INTJs are not exactly known for their social prowess. “I’m a social butterfly and hang out with people all the time,” said no INTJ ever. In fact, INTJs are often labeled as loners, socially awkward, antisocial, etc. Sociability is just not our natural thing, and this seems to be especially true for Enneagram Type Fives (The Investigator), which is my type. We’re known as one of the “lone wolves” in the personality world.
I’m not suggesting that INTJs always perform poorly in social situations (we can do great), and I’m not suggesting that we loathe all social activities (we can definitely enjoy them). I’d also make the point that we tend to admire, love, and appreciate a great many people.
However, we need considerable time alone to recharge, research, think, and pace back and forth on the floor as we rattle off our ideas and discoveries, and that’s perfectly fine. After all, we’re introverts. In fact, we have a special name for strategic, rational INTJs who are consistently energized by social interaction or stimulation from their external world: We call them ENTJs. Hence, they’re really “extroverts.”
Unfortunately, due to low social involvement, many INTJs are at a greater risk of experiencing social anxiety or awkwardness, and that is something that many INTJs have experienced. Interestingly, it seems that the majority of INTJs have suffered from some form of social anxiety. As I was preparing this article, I stumbled upon an interesting poll on the INTJforum.com website. According to the poll, a whopping 80.9% reported having mild or severe social anxiety (534 people had responded as of this writing). In other words, social anxiety is quite common among INTJs.
After a quick look at some famous INTJs from history, we can see that same trend. Isaac Newton was socially awkward and often a loner. Bobby Fischer, the great chess player, was said to be “absolutely not social,” and he often isolated himself during dark periods.
Although a bit frustrating and awkward, mild social anxiety normally isn’t a problem for most INTJs. Unfortunately, social anxiety can turn into a more serious disorder for some individuals: social anxiety disorder. Here are some of the symptoms of social anxiety disorder (SAD).
Symptoms of Social Anxiety Disorder
- Feeling very tense or having feelings of nervousness in social settings
- Excessive sweating
- Panic attacks
- Blushing or flushing of the skin
- Stomach cramps
- Reluctance to enter into social situations due to anxiety
- Stuttering, shaking, or becoming clumsy in social situations
I can also tell you that, as an INTJ, I’ve struggled with my share of social anxieties through the years. I have experienced social anxiety of different levels (possibly even to the level of social anxiety disorder, though I never sought any treatment). I also experienced some social avoidance and awkwardness.
Here are some of my socially weird experiences:
My INTJ Social Anxiety and Awkwardness
- I would often feel a lot of anxiety when I would go shopping by myself. I’d feel very tense and awkward if someone approached me or engaged me in conversation.
- I’d often feel like everyone was watching me in public, especially when I’d do something like return my tray in the cafeteria at school.
- I used to have a hives disorder that caused me to develop intense itching sensation when my body became warm. Because I’d flush or get nervous when meeting new people, I’d actually break out in hives. This put a serious damper on my social life!
- I used to sit in the back of rooms in public places. I often do the same when I attend a lecture, see a movie, or eat at a restaurant. I like to sit away from people as much as possible.
- I hated being called on in class, especially if I hadn’t read the chapter or completed the homework. I had one professor who would go around the class and ask for answers to homework problems. I would wait until she got close to questioning me, and then I’d leave the room and pretend to go to the bathroom. I’d go and get a drink from the water fountain, and then I’d strategically listen for the perfect time to go back in.
- I hated giving any kind of presentation or doing group projects in school, and I’d get really anxious at the mere thought.
- I tend to avoid being outside on days when I’m expecting a package to be delivered. I will watch them through the blinds and wait for them to leave, and then I’ll sneak out and get it.
- I don’t like talking on the phone. In fact, I’ve virtually eliminated it from my life. I have a prepaid cell phone with no voice mail. I only turn it on when I need to make a call. Otherwise, people can contact me via email.
- I always use the self-checkouts at stores when possible. I hate when they malfunction, though.
- I still hate unannounced visits, but that’s mostly because I don’t like surprises or interruptions in my plans.
- When a guest or repair technician would come to my mother’s house, I would usually hang out in my room and wait for him or her to leave before I exited my room, just so I could avoid the awkwardness of social interaction.
Ways to Overcome Mild Social Anxiety
If you’re struggling with social anxiety, some of the tips below might help you.
- Make sure you have a healthy self-image. Some people struggle with social anxiety because they have a deep-rooted fear of being judged or making a mistake in front of others. They may even have an underlying self-esteem issue or a prior traumatic experience. Realize that everyone makes mistakes, and you’re going to be judged no matter what. Reflect on your thoughts, and try to discover the root of your insecurity problem, and then address that problem. (I’ll make videos on low self-esteem in the future).
- Examine your lifestyle. Things like stress, lack of sleep, or social exhaustion can cause INTJs to be even more reluctant to engage in social stimulation. It can also amplify social anxiety. I can remember a time when I was stressed out and sleep deprived. I went to the store with my wife, and I nearly had a meltdown from all of the people swirling around me with buggies. After some rest, I returned to my normal self. You’ll want to make sure that you’re eating a healthy diet, supplementing any nutritional deficiencies, getting enough sleep, and exercising regularly.
- Avoid recreational drugs. Drugs like alcohol or marijuana may seem like a great short-term solution to overcome social anxiety, but they often amplify the problem. Bill Wilson, the man who started Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), became a drunk after turning to “social drinking” to combat his social anxiety. Alcohol nearly destroyed his life. In addition, marijuana has been known to trigger severe social anxiety, schizophrenia, and even paranoia in some individuals. It can create a vicious cycle of dependency, and it can increase social anxiety and other mental health problems. Turning to recreational drugs to “cure” social anxiety is like drinking ocean water to cure thirst. Get rid of the drugs!
- Don’t dwell on the possibilities of stuff. It’s easy to think of all the things that could go wrong during a planned social event, but try to push those thoughts out of your mind. Maybe you can memorize a few talking points or jokes, but don’t obsess over possibilities or scenarios that may occur during a planned social event. Instead, live like a perceiver type (P), and try to wing it!
- Start small by socializing more with people you know, such as friends or family. Then, try to branch out and go to places that are more public so that you can be around new people. Go to stores, ballgames, conferences, or whatever you want.
- Use humor to diffuse awkward social situations. Most INTJs have a great sense of humor or irony. Use that to diffuse tension and make people laugh. Laughing will diffuse the tension in social situations and make it melt like butter. In high school, I was often operating under one of two extremes: Isolated introvert who was quiet, or class clown who was making everyone laugh. I discovered that when I made people laugh, my anxiety and awkwardness vanished. It was as if I created a silly social persona–a “mask”–that I could wear. I’d imitate people, crack jokes, and use sarcasm. I’d act silly when I wore the social/goofy mask, because it wasn’t me people were observing–it was the “mask” that they were observing.
- Try to schedule regular social interaction. I’m not saying that you should become an extrovert, because you shouldn’t (and can’t). However, INTJs have a tendency to isolate themselves for long periods, especially after a stressful event. This can cause those feelings of social isolation or anxiety to return. If you don’t condition your body regularly with exercise, what happens? You lose muscle, endurance, and definition. In the same way, if you don’t engage in some level of regular social interaction and practice those social skills, feelings of anxiety can quickly return. How much is enough? That depends entirely on your life situation.
What to Do if You Need Help
If you find that you cannot overcome your social anxiety using practical tips, and the symptoms are so severe that they inhibit your daily life, it’s time to seek professional counseling or help. Talk to a pastor or counselor about your social difficulties. There’s no shame in getting help when you need it.
Think of like this: Suppose a man develops a severe strep-throat infection. His body hurts, he can barely swallow due to the blisters on his throat, and he is vomiting profusely. He could easily go to the doctor and get antibiotics to cure himself, but he refuses to do so. He feels as if he’ll be “weak” if caves in and gets medicine.
Wouldn’t that be ridiculous?
In the same way, there’s no shame in getting help if you need it. Getting help doesn’t make you weak or dumb—it makes you smart, because you’re making a conscious decision to help yourself out of a bad situation so that you can operate at full INTJ efficiency. We all need help sometimes.
There are two main treatment options for most people with severe social anxiety disorder: cognitive-behavioral therapy, and various types of medications (antidepressants, anti-anxiety, etc.). I would encourage people to avoid medications and use them only if everything else fails.
INTJ Social Anxiety: Conclusion
In conclusion, INTJs often struggle with social anxiety, social awkwardness, and even social isolation. Most mild social awkwardness or anxiety will go away with practice. I no longer have anxiety like I did in my younger years, though I’m still not terribly social. I even avoid some awkward small talk for the sake of efficiency or preference.
Nevertheless, you can overcome your social problems with the right strategies, practice, and persistence.