"How Can I Make Friends If I'm Shy?"

Dear CMR:

Can you offer any advice to someone who is shy and lonely but who also deals with social anxiety disorder? These are people who would like a close friend or several, but for whom speaking with someone can be intimidating, and for whom social events can be overwhelming or even frightening.

Signed,

Close To A Shy Guy


Dear Close To A Shy Guy,

As you know, your desire to connect with others is a deeply felt need. Wanting to be close to another person, especially someone you enjoy and feel safe with, is a pleasurable and a God-given desire.

Sadly, for those struggling with shyness and/or social anxiety, the feelings of fear and anxiety can overwhelm your desire for fellowship and intimacy. Here are some practical steps you can take to help deal with some of your anxieties.

First, If you are not sure if your shyness is at a level consistent with or considered a true social anxiety, you can start by taking this survey. It can help give you a gauge to see where you score on social anxiety. Liebowitz Anxiety Scale Survey

Second, take a look at these articles. Both of them share information on social anxiety and how to deal with the effects. Here is a previous blog you can find on our CMR website about anxiety and relationships: Overcoming Social Anxiety and Pursuing Intimacy. This blog, titled What Is Social Anxiety, is written by some experts on social anxiety discussing some symptoms and how to deal with them. Understanding the ins and outs of what your friend's struggle is like will be helpful for you to have.

Third, if you scored high on the above scale, or are still concerned with your anxiety, I suggest you start by discussing your symptoms with your doctor or the professional who diagnosed your anxiety. If you are not sure where to go or who to talk with, and if you are in the Southern California area, you can stop by our center (the Biola University Center for Marriage and Relationships) and we would be happy to provide some insights and referrals. We have a counseling center here on campus and highly recommend some other Christian based counseling centers as well, such as the Center for Individual and Family Therapy.

Fourth, if you are open to professional counseling, I suggest finding a counselor who is trained in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).  It has been shown to be an effective treatment for social anxiety. It is particularly effective when combined with anti-anxiety medication. A CBT counselor can provide other tools to help you manage your anxiety in social settings. For example, they can help you better understand and be aware of your anxious thoughts, and learn ways to overcome them.  If you are currently avoiding situations that provoke anxiety (e.g., going to a party), you may be reinforcing yourself for not going (because not going decreases the anxiety, and this feels good.) Simply knowing this and taking some small steps in the other direction can be very effective in helping prevent this.

Here is a psychology blog that lists some of these tools and some further ideas about CBT. 

Fifth, know that God is aware of your situation, is present with you, and provides help in times of anxiety and need. Seek new ways to connect with Him, where you can meditate on passages like “Be still and know that I am God.” Praying through Scripture can be immensely helpful. Here are 10 verses that I often pray and meditate on when I am anxious:

There is a lot that the Bible has to say about anxiety and fear, as well. It is helpful to remember that God is with you in the midst of the fears. Here are ten verses that will help your friend meditate and focus when they feel anxiety coming on. They have been so helpful for me when I am in situations that bring up anxiety:

1. Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. (Joshua 1:9)

2. You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance. (Psalm 32:7-8)

3.  The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them. (Psalm 34:7)

4. I sought the Lord, and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears. (Psalm 34:4)

5. When I said, "My foot is slipping," your love, O Lord, supported me. When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul. (Psalm 94:18-19)

6. When I called, you answered me; you made me bold and stouthearted. (Psalm 138:3)

7. So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:10)

8. Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. (Matthew 11: 28-31)

9. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (John 14:27)

10. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Philippians 4:6-8).


Chris Grace

Christopher Grace serves as the director of the Biola University Center for Marriage and Relationships and teaches psychology at Rosemead School of Psychology. He and his wife, Alisa, speak regularly to married couples, churches, singles and college students on the topic of relationships, dating and marriage. Grace earned his M.S. and Ph.D. in experimental social psychology from Colorado State University.


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