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i was wondering if you could help me with this problem that i have.

I'm a 16 year old girl and i'm going to be a junior next year. going to school has became such a pain for me that i don't want the summer to end. i always get good grades but my problem is making friends. i can't communicate with people well. i'm too shy. i can't approach someone and just say Hi! and if i'm talking to a friend i feel like everyone's listening and therefore i can't go on.

i'm not sociable at all! even when i'm out with my family, i can't even go order a sandwich or something and so i ask my sister to go with me. if she's with me i'm a little bit more confident but otherwise i can't even talk or defend myself! i'm really afraid i don't know why...when i'm walking in the street or in the school, i feel like everyone's talking about me, making fun of me. i can't live like this anymore and there's nothing i can do about it.

i wish i was born a different way, sociable like all the people i my sister i also think that people at school don't like me because of my looks or something...but i've seen many girls who are not very good looking but are just enjoying their time and having fun.. i've never been out with a friend and never had a boyfriend either!!!!!! pleaaaaaaaaase help.

my mom tells me that i'm not sociable at all! but there's nothing i can do about it..people just think i'm an unfriendly cold girl but that's just because i'm too shy to talk to them.... i want to be like everyone else...but i just can't help it...sometimes i think it's because i'm not american or because my english isn't very fluent. but even back in my country i was the same....

PLEase help me..i'm tired of this life..tired of waking up everyday and looking in the mirror and just hating who i am.

thank you very much

Best regards,



All of the higher animals, including human beings, are born with certain tendencies. Taken together, the set of tendencies of an animal is called the animal's temperament, and no two individuals, even two with the same parents, are born having exactly the same temperament. For example, in a litter of six German Shepherd puppies, one will be the most aggressive, and will end up dominating the others, another will be the most curious, constantly exploring and digging into things, and a third will be the most outgoing towards humans, running forward to greet visitors while its brothers and sisters hang back. Possibly one of the puppies in the litter will be very shy, running and hiding when visitors approach while its more confident siblings run towards the visitors, or at least hold their positions. Differences in this last characteristic, called sociability, vary over a particularly wide range in animals with large, highly developed prefrontal cortices (the part of the brain just behind the forehead), such as dogs and humans.

Now, after the newborn emerges with a certain genetically determined temperament*, that individual begins to be exposed to the influences of the surrounding environment such as treatment by parents and other caregivers, relations with siblings, treatment by strangers, observation of others, etc. And the features of this environment begin to shape the inborn temperament, reinforcing certain tendencies, and suppressing others. The outcome of this intersection of temperament and environment is what we call personality.

To continue with the example of the puppies, the most aggressive individual of the litter might be selected by a law enforcement agency to be a "police dog." This puppy will receive specialized training aimed at maintaining its original aggressive nature while bringing it under control so that the dog is not dangerous to the public but still will have the aggression and courage needed to confront a criminal if necessary. If the least aggressive member of the litter had been chosen instead, and had received the same training, it probably would not make a good police dog since training can go only so far in shaping temperament into personality.

In other words, training can shape to some extent the expression of inborn tendencies, but cannot create them. For example, a cocker spaniel, which is a small dog bred to hunt in a pack of spaniels, could never be trained for police protection work, no matter how skilled the trainer. On the other hand, if the aggressive German Shepherd puppy received the wrong kind of training--if, for example, it was kept tied up and was beaten every day--it could turn out to be a dangerous, vicious, unsocialized adult dog which would be useless as a police dog, since a puppy intended to be a police dog must have its original aggressive temperament socialized by training, which would include having the dog meet a variety of people in a friendly way. Without this socialization, the Shepherd's original aggressive temperament would have been ruined by poor treatment, producing a dog with a nasty personality.

On the other hand, although the least aggressive, shyest puppy of that litter might not have the aggressive temperament necessary to become a police dog, its shyness could be managed by proper handling and training so that the puppy would gain confidence over time, eventually becoming perhaps an excellent companion dog. A very shy puppy, such as the one which runs and hides when visitors approach will need a special kind of socialization in order to become a good companion animal. This would involve protecting the puppy from frightening situations, and slowly introducing the puppy to a variety of people, beginning with smaller, gentler people such as young children, and rewarding the puppy when it makes friends.

With this as background, let me try to approach your situation. Your mother has told you that you are simply an unsociable girl, and that there is nothing to be done about it. I am sorry that she said this to you, because that simply is not true. The human personality is not fixed and unchangable, but continues to change over time based on experience. At sixteen years, your basic, inborn temperament cannot change, but your personality (remember this is the product of temperament influenced by environment and experience) certainly can change, and, in your case, it must change if you are to have a happier life.

I assume that you, like the shy puppy in the example, were born with a somewhat shy temperament, but as a psychologist I assume also that your environment and experiences have influenced that original temperament, but in the wrong direction, producing a personality which is now excessively shy. Given the same shy temperament but with a different set of experiences, you might now have a personality which might be a bit shy, but which would be capable of meeting the world unafraid, for example being able to order a sandwich, or make friends. In other words, your original temperament was not handled properly by caregivers. I do not say this with the intention of casting blame on your parents, but because you need to hear it if you are going to be able to make the changes you need to make. The good news is that at sixteen you are still young enough to make those changes without terrible difficulty. However, making those changes will require a special, expert kind of help--in other words a set of specially chosen influences designed to reduce your shyness and increase your sociability--since at this point, you cannot rely on the random social environment to reshape your temperament.

This is where psychotherapy comes in. An experienced therapist can work with your personality as it now exists, and help you to make the changes you need to make. I think you would be amazed at what a year or so of therapy with the right person could do for you, and I encourage you to get that therapy right away. This may or may not present practical difficulties, depending on the willingness of your family to support you in getting therapy. I suggest that you share my reply with your mother, and ask her to write to me if she has any further questions. If her English is not good, you could write her questions for her. It is my hope that your mother will understand that she was mistaken in telling you that you cannot change, and will be willing to help you get the psychotherapy you need. If not, I suggest that you speak to your school counselor about this (or, if you are too shy for that, simply print out your letter to me and my reply and show it to the counselor).

Please do something about this. It is not at all too late. In fact, this is the perfect time.

Be well.

*(perhaps also influenced by prenatal conditions)

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