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What’s wrong with me? I’m so shy

December 29, 2016 | By | 2 Replies Continue Reading
A shy young woman asks for advice because she feels so socially awkward.

QUESTION

Hello Irene,

How are you? I am fine or I’m probably faking it. I belong to an Indian community and our culture is different here, FYI.

My problem is I have a really hard time making friends. In the beginning, I always seem funny and entertaining, a childish, goofy person. But as I get closer to friends, that’s when my problems start. I’m not able to talk normally like before. I get easily embarrassed, shy and am perceived as awkward when I start getting close to other people.

If I’m in a group, the group worships one person, treats their b’day as very special and gives them hugs. But when it’s my b’day, they extend wishes as they would to a stranger. I feel betrayed.

  • Every time people give me the same advice:
  • You need to act like your age and stop being childish.
  • Stop comparing yourself to others.
  • Limit your expectations.

It’s easier for me to write what I feel, which makes me a good poet and writer. I also make up inspiring quotes that I write on my own to express my feelings.

I’ve been asking my mother about this and also my boyfriend but they say I seem like a fun person to them. “Why don’t talk the same way to your friends? The thing is I can’t because of the following reasons:

1) I’m very anxious about staying in the college classroom when our tutor is not around. I just feel like I should run away somewhere.

2) The thought to going to college and talking to my friends is so overwhelming.

3) I never got bullied but I have this feeling that everyone in my class hate me as they leave me alone and they have a serious expression in their face when they talk to me (even when I try to break the ice or crack a joke and ask them about their well-being) which I find really uncomfortable.

4) I’m studying in a Girl’s college and only have a few friends to talk to. My class peeps are sweet but they keep me at a distance. I have only one best friend to share all my stuff with but when an another classmate comes between me and my best friend, I lose her attention which is really annoying.

5 I always think before I speak as when I was young I was punished many times by this one teacher for the way I speak. This incident was a long time ago in middle school but even now I have to be totally conscious when I talk to someone (even to clarify doubts from my teacher on subject matters)

6) I always have this fear: What if this is the last time I talk to them after I say something or what If I hurt them?

I’ve been crying about being a socially awkward person. I feel lonely as a single child; both my parents were introverts in their school and college days. I’ve learned this as I share things with my mum.

I once asked a temporary college counselor whether there was anything wrong with me for not making friends, She said absolutely not. I asked my mom many times to take me to a counselor but she refuses.

This cycle has been going on since middle school, over three schools and even now in college. I suffer from the same problem: Not being able to maintain friendships and feeling socially awkward.

Conclusion: I really need like a manual for friendship or a guide for friendship because although making friends is easy for me, maintaining friendships is so hard. This is my final semester and I, too, want to fit in and have fun like others. I don’t want this cycle to continue again in the future.

Signed, Madhu

ANSWER

Hi Madhu,

Being comfortable with other people is far easier for some people than others. Some people are born temperamentally shy. Others have a more extreme condition called social anxiety. People with social anxiety often feel as if other people are constantly evaluating them. They may even become physically uncomfortable when they’re with people they don’t know well.

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) has an excellent, free online publication that describes some of the hallmark symptoms of social anxiety. For example, 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

Your letter mentions many of these symptoms. Also, you said that both your parents were introverts when they were growing up; it’s common for social anxiety to run in families.

Since your problems feeling comfortable with other people are so persistent, it might make sense for you to be evaluated by a mental health professional. Social anxiety is an eminently treatable condition using a variety of medications and behavioral approaches. Perhaps, you can raise this possibility to a counselor at your school and also ask your mom to read this note and the information from NIMH.

In the meantime, there are a number of worthwhile books about friendship, including my own, that explain social anxiety and offer some practical strategies for coping with it:

You have a lot of things going for you. You seem to have insight as well as a close relationship with your mom and your boyfriend.

Wishing you good luck!

Best, Irene

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Category: MAKING FRIENDS, Shyness and introversion

Comments (2)

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  1. tammy says:

    Hi Madhu,

    Social anxiety is extremely common. I was diagnosed with it as a young person as well as generalized anxiety disorder and it really made life difficult for me at times. I often ended up avoiding social situations because they made me uncomfortable. However the only thing this accomplished was making me feel more socially isolated than before. I learned that I could LEARN how to overcome my awkwardness by purposely putting myself in situations where I was forced to interact with people. I did this over and over and over again. Believe me, it was very exhausting at first but think of it like you are training for an Olympic sport. At first things will seem very difficult but over time you will develop the skills you need. And practice changing your mindset. People with anxiety often think “everyone hates me” or “no on here is interested in what I have to say,” Try to insert new ideas like “Well what if someone doesn’t like me? Why should I care? Why is them liking me so important? I’m here to practice my social skills. At least one person here will like me,” Because in the end, you are doing it for YOU and no one else. Be forgiving and kind to yourself like Amy F suggested. Don’t slam yourself for being awkward. How would you feel around an awkward person? Would you judge them harshly? Probably not. You would probably relate well to them and maybe even find them very charming. So try to treat yourself like you would treat any other human being.

  2. Amy F says:

    I hope that once you graduate, you’ll be able to find a counselor to help you through your issues. It’s too bad your mother won’t allow you to go now. If you have the option to talk with someone during your last semester of school, you might want to see if you can do so.
    I think you have a good handle and insight into the issues that are interfering with your happiness, so you’re already a few streps forward toward understanding what overcoming those problems will take.
    Try not to be so hard on yourself, you can heal and overcome the obstacles that are holding you back.

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