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Turn Social Anxiety Into an Emotionally Intelligent Tool

Social awareness may elicit anxiety. Know how to use it in your favor.

Key points

  • Social awareness, an emotional intelligence trait, may elicit a form of social anxiety.
  • Instead of allowing anxiety to disarm you, learn what may be triggering it and why.
  • Once you realize the source, allow it to remind you to keep firm boundaries.

Social awareness is a cornerstone of emotional intelligence and is a type of attunement to others. You see and respect differences, pick up on emotional cues, and recognize when someone in close proximity may be in an elevated emotional state. This astute awareness of others may allow you to sense non-verbal data in both individual and group settings. This gift grants you the ability to be sensitive, conscientious, respectful, and thoughtful of others, which typically makes you an emotionally safe person to be around. Although social awareness is an asset, it may also be the reason for a sudden wave of anxiety or panic in the social scene.

The surge in anxiety may be a sign you are picking up on someone else’s defensiveness. A person with a strong narcissistic streak is very defensive and unbeknownst to themselves and others, and is usually ready to hurl shame and blame into the world to protect themselves. Despite their charming demeanor, their energy may be very negative.

In addition, a narcissist usually feels secure when they are in control of others, their surroundings, and the social scene. Often, they are ready to pounce on anyone that interferes with this. Due to your emotional attunement to others, you may sense the narcissist’s readiness to attack when they feel the control slipping away, and it may trigger anxiety.

An awareness of the possibility that the anxiety may be related to a source outside of you, may help. Knowing there is a reason provides you with more knowledge with which to help yourself. Using your anxiety as a source of information may prove to be useful.

When understood, your emotional radar may be a tool to use to your advantage. The feedback may be an indicator that you should maintain firm boundaries with the people in the group. Be your usual warm and friendly self, but refrain from extending yourself, opening up too quickly, or trying too hard to get people to like you. Keep yourself in check and reign in any “people-pleasing” temptations.

This may help you avoid a pitfall with a narcissist and also protects you in a social situation. For example, Cindy is at an office event. She is a little nervous because her boss and some other VIPs are there. As she walks toward the coffee bar, she is overcome with a feeling of panic. She takes a few deep breaths while pouring herself a glass of water and reminds herself to have good boundaries. Just then, Karen, her co-worker, walks by. She compliments Cindy’s shoes and then chats with Cindy about their latest project. Halfway through their conversation, Karen asks Cindy to leave the event and retrieve the portfolio for the project. Karen says that she wants to work on the project that evening.

Cindy maintains firm boundaries and says, “I would love to go get the folder for you, but I am really looking forward to the next speaker. Let’s just enjoy the moment.” After the speaker, she busies herself by catching up with several of her out-of-town co-workers.

It is most likely that Karen’s request of Cindy is innocent, and she really does want to do some work after hours, but there may be a small possibility that she wants Cindy out of the room so she can monopolize her bosses and, perhaps, take sole credit for the project. Either way, Cindy maintains appropriate limits with Karen and protects herself from possible manipulation.

Although social awareness is an emotionally intelligent capability that allows you to be accepting of differences, be emotionally attuned to others, and be able to pick up on emotional cues, it can also be a great source of information about the defensiveness of the people in the room. Use it to your advantage and allow it to remind you that you may need solid boundaries with the group.

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