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Shyness or Social Phobia

answered 03:50 PM EST, Tue January 01, 2013
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anonymous anonymous
How can I tell the difference between just being very shy and having social phobia? I hate social events with people I do not know and the thought of them makes my heart race. I am OK when I am with people I know very well, even when we are in public. I would like to overcome my shyness a bit and maybe make some more friends since many of my close friends are from high school and many have moved away in the last 2 years. I struggle with this though and I haven’t made a new friend in about 3 years.

E W Says...

No matter what it is called, shyness or social phobia, what does matter is how much it interferes with your life and your goals. If you were not able to function in your job, go to school, attend entertainment events, or other things you want to do or if it in some way prevented you from reaching key and important goals in your life then you could say it might be something "clinical." If, however, you are basically able to do the majority of things you want to do in life, even if they are uncomfortable, then perhaps it is more of an "inconvenience."

But again, no matter what it is called, if you want to change how you feel or behave, then seeking assistance from a mental health therapist is entirely appropriate. This means you can get a professional assessment of your symptoms and you can receive help making plans and working to feel or behave in ways that are closer to what you desire for your life.

Many people feel as you do - more comfortable around friends, less so around "strangers" - and some of your situation may be due to your current age/stage. It is normal, especially when we have grown up around the same group of friends through our school-age years, to not be in a position to meet lots of people or make tons of new friends. If you want to be more sociable and make new friends then you need to be in places and circumstances where you will be around new people - which probably means investing some time in new circumstances! You will want to ensure as much as possible that there is a positive feeling and outcome to your new adventures - so bars or clubs may not be the best option. See if any of your current friends attend church or participate in age-group appropriate church singles groups. Another resource might be community recreation groups - do you have hobbies that you enjoy? Look for groups in your area. Have you considered starting some new hobbies? Common activities and interests are another great way to meet new people. 

Be sure to set reasonable and realistic goals - the friends we carried through high school were often friends of circumstance since we had shared school experiences. The friends we make in adult life may be more activity or value-driven. Make your goals small - go to one event, say hi to one person, return to one recreation group twice. Be sure to have fun - even if you don't make any long term friends, life is short and at the very least, have a good time! We are also more attractive to other people when we feel good about ourselves and are having fun. There is a quote to keep in mind about having even one good friend makes us rich... 

A therapist may also be able to connect you with support - even adults can benefit from social skills groups, formal or informal. A book club, coffee group, or foreign interest or language group might also be a good start, or a recommendation for a good self-help book could be useful.

You are not alone, and I believe in the ability of people to change and learn and grow. Seek support, help, make plans. Best wishes to you in the new year!

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Page last updated Jan 01, 2013

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