Social anxiety is common in INTJs, likely for a number of reasons:
- Overthinking/analysis paralysis and the tendency to always be “in your head”
- An innate dislike for social interaction perceived as pointless or shallow (small talk for example)
- A lack of social experience, social skills and/or an understanding of social cues
- (Possibly) a sense of superiority around being smarter or somehow better than most other people
Overthinking leads to worrying about things going wrong or somehow “messing up” in social situations.
And combined with a natural dislike for certain types of common, casual interaction as well as minimal social experience, a cycle is created where anxiety leads you to avoid social situations in general.
It becomes a cycle of discomfort -> avoidance of discomfort -> suffering because wants or even basic human needs are not being met.
There may also be a sense of superiority (common amongst INTJs) that leads to rationalization and denial of any problem. A clever INTJ can convince themselves everything is fine and that they don’t even really want sociability in the first place, all the while quietly suffering on a deep level.
But that’s a complex breakdown. Really we’re just talking about the tendency to get nervous and anxious around other people in social situations.
I wrote about social anxiety before and said that no matter what you do, it may never go away completely and that you might have to accept always having *some* social anxiety.
That was over two years ago and my perspective has since changed. I now believe that even severe social anxiety can essentially be completely overcome.
(An exception may be severe clinical depression of which social and general anxiety is a manifestation. I can’t speak to that however as I am not a doctor nor do I have personal experience with depression that severe.)
But aside from extreme cases, I do believe that anyone can be 99.99% free of social anxiety. It may take some time and it will almost certainly take some work, but it is very very doable.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that social anxiety is something you are stuck with and cannot change about yourself.
So how do you do it? There’s a few different ways.
Travel, progress, life experience
In my experience, social anxiety dissipates the more experience you get in social situations and life in general. The more you get out of your comfort zone and do things that scare you despite of the anxiety, the more it goes away. This can sound overly simplistic or like generic advice but it is the truth.
For me it went something like this:
I made a bunch of friends in a bunch of different places. I slept with a lot of girls. I wrote about stuff that is really embarrassing and put it on the internet. I meditated a lot. I did things that made me uncomfortable, many times over. I took a lot of drugs. I travelled to strange, far out places, out in the world and inside my own head.
I thought about how to be so much that I realized I didn’t need to think anymore, I just needed to be. And things that used to concern me, things that I really thought mattered, oftentimes now I don’t even think about them at all.
Of course, this is all relative. Everything I’ve ever done might amount to a single unremarkable month in the life of someone else. But it’s all relative, and the subjective difference of me having done it vs. not is chasmic.
Travel really was huge. When I backpacked through Europe at age 17 it was a big step towards getting over social anxiety and learning people skills. Then after living in Asia for the better part of two years any social anxiety I had left pretty much completely disappeared.
Health is also important. I believe the healthier you are overall – physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually – the less social and general anxiety you will have. The more OK you are with yourself and the more developed you are as a person, the less anxiety you will have. And the way to become more OK with yourself is just to work on yourself.
Finally, the more you are involved in aspects of your life that you truly believe are important, the less anxiety you’ll have. The more you find your path, your “truth” or your “mission”, the less you will worry about small details and what other people think of you.
Anyway, that’s what’s worked for me. Will it be the same for you? I don’t know. You have to try it and see.
Here’s some more suggestions:
Break through the imaginary gap
If you’re often in your head and spend a lot of time alone, it can start to feel like there’s a huge gap or barrier between yourself and the outside world.
It feels like there is a big divide between what’s happening inside your subjective, internal experience and everything else that is going on around you. This is hard to put into words, but if you experience it you probably know what I mean.
It can feel like a huge task to bridge this gap – even if that just means speaking to someone or going into a public place. It’s possible to get so wrapped up in your own “self” that it really feels like you are detached, separate and far distant from the rest of the outside world.
I don’t know if this is an introvert thing or an INTJ thing. But I don’t think most people, especially extroverts, are prone to the same feeling in everyday life.
It’s also likely possible to go most or all of your life with this feeling, and never discover that there are other modes of being just as readily accessible.
Of course the gap is completely imaginary, no matter how daunting or awkward it may feel to cross it. And the solution here is difficult but simple: break through the imaginary gap as often as possible to constantly reaffirm to yourself that it’s not really there.
This might mean something as simple as asking your barista “how are you” or making a comment to someone about the weather. It could be doing some action you normally wouldn’t do in a public place, or even just going outside.
Anything to break through the rigidity of the social anxiety induced mind state. These are small things, but the small things do add up and they do make a difference.
How to View & Experience Anxiety Differently
A spiritual practice – meditation, yoga, or even an intellectual understanding of spiritual concepts – can help you to view and actually experience your anxiety in a completely different way.
Meditation is the practice of stepping back from your thoughts and seeing them for what they are. You simply observe the thoughts, coming and going as apparitions in consciousness, and do your best not do identify with them.
You can do the same for feelings of anxiety. With practice, you can step back and simply observe the anxiety happening without needing to get caught up in it.
Rather than “Oh fuck oh fuck” or “What’s wrong with me, why do I have so much anxiety, why am I so messed up??”
There’s just the detached observer going “This is interesting…”
You watch the feeling the same way you watch your thoughts or a car drive past on the road.
On a more meta level, from this perspective anxiety is no longer such a cause for concern. It’s no longer a deep character flaw or even a “part of your personality”.
It’s simply another aspect of the flow of phenomena passing through your awareness – no more “you” than than that bird flying overhead or the last fleeting thought that crossed your mind.
Direct experience is where you find freedom
As an INTJ you are inclined to approach life through a lens of thought-form and abstraction. Your rational mind is so powerful that you want to use it in every situation, even when it’s not the best tool for the job (it’s often the worst!)
Thinking in situations where it isn’t called for easily turns into overthinking, and this often causes anxiety.
The way through this problem is to engage in your direct experience. For an INTJ in Myers-Briggs terms this means developing the Te (Extraverted Thinking) and even more so the Se (Extraverted Sensing) cognitive functions.
Doing so is a process and it won’t happen all at once. But if you keep practicing and repeatedly engaging in your direct experience then over time it becomes a habit.
For example, I will use the feeling of anxiety as a trigger to remind myself to become present. I feel the feeling and then bring my attention to the breath or some other aspect of my physical experience. More often than not, the anxiety dissipates shortly thereafter. This is still a conscious practice but it is getting increasingly automatic as time goes by.
Repeatedly engaging in your direct experience is effective for getting yourself into an open, flowing state where you’re no longer anxious. Or at the very least, a state where you can observe the anxiety and go about your business without it affecting your behaviour.
Even as someone who can go days without speaking to people, score high on the introverted spectrum and overthink as hard as anyone (just read my posts) it is also very possible for me to enter a place where I feel outgoing, gregarious and sociable – embodying all the typically extroverted traits, at least for a certain period of time.
And the direct path, the shortcut to this quality of experience, is not to add anything or somehow think about things differently – it is just to be, right there exactly where and how you are. To feel and absorb yourself in your direct experience and as best you can simply be in the world without giving in to the urge to construct theory and layer meaning on top of it.
We smother the beauty of life with layers and layers of abstraction while what we’re looking for, what we’re thinking so hard to find – “the truth” – is right there in front of us all along.
A final INTJ post is coming soon on INTJs and relationships. Thanks for reading!