Tell Me About It: ‘I’ll be 30 soon, and I can’t help but think of all the mistakes I’ve made’
PROBLEM: I’ve been struggling my entire life, mostly socially and with being a functioning adult. Ever since secondary school I have struggled to make friends due to social anxiety, which gets me down, especially when I see people out having fun with their friends on nights out and on holidays.
I’ve never had a girlfriend of any sort, which makes me feel like a loser. I didn’t have my first proper job until I was 27. I just feel like a failure, and now that I will be 30 soon, I can’t help but think of all the mistakes I have made because of fear.
How do I let go of the past and is it too late for me to turn things around socially and from a work point of view?
ADVICE: Social anxiety is now acknowledged as a phenomenon affecting large numbers of the population so the good news is that there is knowledge and help available. This is not to say that overcoming anxiety is easy but at least there are sources of support that might not have been available previously. The best and most effective option would be to join a group of people who are tackling these issues. However, social anxiety might make this seem impossible so easier steps can be taken first. The organisation Aware runs online courses on life skills and this can help you tackle some of the beliefs you have about yourself by offering you some skills for managing your thoughts and emotions. You might consider finding a psychotherapist with whom you can build a good rapport and work on discovering what your fears are and how you can challenge them in a safe way. A psychotherapist can also help you to look at what your blocks are, in terms of finding a relationship and outline the steps you could take to engage with someone you are attracted to.
Your ambition of finding a romantic relationship may feel like a long shot but being part of a group might help you see that your difficulties are shared by others, and the group could support you during the ups and downs we all experience.
The experience of this one-to-one relationship in therapy could offer you the confidence to move on to a therapeutic group in which you can allow other members to challenge you while you learn to support people who are also struggling. These groups have strong boundaries of confidentiality and are well managed by the therapist so that most issues can be contained by and managed in the group. Can you imagine meeting a group of people weekly where you allow them to know you as you really are and where you are fully accepted? Such a group could be the basis of learning social skills that would be of lifelong benefit.
Your ambition of finding a romantic relationship may feel like a long shot but being part of a group might help you see that your difficulties are shared by others, and the group could support you during the ups and downs we all experience. From a work perspective there is no doubt that all your efforts in other areas of development will have a positive effect on you as an employee. Depending on your work set-up you could seek a career development plan from your manager. Organisations often have Employee Assistance Programmes that include free and confidential counselling, coaching and development programmes for staff. These have been proven to improve the wellbeing of employees and help them to progress at work so that all parties succeed.
It takes courage to ask for, and to avail of, help and when you are full of fear this is a daunting task. Start small. Make a plan of action where you take one step a week to overcome fear and write down what the action (or fear) is. You could start with the first task being to research the Aware programme, the second one to send them an email etc. In this way overcoming fear will normalise for you.
It would be great if you had someone to talk to about your successes and setbacks. Is there a family member, or friend, you trust enough to open up to about all this?
Be aware that disappointments and setbacks are a normal part of any development so use the “two-steps-forward, one-step-backwards” model and do not be too hard on yourself and do not give up at the first setback. Sometimes we have to be miserable before we get the motivation for change. This sounds like the moment for you to tackle this issue so “carpe diem” — seize the day.