Overcoming Severe Social Anxiety

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Chris emailed me with the following question. I originally planned to include it in a reader mailbag, but I felt such strong sympathy for his situation and others in that type of situation that my answer to him kept growing and growing until I realized that it was a full post all its own.

I am 34/ male. I feel very awkward in public. I don’t read books, I think what others might think why I am reading this book. I don’t browse stuff on my iTouch as I think others might look at what I’m browsing/ reading. The only thing I can do is: quickly browse my iTouch playlist, put my headphones on and listen. I even turn the brightness down in my iTouch so others can’t see anything (just in case!). I have always been like this as far as I can remember. This causes me to waste a lot of time and I want to change this. What do you recommend? Any courses I should take or books I should read or sites I should visit?

Chris, you’re clearly suffering from a severe case of social anxiety. I’ve suffered from it in the past as well and I have multiple friends who have the same thing in various degrees of severity.

Social anxiety is incredibly painful – and it’s also incredibly costly. By being so reclusive in social situations, you miss out on countless chances to interact with people, build friendships and relationships, and grow as a person.

I overcame my own social anxiety mostly through a ton of practice and a lot of failure. Among the first things I did was work on creating a false appearance of confidence in public places. I didn’t feel confident at all – I felt like I wanted to do much like you do, hide somewhere and reveal as little as possible about myself.

The first thing you need to think about is what is the worst case scenario and is that worst case really so bad. I found that most of the time, I was being reclusive and afraid for no good reason. The worst thing that can happen if someone sees what you’re listening to on your iTouch is that they just think “I don’t like that music” and they move on with their life. In the end, that’s almost indistinguishable from what’s going on now – and arguably better than looking like the guy who’s being ultra-secretive with his iTouch. On the other hand, the best result is someone peeks, likes what they see, and says so, giving you the opportunity to meet and relate to someone else.

For most little things like that – what book you’re reading or what music you’re listening to – there’s almost no social drawback from letting others see what you’re reading or listening to as compared to intentionally trying to hide it. Just simply imagine watching someone else who is just sitting there reading a book or listening to music or someone trying to hide what they’re reading or listening to.

In fact, that points towards the first tactic of getting over social anxiety (at least for me): change your attitude. Look around you. Watch what they’re doing. Are people being condemned for what they read on the bus or what music they’re listening to or what clothes they’re wearing or what they’re saying (within reason – I mean, there’s probably condemnation for the lunatic yelling on the bus)? No, there’s not. It’s seen as normal – likely more normal than the person trying to hide everything about them.

You’re not perfect, but no one else is, either. Every single person in the world makes social gaffes. Guess what? Your life won’t end if you do, too. In fact, most of the time, social gaffes end up being a positive – they’re endearing to others who recognize that the other person is human and makes mistakes just like they do.

Start small. For you, not hiding your iPod Touch might be a first success, or openly reading a book that interests you. Next, make it your mission to say hello to at least one person you don’t know each day. Or two. Or three.

Move on from there to watercooler-type discussions. Focus on actually going to such informal social gatherings and listening. Encourage yourself to make one comment a day – focus on that. You don’t have to be the talkative one, but just focus on that one small step.

For me, the thing that helped a lot was participating in a social group. In your case, the best option for that would probably be volunteer work, like working on a Habitat for Humanity house. These types of situations foster the types of simple and easy social interactions that you’re striving to practice. A day building a Habitat house not only helps the world, but it helps you break through your social anxiety.

Have something to say. Read the news each day and be aware of what’s going on politically and culturally around you. You don’t have to have mountains of arcane knowledge, just know what the top headline or two of the day is and something about it, or the top sporting event of the day. Do you want to know a big reason why sports are popular? It gives people something to talk about in uncharted social situations.

Ask questions. If you don’t know what to say to someone – and I certainly don’t sometimes – a question usually works very well. Something simple always works, like “do you know what the weather is going to be like today?” or “did the Cubs manage to win yesterday?” or “That’s a beautiful coat. I’d love to buy one like it for my sister. Where did you get it?” You give the other person something easy to talk about, they’re likely to eventually respond with a question, and you’ve started a conversation.

Seek out someone else who is shy. For the longest time, this really, really helped me in social situations and I’ve built a few lifelong friendships out of it. When you’re at an event with a lot of people, look for the other person or two who look like they don’t want to be there. Go up to them and flatly say, “Man, I don’t do well in these kinds of social situations.” Then, follow that with a question and you’ve probably found someone to talk to, someone relieved to not have to come up with something to talk about.

I do not recommend turning to psychological assistance for this. Your question comes off as someone who has some social awkwardness, not as someone who has deep underlying issues. You already have the desire to overcome that awkwardness, and there are a lot of personal steps you can take to start overcoming it on your own without psychopharmacology and expensive bills. Only seek professional help if you’ve tried in earnest many times to overcome this and failed to make any progress at all.

Little steps make all the difference here. It takes a long time to overcome social anxiety, but the rewards of overcoming it are great in almost every aspect of your life: socially, professionally, personally, financially, and otherwise.

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131 thoughts on “Overcoming Severe Social Anxiety

  1. I have a pretty big problem with this, as well. I tend to hide behind my dogs and never go out socially.

    When I moved to where I’m current living, I found out there is a dog training club. I signed up for a few classes, then decided I wanted to be a member and help the club move forward. I met more people who maybe weren’t outgoing – but we were all incredibly passionate about our dogs.

    Just finding a group of people like that helped me, and I went step by step – over the past two years I’ve gotten better and I teach a small obedience glass one night a week. That small class has helped my public speaking skills so much!

    And best of all… I’ve made a lot of friends I never would have met otherwise.

  2. Really Trent? From financial blogging to now telling someone to NOT seek help from an expert?

    Chris may have some longstanding internal dialog to overcome that isn’t even mentioned here. Telling someone to basically just buck up and do better for themselves may not be enough.

    I had some serious social issues before so I know about what I am talking about.

  3. My initial reaction to Chris’s comment – given the severity of his fear – was that he likely needs to speak to a professional. If employed, perhaps his company has an EAP; if yes, I would urge him to take advantage of it.

    And Chris, please hang in there. You’re by no means alone, and many people in your situation have conquered their fears.

  4. This is very poor advice Trent – he may need help and only a professional will be able to diagnose whether what he has can be overcome without exterior help.

  5. Well, to be fair Trent said to try and fix it himself and if it doesn’t work THEN go to a professional. I can get on board with that. But it does seem like something he may be able to get psychological help from to me. I can’t fathom not reading a book because people would judge me (unless its something with a bright pink cover..I guess that would make me a little shy lol).

  6. I agree with the above commenters. The underlying paranoia and narcissism seem to suggest an issue more than “try these techniques and get over it” social phobia. I think an expert consultation may be an appropriate first step.

  7. Trent does recommend seeking professional help at the end of his last point. He is just making sure that Chris has tried the small steps before taking one big step, both emotionally and possibly financially if his workplace does not offer any benefits of that sort.

    It seems in line with Trent’s process not to jump straight to the conclusion that the biggest step will make the most sense without first trying out simple and small steps first. He is just breaking down a large problem…sever social anxiety…into small manageable steps. In the long run, using small steps over time seems to work better than taking large steps that might stick.

  8. Uh, yeah, professional help is not some extreme, last resort thing – if you’re feeling stuck, good professional help can be a way to move past that and you don’t need to be in the depths of despair or completely out of options first. Not to mention, we don’t really know enough in this letter to say one way or another.

  9. My heart goes out to you Chris I have a form of social anxiety and it is very lonely and isolating. I have tried a lot of the tips mentioned here but some of us send out a vibe that people don’t find appealing. I have been targeted for abuse because of it and it has caused me to isolate myself to the point that is profoundly lonely with no friends and no family. I wish you the best of luck overcoming this and if you find something that works please let me know as I wouldn’t wish this on anyone. We’re social animals so isolation is especially painful.

  10. Seriously, what is the downside to seeking out some help with this? Is this some kind of midwestern, be a manly-man kind of thing, or what? He says he’s always been like this, so how can talking to a therapist or someone like that possibly be a bad thing? If nothing else, it’s good practice for him, greasing the wheels so to speak, getting him used to talking, getting some of the initial awkwardness out. And if there are bigger issues, maybe some Asberger’s or a more deep-seated social anxiety disorder, something that needs more intense therapy, why make him suffer further without professional help? Trent, you’re always advocating people seeking out appropriate professional advice, so I don’t understand your reluctance in this case, unless it is some kind of overall constitutional negative attitude towards mental health professionals in general. I think that would be an appropriate resource for him and could relieve what is obviously a source of distress and suffering for him. Of course, only if he wants this and is willing to work for it. But Trent, you’re not a clinical professional, so please don’t recommend that he NOT seek out psychological assistance. That may be the best thing that ever happened to him.

  11. Trent, if you’re not a medical professional, you should not be diagnosing this person with any sort of condition or insinuating that they’re just “shy”. It can be quite harmful, especially to people like Chris, who may be unlikely to seek out medical/psychological help. I am also someone in recovery from severe social anxiety, and going to the doctor may be a big, scary step but it is an important one.

    Chris, I get the feeling that what you’re experiencing can be overcome with the help of quality medical care, but only a professional can give you the advice that you need. You are not alone, and a good doctor will not judge you for this. Your medical team has your back, and so does the community here.

  12. I’m going to chime in wondering why you’re stigmatizing professional psychological help, Trent. It’s a valid (and good option).

    The underlying issue here is that Chris needs to realize that he is not the focal point of other people’s worlds. Other folks don’t pay as much attention to him as they think he does, and if they judge his taste in books, music, or clothes, it’s only on a superficial level, and what the hell does it matter?

    It’s all very easy to say that, though, and it’s another thing to live it, especially if you’ve spent a lifetime worrying what other people think. Trent is right that small steps are the way to get started, but Chris may need professional help. I’d absolutely recommend that he seek out the book Feeling Good by David Burns. In fact, he ought to buy a copy rather than borrow one from the library. Read it. (In public, even!) Do the exercises. It helped me, and it’s helped many others.

  13. 1.- Psychologists are not allowed to use psychopharmacology. Psycologists are not Medics, psyachiatrics are.

    2.- I agree with DivaJean, It’s very important that people seek help only from people with proper training. But I agree with Trent’s idea that in some situations people can overcome that without the visit to the psychologist. But this type of cases (maybe like Trent’s)aren’t really forms of social anxiety, if it’s caused by specific emotions is not really social anxiety.

    3.- Cronic social anxiety (also known as social phobia)is a DISORDER, so it must be treated by a medic and the medical treatment can be supported by psychological therapy (but the later alone should never be considered as a complete solution).

    This disorder is a very common one, but a lot of people are afraid to ask for help, mainly because the consecuences of the disorder and also the common (and WRONG) idea that this kind of problems are just a lack of self control and that medication is not the best way to deal with it.

    It’s sad to see a big influence to talk about critical topics without being informed.

    Chris is really old to be helped with psychological therapy, and watching the way he wants to change that behaviour, I believe that it’s not the first time he tries to improve himself but on previous experiences he failed after a short time.

    I identify that behaviour with myself, it could mean that an OCD (obssesive-compulsive disease) might be present.

    In my case, the number of times I tried to change and improve myself was very big. Some times I felt full of energy and it was going well, but after some time the cycle turned and the energy went away.

    I really really recommend to seek help from a medic. You cannot help yourself with willpower and possitive thought if you can’t think clearly enough to see the real world.

  14. I have some typos in my comment there. I hope my meaning is clear. Biggest issue? I meant to say: “Chris needs to realize that he is not the focal point of other people’s worlds; other folks don’t pay as much attention to him as he thinks they do…”

    That’s what I get for typing and talking to my wife at the same time! :)

  15. Someone who can’t even read a book in public for fear of being judged about that book needs a little more help than “snap out of it!” which is basically what Trent is saying.

    Nor is needing to seek professional mental help the worst thing to ever happen to a person. You’d go to a doctor if you were physically sick, this should be the same thing.

  16. Trent,

    I am a big fan of your blog. I don’t think that I have ever posted a comment on you sit before but I felt compelled to after reading your advice to Chris. I would highly recommend that he seek professional help. I did not think the tone of this email is a bit more than just social anxiety. He can also try some of your suggestions in the mean time but I would like to see him discuss this with his family physician and get his doc’s opinion on this. If counseling is a turn off what about an experienced life coach? No one should have to go this alone–there is too much help to be had out there.

  17. Trent

    Add me to the list of people displeased with your advice. You are way out of your level of expertise to make such suggestions.

    Two points in particular

    1. You say he should not seek psychological help and then start talking about psycho pharmacology. Psycho pharmacology is by definition not psychological help it is psychiatric help, and must be prescribed by a physician.

    2. The advice that you have given is basically a very elementary layman’s version of cognitive behavioral techniques. What possible harm could it do to the reader to go to someone with real expertise in cognitive behavioral therapy?

  18. When I was in college I never got a job because I felt too awkward asking for one. Social anxiety can be costly.

  19. You missed the mark on this one. It’s one thing to offer some ideas to try on one’s own, but to explicitly advise against professional assistance is irresponsible and potentially dangerous. I think the problem reads as one that does involve “deep underlying issues,” rather than just, “some social awkwardness.”

    J.D. makes a good point. For the most part, people aren’t worried about you, they’re worried about themselves, just like you are. Think about it – do you go through every day peeking at strangers’ ipods, or making strong judgments about them based on their reading material? Probably not (if so, that might be another issue to explore…), and neither are most other people.

  20. Sorry to say it but this advise is both flippant and arrogant. Unless this is your area of expertise, it isn’t wise to come across as such. This person needs the advise of someone who can help. While I’m sure your position of having “been there and done that” provides helpful information, it is still a little shortsighted and a whole lot arrogant to assume your guidance outweighs that of a professional. I really love this blog but the increasing know-it-all attitude just goes too far.

  21. Chris is obsessed with strangers disapproving of his choices and judging him accordingly. He needs to be cognizant that no one cares what he reads or listens to, the throng around him is hardly aware of his existance unless something unusual about his behavior or appearance attracts attention.

    Sessions with a therapist would go a long way to resolving this issue. Probably a better alternative than seeking out shy people to discuss sports and politics while flashing an iPod at the water cooler.

  22. Sheesh. First Trent will not go to the doctor OR recommend using the internet as a resource for medical information. Now he doesn’t recommend going to a psychologist for social anxiety. It sounds like he is saying “I got over it without therapy that means you must be able to as well.” Thats a pretty unhelpful attitude. There is something called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy which would be EXTREMELY helpful for someone in this situation. From the NAMI website “Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) focuses on patterns of thinking that are maladaptive and the beliefs that underlie such thinking. For example, a person who is depressed may have the belief, “I’m worthless,” and a person with a phobia may have the belief, “I am in danger.” While the person in distress likely holds such beliefs with great conviction, with a therapist’s help, the individual is encouraged to view such beliefs as hypotheses rather than facts and to test out such beliefs by running experiments. Furthermore, those in distress are encouraged to monitor and log thoughts that pop into their minds (called “automatic thoughts”) in order to enable them to determine what patterns of biases in thinking may exist and to develop more adaptive alternatives to their thoughts.”

  23. This type of problem sounds like a form of paranoia, with some OCD and maybe Aspergers symptoms. Not just “oh, its a little uncomfortable to talk to people”. Talking to a professional can be a great help, in a safe and comfortable place. Esp is this has been going on for a long time, it isn’t a quick fix.

  24. I think I can understand where Trent’s coming from about the professional help.
    I am painfully shy, and have always had a lot of trouble talking to people. When reading in public, I’m always *very* conscious of other people around me – and I always try to hold the book with the cover discretely hidden. In addition, my mother has believed since I was about 12 or so that I have Asperger’s.

    I’d talked to therapists a few times about depression. For a long time, I really wanted to go to a professional about the shyness and to get a diagnosis (or not) about the Asperger’s. My family talked me out of it, and now I’m glad they did. Why? Because not doing that forced me to face the fact that I am who I am, having Asperger’s or not doesn’t change anything about me, and only I can change anything about me. I know that sounds corny, but it is true. If I had gone to see someone, I think the best case would’ve been discovering that (with a lighter wallet). The worst case… maybe I would’ve come to a different conclusion. Maybe if I had a diagnosis, I would just say “well, I have Asperger’s, what do you expect?”.

    Since then, I have made a huge conscious effort to improve. I talked to people close to me about social rules. I started forcing myself to connect to others – making some comment to a stranger at the busstop or in the checkout line, or even just making eye contact and smiling at someone across the bus (yeah, that’s still acceptable here, not usually taken as a come-on or being crazy). I still hate talking to people I don’t know or asking for things, but I know that I can do it when I need to. I’m even getting better at finding the wallflower and talking to them (that even gained me a wonderful new instant friend just last weekend.) And I’m now considering joining Toastmasters.

    Maybe professional help is what Chris needs, but maybe it’s not. Possibly he knows the answer to that – we certainly don’t. But I don’t think professional help is necessarily always the best first choice. Perhaps Chris can try some of these things (if he hasn’t already), maybe it will work and he’ll build his confidence like I did. Maybe it won’t work, and then he can see someone.

    Chris, if you’re reading, Good Luck with whatever you decide to do. Only you can know what is right for you.

  25. I have known several people that have had that kind of social anxiety and none of them were to the point of needing professional help imo. Most cases were brought on by some sort of traumatic event – the kid who gets made fun of for what hes wearing/doing/whatever. I myself even have had times in my life where I felt like everything I did was being scrutinized.

    If this person wants to seek a counselor, then more power to them. If they do not, I suggest a few steps
    1) Surround yourself with supportive people
    2) Take steps to increase your self confidence (ex: getting in better shape)
    3) As Trent mentioned, start with a ‘false’ sense of confidence almost like role playing. When you are confident in something, it puts people in your reality, not theirs.
    4) Remember that most scrutiny that comes from people comes from their own either insecurity or ignorance.

    Im reminded of a time I was playing ultimate frisbee with a group of people when some people when several men from a fraternity approached and were cracking jokes. I walked over to them and asked if any of them were athletic enough to try to play. They ended up playing with us and not only did they enjoy it, they felt really dumb after for mocking something they knew nothing about.

  26. Actually, I think that professional counseling for a quality of life problem that sounds this pervasive would be a good use of anyone’s money. I’m big on DIY, but even I hire plumbers, electricians, and mechanics when I need to.

    Some therapists will do sliding-scale fees based on your income, too.

    Chris: When you’re already feeling like people are going to judge you, it’s pretty hard to pick up the phone and make that first appointment. I hope you’ll do it anyway; having someone coaching you in person makes changing a lifetime habit a whole lot easier.

  27. Your response seems quite confused. You start off by saying:

    “Chris, you’re clearly suffering from a severe case of social anxiety”

    but then you say:

    “I do not recommend turning to psychological assistance for this. Your question comes off as someone who has some social awkwardness, not as someone who has deep underlying issues.”

    You come across as actively discouraging someone from seeking professional help is wrong. I wonder if you intended your response to read that strongly.

  28. Sorry, that last paragraph should have read:

    You come across as actively discouraging someone from seeking professional help. I wonder if you intended your response to read that strongly.

  29. As someone who suffers from SA, I can totally relate to how Chris feels except I take an opposite approach in public by displaying my interests in the hope that someone will notice and approach me.

    I was really enjoying the article until the following asinine statement:

    “I do not recommend turning to psychological assistance for this.”

    Trent, please stick to the financial topics. By making such ridiculous statements, you’re only adding to the stigma that many people face when making the very personal decision to seek professional help with mental issues.

  30. I have trouble with social anxiety myself, but the biggest thing that helps me is knowing that (unless I’m surrounded by teenagers) everyone has their own life to worry about. They won’t care what books I’m reading or whatever. My life doesn’t revolve around other peoples.

    Also, I tried to take the easy way out and seek pharmaceutical help without effort of my own and not only did it not help, but it actually gave me nightmares, ofcourse, everybody and every medicine is different.

  31. This is all great advice. Yes, every situation is different. Will leave this info because it can’t hurt to try this.

    With the social anxiety — I’ve been there, it’s horrible, and I’m NOT going back again.

    I had begun drinking in water heaping tablespoon amounts of L-Glutamine amino acid Powder for my skin health.

    I was shocked to find myself friendly and relaxed around people in a rock venue. Never in my life…

    Just a month before I was unable to make a sound to say hello to down to earth folks in a friendly acoustic music venue I was familiar with.

    For me, anyway, the anxiety was just symptoms of my body alway being totally full of cortisol. (stress hormone) The powder feels like it relaxes my muscles. Works on my husband too. Fast.

    And then the constant social and everything-else-anxiety became a non-issue. Nothing is bothering me. I could have used this info 40 years ago. Hope it helps someone else. It’s affordable if purchased in bulk. At least you’ll get compliments on your skin.

  32. Speaking from experience, I don’t recommend seeing a psychologist for this particular problem either. It often ends up being an expensive waste of time.

    I started seeking therapy for this problem in college, thankfully much of it was free back then through the campus health center. They will point out your negative thought patterns, but telling someone that these thoughts exist do little to change them. For that kind of help, you are better off spending $15 at Amazon for a social anxiety workbook rather than paying $$$ for a psychologist.

    That’s where Trent’s advice is sound: the only way you’re going to get over social anxiety is through action and exposure. The drugs they give you can be costly and ineffective. They’ve put me on everything from Paxil to Risperdal and none of it was effective at changing my thoughts or my habits. Because instead of looking at exposure and action as the way to go, they’ll just give you another, more expensive drug to try. And then you think that maybe you’re not getting better just because you have a bad therapist, so you move on to a “better”, more expensive one and the cycle continues. If you do find a good one and are actually seeing changes in your quality of life, it’s because they’ve given you advice somewhat like Trent’s and you’ve actively done it.

    I’ve found most therapy to be a feel-good but ineffective treatment to this disorder. I’m not saying suck it up and deal, but the frugalista in me does not recommend spending a lot of money on therapy and drugs, it can become an expensive, time-wasting cycle. After 5 years of therapy and drugs, I was not cured, nor anywhere closer to it. It was only years later, when I put myself out there and took risks that things began to change for the better.

  33. Geez, Trent. First legal advice, now medical advice? You’re just looking for a lawsuit, aren’t you?

    Also, to my fellow commenters: Many of you have said that Trent’s advice stems from an attitude of “I got over it without therapy & drugs, and so can you.”

    Has anyone here ever met Trent? Maybe he didn’t get over it. Just sayin’!

    Trent, I still love your blog, but maybe you should just stick to the money stuff.

  34. Chris,

    First off, you are not alone. Everybody has fears of how people perceive them; they all just feel this to different degrees. Don’t let all of the comments on this page get to you. What you are feeling is more common than you think.

    Second, I’m not qualified to offer you any advice here. Most people who write stuff online probably aren’t qualified in any way; they are just giving their personal opinions.

    Third, seeking professional help is NOT admitting failure. I firmly believe in letting people follow their own path. If a professional helps you, great. If you feel that it isn’t helping you, don’t keep going.

  35. I have to add my voices to the crowd – the advice to not seek out professional help is terrible and bewildering.

  36. “I do not recommend turning to psychological assistance for this…. You already have the desire to overcome that awkwardness, and there are a lot of personal steps you can take to start overcoming it on your own without psychopharmacology and expensive bills.”

    It’s possible to get help without major expenses:

    1) His company’s EAP
    2) A family member’s EAP (anyone with any relation to my mother gets 5 free visits, for example)
    3) College and universities often offer services to their students.
    4) Support groups:
    http://www.socialanxietysupport.com/
    http://www.anxietyzone.com/

    I broke my downward spiral of anxiety with 2 visits to a counselor. Other people need more, others less. If someone needs help, however, they should seek it. Period.

  37. I think the do/don’t go for professional help is a bit over the top. At this point, Chris is only asking for information on courses, books or websites. While his acxiety is bothersome, it doesn’t appear to affect his life in a substantial way.

  38. I have to agree with the folks who are encouraging Chris to ignore your advice and speak to a professional.

    I have found that talking to an objective, trained individual can help you to put together a solution much more quickly than muddling through on your own. I spent several months struggling before I finally made an appointment and within a very short time, all sorts of puzzle pieces were falling into place. All because I went to someone who asked the right questions and helped me to figure out the path that was right for me.

    I appreciate that these steps worked for you, Trent. There’s a good chance that that professional will recommend some of the same actions. But just because this worked for you doesn’t mean it will work for Chris.

    Chris, if you’re reading this, please don’t be afraid to seek out professional help. Josh (#24) is spot on so I won’t reiterate what he’s said. I will add that sometimes it takes more than one try to find the right professional so if the first one you try doesn’t fit, see if you can talk to someone else.

  39. You can get professional advice without being obligated to continue with professional treatment, it seems to me. An honest professional, in any field, should be able to give you a straight answer to the question, “Is this something I can deal with on my own, or do I really need your help?” And an expert who sees you face to face should be in a much better position to answer that question than is a random internet person (Trent or any of the rest of us) who has one whole paragraph’s worth of information about you.

  40. Huh. A good view of the extreme viewpoints is found by reading #19: Chris may have OCD and paranoia and Aspergers, and then #20: you are a unique person who possibly does not require a label/diagnosis and you do have the power to make the necessary changes in your life.
    That many of the posters are shocked at the advice that Chris work on his problems before visiting a professional just demonstrates how we have been trained to leave everything to experts and how far we have strayed from accepting that “normal” can look very different from what our cultural training (read: 12 y+ of institutional schooling + mainstream media) has instilled in us.

  41. Chris states, “I have always been like this for as long as I can remember.” Behavior that is THAT entrenched usually needs professional help to overcome. However, links and sites can be of great value in figuring out what kind of help one should seek. They can also get you thinking deeply about your circumstances, triggers, related issues, etc. Most of us (I’m assuming, based on my own experience) get so stuck in our hole that we can’t dig out by ourselves. Everyone can use a little help sometimes.

    Trent, your advice came off sounding vaguely like “It’s all in your head. If you THINK hard enough, you can solve it.” Well, not everyone has IT brains. (I know, I’m married to a systems analyst/programmer.) I know you have a disclaimer on your site, but you really should stick to PF advice.

  42. “Only seek professional help if you’ve tried in earnest many times to overcome this and failed to make any progress at all.”

    Seems like perfectly sound advice to me given Chris’ email. Sounds like he WANTS to work through his issues on his own. Trent didn’t say to avoid outside help at all costs.

  43. Being a mental health professional I would strongly encourage you to get help. This a disabling disorder, you can feel helpless and hopeless, but the good news is that there is help for it. I would look for a therapist/counselor that specializes in Dialectical Behavior Therapy. I have used it with many of my clients and have had some great success with individuals overcoming both depression and anxiety disorders. I wish you the best in finding calm and peace.

  44. From what I understand from the question:
    He is looking for ways to help himself first. (Asking about books and websites.) It sounds like he is trying to help himself. Which I think is a good first step. Then if he needs later, he can get help from a professional if he feels like he needs it.

    From my personal experience:
    I was a really shy growing up, especially in High School. I didn’t overcome it until I graduated and started working. I found that my job, a cashier at a small store, made me come out of my shell. Now I chit chat with anyone, even if I feel uncomfortable. I just pretend. Take deep breaths to calm down and don’t fidget. Eye contact is important also. I still focus on that, look them in the eye when you are speaking, it makes you a much stronger person. They will never know the difference! ;)

  45. Trent – Stick to the financial advice. Here’s why:

    I have my own social anxiety, low self-esteem and other psychological issues, and it *never* made me feel better when I would reach out to someone to let him/her know my troubles and in response he or she would tell me how they struggled with the same things and describe how he/she overcame them.

    Instead of feeling encouraged by their stories, I hhad the opposite reaction – I felt even worse. I would tell myself that because these people were able to deal with their issues, I must be terribly flawed and lacking in self-control.

    But you really can’t compare your situation to another’s because everyone feels things differently. What is traumatic for one person is not for another; there are so many factors that come into play when a person develops these kind of anxiety issues, and it’s really not helpful to offer your own story of what you consider to be a “similar” situation” when the reality is that it’s actually not that similar.

    Chris – I hope you seek professional help. It’s made a world of difference in my life.

  46. This is beyond shyness. If Chris at 34 has not been able to overcome his very serious and debilitating social phobia, he is not going to do it on his own. The only thing that can help him is psychological (and maybe psychiatric) counseling. Shame on you, Trent, for discouraging him to do exactly that!

    I know that this is your blog and you do what you please, but your unqualified advice on a subject you know nothing about can really do harm. Why don’t you stick to personal finance, where you usually shine?

  47. Trent raised an interesting point about “Seeking out other shy people.” I actually disagree with his advice on this one. Telling a shy person to find other shy friends is like telling a drug addict to go make friends with other drug addicts when they’re trying to quit! Since overcoming these problems is all about finding what works for YOU, I wanted to chime in with another alternative that you could try.

    It can actually be helpful to seek out OUTGOING friends or “wingmen” INSTEAD of shy ones. Try to identify a person around you who seems like a good conversationalist – comfortable talking about themselves, but knows when to ask others about themselves too, or knows when to compliment them. Then ask that person something about themselves, like, “I hear you love to read. What did you think of this book by so-and-so?” The idea is just to get the conversation rolling with someone who knows how to have one.

    I think this is better than sticking with a shy person because a good conversationalist is more at ease in social situations, and can help you “break the ice” when you’re not sure how to approach people. You can learn a lot just from observing how they talk to you and how they talk to other people. Plus, they may not even notice or make a big deal of your shyness. The trick is to not “compare” yourself and beat yourself up, but to learn from their good example and try their strategies next time you’re in a social situation. You might even say, “Wow, I’ve noticed you are really great at getting to know people. How do you do that?” Or you might just observe what they say in the course of conversation.

    I am a shy person myself, and I honestly feel very uncomfortable around other shy, socially awkward people. I can’t think of anything worse than going into an awkward situation and compounding that with having to talk to another person who is also feeling socially awkward. I mean, it’s like the blind leading the blind there! At least for me, not only do I still feel shy, but I feel even more awkward because of that person’s shyness, and I’m dealing with MORE problems than I started with.

    So, instead, I seek out friends who are naturally a bit more outgoing and talkative than me. This has helped me a lot in social situations.

    Yeah, and professional help is not the stigma that Trent makes it out to be. A little bit of money might be worth it if it saves your well-being, if it doesn’t totally break the bank. What’s really more valuable – your quality of life or some numbers in an account?

    And if you can’t “change your attitude” at the drop of a hat…seriously. It’s OK. How many people do you know that just change overnight? Nobody. No one fundamentally changes without baby steps and lots of practice.

  48. Add me to the chorus of people who think that telling someone not to get professional help is a bad call, Trent. Sure, Chris might be able to handle this on his own, but seeking psychological help is already incredibly difficult for many people, and if it’s what’s called for in this situation then your advice just makes taking that step that much harder.

    And there are many ways to read Chris’ letter. He may just be a little awkward. He might have Asperger’s, as others have mentions, or OCD, or broader anxiety problems, or the social anxiety may be crippling and not just an annoyance (that sort of anxiety would be much worse for a New Yorker commuting by subway every day than for a suburban person working from home, for example). Making a psychological evaluation (which is what telling someone they don’t need help amounts to) based on a few sentences in an email is pretty bad practice.

    Also, Trent, please remember that when you offer advice in a blog post, you’re not just advising the person who sent in the question. Based on these comments, it’s clear that a number of your readers have dealt with these issues in their lives, and some who are in positions similar to Chris’ may be taking your advice to him into account. Blanket advise to handle social anxiety yourself and not go to a professional seems irresponsible, quite frankly.

  49. I’ve had social anxiety for many years. The biggest help for me was Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. I agree that Trent was giving a laymen’s version of it. Good advice but I do agree that a professional could help walk him through the different steps of CBT in a more detailed way. Also, another HUGE help for me was breathing exercises. It is amazing how much anxiety goes down when you learn to do deep, chest breathing (even in public). I feel Trent was stressing in this post to not run out and plop down money on meds, etc. without taking some small steps first. I agree with that. If he got the CBT and it worked, then he will be much better and his finances will not be impacted as much as medication dependence. However, medication could be necessary based on a professional’s opinion.

  50. I will join many commenters here in saying that I disagree strongly with this advice. I absolutely cringed when I saw you diagnose Chris’ problem. Diagonsis is a protected act in most jurisdictions because it can have serious implications. There could be a lot going on that Chris didn’t mention in his e-mail. Even though I am a professional who has the ability to diagnose mental illness, I won’t even dare hazard a guess, because it would be imprudent to do so without all of the information.

    I’m not necessarily saying that Chris shouldn’t try to help himself, but advising against professional help is, frankly, horrible advice. Talk about stigmatizing those who do seek help! Meds may not be necessary, as many have commented that CBT can help, but to specifically tell someone who, at first blush, seems quite impaired by his thoughts/fears to avoid seeking help is just appalling.

    I haven’t always agreed with everything you say about money and life Trent, but I’ve always respected the way you’ve shared your thoughts. Today I’m still shaking my head. Just because you’ve experienced some of the things Chris describes experiencing, doesn’t mean you’re qualified to provide this type of advice. I want to believe you’re coming from a place of compassion, but you really missed the mark here. Not knowing what you don’t know is really dangerous when it comes to mental health issues.

  51. I’ve never dealt with an anxiety disorder, but my husband has. While I was of the mindset of “Just set your mind to changing the bad situation, and it will be ok”, it was not physically possible for my husband to do that, and my attitude about it just made his anxiety worse.

    I highly encourage Chris to speak to a professional–whether a mental health professional or even his family doctor. Having professional care has helped my spouse a great deal…where dealing with his problems on his own only made everything worse.

  52. Three things I’d like to point out as the spouse of someone who’s had to wrestle with his own demons – 1) Therapy tends to be expensive and usually NOT covered by insurance, there are good therapist and bad therapists and sometimes it’s traumatic when a therapist moves on, and 2) there is still, sadly, a stigma associated with needing that kind of help. No matter what hell you’ve been through and how people say they understand, they don’t. Try being a guy in the South in an industrial business, and getting medical help on the cheap.

  53. Morita Therapy would be SO helpful with that… that’s their specialty

    Check out a book called “Constructive Living”, by David Reynolds

    My brother has been greatly helped, if not cured, by this. It is very straight-forward and makes perfect sense. Check it out!

  54. Also, Trent, really, shame on you for making a “diagnosis” of social anxiety. Are you a psychologist or psychiatrist? Are you trained in interviewing and diagnosing patients? Did you have the DSM manual in front of you as you wrote this email?

    Because I’m sure a lot of people who went to school for a very long time and devoted a lot of energy into becoming trained experts in this are feeling pretty annoyed at you right now. It is one thing to say, “you might want to find out more about this.” It is another to assume the role of a trained professional here, and yes, that is what you did when you told Chris what he was “clearly” suffering from. Psychology is not just a bunch of people sitting around and taking guesses. A lot of research has gone into when and how diagnoses get made. Please don’t disrespect the field.

    I’m not totally sure Chris’s issue even fits into the category of social anxiety or social phobia issues as you describe. It sounds like the focus is more on what happens “in public” not necessarily ALL social situations. Chris might look into Generalized Anxiety Disorder, specific phobias, OCD, or other conditions that people have mentioned, to understand for himself what’s going on.

    It sounds like what you did was you used Chris’s serious situation as a flimsy springboard for talking about your OWN PROBLEMS. It’s your blog, I guess, but it’s pretty awful to take advantage of this person like that.

    But, nevertheless, without knowing more about the LW’s life, let me stress, YOU SHOULD NOT TRY TO DIAGNOSE THIS PERSON.

    REPEAT – TRENT, YOU ARE NOT A DOCTOR, PLEASE DO NOT ACT AS SUCH.

    That is all.

  55. I agree with the benefits of working with a professional–and IF a doctor recommends medication, I want to be clear that it can be VERY helpful. For example, for a person with diagnosed anxiety or Aspergers, it can allow someone to live their life and develop in ways that might not happen without the pharmaceutical support. It can be life changing in a very positive way. (Based on my own experience as well as a number of close contacts.)

  56. It is absolutely unconscionable to discourage someone who may need professional help from seeking it, especially given that this man’s problem will already make it difficult to seek help from another person. It is one thing to simply not mention seeking help, it is another entirely to actively discourage it. Unbelievable.

  57. Like many of the comentors above, I think that your advice to not seek professional help is ridiculous. Yes, you personally were able to overcome a social anxiety disorder, but that does not mean that what you did will work in this case. Also, the discision to seek medical help for a psychological disorder is incredibly difficult (I know this after years of depression and OCD). It made me feel like a failure for not being able to fix myself, and I think this is a feeling that many people with psychological ilnesses share. So to tell someone to basically “tough it out” is terrible advice. It actually personally offends me at the ignorance displayed in your article. One more thing, unless you have a degree and masters in Psychology, please don’t try to diagnose other people’s psychological problems. It takes alot more information that what was in Chris’ email to figure out what mental ilness someone has.

    I really do love you blog, and although I am young have gained some very valuable informationfrom it. I just think that you should be more careful when speaking to someone about a mental illness. It’s always better to be safe than sorry in the case of mental illnesses.

  58. Goodness! I know you mean well, Trent, but I lived with and still do with a dear friend and that was basically the advice he got for years (not all of your advice, but some). Well, guess what? That advice got him nowhere. (And I should know, I was one of the ones giving it to him). He tried to kill himself 4 times three years ago. Now he is on proper medications and going to a psychiatrist, and it has made all the difference in the world. He has hope now. Mental health should be taken as seriously as a broken arm. Just sayin.

  59. Don’t exclude ministers or priests as someone to possibly talk with – especially if money is an issue. These people have some training and can listen and offer advice. I’m not the least bit religious, but I find these people to generally be very sound of mind and advice. They deal with lots of people in this world with a myriad of problems and they are just good at listening and helping. So if money to seek professional help is limited you might try a minister first. A decent minister isn’t going to care if you are a member of their church or not.

  60. Trent – I usually think your on track or a least make a good point, but I think you are way off base here. This individual sounds so painfully shy and self conscious that I think the best way for him to overcome it is with professional help. He can find low cost places to get assistance, most cities have agencies that offer sliding scale if cost is an issue.
    He meets criteria for social phobia and there are some research based, well validated counseling techniques that are highly effective for this condition. Isn’t it worth the cost to be free of such isolation?
    Encourage him to seek help. He’ll be glad he did.

  61. This post sounded woefully ill informed. It is very weird to hear- OK, life-long problem? Try again and again, use these bulleted tips, and only if/when exasperated by failure should you seek the advice of a trained professional. But definitely do not get professional advice at the outset-when it might help most, saving time and suffering.

    Psychology is talk therapy.

    Psychiatry can use medicine, but does not always do so.

    A certified social worker (CSW) is much less expensive, not as expertised as doctor, but can also provide valuable talk therapy.

    Trent has made a point of mentioning that accountability to others helped his financial efforts. Sessions with a cognitive therapist are a way of being accountable: self-action with weekly check-ins with an impartial highly trained observer/evaluator.

    A good cognitive therapist is worth is their weight in gold if you make progress breaking a life-long obstructive pattern of thought or bad physical habits. A good therapist has as his/her goal to STOP seeing you, because you no longer need them.

    Most major insurance provides the same co-pay situation for mental health as a regular doc visit. And if you are inclined, you can look up free clinics, or support groups in your area.

    I agree that Trent’s advice sounds like behavior modification 101. But without accountability to, and encouragement from, a confidential trusted source, it is less likely to succeed. When perception is skewed, it is very hard to effectively evaluate your own progress, and effectivley analyze barriers.

    And I also agree that Tent should not give medical, legal, or mental health advice. As a perceived authority on financial matters, his advice can take on a halo effect that rides into other areas, and people like Chris might assign his opinion more weight than it deserves.

    With great power, comes great responsiblity. I would suggest a bit more care in utilizing the authoritative voice. I believe in hardy self-sufficiency too, but I would never presume to actively discourage a suffering person from seeing a health professional.

  62. “I do not recommend turning to psychological assistance for this.”

    Are you serious? As a Ph.D. therapist, I must say that this statement is totally inappropriate. You really have no idea what the state of this writer’s mental health is – to tell him to just suck it up is irresponsible. And perhaps…liable. There is low cost mental health services available in almost all communities. Dispensing psychological advise because you think you have struggled with the same issue is a really, really bad idea.
    I thought this was supposed to be a blog about “financial talk for the rest of us”. I went to graduate school to study psychology and counseling for 8 years – you?

  63. Sorry – bad editing…should be “there are low cost mental health services…” and it’s advice not advise. I was on a rant.

  64. Add me to the chorus of those shaking my head at Trent right now. I don’t even know why this question appeared on a blog called “The Simple Dollar.” But more importantly, your advice might be spot on or it might be incredibly damaging – but you really have no way of knowing because you are not a trained professional.

    It’s akin to me writing to you telling you I had a pain in my stomach, and you told me it was clearly indigestion, try some of these techniques that have freed you from indigestion. But I definitely did not need to see a physician about this. What if I was really suffering from appendicitis?

    It’s just simply irresponsible.

  65. Thanks for posting this. I also have social phobia problems. I think it is important to not rely on medication to fix the problem, a lot of times this sort of medicine comes with its own set of problems but talk therapy helps a lot. It also helps you get out of the house. This problem can be very crippling and you have to constantly work on it in a positive way or the negative reinforcement of not going out and having bad experience will make it get worse.

  66. I hope that the young man with these problems comes back and reads the comments and NOT just your column.

    Because he needs professional help.

    Your heart may have been in the right place, Trent, in trying to share your own experience of “social anxiety”. BUT…you really should refrain from making judgments about professional care.

    If anything, you should be telling him to FIRST consult with a professional.

    I wonder WHY you gave this advice?

    That’s a really important question I’d like to see you answer. I mean did YOU have a past problem when getting professional help that turned you off?

    Cause it makes NO sense in this day and age for any non-professional to say someone should NOT get help.

    If anything, in today’s litigious society everyone disclaims everything by saying: Get a professional’s opinion.

    So, I’m asking: Why did you advise him not to just go and seek professional help to start with? A 34-year old who is worried about what people might think about what he reads? Yo. That is the tip of a big iceberg. Come on.

    The guy needs help. And that’s OK. THere is no stigma attached to it (Not getting help? That’s what’s bad. Especially when you are losing your precious life to these irrational fears.)

    Maybe you do feel there is a stigma attached to needing/seeking help, Trent?

    Something is off here because you don’t strike me as someone who would not THINK before making a statement like this and posting it. At least I’m crediting you for thinking about the implications.

  67. How does any of this relate to money? The reason we come to this blog is to get advice about our financial situations – I am confused as to why you would even post this? Anyone else bewildered? I am thinking perhaps I need to find a more relevant blog site?

  68. I think that when an anxiety, phobia, or emotion gets in the way of daily life, then it is time to consider some outside help. I struggled with social anxiety and had feelings similar to Chris–at my worst, I didn’t correct my bank account overdraft because I was too anxious to make small talk with the bank teller and put money into my account. I also felt self conscious while driving when I put the brakes on, because I felt that people would think I was braking at innappropriate times.

    One thing that REALLY helped me was a social anxiety support group. Meeting the first two times was INCREDIBLY difficult–I was in tears. But knowing that I was not alone and having support made all the difference. I still get nervous around people, but it is a manageable, acceptable nervousness, not a dibilitating one.

    Good luck to you, Chris. You are so not alone!

  69. I’d seek a little counseling and join a group of like-minded individuals. Not feeling alone or weird is really the first step to being comfortable around others. My husband and I are completely happier now that we’ve found a Eurogame board gaming group…it’s just nice to know other geeks do exist to hang out with. :-)

  70. Just wanted to voice another recommendation for The Feeling Good Handbook by George Burns (I got my copy for “free” from paperbackswap.com). As others have mentioned, the book teaches you to use Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to see if you can resolve the issue on your own – and keep it from coming back. Working through the exercises will let anyone know if they can resolve things on their own, or if they need to escalate it to professional help. The book’s exercises and tone are safe, non-judgemental, and not preachy or derogatory. I was surprised at how quickly it helped me get through a paralyzing bout of social anxiety and depression. Start there, then consider professional help, as needed.

  71. Trent – you don’t have time to respond to the number of comments saying how wrong you are in your “advice”? At the very least edit your post so that Chris is encouraged to seek professional help instead of being discouraged from doing so. The advice dispensed on this blog is going downhill fast (with the whole women bathing suit debacle recently and now this).

  72. I remember reading a short tale by [Father] Anthony DeMello:

    “A disciple was prone to fits of prolonged depression.’My doctor insists I take medication to keep my depression at bay,’ he said.

    “‘Well then, why don’t you?’ said the Master.

    “‘Because it might damage my liver and shorten my life.’

    “Said the Master, ‘Would you rather have a happy liver than a happy mood? One year of life is worth more than twenty years of hibernation.’

    “Later he said to his disciples, ‘It is with life as with a tale; not how long it is but how good, is what matters.’”

    A point to the story is that sure, he could slog through this on his own, fumbling from one undisciplined cure to the next. But another option is to take the professional opinion, advice, and assistance that’s been recommended. It’s ultimately his choice, though it seems that he has avoided the latter strategy and made it to age 34 with just the former strategy: having nothing to show for it but unsatisfactory results.

    To me, the choice is clear. Hopefully it is also to Chris.

  73. Wow. The responses of the therapists posting on here has soured my opinion big time. If I was seeking a person who would listen and be compasionate about my problems I sure as heck wouldn’t want to go to the therapists who logged on to slam Trents views. The self-righteousness about being an expert is really disgusting. I hope it’s not representative of the industry.

  74. Nate – the majority of folks commenting are common folks and NOT therapists. Don’t assume affiliation as a way of defending Trent’s ridiculous comments.

  75. I like Trent’s advice. I agree with commenter #20. I spent years trying to figure out depression and anxiety issues with many various psychologists and psychiatrists and medications, and all it got me was a huge load of debt — $80-$150 an hour adds up fast. People run to the “experts” so quickly to solve their problems/get a diagnosis/medicate themselves when sometimes it just takes life experience to learn how to overcome challenges. Life can be tough for sensitive people. Don’t be so hard on Trent, he writes excellent stuff all around.

  76. Nate, I must agree with Shannon. Must people here are not therapist or doctors, but have a little experience in social anxiety, directly or indirectly, and the horrible feeling of repetitive failure when trying to overcome the situation with willpower and attitude only.

    Also, when you go and ask for help to an specialist (in every possible topic) you do not really need compasion, you need and objective point of view with the experience and tools to get and answer to a problem.
    (May be a ridiculous example, but when your basement gets flooded or your car is wrecked, you dont need that your mechanic or your plumber feels bad for you. You need to get the job done in the most efficient way possible).

  77. I think Trent owes Chris and his readers an apology.

    Chris made the right step in reaching out to someone for help – let’s not make him feel like he shouldn’t do that again, whether it be to friends or to trained experts. We all know this can be hard to do.

    What would also be even more responsible would be for Trent to delete the “don’t see a professional” line from this post and to instead discuss lower-cost options for getting counseling from a professional. Wouldn’t that be more in the spirit of The Simple Dollar anyway – suggesting less costly ways of doing something?

    Trent, there are constructive ways you can deal with this backlash that don’t involve backpedaling or ignoring other people’s opinions.

  78. Nate,
    I am not a therapist, nor do I play one on TV. Or blogs posts.
    But I can pesonally vouch for their effectiveness and value.

  79. Nate-as one of those “self-righteous experts”, I’m sorry you feel that we are “slamming” Trent. Personally, my response was one of horror, as I’ve seen first hand the damage that can be done by imposing stigma on people with mental health issues, and the danger that can come from half-assed attempts at diagnosis. I tried my darnedest to be respectful and gave Trent credit that I’m sure he was trying to be helpful, but I felt absolutely compelled to comment about the dangerous nature of his advice. It’s difficult to come across as concerned and empathic over comments. I would bet money that the experts who have commented are compassionate, caring people, and as others have stated, the vast majority of commenters are what you might call “lay people” (though I personally despise that term…) who also cannot fathom why Trent would even go down this path, given the focus of this blog and the nature of his own expertise. I truly feel for Chris, and hope, as others have mentioned, that he gets the relief he needs from his disabling symptoms.

  80. @Nate: I’m not a therapist either. But if (or indeed when) someone with no training in my field starts telling me that they know how to do my job better than I do, I’ll self-righteously slam their views too.

    Experts can be wrong sometimes, but expertise still means something.

  81. I’ve always had therapy covered by my health insurance and I’ve had some who were better than others- just like in everything. I also agree with whoever said the goal is to get you out of treatment!

    Not every doctor just hands out medicine, either. There’s a place for that, just not with every patient.

  82. Here’s my 2cents:

    From the person’s letter, what stuck me is the sheer lack of connection and belongingnes in his life. In my opinion, it is not a “disease” but it is a malady — a sense of dis-ease — that affects a lot of people. A researcher friend of mine mentioned a study that asked people how many friends they had with whom they could share a problem.

    The results were astonishing — one in four Americans said ZERO.

    The one thing I can recommend is being of service. If the person were to just open his eyes and see how he could be helpful to others around him — there would hardly be any time to think about himself. When we think too much about “what about me?” we get depressed and disconnected.

    The law of the mind – the way nature designed us – is that the mind is happy when it is in the giving mode. It is unhappy when it is in the wanting mode. Just that understanding alone could help this person.

    Since he asked for a course, I’d suggest the Art of Living Course. Look it up online and find the nearest one to go to. You’d thank yourself that you did.

  83. I strongly disagree with Trents opinion about getting professional help. There is nothing wrong at all with seeking professional help. It could be exactly what Chris needs. If he doesn’t need counseling then no harm done in trying it. If he does need counseling then it may make a world of difference in his life.

    People shouldn’t get their mental health assistance from personal finance bloggers. Personal finance bloggers should not be giving mental health advice.

  84. The advice given in this post is offensively and dangerously incorrect. While I am not a mental health professional, I would think a far more appropriate response would be to suggest contacting a mental health professional or doctor whether this is through private insurance or public available help lines/services. Encouraging a person who is suffering to figure it out on their own is unconscionable. I do not understand why a personal finance blogger feels qualified to dole out mental health advice and does not even include references to groups that might actually be able to help this individual. I hope this person is able to find some resource (support groups, books, even – gasp – a professional) who is actually able and qualified to help.

  85. i am 23 years old and due to my severe social anxiety the longest i’ve held a job is 4 months. my boss at that time was my boyfriend.

    i’ve made a lot of progress in doing simple things like ordering food at a restaurant and getting my oil changed by myself. however, i still can not find the strength to get/keep a job. i need therapy to get me to that point, but the real killer of social anxiety is that i’m afraid to make the phone calls necessary to find a doctor. and i don’t have the money to pay for one because i can’t work. and i can’t get ssi benefits because i can’t make a phone call to a lawyer.

  86. Having spent a few thousand dollars on ‘talk therapy’ with a variety of experts, from MSWs to psychiatrists, I’ve come to the conclusion that expertise in the field of mental health is at about the stage that physical medicine was when leeches and bleeding were prime treatment modalities and understanding of humors was the sine qua non of medical theory. The pharmacology is considerably more advanced and can be worthwhile, but I’m going to stick my neck out here and say that Trent’s answer, including the reservations about mental health treatment, were pretty reasonable, although I would offer a little different take.

    Chris, ‘Talking out’ a problem with an intelligent, objective, accepting person can be beneficial but it isn’t a guarantee of help, and it surely may be possible to help yourself. From an early age, I suffered from extreme self-consciousness aka social anxiety, and overcame it gradually as various causes and interests forced my ‘consciousness’ outward instead of inward. Forty years later, I still have flashes of social discomfort in some situations, but by and large, it has not interfered in my life for years.

    For me, the key was caring enough about the cause I was advancing that I was willing to sacrifice what I saw as my own personal comfort in order to advance it. Over time, the skills I learned doing that allowed me to overcome shyness and anxiety in more and more situations. Giving free rein to my curiosity also helped open doors.

    Good luck, Chris.

  87. I am not sure if this was pointed out already. I generally I think the advice given on this blog is right on. The blog author is free to provide opinions that he has had personal experience with. However, the advice seeker should not rely on the advice of a non-professional for psychological advice nor legal advice, especially when that advice is sought via email. Social anxiety can be just a spoke on a wheel of psychological problems – and it is just that: a psychological problem that can be treated by a professional.

  88. Just curious why someone would be writing a supposed finance guru about a social anxiety problem?

    You obviously opened a can of worms and started a nice discussion on the topic – but did you really get an email from “Chris” for this, or did you just want to address something that had occured in your own life and needed a way to include it.

    I find this really odd – to be honest.

  89. I commented earlier and I cannot stress this enough. I also had a brother who killed himself. He had problems and never got the correct help. For someone to be so flippant about mental health when they have no expertise in that area inflames me. I guess Trent is trying to help people, but please please don’t do it when you are not qualified to do so. Stick with cooking or finances or whatever, okay?

  90. Wow. I haven’t had time to read all of the comments but I have to agree that Chris should not eliminate the possibility of seeking professional help.

    I suffer from a General Anxiety Disorder. I worry about everything – I used to worry about everything to the point of incapacitation at times. In my case, a short term prescription of a fairly mild and inexpensive drug helped me learn how to control my thought processes and stop the cycle of escalating morbid thoughts – something that I had NEVER been able to do before and that I probably never would have learned to do without that little bit of help from medication.

    Chris should see a doctor he trusts about this issue. If his doctor feels that he needs medication or help from a specialist, he should take that advice seriously.

    He should also listen to the song “What Do You Hear in These Sounds” by Dar Williams. We are all a little bit lost. Chris is not alone.

  91. I’ve been an avid reader, got a copy of your book, and generally like to read what you have to say.
    I know this is your blog/site and your opinions are what are published here. You have the right to express what you want, and we have the right to click or not.
    I am saddened that your advice to this person didn’t include ‘talk to someone that knows how to help you’. Psychology and Psychiatry are not voodoo, and illnesses like anxiety and depression are not imaginary.
    Changing your attitude? Really? I am glad that it worked for you, but usually that would be like telling someone with a persistent depressive disorder to ‘Cheer up!’
    But again, it’s your opinion and right to free speech. Unless of course it harms someone else.
    It’s been a good run, and I’ll miss reading your posts on frugality.

  92. In re-reading this post, the more agitated I get about the arrogant assumption that Trent can discern the reader’s mental state from a single letter. And to top it off- he did not provide half what he was asked for: courses, books, or sites. Opinion and anecdotal remedies replaced spending any time at all doing research for this reader.

    Perhaps Trent has some strong opinions on the field of psychology, and perhaps he feels that taking the path of “I am certainly not a therapist, and you should seek professional advice if you feel it is necessary” is just CYA.

    I strongly hope that Chris reads the comments, as the advice was so strongly discouraging about seeking help, and in fact presents the view that if you seek help you must have failed, and failed, and failed. This subtly implies that seeking help is strongly associated with failure. A very negative connotation to present to a troubled person. And yes, possibly dangerous.

    Please, please, please, stop giving off-topic advice! Every popular blogger, I am sure, gets questions on just about everything. That does not mean the Simple Dollar should become “What’s In Trent’s Head Today?”

    In a way I am glad this was a post, because if it were a personal e-mail to Chris, Chris would not have the opportunity to hear the near unanimous chorus condemning this poor advice.

    Chris, please just go talk to someone who has legitimate expertise in this area if you need help. Not a personal finance blogger, no matter how cool you think he is.

  93. trent-while much of you PF advise is spot on as they say, this post is pretty unforgivable. This young man probably needs to talk to someone professonal and soon. While you may have social anxierty it sounds like chris has OCD and/or depression, but Im not a professional and would never diagnose based on such a letter. If you cant find enough PF issues to post about, do something, but not this. YOur little disclaimer will not protect you. LIke others, I only pray that thisyoung man comes and reads the comments. Unbelievable. Are you really as insensitive as some of your recent posts imply? or is the midwest just in a different universe.

  94. Frankly this post makes me question whether you know anything about personal finance. You took the same confident tone here as you do in your money-related posts, and clearly you had no idea what you’re talking about.

  95. look up EFT. i used this and it worked for me. I used to not be able to go even into a gas station without an anxiety panic. then i spoke at my highschool graduation!

  96. This seems very unlike you Trent; on this one you have wandered very far outside your area of expertise and have given this writer very bad advice. As a psychologist I would strongly urge this person to seek out a psychologist or counselor. The behaviors he describes goes far beyond social anxiety and needs professional assistance; he is not anxious about cocktail parties or the neighborhood BBQ–he is frightened to have others see what books he is reading or his music preferences. Please Trent: don’t give medical/psychiatric advice anymore. You have neither the education/experience or legal right to venture into such an area. Questions like this should always be referred to a person’s physician.

  97. I was extremely shy into my 20′s, and in certain situations, I revert to being painfully shy. For that and other reasons, I’ve seen psychiatrists, psychologists, taken medication, and read hundreds of self help books. What I’ve found helpful is group therapy – people without professional credentials talking about issues. It’s been enormously helpful to me to get feedback about things I think are too weird or embarrassing to discuss with friends and family.

    Chris, I hope reading the comments of people describing experiences that sound similar to yours and hearing their feedback on your situation is helpful. There are message boards and forums on the internet where you can get this sort of feedback (without the distraction of the discussion about the merits of the advise offered by Trent). If you want to participate in group therapy, I’d start by contacting community mental health centers and see what they have to offer (often at low cost).

    Good luck!

  98. I think another thing to note may be a lot of people like Chris are terrified of seeking help which is why he is writing to Trent, some guy online that won’t look him dead in the eye in person.

  99. Making the decision to seek professional help is the hardest part of counselling. I love talking to a professional. 50 minutes of not being judged, and not having to be interrupted or share common experiences with someone who wants to tell me about their problems. Sessions are usually covered by my insurance, free through my employer’s EAP program, or adjusted to my income on a sliding scale. Chris, Trent gave some good tips, but counselling does not have to be the last resort. Sometimes just a few sessions make me feel a whole lot better.

  100. lol, really Trent? You are performing medical diagnostics from a one paragraph email? I don’t understand how there wasn’t something in your brain that said “Stop, I really am not qualified to do this.”

  101. Chris: Become an expert on your problem then return to this blog – if it’s still around – to tell its readers what you learned.

  102. Trent: just because you have overcome social anxiety without medicatio does not mean that everybody else can. Thankfully this doesn’t look like a bathing suit fiasco, but the point remains the same–you seem to think that your experience is universal. They are not.

    I’m an expat. I live in the Netherlands, and I’m starting to speak Dutch with a reasonable degree of fluency. I have a relatively easy time learning languages. It would be stupid of me to say, “If I can learn Dutch easily, so can you.” Another very intelligent guy who took the same language course as I did still can’t get past “Hi, how are you?”

    Now, it may very well be true that Chris doesn’t need pills or expensive pharmaceutics to help him with his problem. The problem is that YOU ARE NOT QUALIFIED to tell him this. I was in agreement with your post up until the last one. You cannot know if there are any underlying issues, and to base your non-recommendation on how his question “comes off” does him a disservice.

  103. A note to Chris – when I was younger I never accepted social invitations because I was sure everyone was just being polite, and did not actually want me there. I actually wanted to go to these events, but didn’t, because I was so sure the people inviting me didn’t actually like me. I had a moment of clarity one night and decided that this was ridiculous, and vowed to accept any and all invitations for the next three months, to see how it went. It was a wonderful decision – I made tons of friends that I still have years later, and I genuinely got OVER the issue. I actually found out some people thought I was snobby for turning them down. Anyway, I will echo Trent and suggest being open with your ipod for a month. Turn up the brightness and let them look! Let them judge!! You might find out that people share your music tastes, or discover a new band that someone recommends! You might also find out that no one cares about what you are listening to, and that can be a gift.

  104. I also disagree with Trent’s advice and wish he would respond to the overwhelming response. It’s reasonable to suggest reading materials, workshops and other resources as starting points. In fact, I believe you should include these things whether you’re opting for therapy or not.

    Therapy is like any other field in which there are good therapists and bad therapists. Sometimes it requires a little trial and error before you find the right fit. I also think that maintaining good mental health is like maintaining good physical health. You need to exercise regularly in order to stay in shape.

    I’m disappointed by the ignorance and stigma shown towards therapy. Trent makes a big layman mistake by confusing Psychology and Psychiatry. If he doesn’t know the difference between these two fields, how can he provide advice regarding their effectiveness?

    There are many different approaches of therapy out there. JoAnne mentioned talked therapy, but that’s not always the best approach for something like social anxiety or OCD. Something like CBT requires more action and participation. It actually coincides a lot with some of the advice Trent was providing in his post.

    The only person who knows the severity of Chris’s condition is Chris. No one here can diagnose him as needing a specified kind of therapy or none at all. He will need to explore what works for him and what doesn’t and that might require time and money.

    Finally, I want to address something else I’ve seen in the comments. Many of you have complained that therapy is costly and is often not covered by insurance. This isn’t a legitimate argument against therapy; it’s an argument against your health care system.

    If you’re unable to function outside the home, if you’re unable to perform daily tasks or grow, than seeking professional help could be a good investment in your quality of life. It should also be noted that mental health could be a matter of life and death. Even otherwise “normal” people are prone to break downs that might lead to hospitalization and suicide. This does happen.

    I have found DBT and CBT to be very helpful. It keeps me accountable and gives me goals. Therapy doesn’t have to be a long term solution; sometimes it can be used to get you over hurdles or standing on your feet.

  105. Yeah, I have to side with the majority here. If a disorder is severe enough to be categorized as so, and is causing undue stress, and is a detriment to your life, that is definitely the time to seek professional help for it. I understand if Trent is trying to save some money on the process, but frugality is about getting value for your money, not about being a cheapskate. If the cost of a therapist improves your quality of life, it’s well worth it.

  106. This sounds like a bully target grown to manhood. He needs assurance that his bullies are grown and gone and that his choices and personal life are acceptable. If the bullies are in his family, he should allow himself to leave–some families are hazardous to your mental health, and his may well have ridiculed him over his choices. Substance abuser families maintain scapegoat or target children and this man could have been one of them (bt). He should train himself to develop social relationships. If looksists have given him trouble, he will need to develop a really thick skin. Some good self-help books are in order here.

    I have seen some real crooks and quacks who have “earned” degrees as psychologists. He may well need professional assistance to deal with his problems–if this is the case, he will be best off paying the fees or insurance for a psychiatrist.

    Best of luck to him at disavowing whatever shame someone has inflicted upon him.

  107. Chris:
    I commend you for seeking help with a habit that you recognize as uncomfortable. Perhaps you read something in Trent’s posts that made him seem a kindred spirit & that’s why you took your question to him. Recognizing a discomfort as life-limiting is the first step in overcoming it. Asking for help is the next step. So, IF Trent’s first few bullet points seem possible for you to try, I also recommend Barbara Walters “How to Talk to Practically Anybody about Practically Anything” as a book that changed my life with concrete examples of how to interact socially at small risk.

    However, if you are reading these comments looking and still for useful help:
    @ Sergio @ #9 there is an excellent personal anecdote that is counter to Trent’s advice.

    @Josh #24 is a good overview – how to look at your problem

    @Kristing #44 is a summary of how/where to find professional help, and

    @KC #42 the suggestion that clergy might offer good, low-cost help is useful.

    I wish I could agree with Trent and encourage you to deal with this on your own, but the part of your letter that Trent excerpted sounds very frightened. It is hard to think clearly when frightened.

    Perhaps you could choose a calm thoughtful trustworthy adult, be she a friend, clergy or just someone in your life who you perceive as unthreatening and helpful. Ask that person whether self-help or a professional consultation is right for you.

    I wish you well and will hold you in the Light.

  108. Second thought–his behavior could be reframed and he could make an excellent security professional in several industries–he is already accustomed to shielding personal information and Internet info.

    Once he becomes accustomed to social contact, he may want to do just that. Personal consumption of information sources is the user’s own private business, and spyware and other purveyors of privacy invasion utilize just such details for market research and advertising ideas.

  109. Maybe the sentence stating that the opinion is to NOT seek prof. advice should have read, ‘I implore you to seek professional advice.’ A few sessions w/a professional might shine some light on the root of Chris’ phobia.

    I do know that not all therapists are created equal, and no one can be 100% certain of another’s inner conflicts. Only you do. One still has to take their advice and search for the solution through trial and error.

  110. Trent,

    Based on the comments above, you obviously have many thoughtful and intelligent readers. Please listen to them. When someone is suffering telling them not to seek professional help until they have exhausted all other options is at the very least irresponsible. Chris stated that he was is his 30s. This is a situation he has struggled with for many many years. Why should he spend one more day suffering with less than the best help available? Stigmatizing professional mental health help is injurious to all of your readers. You owe Chris and your all of readers an apology. My family and I have consulted with mental health professionals during difficult times just as we have consulted with our medical doctor when we are physically ill. There is no difference. Would you recommend that Chris manage a life threatening medical condition without professional advice? I would hope not.

  111. Trent, great job of adding to the stigma of seeking help from a mental health professional. I’m surprised you didn’t learn your lesson after you got hammered for your answer to the woman who was having problems emotionally and financially dealing with her bipolar brother. I believe your advice there was also that he needed to pull himself up by his bootstraps. While that’s not the same as social anxiety, social anxiety can be a disabling, uncontrollable illness. You don’t know Chris, you don’t have enough info to go on even IF you were a trained psychiatrist. Your ignorance and apparent prejudice in this area could be counter-productive or even dangerous to someone who really needs professional help.

  112. Look at yourself as a model for how others look at you. The feeling that you are always being watched–or at least be seen–by someone who will judge your actions is unrealistic. How often do you do that? Ask your friends how often they do that. The answer is that very few do because most are focused far too much on their own bubble to judge what you do.

    There is likely a lifetime of internal messaging that you have to overcome. It isn’t impossible to do but the steps you must take in this journey are not obvious. It can take a long time to resolve these kinds of issues, even with a guide. You need to consider the value of the change when you consider whether to pay for help or not.

  113. I suffered from this all my life as well and wanted to break free (and can say that I have). A must read is “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie, an old book that is still relevant today. Stop focusing on yourself (nobody cares about your or I anyway – they are too busy worrying about themselves) and focus on others instead. When you do this you realize everyone is really the same. We all want to know others care about us, our opinions, our importance, our feelings, etc. I hope you will read this book! It will change your view of yourself and others.

  114. For me, social anxiety can (potentially) lead to a life-threatening condition. For others, not so much.

    I think that whether or not someone needs professional assistance or help is really up to that person and/or a professional evaluation. If something is interfering with the functioning of your life, to where you are not participating in everyday things and/or you cannot cope/go about your daily life/participate and have healthy relationships, it’s worth seeking a professional opinion. If it’s not impeding life, certainly that may not be as dire. There are a variety of grades to all anxiety. Professionals in the mental health fields are taught both about it, and also how to recognize what is ‘harmless’ anxiety and what isn’t.

    Many states and counties in the US have low cost or subsidized mental health care. Additional, a lot of hospitals often have support groups that are free (or very cheap) for people with anxiety and/or depression. It’s worth calling your state health department and seeing if such programs abound where you are.

    I think it’s good (and actually it’s a part of my treatment) to start taking your life back. There is a point where you do have to walk the line with crippling anxiety and push your limits (slowly) to improve. You can definitely begin on your own. If you do seek professional care (I’ve had extremely positive results with psychotherapy, myself), remember it’s like any other service – find a mental health service provider that you feel comfortable with and can build a trusting relationship with to facilitate your recovery.

    Chris, whatever you decide to do, know that a lot of folks have problems similar to yours. Don’t hesitate to get help if you think you need it.

  115. I think most of these comments are way off base. Chris is going to have to make the changes, that’s the long and short of it. Will a bunch of high priced listeners help, maybe, if he takes there advice. The best advice is to get involved. Save the whales, join a church group, whatever. Learn to interact with people. Finally get a tough skin. 99% of the world don’t give a rip about what you are doing. They are very self centered. So learn to beat your own drum and do your own thing and who cares what the rest of the world thinks. It has taken me a long time to get this far because I was once worried about what people thought about me.

  116. I just want to say that I disagree with those who think seeing a counselor and taking medication for a mental health problem is “taking the easy way out”. It was one of the HARDEST things I’ve ever done in my life! For one thing, you’re admitting that you have a serious problem that you need help for. That’s REALLY hard, especially in this culture where you’re expected to just pull yourself together and not get help from anyone. And then in order for therapy to work you have to do some very uncomfortable self-examination and be willing to listen to things you don’t want to hear. Medications aren’t easy either. They do help, but what they do is sort of numb the pain a bit to make it easier to work through your problems. You still have to do the work. Anyway, I don’t know if Chris needs professional help or not, but it should certainly be an option to consider, and it’s HARD ENOUGH ALREADY to be in counseling (can you imagine how hard it can be for someone with social anxiety to even call for an appointment to begin with?), without people telling you you’re “taking the easy way out” and are being weak and not trying to handle your own problems. Calling a counselor or doctor IS trying to handle your problems! (And I don’t think it should necessarily be a “last resort” either. If he really needs counseling, he’s just wasting his time delaying and waiting to see if things miraculously get better. He already said he’s been like this his whole life.)

  117. To wewally: Telling a social phobic to learn to interact with people is just as obvious and effective as telling an anorexic to eat.

    Mental illnesses are difficult to understand to those who are healthy. I have three people in my extended family who suffer from paranoia or schizophrenia and believe me, no reasoning or encouragement can help them. But two are helped by medication and can now function in society.

    Chris, you have my best wishes for your recovery!

  118. One “trick” that works well I think is to ask yourself what you would think if you saw someone reading that book or listening to that music. Or even a book or music that you don’t like. You probably wouldn’t think horrible things about them. Other people are no different toward you (except crazies and their opinions are not valid in this case), and you should cut yourself the same slack in social situations that you would naturally give to others. What’s the worst they could think? Would you think that? If not, they won’t either.

  119. Add me to the chorus. Other people really don’t care that much about what any given person is doing, but sometimes it takes more than willpower to learn that.

    Seems to me Trent should have emailed back to Chris something to the effect of why he’s posing this issue on a financial advice blog & directing him somewhere more pertinent.

    If Chris is uncomfortable & unhappy being the way he is, then he’s ready to seek help from a professional – & sometimes at least a short course of anti-anxiety meds can get you over the initial hurdles.

  120. First of all, I am not a professional counselor, psychologist, or psychiatrist.
    Trent…you have ventured into territory that is outside of your expertise. We all look at things through the lens of our own experiences but I have to admit that I was taken aback by Trent’s last bit of advice: “I do not recommend turning to psychological assistance for this.” Because of my own life experiences when I read the e-mail clip I heard alarm bells ringing all over the place. Trent obviously saw himself in the poster and, because of his success without therapy, thinks that social awkwardness can be overcome without outside help. No telling what kind of experience Trent has had with “psychological assistance” but the fact that he took time to advise against it on a financial blog speaks volumes.
    I, too, hope that Chris reads the comments because some sessions with a good counselor can save a lot of time in life.

  121. You shouldn’t be so quick to discount professional help. I suffered with depression, mood swings, and social anxiety for most of my life. I figured that I should just be able to “get over it” and fix it on my own. After months of feeling suicidal and isolating myself, I finally saw a psychologist and, eventually, a psychiatrist. I went from suidical ideations and wild mood swings to happy and well-adjusted in the course of four months, something I tried to do — and failed at miserably — on my own for years. Chris may NEED professional help to get better… to tell him to go it alone seems short-sided.

  122. sounds at best like general anxiety disorder, talk to a doctor, an anti depressant might change your life.

  123. I am currently training in counseling and have dealt with social phobia in my own life. I really hope that Trent made a big typo and does not actually hold these views. CBT is a great approach to deal with this type of anxiety. In particular exposure treatment could be useful (of course while working with a professional). In most instances treatment will be covered by insurance and if not many providers can work out a reasonable rate.

    I agree with the rec to read Feeling Good by Burns and would also rec reading any of Albert Ellis’ work. I would really love to get some type of response from Trent regarding these comments. If he was trying to say medication may not help, I do agree with that however. The key to changing these behaviors is through facing your fears and not avoiding them. While medication may help in the short term it will make the problem worse over time. I wish Chris the best of luck.

  124. Chris – I would like to recommend what has helped me immensely: a therapist who uses CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy). I know some other posters have commented, but let me tell you why I think it’s important.

    Disclaimer – I also take meds prescribed by a psychiatrist, but not for SA.

    CBT helps you look at the way you think. It is typically short term (6-12 weeks), and is very focused on results. You would get “homework” so to speak – meaning you would learn things in the first session and be expected to start applying them immediately. No, I don’t think it would be an assignment such as ‘talk to 3 strangers this week’, but rather shifting your focus to how you are interpreting and reacting to different situations.

    I’ve read many books on CBT, but nothing can compare to a good therapist.

    This therapy doesn’t get hung up on root causes, but rather figuring out how you are processing information now and how there are other ways of doing so. I can tell you it was a REAL eye-opener for me. Has it changed me 100%? No, but it has improved my life incredibly.

    I would also suggest reading “Diagonally-Parked in a Parallel Universe: Working Through Social Anxiety”. That was a very helpful book with lots of good insight.

    Fear not, my friend. I know it all seems helpless but it isn’t! You might wish to call a referral line of a local hospital in order to get someone who deals with both social anxiety and uses CBT. Make that call soon, ok?!?

  125. I have to agree with the commenter’s here, you really should see a therapist. You may be suffering from something more than social anxiety and need help. I can elaborate with my personal story. I have been suffering for 3 years from depression. The thing is I didn’t think I had depression I thought I was just stressed by work. That meant I read books and blogs and tried to follow their advice. Things finally did fall apart this year and I felt I had no choice but to see a psychologist after having a large amount of feelings and loathing that I would be judged for doing so, the realisation of my situation was instant. I’ve been doing CBT (cognitive behaviour therapy) and the money I spend, while 20% of my income is helping me get better and shake off the “black dog”. Without it I have no doubt that I would have gotten worse and committed suicide. Frugality is one thing, but frugality that is detrimental to your own life is disastrous.

  126. Chris, if you are reading, it sounds as if you might have had a difficult time in the past at school. Perhaps you suffered from that business where a group of students criticizes everything a student does, for example, “Only a geek would read that” or “Who would wear that thing?” day in, day out, until the student really questions his own judgment.

    School is over now. Try not to think about it any more. I deal in my work with many adults who still feel bad about being bullied at school.

  127. The problem with the old “seek professional help” line is that many such professionals aren’t effective or are too troubled themselves to do much good. You can spend a lot of time and money looking for the professional whose skill set hits the bullseye for your problems but never find it.

    My upbringing was really tough–both parents and one sibling have personality disorders; my dad and both siblings have had severe drug or alcohol addictions. Home was a tough place to grow up and I ended up with lots of problems including social phobias. In the process of trying to figure out what was going on, I visited a dozen psychotherapists over the years. Most didn’t help at all and several clearly enjoyed making me feel worse. The only one that had her head on straight and helped enormously died after just two months.

    I’ve made lots of progress over the years by reading and reflecting on books, articles and websites concerning psychology and personality disorders. Even with a helpful therapist, it’s immensely helpful to read, learn and reflect on one’s own. In fact, there are many studies showing that reading quality self help or psychology books is as helpful as an equivalent amount of therapy.

    Some diseases and situations require interaction with a skilled professional and maybe medication, but that is not a panacea.

    ‘s own.

  128. @JuliB Juli, I’ve used the internet to find a CBT and could only find 1 in the whole state. Could you recommend another similar therapy/ist? I also suffer from this disorder and a recent rejection from a friend that just up and quit returning my calls has thrown me into a tail spin. For me Trent’s advice is useless because I’m terrified of getting hurt again.

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