Thursday, November 09, 2006

Dismaying Story #79: Alone with her Thoughts

Dear Andrew,

I grew up an Air Force brat. This meant I moved around a lot and did not form lasting friendships. The only friend I have from childhood is my sister. I sometimes feel like I live in her shadow since she is older, but that is beside the point.

I am now 27 and have few friends. I have a very hard time making friends because I have terribly low self-esteem. I am always afraid people are judging me and talking about me behind my back. I think this relates back to my childhood, but I am just not able to get over this insecurity. I think I am beautiful and have a great family, so my insecurity is not about my looks; it's about who I am as a person. I never feel like I am good enough on the inside, like I am not worthy of having friends.

How do I get over this and make friends? I fear it's not as simple as going to a new book club.

Signed, Friendless

Dear Friendless,

You are right; it is not as simple as getting out there and meeting more people. You need to change what is going on inside yourself. The good news is that this is possible to do.

Moving frequently as a child is a circumstance of your life and a contributing factor to your problem, but it is not the cause. Yes, moving can make it more challenging to form lasting friendships, but it does not preclude doing so. Some people are so gregarious and sociable that they would manage to fill their life with friends even in those circumstances.

You also mention a lack of friends, low self-esteem, fear of judgment, and feelings of low self-worth. Again, these are not the causes of your problem -- they are symptoms. You need to identify the causes so you can recognize them, acknowledge the impact they are having on your life, and discard their influence.

What do you say to yourself when you are all alone? Is your internal self-talk positive or negative? You have already answered that -- you express doubt about yourself. You question whether you are good enough and tell yourself that you are not.

These fears came from somewhere. Your negative self-talk habit did not just spring up spontaneously. This is based on your accumulated life experiences. Somewhere in your past you have been conditioned to react like this. You have learned to do so.

Happily, you can also learn positive self-talk. One of the most effective ways to accomplish this is to go through a discovery exercise where you recognize the influences in your past that helped to create your self-defeating habits. You can identify the positive impacts that these influences contributed to your life (because you want to retain these), and then discard the negative aspects.

Such negative internal voices flourish in the dark. They love to remain anonymous. When you are feeling vulnerable and alone, they delight in showing just enough of themselves so they can tell you how unworthy you are and then they scurry back into their dark crevices. Dragging them into the harsh sunlight and exposing their true nature is often an effective way to recognize the lies they tell. Identifying the true nature of your self-talk can make it possible to manage it.

When that voice inside you says, "You know they won't like you," you can respond, "Hey, I recognize you. Thank you for your input. Now go back and sit on your stool in the corner and be quiet."

You are worthy of friendship. Everyone is! More than that, the problems you describe are incredibly common. I hear similar stories all the time, including from some of the most outwardly confident and successful people you can imagine. It is amazing how many of us struggle with those self-doubting internal voices. But they can be managed by finding someone to help guide you through the discovery process I described.

All the best,

Do you have a story that you tell people about how you and your significant other met? If so, then the Question of the Week is for you!


  1. very good doc

    i like that - self talk...i do it daily

    but i would add, she really needs to get into some talk therapy...and even group talk therapy -- i've been where she is now and it is a lonely place...seeing that there are other people in the world with similar problems can be very enlightening...comforting

  2. Off-topic: Where is that picture from, Andrew? It looks like Caitlin from the show Caitlin's Way or Rogue of X-Men fame.

  3. Dear Friendless,

    At some point you will also have to accept that it does not matter what other people think about you, as long as you are satisfied with who you are.

    Taking a lot of courses and/or engaging in a lot of hobbies that you enjoy, or that would create a little peace in your life may also boost your self-esteem.

    My eldest daughter was always struggling in school and her self-worth was negatively effected by it. At a P/T Interview, the teacher had asked what extracurricular activity she was in, when I replied that she wasn't because she needed to focus on her homework, I got a good piece of information (and a reprimand). The lesson was this - by enrolling my daughter in something she enjoys, it would provide the means to give her the opportunity to succeed in something, the positive feelings from such success boosts the self-esteem and spills over into other areas of life. This could not have been more true. I have a much different daughter now.

    Changes to your inner person will take time, but you are worth the effort - and the friendships.

  4. Anonymous3:41 AM

    I think you are soending to much thought and emotion on what other people think of you.
    aAYou should be concentrating on how you feel with yourself and when you feel good with who you are then eventually people will want to be friendly with the happy person you are.
    Those that don't want to be your friend, it's their loss.

  5. Friendless and I are pretty much in the same position but I have to say that I hear you, Misty. I have a lifelong history of struggling in school settings but, when I was in high school, I joined a local folk music club. It was completely non-competitive and self-paced. Later, in college, I was in a string band. Getting into music completely changed my life. I don't work in music and I'm not a fantastic musician but I'm so much better than I was when I started that I have to be proud of myself. (I made some good friends, too.)