8 phrases only socially awkward people use, according to psychology

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Being socially awkward shows up in so many different ways that it’s not just one type of person that’s affected.

In fact, it can happen to any of us, regardless of our age, gender, background, and even personality type.

For some, it manifests as shyness, for others, it can be a hidden uneasiness whenever they’re around new people. 

When someone does show social awkwardness, it tends to indicate feelings of discomfort, insecurity, or a lack of social skills.

In this article, we will explore some of the types of phrases that socially awkward people commonly use and the psychology behind them.

1) “I don’t really know what to say…”

When it comes to phrases like this or similar ones such as “Um, I’m not sure…” it’s essentially a reflection of uncertainty.

Sometimes socially awkward people struggle to come up with a response or contribute to a conversation. But often it’s out of fear of saying the wrong thing or not being able to keep up.

It can indicate a lack of confidence or assertiveness when someone is unsure of how to respond or is unable to make a decision.

Of course, the problem isn’t that socially awkward people don’t have things to say. They are just as smart, interesting, and valuable as the next person.

The real problem is that they can fall into overthinking social situations.

This creates a sort of hyper-vigilance where they worry too much about what others are thinking of them.

When self-doubt sets in we’re more likely to sensor ourselves. We’re afraid to offer up our opinions, thoughts, and ideas for fear of rejection.

Therapist Will Bratt says a good way of dealing with this deep (and often illogical) fear of rejection is calling it out:

“Ask yourself in a very kind and honest way, “So what?” What if you did experience rejection, judgment, or some other negative social response. What would that mean for you? What would the consequence be for your life? What’s the best way you imagine yourself or someone else dealing with that kind of experience?”

2) “I can’t believe I just said that”

Maybe this phrase is never even said out loud. But it’s silently repeated inside the brain, over and over again.

Part of the reason why socially awkward people hold back in the first place is because they can be really hard on themselves.

If they say or do something that they perceive to be embarrassing they may dwell on it. Rather than brush it off or move on, they draw attention to it even further.

Unfortunately, experts say rumination is something that affects insecure people more than others.

Instead of getting lost in our own heads, clinical psychologist Joel Minden recommends that to reduce social anxiety, we acknowledge the discomfort but recognize that ruminating just makes it worse.

 “Accept that—and then redirect your attention and behavior to the other person. Socially effective people show interest in others and their interactions.”

3) “Am I in the way?”

This reveals a lot about the psyche of socially awkward people.

They’re afraid that they are a nuisance or inconvenience to others. They’re uncomfortable at the thought of making someone else uncomfortable.

A lot of this comes down to low self-esteem.

Self-esteem theory suggests much of our feelings of self-worth can come from how much acceptance or rejection we experience in the social world. 

But as Very Well Mind points out, there’s an unfortunate catch:

“The problem for most people is that they struggle to accurately read the amount of acceptance and rejection in their lives, leading people to have low self-esteem when they are actually very intelligent and loved. This can be magnified for people who have anxiety problems related to other people.​​”

4) “Well this is awkward”

Confession time:

I’ve used this phrase on several occasions.

Despite the fact that communication is kind of my jam, I can also be struck by social awkwardness at times.

My dad is on the autism spectrum, and I’ve often noticed I too have some tendencies.

Whilst on the surface, pointing out how awkward you feel can seem like it would only make things worse, it doesn’t always feel that way.

My logic goes like this:

By laying it all out on the table it breaks the internal tension I’m feeling from being in a cringe-worthy situation.

Rather than try to carry on and ignore the elephant in the room, it feels better to refer to it.

Of course, the very fact that I can’t find a more appropriate way to express the discomfort, or even better, move forward from it, is a sign of social awkwardness.

5) “It’s up to you”

When you have a deep-rooted fear of getting it wrong and making a fool of yourself, it makes sense that you prefer to leave it up to others.

Socially awkward people can inadvertently become wallflowers. As a defense mechanism, they try to camouflage into the background as much as possible.

That feels like the least threatening option. But as a consequence, they may forfeit voicing any of their own preferences or desires.

Social psychologists have confirmed that one main reason that people conform to other influences is to maintain harmony among social group members.

Going along with the crowd is a classic people-pleasing tactic to try to win favor and take the unwanted spotlight off yourself.

But sadly, it gets in the way of genuine connections because you aren’t letting people see the real you and what makes you tick.

6) “Sorry, I’m not very good at this…”

This is an apologetic phrase that may be rolled out when a socially awkward person feels like they have to explain themselves.

It can be used to excuse themselves from a social activity or interaction that makes them uncomfortable.

Yet it’s often preemptive and is said to try to lower expectations, and hence the pressure they may feel.

It’s pretty self-deprecating, and so yet again, points to some self-criticism and self-belief issues.

They lack confidence in their social abilities and want to let others know that it’s a challenge for them.

7) “You look tired” (and other phrases that put your foot in it!)

Unfortunately, we may use certain cliched expressions or phrases that can be read as rude.

Despite their intentions being good, socially awkward people are more likely to put their foot in it.

Clinical psychologist Carolina Estevez, Psy.D, says as part of the territory, socially awkward folk find it harder to read the room.

“They may struggle to pick up on nonverbal signals like body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice. This can lead to difficulties in making friends and forming meaningful relationships.”

So they may be more inclined to say the wrong thing at the wrong time.

They may also pull out a variety of indelicate phrases without realizing how they sound.

Things like:

  • You look tired
  • Are you unwell?
  • You scrub up well
  • I think you look great for your age
  • You can do so much better anyway
  • You’re so skinny
  • You’ve lost so much weight

8) “Sorry, what were you saying?”

Spacing out is a common problem for socially awkward types.

It’s not that they are being rude or intentionally inattentive to you.

But when anxiety pushes us into the fight or flight mode it can prompt us to seemingly shut down.

It can create an almost out-of-body experience where you’re no longer consciously taking in your environment.

To those observing it can look like you’re very disconnected, but it’s often a reaction to overwhelm.

When you finally come to again you may realize that you weren’t listening and had drifted off.

Eliza Hartley

Eliza Hartley, a London-based writer, is passionate about helping others discover the power of self-improvement. Her approach combines everyday wisdom with practical strategies, shaped by her own journey overcoming personal challenges. Eliza's articles resonate with those seeking to navigate life's complexities with grace and strength.

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