I'm a 19-year-old woman in my second year of university, and I get really good grades. I have always been an introverted person and always had a small circle of friends. Most of my friends are women; in fact, I have very few relationships with men. I have never had a real boyfriend (I once came close to having one, when I was 15) and have always had trouble relating with men because I am timid and not very bold. I don't consider myself unattractive; people have told me that I'm pretty, but I lack confidence in my body and my appearance in general and am very insecure.
Lately, I have felt that there must be something I'm doing wrong with men that has prevented me from attracting one. I guess it might have to do with the fact that I don't go to many parties. I have few friends, and I have a lot of trouble opening up since I tend to be really shy. I don't know why I have so much difficulty opening up to people; I only have a few friends I can really talk to about my problems and even so I don't do it often. I'm not fat but I don't think I have a great body and I am usually really insecure about my appearance, which I think is part of the reason for my shyness. I have problems at home too. My father and I don't get along well, we tend to fight, and my mother is impartial. My father sometimes says I'm fat or overweight and that really hurts me. I take criticism badly because I am extremely sensitive. I try to please everyone but when I don't I feel guilty. I try to live up to the image of a nice, normal girl, and when I do something (like smoke) that breaks the image of how people see me and they criticize me.
I really make an effort to be friendly but somehow I don't make many friends, and no guys approach me. I have only been asked out on a date once in my whole life. I am a very sensitive person who tends to get very lonely and depressed (I once tried half-heartedly to kill myself). I and am very philosophical and tend to be pessimistic about life in general. Lately, I have felt that I really need someone to love; a boyfriend that I can trust and depend on and that I can love as well (I am very romantic). But I have been getting depressed because I can't find a man.
Can you give me some advice as to how I can learn to be more open with people, not fear intimacy so much, and create relationships? I want to be able to attract more people (both friends and boyfriends) and learn to be more comfortable with myself as a person.
Thanks for writing. You are asking for advice about learning to be more open with others, and you are primarily concerned about developing and maintaining an intimate relationship with a man. You would like to have a loving and supportive boyfriend, and don't know how or where to begin - is that about it?
Unfortunately, the blueprint for males from which you have learned (Dad) will make you tend to gravitate towards critical or even cruel men. (How does that make you feel?) Because of this, you have avoided intimate relationships, and your avoidance has presented behaviorally as "shyness."
This combination of being familiar with criticism and critical men (Dad) and being "very romantic" can be a disastrous one, so you have known (unconsciously, perhaps) that you need to feel more secure about yourself before you do get involved romantically. (Did you know you have been protecting yourself this way? Did you know Dad hurt you that badly?)
You have protected yourself unconsciously, so this must be a deep-seated need; others (men, particularly) are very intimidating to you.
My guess is that you will need to explore this fully with a counselor in therapy before you will feel that you can really participate in an intimate relationship with a man in a way which feels safe. Take some time to work on your Dad issues. Do some therapy to work on you and your self-esteem, and find activities you enjoy which make you feel good about you. Then, you will be ready to interact in a healthy way with a supportive, loving man.
Margaret "Peg" Burr , MA, MFT