Gun Shy

Dear Dr. Darcy:

I broke up with my ex of one year last November, and since then haven't dated any girls at all, in fact, most of my friends are boys because I don't feel like I can trust girls/ connect with them, and I wasn't like this before the break up. It's annoying me, it feels like some sort of mild phobia of connecting with other girls again.  I am 21 and am quite shy as it is, although I do try to push myself. I finally have the job I've always wanted, but this one aspect of my life has left me unfulfilled, that I feel like a loser that can't really connect properly with other women (platonically or otherwise). My true personality shines when I'm talking to boys I'm friends with, but with girls I get nervous even when I'm not attracted to them. I know I have quite low self esteem, it's as if I've told myself I'm awkward and I'm subconsciously living that label.  Thank you for reading this, and for any advice you might give me to improve.

ANSWER

Your analysis is absolutely right. You’ve given yourself a ‘mild’ phobia, which is to say the following: You were hurt in your last relationship, and you were (and are) very young, and because that wound happened at an age when you didn’t have a ton of life experience, you created (consciously or unconsciously) a rule to keep you safe in the future: Women aren’t trustworthy.

We create ‘rules’ to keep us safe, particularly as young people, and for a time those rules work for us. After all, you probably haven’t been hurt by a woman since your breakup. But that rule has a downside – it’s caused you to isolate. And the more you’ve isolated, the more you’ve judged yourself for being awkward around females. Well of course you’re going to be awkward around females if you rarely expose yourself to them! So your judgment isn’t fair.

Here’s the solution:

  1. I want you to make a list of the five meanest things you say to yourself when you imagine yourself around women or when you are around women. Then I want you to pretend you’re me (or someone in your life who would defend you) and defend each of those statements.

Example of Mean Thought: I’m such a loser around women – I can’t even maintain eye contact.

Example of Defending Yourself: I’ve gotten into a habit of not looking women in the eyes. I’ll break the habit. It will just take time.

Do this for each of the 5 mean things.

  1. Set an alarm on your phone for five times a day. Each time the alarm goes off, read the Five Defending Thoughts. Do this for 30-days.
  1. On Day 31, go to a coffee shop and make eye contact with a woman and smile at her. Make it your business to smile and say hello to women every day from day 31-60. By day 40, I want you to begin engaging women in brief conversations. Hi, how are you is all I’m looking for. From day 31-60, when that alarm goes off, substitute the Defending Thoughts for real life experiences of what you’ve done to improve your circumstances.

My bet is that by day 61, you’ll have made vast improvement. Don’t wait for the New Year to start. End 2014 strong. Good luck and don’t forget to send an update.