One of the biggest struggles for an introvert is having to deal with paralyzing fear. Research shows that the introverted brain is prompted to seek safeness, so smaller risks elicit protective reactions more often than they do in extroverts. Moreover, introverted people tend to be more sensitive to strong emotions since they focus more on their inner sensations. As a result, fear comes at the forefront of the given situation and requires the energy otherwise needed to accomplish the task.
Fear is not inherently negative. Like every emotion, it is a reaction to outside or inside stimulation. Its purpose is to tell us how a certain situation is affecting us and mobilize us to either keep it going or change it. The problem starts when fear becomes excessive and impedes the course of important actions. For introverts, freezing fear commonly happens in social situations. Here you have five steps to overcome its effect and release from this awful captor.
1. Learn how it functions
Before facing any strong enemy it is important to know its strengths and weaknesses. Inform yourself about your area of interest. How does fear of failure interfere in your academic life? Is fear an invisible obstacle to meaningful relationships? What are the physical and psychological signs of fear? After you gather basic knowledge about ‘fear’ you can start applying this information to your particular experience and you will feel more capable to face it! Keep in mind all the resources you have come across such as books, articles, websites or psychology professionals could assist you in this long journey.
2. Be aware of your fear
Once you become familiar with ‘fear’, it is time to examine your own feeling. How does it make you feel? Focus on the location of that feeling in your body. Can you feel it in your belly, your chest or your throat? Get to know your fear so next time it appears you are able to identify it quickly and work against it more effectively. Seth Godin even advises naming your fear out loud, as much detail as you can, to chase it away.
3. Face it (with gentleness)
It is also important that you accept fear instead of trying to cover it up or deny it. Introverts tend to avoid dealing with negative feelings, which can lead to the freezing stage we are trying to overcome. Once you start noticing the signs you explore in the second step, assume fear is making its appearance and revise all the strategies you have already learned (look at first step!). This task can be daunting indeed. Keep it in mind and be gentle to yourself. Do not give up if in your first attempt to face fear you end up running away. Habits are strong and changing them takes time and much effort! Any small step will take you to improvement. Once you begin to settle new behaviors they will be strengthened and won’t take so much effort to maintain them in the future.
4. Remember why it matters
Have you ever wondered how extroverts can behave so joyfully in the scariest social scenarios? One of the reasons is that social interaction is such a big reward that belittles the emotion of fear. This way, potential risks seem surmountable compared to possible compensation. For introverts, the inner focus makes fear looks bigger than it is, especially since social approaches don’t look as appealing. Thus, our brain gets used to avoiding situations where this fear appears, since it may work in some cases.
However, it is a misleading mechanism: some interactions are important! Tell this to yourself when facing a challenging social situation instead of letting your habits move you to your safe place. Why do I need to get involved in this conversation? How will getting in touch with these people help me on future occasions? What will I lose if I avoid this meeting just for this momentary feeling? Answering these questions will give you the time you need to calm down at the same time you set the power of decision making in your conscious mind instead of the unconscious one, which drives you according to past experiences and habits. Your active conscience is way more selective, so force yourself to use it! Balance the risks and rewards of the present situation and decide for yourself.
As you know, human beings are habit animals. Our brain needs consistency to learn how to manage different situations and develop a certain behavior (aka habits) that most accurately fits them. This mechanism enables our brains to save energy to further tasks, which eventually is the main goal. However, the world is unpredictable and we can´t always rely on actions that were successful in previous experiences. As a result, we may need to invest some energy in those critical circumstances where our learned behavior may lead us to an undesirable result. You can only do this by putting yourself into different situations and consciously driving your behavior, learning from its outcomes and progressively adjusting your reactions to every scenario. Perfection will never be an option, so take it easy. Find what works for you and makes you feel good.
Fear can be confusing. After all, its purpose is to warn us about danger, so it prepares our body to give a matching reaction: flight (escape), fight, freeze or appease. Introversion normally draws to flight, which can be an advantage in some moments and a complete mistake in others. Managing the internalized behavior is difficult because most of the times we are not even aware of it. And it causes much harm. Anywise, what is the best trait of introverts if not looking at their inner self? Patience and action will make you grow.
Godin, S. (2010). Linchpin: Are you indispensable?. New York: Portfolio.
Loehken, S. (2014). Quiet Impact: How to be a Successful Introvert. London: John Murray Press.