He's Too Shy For Words

Q: I'm 21 years old and have trouble holding a conversation. This includes both sexes, but I'm especially afraid to approach women. I can't even think of a good first line to say, and it's really killing me inside. I don't even speak that much with the people I am around most of the time. Do you think there could be a medical reason, like social anxiety, why I can't think of anything to say even during a simple conversation? This is depressing me. -- Roger

Dr. Susan: Extreme shyness can be such a challenge. Let me ask you: Are there any social situations when you're not petrified to speak? For example, when you're with male friends, or family members? It would be interesting to look at those exceptions, if any, to see if you could figure out what the difference is. Often we're most anxious when we're expecting judgment or rejection (usually both) from those we would like to approach. If you haven't had a lot of experience yet with friendly females, you may have put women on a pedestal, as though they're goddesses who have the power to humiliate you. Whereas the truth is, they're just people too. The nice ones will respond warmly to you. Of course, the ones not worth your time and effort may indeed give you the cold shoulder when you try to make contact. Eventually, you may realize, on a gut level, that what a stranger thinks of you shouldn't affect how you feel about yourself.

I'd do some serious brainstorming about activities you could get involved in where the conversation flows naturally from what you're doing together with other people, rather than being something you have to "start" at a certain point after gathering all your bravery. First lines? Stick to the simplest and see what happens: Really hot out today, isn't it? Have you been interested in nature since you were little? What do you think of our teacher? I saw the most unusual video last night. That sort of thing. Just practice, practice, practice. As with anything else worth pursuing, a whole lot of what you think of as "failure" might have to come before a few small successes. It's so worth the risk!

You mentioned that your fear of speaking includes both sexes. If you find yourself crippled by this anxiety, paralyzed to the point where you are miserable at the thought of interacting with other people, you might do well to consult a licensed therapist. Some individuals do benefit from medications to alleviate their anxiety, and with less anxiety overall, you may find that it becomes much easier to carry on a conversation.

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