Shy and Lonely at University…What Can I Do?

Reader’s Question

For as long as I can remember I have been shockingly love-shy. When I was a teenager, everyone was dating, getting girlfriends and whatnot, and I was stuck lonely. I was a little eccentric as a child, and experienced social rejection on an occasional basis. I recently took the love-shyness test, and I found I was literally as love shy as they come. I also am mildly neurotic. I can also be painfully shy when out of my comfort zone, and even when I am IN my comfort zone. I am from the country, and used to hang out with the potheads because when they smoked and got stoned, they wouldn’t talk heaps, and I like it like that. As a result of hanging out with them, I got into the bongs as well, and when I was stoned I would become increasingly shy. I am not going anti-drugs here — I think pot truly helped realize my problems actually, it made me psychoanalyze myself in a deep, thoughtful way. I theorized that when high, it just increased who I was by 100x.

I am also a tense-afraid procrastinator. I will put something off until the very last minute, and not think about it at all. I become jealous of people who are motivated and have goals, and hate myself for not having those qualities. I get mildly depressed as a result of having all these things wrong with me, and experience frustration and a feeling of being overwhelmed on a regular basis. I escape this by surfing the Internet for 8 hours a day, putting off tasks I need to do, looking up recaps of my favourite TV shows, watching MMA videos (I am basically obsessed with MMA by the way) and playing the occasional game. I then feel guilty for doing such nonconstructive things with my time.

In social situations where everyone knows each other and I only know a couple of people, I become painfully shy, and it frustrates and irritates me. Ever since coming to uni, I have only made 2 friends while everyone else in my class now has a deep circle of 20-30 friends who they hang out with all the time. I failed my first exam and am extremely worried I might be kicked out of my course, and have depressing thoughts about this.

Sorry this letter is long overdue, but I am such a coward that it took me this long just to officially admit to myself I have some kind of personality disorder. What are your thoughts on this? What should someone in my situation do?

Psychologist’s Reply

Let’s first clarify some basic issues. You’re not love-shy…you’re almost everything-shy. People who are everything-shy may have Social Phobia…which can be improved and treated. If we look at your pattern over the past number of years, you’ve focused on socially limiting and solitary activities which is not uncommon for shy or socially phobic individuals. Solitary activities tend to make us eccentric and socially uncomfortable — and sometimes socially incompetent. Memorizing lines from famous Mixed Martial Arts movies is of no value in the community or university social scene for example. On way to think about this:

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Social Skills and Comfort = Social Experience x Self-Confidence

Individuals with good self-confidence are able to benefit/learn from their social experiences better than people with low self-confidence — thus increasing their social skills and social comfort. Few social experiences and low self-confidence create an eccentric, withdrawn, and very shy individual with poor social skills. To fix the situation, we’ll need to:

  • Build self-confidence,
  • Increase social experiences,
  • Lower social anxiety/phobias, and
  • Make these changes in a scheduled and programmed manner.

Your low self-confidence creates a self-defeating view of the world. For example, when you mention having only two friends while everyone else in your class has a “deep circle” of 20 – 30 friends — that’s not true. Most people have only a few true friends. Along with those true friends, we have a circle of friends that are associated with a common interest. In the university setting, your friends may have “drinking buddies” (common component — beer!), sports friends, hobby friends, or loafing friends. We often make good friends first, then slowly enter various groups of friends due to common interests.

To improve your situation, you first need to get off the couch. You may actually have a form of mild to moderate depression…creating the fatigue, poor concentration, low motivation, etc. I’d recommend seeing a counselor at the university for this reason. I’d also take a few depression screening tests as well as stress tests. You have left your country comfort zone and now find yourself at the university. This is a highly stressful situation and in some universities, prompts 30% of the first-year students not to return to school this fall.

Also, you’ll need to increase your social experiences. While a university may not have an MMA movie club, I’m sure they show classic movies and have interest groups in hundreds of different topics. To become socially comfortable, you need more social experiences. As your self-confidence grows, you’ll then obtain more learning benefits from those experiences.

Your situation is not uncommon and is probably not a personality disorder. It will require work on your part as you must now move from your my-room comfort zone to being a sociable university student.

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