If you feel COVID-19 has boosted your capacity for socail awkwardness, turns out, you’re not alone. File photo.
If you feel COVID-19 has boosted your capacity for socail awkwardness, turns out, you’re not alone. File photo.

How COVID-19 made shaking hands a socially awkward nightmare

SINCE social distancing came into practise, one thing I’ve found particularly tricky is navigating the new social norm.

In a simpler time, known as 2019, people's body language was so easy to read, but now … not so much. Once deemed socially risk free, a simple handshake now warrants close analysis of the other person’s body language.

Will they think I’m rude if I do not reach for their hand? Will they recoil if I do? Will they think I’m weird if I go in for the elbow tap?

While I may be coming across as somewhat pedantic - and that may not be entirely unjustified - as it turns out, I’m not alone. There’s a name for this cringe-worthy breed of social self-consciousness - insinuation anxiety.

Insinuation anxiety is a fear of suggesting that other people are untrustworthy, and it’s more common than you may think.

There’s been a super mixed response to social distancing, and while it is critical we don’t let our guard down, some people living in reportedly COVID free areas are concerned they’re being perceived as dramatic by refusing to come within 1.5 metres of another human being.

In theory it sounds rather pathetic, caring so much about what other people think, but it goes against our very nature to distance ourselves from the crowd. In reality, insinuation anxiety has already been influencing our decisions in far less obvious ways throughout our entire lives.

Whether relying on another person’s judgment over your own, despite having your doubts, or relinquishing an opinion in favour of another person's, we’re constantly sacrificing who we are and what we want for the fear of being impolite.

This weird psychological trait may even be behind some of humanities more sinister behaviours, particularly when our need to please outweighs our desire for justice.

In Stanley Milgram’s famous psychology experiments, insinuation anxiety may help explain why two-thirds of participants were willing to continue giving electric shocks to a complete stranger when told to, despite many being visibly upset while doing so.

Human psychology can be a frustrating, infuriating, and sometimes downright frightening - but it’s not set in stone. Once you are aware you’re doing something, particularly when it’s for such a ridiculous reason, you then have the option to try and change.

If you don’t feel comfortable shaking someone’s hand, then don’t, there’s a perfectly rational reason for that and you needn't feel weird or rude refusing to do so. I’m sure most mature adults can handle the rejection.

Like the famous psychoanalyst Carl Jung once said, “until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate”.