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Reader Q & A: More than shy—could it be social anxiety?

October 25, 2008 | By | 3 Replies Continue Reading

QUESTION

Hi Irene,

It’s almost funny that I found your site and am now writing to you—as I don’t have ANY female friends. I can’t keep a friend to save my life. If I hit it off with someone, I end up sabotaging the friendship. I say “yes’ to plans and then start panicking about what to do, say, wear, and ultimately end up thinking of an excuse so that I won’t have to go.

I don’t like the phone so I don’t call people back. I suffer from severe anxiety and it really cripples my ability to trust. I don’t trust girls because I’ve always been disappointed with them. I should probably also mention that I am in a very happy and fulfilling relationship and am getting married in September…My energy is always focused on my fiancé and I know that in doing so, I relinquish the ability to “give” myself to potential friends. I don’t think that is wrong, but then why do I get sad when I don’t have a Girls’ Night Out to go to?

Finally, one other key piece – I have a twin sister who, while we email/speak every day, I am too much for her. She constantly pushes me away and always holds me at arms length. It’s really sad, and I do wish for more. This email seems too disjointed to even send, but I might as well put it out there anyway.

All the best,
Fran

ANSWER

Hi Fran,

It sounds like as much as you would like to have female friends—you just don’t feel comfortable making friendships or being around people you don’t know very well.

One possible explanation is that you are suffering from a condition called social anxiety (also called social phobia). People with social anxiety feel like they are constantly being evaluated by other people and even may become viscerally uncomfortable in the presence of others. Given these uncomfortable feelings, it’s understandable that the person would try to avoid or escape from social situations, even ones they would really to participate in, like parties or other social events.

The National Institute of Mental Health has an excellent online publication that describes some of the hallmark symptoms of social anxiety. People with social anxiety:

  • are very anxious about being with other people
  • are very self-conscious in front of other people; that is, they are very worried about how they themselves will act
  • are very afraid of being embarrassed in front of other people.
  • are very afraid that other people will judge them
  • worry for days or weeks before an event where other people will be
  • stay away from places where there are other people
  • have a hard time making friends and keeping friends
  • may have body symptoms when they are with other people, such as blushing, heavy sweating, trembling, nausea, and having a hard time talking 

You seem to have remarkable insight into your predicament so it would definitely be worthwhile for you to discuss this problem with a mental health professional. There are a range of medications and behavioral approaches that make social anxiety eminently treatable. While you may never be the life of the party, when treated, you may find that you have no problem making friends and enjoying their company.

It’s great that you have a good relationship with your fiancé but you are missing out on other relationships that may also be rewarding. I’m not sure what the problem is between you and your twin sister—she may not understand how you’re feeling or acting. Alternatively, it may be totally unrelated to this problem.

It was very brave of you to write. Interestingly, people with social anxiety often feel more comfortable with virtual friends than face-to-face ones.

I have every confidence that you will change—because you want to! Congratulations on your upcoming marriage. If you are planning a wedding, it would be great to get this problem in check before then.

My best,
Irene

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Category: HAVING NO FRIENDS, Personality and friendship

Comments (3)

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  1. Melia says:

    My friendship ended because my 15 yr old daughter told my friends grand daughter who is 9 to stop acting older then what she is she insists on being around adults to hear conversations when her grandma is on the phone she gets on the lone to listen in now we have been deleated from them they have nothing to do with us anymore and now I regret this as they said my daughter was mean in saying this to her and they are disappointed with us. Now what

  2. Leanna says:

    Wow, I could have wrote your email Fran. This sounds much like me. Although I grew up extremely shy and picked on badly in school. The only friends I had, which were three different ones in various periods of my life had dropped me without an explanation. Those friends were mostly Type A personalities and took the reins in the relationship. My Mother and my Husband are my Best Friends. My Mother and I spoke daily and did everything and made every decision together. She passed away about five years ago from Ovarian Cancer. I do not have a female friend in my life. My Mother in Law and I are not very close, could be closer but I won’t initiate more interactions with her. Besides she is too contained trying to work out her rocky relationship with her other Daughter in Law, whom I know she favors. Fran, what you said about sabotaging a potential friend is totally me… what to wear, how to act, worried about what I’ll say etc. then canceling at the last minute. I hate the phone, I don’t like calling anyone or answering the phone even if I know who it is, I’m afraid.. feel like I have to prepare my conversation before calling back, if I do. I feel like a flake, I don’t want to or scared to put forth the effort to get closer to anyone. Social events are hard, I get very anxious (have to take clonazepam) and I like put on this “alter personality” and smile and try to pretend I’m enjoying every moment. I always feel like I have to help do dishes or pack up whatever, I guess to show my gratitude or something. I love your advice Irene, it totally hit home. I know I should find a Therapist, I’ve tried a few in the past and had some awkward sessions with Therapists that told me things very elementary and obvious that I already know, talked about themselves the entire time or just didn’t say anything at all. It’s hard to put myself back out there. I have Lyme Disease which invades my brain and scrambles my thinking, concentration, saying what I want to say, listen and put together the whole conversation etc etc etc. So all these things don’t help a shy, depressed, anxious ill mental case, lol. I am so glad to have found this place that I didn’t think existed.

    Leanna

  3. starrlife says:

    Dead on Irene. I have a good bit of this and it is no fun! My mother has it also so I know it is probably some learned and some inherited. Thanks.

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