Shy guy trying to make conversation


Shy guy trying to make conversation


your avatar   Neil, 21-year-old man


I was a pretty confident kid when I was really young and a genuinely happy kid. My step dad put me down a bit and thought I was a bad child, and I found myself in a constant battle to put my view across. My mother wouldn't intervene since she liked the relationship. I have since moved in with my dad. Home life became a bit difficult and by high school, I found myself to be a really shy kid who really cared about what people thought. I am going into my third year of university this year and I still find that I care a lot about what people think. I don't want to make excuses, though I realize my childhood must have played a significant part. I also realize that it was misfortune, but it is time to move on.

I have read a total of 21 self-help books on communication and confidence and various Internet articles. I have also gone to the extent of making notes about what to do during conversations and have also started taking Amoryn - natural supplements to improve my mood. Ultimately, I know that I should probably forget all of this and just relax. However, I also realize that I want to be closer to the people around me, to be a cool, calm, collected, confident and funny individual. I still find myself to be shy, caring what people think and holding back on a lot because of this. I have recently started going out more with my friends though still feel really cautious with the same fears that I have had before.

I am wondering if you have any advice as to what I could do to make this transition to a more confident, happy, sociable individual easier, and to stop the anxiety that I have about being around others.


    Bob Rich, Ph.D.

Dear Neil,

To me, you sound like you have the most important requirement for overcoming your problem: you know that it is time to move on. You are motivated to make changes and are making them (going out more with your friends).

There are two questions. The most important is, what do you need to do in order to get where you want to go? The second is to understand why you experienced a change from a genuinely happy kid to someone who is tortured by what others may think about him.

The first one is best answered with a story:

A young man named Miltiades once came to the philosopher Socrates. He said, "I'm a coward."

"How do you know you're a coward?"

"I am terrified in battle."

Socrates didn't explain that every man was terrified in battle, and he didn't offer reassurance. He just said, "SEEM THE MAN YOU WISH TO BE."

Thirty years later, a mighty Persian fleet landed on the beach at Marathon. 150,000 Persians with bows and arrows were opposed by 10,000 Athenians, armed with spears and shields. They had 8 generals, who usually took turns at leading. On this day, the other 7 turned to Militades and said, "You're the bravest of us. You lead today."

He implemented an incredibly risky strategy, and won. To this day, that battle is commemorated by the Marathon race.

In a way, the second question is less important. What is is, and we need to live with it. Whatever the past was like, you now have this problem to solve. All the same, if you understand the likely processes that took place, you have a better chance of reversing the effects. This is what's accomplished with Cognitive Therapy.

As a little kid, you rejected your stepfather's abusive comments, but also, inevitably, they changed the way you thought about yourself. While rejecting them intellectually, you accepted them emotionally. I know, because the same kind of thing happened to me as a child.

With you, the particular collection of inner beliefs involved being judged, so now you feel as if everyone is judging you all the time and of course, find you to be inadequate. Now, turn things around. Do you impose harsh judgments on everyone around you? Or do you simply accept them and live with them, focusing mostly on your own issues?

Hope this helps,


This question was answered by Dr. Bob Rich. Dr. Rich has 30+ years of experience as a psychotherapist. Dr. Rich is also a writer and a "mudsmith". Bob is now retired from psychological practice, but still works with people as a counselor.For more information visit:

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