Friendships and Social Phobia

A Group of Friends vs a Clique

 

Figuring out friendship is part of growing up. It can be great to have a BFF or a group of pals to hang out with. Being part of a group can help make your day easier to deal with — and you can learn some great life skills like being a good listener, sharing experiences, and respecting people.

 

Groups can form around things people have in common. So jocks, goths, preps, skaters, and even the math club are naturally drawn together because they share similar interests. The people in these groups feel they have a place where they are welcome and supported, and where they can be themselves, quirks and all. Some people form groups from being in drama club, or liking the same music or films, or even just because they like to hang out at the same places.

 

Some groups stick together for a long time. Others drift apart after a while as people develop new interests, make different friends, or just find they have less in common. People can move in and out of different groups and can even be part of several at the same time. Even within a group, people often have one or two friends they feel closest to and enjoy the most.

 

Some friendship groups seem pretty flexible and welcome people to join in. Others seem much more restricted, though. People in these groups make it clear that not just anyone can be part of their crowd. That type of restricted group is sometimes called a clique.

Surviving Cliques

 

Whether you're on the inside or the outside, cliques can make your life tough. But there are ways to cope...

 

  • Know yourself — and your reputation. Now is a time for getting in touch with your values, interests, and beliefs. If you're encountering cliques, it's a good opportunity to ask yourself some self-discovery questions about what you and your true friends give each other. Do you want to be part of a group because you need to feel accepted or because you actually share their values? Has your group of friends morphed into something you don't like? How do your friends influence the way people think about you? Does this make you feel good or bad?

  • Stay involved in activities that make you feel good about yourself. If you're in a clique, don't let the group pressure you into giving up things you love or spending time and money on things that aren't important to you. If you're on the outside and feeling left out, getting involved in things that interest you is a great way to find a sense of belonging, help you feel valued, and take your mind off a group that's not welcoming. If you don't have friends at school, join a volunteer group (helping others or the environment can make you feel good about yourself).

  • Keep your social circles open and diverse. Cliques can be very limiting in the way they control how members look, think, dress, and behave. Don't let them make you miss out on getting to know people who may become close friends. If you're on the outside, it can help to find a close friend or group of friends whose values, goals, and behaviors fit in with yours. The support and genuine caring you get will keep you from feeling so defenseless when the mean girls tease and bully. Sometimes just knowing that clique members are probably insecure can limit their power over you.

  • Speak out. If you feel your group of friends is turning into a clique, take a stand for your beliefs. Be prepared that the clique might go on without you (remember those girls who feel threatened by someone else's strength). But there's also a chance that others might follow your lead and stop acting so clique-y. If it's too hard to get up the courage to speak out, you still don't have to participate in things that feel wrong. And if you're on the outside and know that a clique is bullying or intimidating others, let teachers or counselors know about it.

  • Have a mind of your own. Be sensitive to others and don't go along with what you don't believe is right — even if others are doing it. You are the only one responsible for how you act. True friends will respect your mind, your rights, and your independent choices. Even if someone tells you to do something that is "just a joke," say no if you know it's not right. Try not to be intimidated. If your crush is on the "outside," ask him or her out anyway. It can feel good to mix things up a little

What is Shyness?

 

Shyness is an emotion that affects how a person feels and behaves around others. Shyness can mean feeling uncomfortable, self-conscious, nervous, bashful, timid, or insecure. People who feel shy sometimes notice physical sensations like blushing or feeling speechless, shaky, or breathless.

 

Shyness is the opposite of being at ease with yourself around others. When people feel shy, they might hesitate to say or do something because they're feeling unsure of themselves and they're not ready to be noticed.

Reacting to New Things

 

New and unfamiliar situations can bring out shy feelings — like the first day of school, meeting someone new, or speaking in front of a group for the first time. People are more likely to feel shy when they're not sure how to act, what will happen, how others will react, or when all eyes are on them. People are less likely to feel shy in situations where they know what to expect, feel sure of what to do or say, or are among familiar people.

 

Like other emotions, shy feelings can be mild, medium, or intense — depending on the situation and the person. Someone who usually or often feels shy might think of himself or herself as a shy person. People who are shy may need more time to get used to change. They might prefer to stick with what's familiar.

 

People who are shy often hesitate before trying something new. They often prefer watching others before joining in on a group activity. They usually take longer to warm up to new people and situations.

 

Sometimes being quiet and introverted is a sign that someone has a naturally shy personality. But that's not always the case. Being quiet is not always the same as being shy.

Social Phobia

 

Most naturally shy people can learn to manage their shyness so that it doesn't interfere with what they enjoy doing. They learn warm up to new people and situations. They develop their friendliness and confidence and get past shy feelings.

 

But for a few people, shy feelings can be extreme and can seem hard to conquer. When shy feelings are this strong, they prevent a person from interacting, participating in class, and socializing. Instead of warming up after a while, someone with extreme shyness has shy feelings that build into a powerful fear. This can cause a person to avoid social situations and hold back on trying new things or making new friends. Extreme shyness can make it uncomfortable — and seem impossible — to talk to classmates or teachers.

 

Because extreme shyness can interfere with socializing, it can also affect a person's self-confidence and self-esteem. And it can prevent someone from taking advantage of opportunities or trying new things. Extreme feelings of shyness are often a sign of an anxiety condition called social phobia. People with social phobia often need the help of a therapist to overcome extreme shyness.

 

Someone with social phobia — or extreme shyness — can overcome it! It takes time, patience, courage, and practice. But it's worth the hard work. The payoff is enjoying more friends, having more fun, and feeling more confident.

Be True to Yourself

 

We can't change our true inner nature (and who would want to?). If you have a naturally shy style, or if shyness holds you back, you might have to work at developing a sense of ease around new people.

 

Most people find that the more they practice socializing, the easier it gets. Practicing social skills — like assertiveness; conversation; and friendly, confident body language — can help people overcome shyness, build confidence, and get more enjoyment from everyday experiences.

Bullying

 

Bullying Is a Big Problem

 

Every day thousands of teens wake up afraid to go to school. Bullying is a problem that affects millions of students, and it has everyone worried, not just the kids on its receiving end. Yet because parents, teachers, and other adults don't always see it, they may not understand how extreme bullying can get. Bullying is when a person is picked on over and over again by an individual or group with more power, either in terms of physical strength or social standing.

 

Two of the main reasons people are bullied are because of appearance and social status. Bullies pick on the people they think don't fit in, maybe because of how they look, how they act (for example, kids who are shy and withdrawn), their race or religion, or because the bullies think their target may be gay or lesbian.

 

Some bullies attack their targets physically, which can mean anything from shoving or tripping to punching or hitting, or even sexual assault. Others use psychological control or verbal insults to put themselves in charge. For example, people in popular groups or cliques often bully people they categorize as different by excluding them or gossiping about them (psychological bullying). They may also taunt or tease their targets (verbal bullying). Verbal bullying can also involve cyberbullying — sending cruel texts, messages, or posting insults about a person on Facebook or other social sites.

 

 

Who Bullies?

 

Both guys and girls can be bullies. Bullies may be outgoing and aggressive. Or a bully can appear reserved on the surface, but may try to manipulate people in subtle, deceptive ways, like anonymously starting a damaging rumor just to see what happens.

 

Many bullies share some common characteristics. They like to dominate others and are generally focused on themselves. They often have poor social skills and poor social judgment. Sometimes they have no feelings of empathy or caring toward other people.

 

Although most bullies think they're amazing and have the right to push people around, others are actually insecure. They put other people down to make themselves feel more interesting or powerful. And some bullies act the way they do because they've been hurt by bullies in the past — maybe even a bullying figure in their own family, like a parent or other adult.

 

Some bullies actually have personality disorders that don't allow them to understand normal social emotions like guilt, empathy, compassion, or remorse. These people need help from a mental health professional like a counsellor, social worker, psychiatrist, or psychologist.

 

 

What Can You Do?

 

For younger kids, the best way to solve a bullying problem is to tell a trusted adult. For teens, though, the tell-an-adult approach depends on the bullying situation.

One situation in which it is vital to report bullying is if it threatens to lead to physical danger and harm. Numerous high school students have died when stalking, threats, and attacks went unreported and the silence gave the bully license to become more and more violent. Sometimes the victim of repeated bullying cannot control the need for revenge and the situation becomes dangerous for everyone.

 

Adults in positions of authority — parents, teachers, or coaches — often can find ways to resolve dangerous bullying problems without the bully ever learning how they found out about it.

 

If you're in a bullying situation that you think may escalate into physical violence, try to avoid being alone (and if you have a friend in this situation, spend as much time together as you can). Try to remain part of a group by walking home at the same time as other people or by sticking close to friends or classmates during the times that the bullying takes place.

 

 

Bullying Survival Tips

 

Here are some things you can do to combat psychological and verbal bullying. They're also good tips to share with a friend as a way to show your support:

 

 

  • Ignore the bully and walk away. It's definitely not a coward's response — sometimes it can be harder than losing your temper. Bullies thrive on the reaction they get, and if you walk away or ignore hurtful emails or instant messages, you're telling the bully that you just don't care. Sooner or later the bully will probably get bored with trying to bother you. Walk tall and hold your head high. Using this type of body language sends a message that you're not vulnerable.

 

  • Hold the anger. Who doesn't want to get really upset with a bully? But that's exactly the response he or she is trying to get. Bullies want to know they have control over your emotions. If you're in a situation where you have to deal with a bully and you can't walk away with poise, use humor — it can throw the bully off guard. Work out your anger in another way, such as through exercise or writing it down (make sure you tear up any letters or notes you write in anger).

 

  • Don't get physical. However you choose to deal with a bully, don't use physical force (like kicking, hitting, or pushing). Not only are you showing your anger, you can never be sure what the bully will do in response. You are more likely to be hurt and get into trouble if you use violence against a bully. You can stand up for yourself in other ways, such as gaining control of the situation by walking away or by being assertive in your actions.

 

Some adults believe that bullying is part of growing up, that it builds character, and that hitting back is the only way to tackle the problem. But that's not the case. Aggressive responses tend to lead to more violence and more bullying for the victims.

 

  • Practice confidence. Practice ways to respond to the bully verbally or through your behavior. Practice feeling good about yourself (even if you have to fake it at first).

 

  • Take charge of your life. You can't control other people's actions, but you can stay true to yourself. Think about ways to feel your best — and your strongest. Exercise is one way to feel strong and powerful. (It's a great mood lifter, too!) Learn a martial art or take a class like yoga. Another way to gain confidence is to hone your skills in something like chess, art, music, computers, or writing. Joining a class, club, or gym is a great way to make new friends and feel good about yourself. The confidence you gain will help you ignore the mean kids.

 

  • Talk about it. It may help to talk to a counsellor, teacher, or friend — anyone who can give you the support you need. Talking can be a good outlet for the fears and frustrations that can build when you're being bullied.

 

  • Find your (true) friends. If you've been bullied with rumors or gossip, all of these tips (especially ignoring and not reacting) can apply. But take it one step further to help ease feelings of hurt and isolation. Find one or two true friends and confide how the gossip has hurt your feelings. Set the record straight by telling your friends quietly and confidently what's true and not true about you. Hearing a friend say, "I know the rumor's not true. I didn't pay attention to it," can help you realize that most of the time people see gossip for what it is — petty, rude, and immature.