This is not uncommon, so my hope is that you find some comfort in that you’re not alone. Many people across a spectrum have difficulty in this area. Much of it has to do with their standing as an extrovert versus an introvert. (A Myers Briggs test helped me to discover my standing). Thus, if you are an Introvert, this merely means you get your energy and happiness from situations which typically involve solitude. For this reason social interaction is not the norm and may require concerted practice, where for others it seems to come naturally. Don’t be discouraged. Extroverts have a leg up in this area, because they don’t have to think about ‘how’ to socialize, they just go do it. And, for the onlooking introvert it can leave them feeling socially inept and increase feelings of anxiety and ultimately isolation. So, fear not! Even the extreme introvert with practice can become less awkward at this skill, and it is indeed a skill.
There are books, like The Awakened Introvert or How to Talk to Anyone may be of some help. There are all manner of opportunities to practice with websites like Meet Up where you can join a group, and some areas even have groups for people who don’t join groups! You could even start your own. Finding ways of reaching out to people who have common interests is a great way to find it easier to socialize and start conversations because you already know you have an interest in common. If Science Fiction is your thing, join a group who watches a favorite show or movie. If politics or academia is interesting there are people who are interested in that.
Sometimes difficulty can stem from self-doubt, that I might not be interesting, or people don’t really want to hear what I have to say. This is self-imposed isolation, because of all the folks I’ve encountered who feel this way, no one has literally approached them to say “I don’t think you’re interesting”. It’s just a feeling or thought that they formulated and feelings, quite simply, are not facts.
So don’t be afraid to approach social situations with training wheels. For some, the anxiety can be so great that they can’t even dream of immersing themselves in a social situation. For these folks, baby steps are in order. Set a goal of I’m going to join this group or conversation for 15 minutes, and then I’ll be allowed to excuse myself, but for 15 minutes I’m going to put an effort forth to engage others. After a successful run at this, try 20 minutes, etc.
Like many other things we find awkward, repeated exposure and consistent, persistent trials may help lessen the anxiety of these situations. Above all, don’t be hard on yourself if it takes effort and practice in this area. Many of my friends are astounded at how easily I “appear” to navigate a group or social situation, and how “easy” I make it look, but really, this has come from years of practice and certainly a great deal of failed attempts in learning what doesn’t work. Thus, know you’re not unique in this challenge and I’m certain you can find others around you who would agree about the difficulty this is to undertake. If you do find them, congratulations – you’ve just created a social interaction.
Best wishes from my family here in Austin, Texas to yours there.