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big-mike1977 01-15-2009 11:14 AM

Social anxiety / shame - is there any way out of this hell?
I'm a 30 year old male who has never had a relationship. I have zero social skills and don't have any friends. Throughout my 20s I became depressed with my inability to talk to women at work or when I was studying and this led to me giving up work and living at home with my parents. I had Cognitive bhavioural therapy when I was 27, but it barely scratched the surface of the issues that I have.

This has been the case for the last 3 months after I was introduced to a woman who I was attracted to and just fell apart. I was unable to make eye contact or talk with her. This was the first time in my life that I realised I have no chance of meeting a woman with my current frame of mind. I had assumed throughout my 20s that someone might come along, but it seems that even when that happens I am far too messed up in my mind to sell myself to anyone.

I feel an immense frustration and it seems to me that time is running out due to my age. I try to challenge myself, but the best I can do is to go out in public and be around people in coffee shops, which is still so far away from being able to form a relationship with anyone.

The other issue is toxic shame. My mother and father could never talk to me about relationships as a normal subject, but actually teased me about girls when I was a kid. I am convinced this messed my mind up from a young age, and I feel a paralytic level of shame when I am around my mother and she mentions my lack of any relationship.

In addition to my anxiety with men and women in public I have big issues of not being assertive enough. I seem to fear conflict and do everything to avoid it. I also have very low self esteem, and often get depressed for hours by seeing a photo of myself or looking in the mirror. I also have some kind of inferiority issues around other people, especially based on looks.

I feel like I am invisible to women, and that I can't find a way to challenge myself to talk to people. The only progress I have made is that I can now go into a coffee shop and sit on my own if it is not too busy, but my heart still races if I see a woman I am attracted to or if anyone stares at me - especially young men, who I assume might start trouble.

I have started taking SSRIs at a low dose about a week ago, but I don't know if this will help. I am hoping to see a shrink but am not hopeful about this being a big help, as the last psychologist I seen was quite ignorant and wanted to confine my treatment strictly to social anxiety and cognitive behavioural therapy.

I never communicate with my parents on a meaningful level, but feel like telling my mother that her shame about talking about sex was passed on to me, and that I feel shamed just about expressing a desire to have a relationship. I can't really articulate the emptiness that I feel at being alone.

tiegs005 01-15-2009 11:43 AM

Re: Social anxiety / shame - is there any way out of this hell?
Ok...this may sound off the wall...but have you ever considered joining Karate? Can I share real quick. My daughter was invisible. Walked around with a hoodie over her head looking down at her feet. Had no one to call or anyone to hang out with. Gained alot of weight. Had bad acne. Kids at school would tease her and even throw rocks at her as she was walking home from school. This beautiful, wonderful child was hiding herself from the world and letting them just sock it to her. We enrolled her in karate. A good school reinforces equality. The people there took her under their wings. They protected her and loved her. They raised her self esteem to a level I never thought possible. Over time the hood came off and she has started to blossom into something so much more then I could of ever hoped for. We've now moved and she has started all over at a new school. The self esteem issues have returned due to the mean things teens do, but we just re-enrolled her in karate and this school is the same. Teens and adults meet together to learn new skills. They have a common goal and they are dedicated to one another and forge friendships that will last a life time. I think it would be a good starting place for you to do something for yourself and get to meet other people. It gives you an opportunity to socialize in a non threatening enviornment. People there are all different and at different places in their lives. Just a thought. If you could feel better about yourself and raise your self confidence, practice socializing in a nonthreatening way and place it would be easier for you to speak to your mom and move on with your life. Just a thought. Sorry to ramble.

Trixibel 01-15-2009 02:24 PM

Re: Social anxiety / shame - is there any way out of this hell?
Mike, Tiegs had good suggestions for you.

I have some more. Forget blaming your parents for how you are. You are how you are. Blaming your parents isn't going to help. Believe me I've been there and if you do say something to your mother you'll just end up feeling guilty for hurting her which will add to your problems. Lots of parents in our parents' generation (mind you I'm a bit older than you!) were embarrassed about sex and didn't talk about it very well. My mother especially. that doesn't mean, however, that when your mother mentions your lack of a relationship that you can't turn around and say something like 'I really don't like you saying things like that to me. It makes me feel bad.' That might make her stop. She's probably worried about you and thinks she's helping and needs to realise that she's not.

I have lots of the same problems as you - extreme social anxiety and very low self esteem. Maybe you should forget about meeting a woman for the moment and instead focus on getting back into the world a bit more - ie working, or, even if you're not ready to work, doing some sort of voluntary work. That will help your self esteem and also your social skills. It will get you used to being around people a bit more. You need to recreate some sort of life for yourself and THEN focus on meeting someone. Just take little steps - add things in and then when you're comfortable move to the next step. Wanting to meet a woman and talk to her RIGHT NOW is like wanting to run a marathon without any training.

Depending on what ssri you're on it should help with your anxiety. I know that Zoloft is supposed to help with social anxiety. It helped me when I was on it. I really need to be on it again but I hate that first few weeks.

If the SSRIs help and you start working then you should move out of your parents house. Living with them will only add to your low self esteem.

This is very blunt and sounds harsh. I'm sorry about that. I think karate is a good idea though. As are other things like joining groups where the focus isn't on socialising - like a bridge club or some sort of music group. Sounds daggy I know but you might enjoy it.

big-mike1977 01-15-2009 04:31 PM

Re: Social anxiety / shame - is there any way out of this hell?
Hi guys, I know I need some rough love, but I have to say that "blame" is the wrong word. It helped me enourmously to find out why I am the way I am, and I don't blame my parents for anything except the violence and arguing they subjected me to, which actually contributed far less to my current problems than the shame did.

My only reason for wanting to tell my mum is that she continues to question me even though she knows it irks me. She has even used this to deliberately aggravate me on occasion. My thinking is that the only way I can bypass the shame I feel around her is to be upfront about what goes on in my mind. This will at least take one source of tension away. I have no desire to blame anyone. Only to explain my situation to her. I am still embarrassed at the thought of getting a girlfriend or my family knowing about it for goodness sake. :( I have to deal with the shame I feel before my parents.

I have done contact sports in the past. I have found that this did not help my self esteem, and any social contact was small talk in the changing rooms. I appreciate the suggestion though.

I can't forget about meeting someone as that will lead to another 2 or 3 years going by, and I will feel even worse at that point due to my age. I need to make changes now and that is what I am trying to do.

I agree that I need to get away from my parents. When I was studying and working I had nothing but depression and a lack of a social life. This is why I stopped working, but I accept there is no other way. In that sense I am in the same boat as everyone else, and the lack of any CV or potential to get a good job or accommodation just adds to my stress at this point.

jonathon003 01-15-2009 05:45 PM

Re: Social anxiety / shame - is there any way out of this hell?
Trixibel made some great points. By the way, I also suffer from this disgusting 'disease' of social anxiety and find a lot in common with you.

But for me, as Trixibel suggested, living with my parents is absolutely brutal. I'm not quite at the age you are, being 23, but I'm in my 6th year of a 4yr program, who also suffers from pretty bad self esteem, and it just seems living here with my family depresses the crap out of me. I feel totally guilty and like an underachiever, a failure, way too much. The problem I have is I don't have any money and actually owe them a good 20 grand, so moving out is not an option. But I think this would otherwise be a great idea. Personally I'd absolutely HATE to bring a girl home to my family. Not only that I'd hate to get into a relationship and speak on the phone in my house here. Also living on your own might take away the constant feeling of failure. I know personally its a massive burden and I feel they weigh me down tremendously. It doesnt help my father makes "jokes" about my failures quite often.

Also, the other good idea is try finding someone on the internet. I've never tried it but it's become a much more commonplace in today's world and isn't really as frowned upon. It also instantly eliminates THEE hardest part about meeting a girl; the initial awkward interactions when you don't know what to talk about. If you've been chatting up a girl online who you know shares many interests, you'd probably feel much more at ease when you actually hang out as you actually know her a little.

Lastly, without getting to philosophical, I've done so much reading on this stuff and I think obviously the biggest key is becoming comfortable with yourself and loving who you are. Albeit, this is easier said that done. Unfortunately society has always gravitated towards copying or comparing yourself to someone else and it's kind of sad. No one person is the same as you in this world, and that's something pretty special in itself. We all have a great unique personality that resonates when we're happy, and no matter what we perceive as wrong with ourselves, if we're happy around people, smiling, just showing we accept others unconditionally; 9 times out of 10 (especially as we get older and ppl mature) we will be accepted and liked. Ask yourself this: do you 'only' befriend perceived "cool" people or good-looking people, or 'un'awkward people, etc? No. You befriend someone because they genuinely care about you and accept you for you. But until you, and me, start loving and accepting who we are, it's impossible for us to let others.

big-mike1977 01-15-2009 06:23 PM

Re: Social anxiety / shame - is there any way out of this hell?
[QUOTE=Trixibel;3850786]Is living with your parents the only option because it sounds like living with them disempowers you a bit and you're hyperaware of how you come across in front of them. Like - if you did meet someone and you went out with them and you came home would they ask questions/embarrass you/make you feel self conscious, because that's the last thing you need. Do you have a sibling you could maybe live with instead?

I understand your sense of urgency re the relationship. Have you tried meeting someone on the Internet? It might be easier to make the first contact without having to make eye contact/talk etc and when emailing you can take time to put your thoughts down and say what you want to say without anxiety getting in the way - it's not so embarrassing or confronting.[/QUOTE]

Well my dad drinks a lot, and my mum is into religion big time although she has started drinking quite a bit lately too. The answer is yes they would embarrass me. I also have an aversion to my sister meeting anyone I could bring home because I had bad experiences with my sister trying to gossip with my friends and find out whether I had a girlfriend when I was about 14. I can also recall her teasing me and calling me gay when I was around that age. She is seriously nosey. She has a place of her own, but would not let me live there.

I did use a friendship kind of website in the past, which people tried to get together on anyway, but I did not meet anyone. I don't like my image in photos. Sometimes I don't look too bad on my video camera phone, but this does not come across in photos. I am trying to work on accepting how I look and am planning to buy a video camera. I might well try a dating site as I have no other option really. I am also thinking of finding an adult evening class. I have to do something as I am unable to approach strangers and make conversation at this stage. Also going places alone seems to be a no no. I kind of stand out anyway because I am very tall and my body language would be awkward.

I know that my thinking is distorted in part and I have to work on this. The thing that really frustrates me is that all of this anxiety and shame does not exist. It is just an idea in my head the dominates my life and has caused me to miss out on my teens and 20s. Anyway, thanks for your suggestions. It means a lot to get your opinion.

big-mike1977 01-15-2009 06:36 PM

Re: Social anxiety / shame - is there any way out of this hell?
Hi Jonathon, I hope you can do something about your situation in the next few years. Age is just a number, but there is something about hitting 30 that stinks. It's the age where lots of people are either getting married or divorced, or thinking about kids. To be at this age and have nothing to show feels bad. I would give anything to have a qualification now, but I should have anticipated this even more when I was your age. It is easy to think that things will just come right with relationships, but your achievements and the other aspects of your life all seem to play a role in who you are. I also don't like talking on the phone in front of people. As I mentioned above I am thinking about internet dating.

I agree that we need to love ourselves, only I have no concept of this. I hate myself for my flaws and things I do wrong, but I just don't feel anything towards myself positively. I just opened the pages of my John Bradshaw book last night (haven't read it in years) and he was talking about rejecting yourself. I think that is what I have done. I stuggle with self acceptance, and self worth. They just don't resonate with me. Somehow I see a relationship as the only way to fulfillment and self esteem, which I know is a bad idea. Why I have been unable to function to my full potential (intellectually and at work - possibly even socially) without a relationship while others can I do not know.

I wish I didn't compare myself to others and the "cool" people, but I do. I went to the gym last week in the hope of feeling better about myself but came out feeling terrible after seeing all the attractive people socialising, while I was the fairly slim guy on the sidelines. I also find that being around certain "cool" people, even in the street makes me feel inferior. I must be easily brainwashed by the media. Or maybe it is the fact I know I am at the bottom of the food chain in terms of class, money, where I live etc. I don't know why social anxiety needed to pick me. I would have been in a bad enough situation. Anyway, I feel bad that you are in debt. I hope you can get a good job as that is the last thing you need.

Trixibel 01-15-2009 08:48 PM

Re: Social anxiety / shame - is there any way out of this hell?
Mike, I bet when you're on the street you don't look any different from those 'cool' people it's just your mindset that distinguishes you. We are our own worst enemies. No one thinks we're inferior except ourselves (and our families!!)

I haven't 'fulfilled my potential' either. I qualified as a teacher with honours but once I was in the classroom I was useless. Teaching is a career where you need massive self confidence. Someone should have told me that before I started. I look great on paper but I couldn't control the kids. I wanted them to like me. With social phobia we want people to like us and we expect and dread rejection. At school I won scholarships and yet I'm 40 and I'm doing a boring admin job one day a week and medical transcription from home!

You need to be an environment where people view you with no prior prejudice. Our families look at us as being flawed in some way...I was the 'low achiever' in are the one with no relationships in yours...I always felt like a failure in the eyes of my family but within other environments I didn't, if you get my meaning. we can't allow our families to dictate how we feel about or view ourselves but at the same time I don't know how we stop it.

I think your ssris will help you feel more confident and less sensitive and anxious. Social phobia is an anxiety disorder after all so it stands to reason that once the anxiety is helped then everything should get easier.

big-mike1977 01-16-2009 04:45 AM

Re: Social anxiety / shame - is there any way out of this hell?
[QUOTE=Trixibel;3851029]I haven't 'fulfilled my potential' either. I qualified as a teacher with honours but once I was in the classroom I was useless. Teaching is a career where you need massive self confidence. Someone should have told me that before I started. I look great on paper but I couldn't control the kids. [/QUOTE]

I had the same issue. I was originally studying towards going into business and finance and actually had ambition at one point. Gradually this died away in my early 20s as I became unhappy with my life. When I eventually got a decent office job I realised that my studying would have been futile anyway. I did not have the communication skills, confidence, or assertiveness around other people that I would need. But as you said nobody thinks to mention that when you get careers advice.

I hope the SSRIs help, but I don't want them to hide my feelings either. For years I wanted to feel frustrated and motivate myself to change, and now I feel that way. It's just that I am in some kind of a quandary where I cannot progress. Walking down the street trying to make eye contact with people or be around people is a big change for me, but it feels so little and detached from real socialising. In a way it is more frustrating because I can be around people, yet be unable to communicate with them.

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