying really hard to make new friends and have a social life. I have always been very shy and timid. I get nervous and embarrassed easily around groups. I start feeling awkward and don’t know what to say or say things I regret. How can I relax more when I go out?

A Relaxing really is the key to your dilemma. When we relax there is a flow to our conversation and interactions. We are more real and less self-conscious and worried about what others are thinking of us. In short, we like ourselves and enjoy others as well. Socializing in groups isn’t always easy. You may want to do more one-on-one connecting to start with.

Find someone at work or in another setting that you would like to get to know a little better. Think about what you’d like to know about him or her and ask a couple of questions. Most people love to talk about themselves.
This breaks the ice and gets the conversation flowing. Other topics people enjoy talking about are movies, current events in the world, family, food, and travel.

Breathing deeply and recognizing qualities about yourself that you like and others appreciate is important before you go out and socialize. Raising your self-confidence will help you be less nervous and fearful. If you have specific interests that you are good at, such as a sport or art, then socialize with a person or group around your interest. Your knowledge about the subject will give you more confidence to share and interact.

Q I’m generally a kind and considerate person with my family, friends, and others. When I go out, especially to a party, with a group of people I start joking and teasing. There are times when I get offensive and others find me obnoxious. I regret it afterwards, but can’t seem to stop the pattern.

A It’s to your credit that you are seeing this as a problem and want to do something about it. You are obviously responding to the feedback and your own feelings. When people get into a social setting where there can be quite a bit on attention on them, they start acting very differently than at home or with just one other person. First, check in with yourself about how you’re feeling in situations where you start teasing and are offensive. Some joking and teasing can be fun and playful. People like that. In excessive teasing we are trying to get a message out that we don’t want to directly say. Some people feel insecure about themselves and need to put others down by joking. Others are attracted to someone and feel tense about it.

Joking is a safer way of getting out your darker side. Explore your shadow, or parts of you that you are afraid of showing to others. The irreverent side of your personality might add spice and realness to you, if you can let it out appropriately.

Alzak Amlani, Ph.D., is a counseling psychologist in Palo Alto. He specializes in integrating Eastern and Western perspectives. You can contact him at alzak@earthlink.net.

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