Socially Awkward Situations – The Psychology of Avoiding Awkwardness

By Alice Boyes, PhD. | Uncategorized

Sometimes when people use avoidant coping it’s for the purposes of avoiding heavy duty emotions, however it’s also very common for people to use avoidant coping to avoid milder emotions like awkwardness.

I very frequently see people choosing not to enact their personal values to avoid feeling temporarily awkward.

The DIY Psychological Challenge for this post is for you to try to notice if/when you do this.

Let’s say you have personal values like,

– communicating clearly
– being fair to yourself and other people
– being friendly
– being open
– putting yourself in the pathway of new experiences
– taking appropriate personal responsibility

Notice if there are times when you choose to not enact particular personal values because you don’t want to tolerate feeling awkward.

You might have difficulty tolerating feeling awkward yourself +/- tolerating when someone else is feeling awkward.

Try to identify specifically which particular values you’re not enacting when you’re avoiding feeling awkward.

This will give you information and ideas about alternative ways to approach the situation that would reflect your values.

Identify the psychological costs to you of not enacting your values, which will depend on the specific situation.

For example,

– avoiding awkwardness becomes a habit and NOT avoiding it becomes harder over time
– problems snowball
– you miss out on potentially interesting experiences
– other people develop an impression of you that doesn’t reflect your values (e.g. that you’re unfriendly or unapproachable)
– in avoiding awkwardness you’re unfair to someone else and then end up feeling a sense of guilt and shame about it
– in avoiding awkwardness you’re unfair to yourself and end up creating far greater anxiety in the long run than if you’d tolerated the awkwardness
– you miss out on opportunities to practice the skills of enacting a particular value (e.g. communicating clearly) and therefore miss out on the opportunity to develop that skill to a higher level

Notice that avoiding awkwardness is a problem when it means you’re not enacting your values. If you keep the concept of enacting your values in mind, you should be able to approach difficult communication situations more clearly, quickly and with the big picture in mind.

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