Fear of social situations stopping me making friends at Church


#1

Hello all, I’m posting this because I would like some thoughts on something I’ve been wanting to ask about for a while, but never really had the courage to until I realised someone started a similar thread already - so I thought if they can, I can.

I find social situations extremely stressful and scary. I just want to get through them and go back home as soon as possible during them. If I ever go out, I’ll be clock-watching until it’s time to go back.

At work, in which I am dealing with members of the public - I’m outgoing, bubbly and always making people laugh and I’m in control. Time always seems to go quickly at work and quite often I’m buzzing at the end of it, I love what I do that much.

I love going to Mass and always say hello to everyone I know - but I find it really awkward and scary talking to them. I tend to hurry through the conversation and I’m scared that I’m coming across as rude and unsociable. I’m not - I really want to make friends.

I moved away from home to go to University and I haven’t really been able to make friends. I’ve been with my current boyfriend for almost a year and a half now. When I first moved into my new student house during my first year I kept turning down going out with my new housemates - I found it too scary and stayed in my room a lot - although I did go out a couple nights a week - yet when I was out, I would be constantly thinking about how long it would be until I go back to my room. Eventually the friends I did have moved away/left University, some became distant - which I accept is normal, and I was seeing my boyfriend a lot who lived in a different town. I was being bullied by one of my housemates, and I was eager to spend as little time as possible at my student house. Eventually by the end of the year, I only socialised with my boyfriend and his family.

When I moved into my new place I resolved to change that as I had made myself miserable with no steady friends (none really to speak of back home by this point, as I had even become scared of them) but even with my new housemates I became scared, nervous and would only go out if my boyfriend was with us. I’ve now convinced them I don’t like to drink and that’s why (and being typical British university students, they think that any night out that doesn’t involve getting drunk at the end is boring and anyone who doesn’t want to go out drinking isn’t worth even talking to, so they ignore me even though I make an effort to chat to them whenever I see them). As to when I’m at University, I’ve recently moved into a different group and I’m struggling to fit in there too as everyone’s already friends and I really don’t know how to approach people, I often sit on my own.

I don’t really know where to ask for help - I’ve spoken to my boyfriend about it but he only says I shouldn’t dwell on it and I should just go out and lose my fear. I can’t speak about it to family and I have no friends I can confide this to other than online. I don’t want a diagnosis or medical input - I’m fed up of seeing my doctor - I just want some friendly advice, support and maybe someone could suggest a Saint or a prayer I could use? Or a course of action?

Thanks all. :slight_smile:

Note: I’ve never been a heavy drinker, I like to dance in clubs but I’m more of a pub person. I think my fear is getting worse - it’s getting to the point now that while I used to enjoy chatting to my housemates (even though I resent the fact they never invite me to anything, even the non-drinking social outings they do) I often go away after a chat worrying that I made a fool of myself. Also, I don’t feel depressed generally - I’m quite happy with my life, I don’t want to hurt myself, this is not affecting my work or university work, I’m still going on with my daily life as normal…


#2

God Bless you. I understand what you are saying, I have been there, and thanks be to God, the phase did eventually pass, but I had to seek help as it was getting worse. It sounds like your situation is getting worse. It also sounds like something is not quite right in your life, in which case you need to take a good hard look at your life, and it could be influencing your participation in social situations. Prayer is the best medicine. Know and BELIEVE Jesus is your best friend, and is always beside you in every situation. With prayers to Him, and His Beautiful Mother Mary, your fears will subside. Sometimes also finding something that you can do that is charitable work in some way, is great therapy, especially doing something for people in need at Church, this might be a prayer group. Just keep on praying and praying and praying - God hears all your fears, worries, concerns and wants to help you by taking it all off your shoulders. You must trust in Him, as He has a wonderful future set out for you, just waiting for you to step into, and He will be with you all the way. Follow His lead. Read more about the Saints, and remember you are not alone, Our Most Loving God is with you every step of your life journey. Blessings to you.


#3

LemonandLime
You might have heard the expression, "When you fall off the horse, get right back on." If you don't, you may never ride again because of the fear of falling off.

I, too, really don't like crowds or party type situations. I love being home. At church, I became a lector and am fortunate to be able to attend Mass every day. I've met several very nice folks, men and women both, not to mention our wonderful priests. Because of this, I've had to attend or been invited to some functions at the rectory. And I go. I'm not a big conversationalist and will usually let someone else do the talking.

At some point, you have to take a step, and yes, it can be quite difficult. You don't want to become housebound which is the way you seem to be going. Be a volunteer at your church. You will make friends there. Or join a club that holds an interest of yours.

Does your boyfriend take you out into public situations? He should. Telling you to get over it is not a solution.

Trust me, it isn't easy battling our demons. But it gets easier as time goes by. Give it a chance and good luck. Pray also for help and guidance. :thumbsup:

Gail


#4

I'd suggest finding acceptable ways (to you) in which you can confront your fears and yet gain control - little by little - over these situations.

Almost everyone has a situation in which they would prefer to not be placed in.

I don't like crowds or being put into group situations where I am forced to make small talk. I'm fine if I stay busy and meet people during those activities.

I'd suggest volunteering to be a door greeter, or envelop collector or any activity that gives you an activity in which you can be seen and see other people.

People who have been in the same activities will begin sharing their experiences and will grab you for other activities within the Church. You'll start to pick up names, activities, info about their families, shared experiences, etc.


#5

Barbkw - I've been considering approaching the Priest and asking if there are other ways of getting involved with the Church, like cleaning or something - which is done on a voluntary basis as they don't employ a cleaner. Most of the groups are for mothers, men or the elderly - there isn't much for a woman in her 20s like myself. Acceptable situations for me I suppose are days out with my boyfriend and friends who tend to accept me already, but I haven't seen any of them for ages. Going out without my boyfriend is really quite scary for me unless it's related to Church/work/university. I'm a member of a gym, I haven't gone for a few weeks though so have been thinking of joining an exercise group there, it's just the timing and getting there that's difficult.

GKCT - My boyfriend takes me out for a meal fairly often and we regularly go to the cinema so I'm not a total recluse yet. We used to go with some of his friends but due to various circumstances that hasn't happened for almost 6 months, but we still go out just the two of us. We recently went to his workmate's marriage and then reception afterwards - the only person I knew was him, and the workmate who was getting married and another friend of his, both of which I had only seen once before. I didn't know anyone and I couldn't wait to get back, but before I got there I was really looking forward to it. People were friendly and chatting to me but it was just too far out of my comfort zone. I know that it'll be hard and I should pray about it (I do) but I just feel that I'm doomed to fail. I think I expect myself to make best friends straight away.

PetraJ - I think the only thing in my life I want to fix (other than this!) is the religious and devotional side of my life. I know I don't spend as much time praying or reading the Bible as I should, so for Lent instead of giving something up I'm going to tell myself I have to spend at least 30 minutes - an hour a day either praying or reading the Bible/religious books etc, I got an e-reader recently as a present so will download some books cheaply onto it to read. Apart from that - I'm happy with my life, I just feel that I lack someone to confide in other than my boyfriend.

Thank you for the responses so far, I feel that I've got a weight off my shoulders. :)


#6

I have the same problem. I have been going to the same church for several years and I still only say goodmorning to handful of people and after Mass a lot of people chit chat outside and I just scurry to my car and head out. I'm sure some think I am anti-social too which really isn't the case. For some reason I just do not know how to approach those at Mass eventhough I have seen them at least every Sunday for quite sometime.

There is also a man at Mass every Sunday and sometimes at morning Mass and I feel he has been trying to catch my eye and honestly, I'm a little uncomfortable with that. So far I have done a great job of not engaging him in conversation and I don't want to hurt his feelings but I don't want anyone to get the impression that I go to Mass to pick up some guy. ;) However, I am a little concerned for him as one time at morning Mass I saw him wiping away tears.:(

Anyway OP, I do understand what you mean. It is difficult for some odd reason. Like you, I am fine anywhere else and very social. We should start a support group! :)

Great suggestions here by the way.


#7

The above part really caught my attention. I pretend to no expertise when it comes to any kind of psychological thing, and what i say here might be of no benefit whatever.

But you know, about 99% of what we do “socially” is no more engaged that what you do at work, oftentimes less. Maybe I’m cynical, but real, honest-to-God friends are exceedingly rare. When it comes to the rest of our 'friends" it’s no more a personal thing than those business relationships are.

In a way, most socialization IS “business”, in the sense that there are people with whom we are, for various reasons, expected to get along, and we do so but only to the extent the relationship justifies it. I feel exactly the same way you do about business dealings with people. And, to some degree, there’s personal involvement. Sometimes people tell you things or need things pretty desperately, that go beyond precise “arms-length” transaction.

Outside of business, I am regarded as a very sociable guy. I go to peoples’ events (consistent with family obligations…and I always try to make them work for the family too in some way) I’m friendly. Like to tell stories and hear them. But the reality is that my real allegiences are almost exclusively to my family. The rest is “business” of a sort…the “business” of being in the general society. I could go reclusive (except as regards family) without a whole lot of psychological difficulty at all. But I don’t. Most people’s urge is to talk about themselves; their vanities, their troubles, all that. it’s the easiest thing in the world to get people to talk about themselves. People also want you to make them feel good somehow. Yes, it takes a certain patience on my part. But I regard that as part of my “business”; part of the “business” of being a Catholic, maybe.

I realized that a long time ago when I was talking to a woman about a business matter and she started telling me about her divorce and what a rat her husband is and how he wanted to get all the “stuff” and so on. I heard myself ask her “What do you want your life to be like when it’s over?” Her response really was astonishing, and it turned out that what she really wanted was not what she was seeking in the divorce, and I really think she changed her mind right then and there. But it gave me an appreciation (or perhaps only made me realize I already had an appreciation) for other peoples’ hearts and souls and needs. I know it sounds cold to say it, but in a way, all of that is just “business”. It’s the business of being a Catholic Christian. None of it is about me. It’s about them. Can I do without their relationships? Yup. But should I? I don’t much think so.

I suspect you’re good at your business. When people are happy in it, that usually means they’re good at it. I suspect you can be just as good at the “business” of being a positive presence in other peoples’ lives as you are at the job you’re paid to do. But you would be making a mistake, I think, to expect a whole lot out of it.

Give it some thought.


#8

Hi LAL,

I know how you feel. Throughout my teens and into my twenties I was very much as you describe yourself. I would be very on edge in a social situation, would worry about what I had said (if I said anything). I used to drink to increase my confidence during university. When I get to know someone very well, I would be fine with talking to them, but would still sometimes have trouble initiating the contact.

My now husband was very instrumental in helping me to reduce my anxiety. He has always been very confident, and could not understand my difficulty. For years he encouraged me to just go, talk, stop worrying. Eventually he started to understand that it wasn't that easy. Sometimes he will make phone calls for me because I can't do it, or he'll go with me to places and be sure to stay close so that I have some support. By the time I turned 30, I was much better, and am usually able to hold my own in social situations. I still have my moments, but I am content.

I still do much better one-on-one. The best thing for me now, as we recently moved to a small country town, is a mother's group that meets weekly to discuss our faith. It's only six women, all with young children, all at different stages of their faith. Amazingly I feel totally at home speaking with these women. We all do. It's a real blessing for me. These women are my only friends in town right now, but I'm happy with that.

I'll pray that you find a good solid friend who will be loyal and not judge you, and who you can feel comfortable with.


#9

At least you can use fear as a reason to get people to understand and possibly sympathize with you. I'm kind of in the same boat you're in when it comes to not wanting to do those kinds of things, only I don't want to do them because I find them extremely boring. If I don't go to a party and people want to know why and I say it's because it's boring and there's nothing to do at that party, people think I'm crazy. I want to have friends, but it's hard to do when most social interactions bore me near to tears.


#10

Dear LemonandLime.

When I read your post I think you suffer from some degree of social phobia or some kind of anxiety disorder. Many people suffer from these things especially in our generation (I'm also a University student) so it's nothing to be ashamed of.
If in deed you suffer from any of these things trying to pull yourself up by the hair isn't going to help, and neither is prayer sufficient.
I think you should look social phobia up on the internet, read about it, and if you see yourself in the discription then get yourself to a psychologist. Sometimes people get used to their complexes and learn to live with them in some kind of contentment, but you are a young and lively person. You need also to be able to explore people and places as other healthy people can and you can waste a lot of your life accepting what you shouldn't accept.


#11

Well done for being so true to your beliefs, I totally identify with your plight being an ex-British University student with the same social angst issues. I was at my doctor's thinking my panic attacks were signs of a heart problem (:blush:)

Anyway, just to motivate you further, remember St. Josemaria Escriva said that as Catholics we should be the ones rowing against the tide, not going with the flow of modern society and fitting in. This may isolate you further but remember you have the best friend of all who wis so proud of you sticking by your principles - Jesus.

Is there a Catholic chaplaincy in the Uni? Maybe you could organise sharing a house with like-minded students from there.

Finally, whatever you do, don't go down the same path I did. In order to combat my social anxiety, I used to binge drink - very heavily. I made a total show of myself and that led me into a life of immorality for about ten years, using alcohol as a crutch, and thinking that that was what life was supposed to be about. At then end of the ten year party (which continued after I left Uni) I felt dirty, ashamed and used. Thank God I was given a second chance to try and put things right.


#12

I struggle with social situations sometimes as well. I'm a homebody, and get stressed out easily when I'm outside my comfort zone. In college, I wasn't a drinker and didn't fit in with most people, but did eventually manage to find like-minded people by junior year. It takes me quite awhile to get used to things and I think by that time I was much more comfortable being away from home and really started to enjoy being there. It turned out to be the best time in my life thus far. Now, I am dealing much better although I still prefer to keep to myself most of the time, unless I am around my boyfriend or family, or the few close friends I do have.

I attribute a lot of my ability to deal with it now to a book called The Highly Sensitive Person by Elaine Aron. I learned that there are people who are energized by being around a lot of people, and there are other people who get their energy from "re-charging" away from people, in order to be ready to go out into the world. And the key is, it's okay to be that way. I spent so much of my life wondering what was wrong with me- why I couldn't be like everyone else. And I realized that the people like me are not going to be the ones I encounter all the time, because they also prefer to stay in most of the time.

This is not to say that social anxiety should just be brushed off- to an extent, it needs to be addressed so that you can function well and be happy, if it is truly an issue. But it sounds more like you're surrounded by a lot of people you don't have much in common with, and feel a bit isolated even though you'd like to make more friends. You do fine at work, you go out with your boyfriend, etc. I guess what I am trying to say is that accepting that you're not one of those people who can just be around people all the time, and that you need to be away from people sometimes to be sane, could help you. Once I accepted that it was ok to be uncomfortable with being around people all of the time, I stopped thinking there was something wrong with me and just dealt with myself as I was. And that has made a huge difference.

You mentioned that you do talk to some people at Mass- that's good! As time goes on, maybe you will become more comfortable talking to them. It's ok to take your time with things. We are the kind of people who build friendships slowly, but end up with a few true friends instead of a lot of mere acquaintances.


#13

Reading your post I got the impression that your living arrangements have much to do with you feeling uncomfortable in social situations. Maybe you are a bit shy but it is also obvious that you don't have much in common with your housemates and that is a source of stress because you try to get along with them but it's not really working out. Given that you are ok at work and have no trouble dealing with people it is probably a case of you not fitting in with the people you live with. Much of university life revolves around going out drinking and if you don't want to do that it can be difficult to fit in. But that is a positive thing in my opinion. There is nothing wrong with you, trust me. Try to find like-minded people who prefer to socialise without alcohol. Do you have a Catholic students union (or something like that) where you study? I'm sure they do all sorts of social stuff and hopefully drink less ;)
When you meet people you have things in common with and when your personalities click it is easy to make friends. Some people seem to have many friends because they are always surrounded by people and are super social, but in reality much of that is superficial and revolves around going out and having fun. True friendships are not that common. So don't feel bad about not having many friends. It's probably a phase in your life where you're struggling a bit but things will change. You obviously make an effort with people and someone will respond to that. (probably a shy person who will admire you for being nice and friendly)


#14

[quote="LemonAndLime, post:1, topic:231009"]
I don't really know where to ask for help - I've spoken to my boyfriend about it but he only says I shouldn't dwell on it and I should just go out and lose my fear. I can't speak about it to family and I have no friends I can confide this to other than online. I don't want a diagnosis or medical input - I'm fed up of seeing my doctor - I just want some friendly advice, support and maybe someone could suggest a Saint or a prayer I could use? Or a course of action?
.

[/quote]

the best advice I can think of is to see a therapist. A medical doctor can't always help you with a social skills problem. Since your anxiety is increasing you should seek professional help.

Anxiety is the fear of not being in control. That is why you have no problem at work. At work you feel like you are in control but in social situations you feel powerless. The fact that you are aware of the problem is a good thing. A good therapist will help you learn how to feel in control in a social setting.

For an exercise, act interested in your housemates. Even if you feel uncomfortable. Pick someone to chat to. Focus on the person and not on how you feel at the moment. Try to learn one important thing about the person you are talking to and you will soon forget how you are feeling. Focusing on the other person will also make the other person feel like you like them and they will in turn show an interest in you. That's how you make and keep friends.


#15

When I was in school (many years ago) and to a small extent today I was not a people person. I would not go as far to say I was afraid of being with people but I would often stumble over my own words and think I was coming off as someone with some sort of condition. I would attend parties and just sit and people-watch. I had no trouble with my close friends, but when I was ready to go I would sneak out instead of making a grand exit. To a small extent I am still that way - except, like you, when I am "doing my thing".

Obviously this is troubling for you. I would definitely pray about it. Try a novena to St. Jude. Try a few novenas to him.


#16

It is true that my living arrangements play a part in my anxiety problems.

Last year when I was with my old housemates, several of them took a dislike to my choice of boyfriend - because one of the girls I lived with was jealous as she had been trying to get with him apparently (even though she was seeing another guy at the time!) and being a dramatic kind of person, she managed to get a lot of my old housemates on her side. So when I went down to the kitchen, sometimes while walking past a few of them would make nasty comments. One girl accused me of showing my boyfriend off by holding his hand when I walked past her. So I learnt to listen carefully to the sounds of my first house - which doors were opening, in which rooms people were in - so I could move around without encountering anyone. Some nights these girls I fell out with had loads of people over and were in the kitchen drinking all night so I used to go hungry or had to go to the local shop to buy a sandwich, I was bullied so bad by them at one stage that my university got involved after they started posting things on Facebook about me - I used that as evidence and they got formal written warnings for aggressive and bullying behaviour.

So naturally I was really nervous about my new housemates, and as they evidently took a dislike to me - more I think to differences than something I'd done wrong (other than, I suppose, being anti-social) I've found myself avoiding them sometimes - sneaking around, only going in the kitchen when I know they're not. But then others I deliberately go down when only one of them is in there so I can talk to someone. But THEN, I end up walking away thinking - why did I confide in them about [insert topic], they don't even like me. I find if theres only one of them in they'll chat to me for ages, but if they're all together I'm completely ignored even if I try to make conversation. That's new - and why my anxiety is getting worse while at my student house.

My plan for the next few weeks - try to appear more interested in my housemates, I tend to forget to ask them questions. But also to tone down how much I talk to them - if they're not interested in me, I shouldn't be too keen to talk to them and tell them everything that's going on in my life. They don't confide in me and tell me their plans.

  • Pray more and read more of the Bible and Catholic literature, I want to develop a stronger faith.

  • Go back to counselling. I started going after the bullying in relation to being with my boyfriend, but after those girls moved away I stopped going as I thought I had got over my issues. My university provides free counselling services. I'm certainly going to read online about social anxiety.

Thank you to everyone for your suggestions, they're really helping and just to repeat again - I'm so glad I've been able to talk about it (even if it is online). :)


#17

[quote="LemonAndLime, post:1, topic:231009"]
Hello all, I'm posting this because I would like some thoughts on something I've been wanting to ask about for a while, but never really had the courage to until I realised someone started a similar thread already - so I thought if they can, I can ..

[/quote]

Sounds a little like agoraphobia. Seeking therapy might not be a bad idea, if it's really bothering you.


#18

As well as social anxiety, look up the term avoidant personality disorder. This is what I identified with quite strongly.


#19

I think I can relate to what you say and it certainly reminds me of my own life, when I avoided many "good" things out of pure fear. Fear of being wrong, Fear of being put down, laughed at. I still struggle at meetings, wondering if what I'm saying is right.
I have improved in some ways, and for me its been the christian way of looking at life, that is shifting the focus of concern away from yourself and onto others.
Is this related to what you are saying? I dont know, but its my turn to talk! I will pray for you, but if truth be told I could do with any prayers myself.

I realised that my ego is so focused on self-preservation that I litereally forget what I am supposed to be talking about, and so I underachieve. My Fear undermines me, and its like a feedback loop - a vicious circle - that fulfills itself.

This fear is useless, but the reality is that the primitive part of the brain seems to believe it so its not easy to kick. Maybe I should go to a therapist, but Jesus does give a solution:

“Do not fear; only believe, and she will be well.” -Jesus Christ
Luke 8:50

There is an interview with Fr. Corapi here which develops that very point: Fear is useless-What is needed is trust.
Jesus I trust in YOU

Still Fear haunts my life like a shadow in the corner in the still of night.
For that reason I will pray for you Lemon and Lime.

Come Holy Spirit
Fill the Hearts of Your Faithful
And Kindle in them the Fire of your LOVE
Send forth Your Spirit
And they shall be created
And You will renew the face of the Earth


#20

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