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Social Anxiety Help is a founding regional clinic of the National Social Anxiety Center (NSAC): nationalsacenter.com


College should be a time of self-discovery and exploration. For me it was in some ways. It was an intellectual journey that I enjoyed immensely. I learned a lot about what I did and didn't want to do with my life. I enjoyed spending time with my core group of friends. But on one major front I missed out. Socially and romantically I wasn't feeling very fulfilled. All of my friends were straight and I am gay. Though I had no trouble coming out of the closet to my very accepting family, I feared rejection by other gay men both socially and romantically so I actively avoided making friends with other gay men, much less attempting to get involved romantically with anyone while I was experiencing the first step of adulthood.

Even when I did go to events that were gay-focused or where I knew there would be other gay men, I actively avoided engaging with them. I didn't have this problem with other straight people I knew. I feared that gay men—even if I weren't romantically interested in them—would reject me for doing something that would set me apart, make me less gay. To me, every time I thought of engaging with a gay man it was like my gay credentials were being judged. Did I fit in? Was I gay enough? If I were romantically interested in another man, I would fear that I would say something stupid or shut down because I just knew I "wasn't good enough."

By the time I graduated, it became apparent that I had to do something. A future outside of a community I wanted to be a part of and without romantic relationships seemed bleak. The CBT therapy group helped me in many ways. Most importantly, it helped me realize how ridiculous my fears were. At the same time that it helped me realize that rejection was a normal part of social—and particularly romantic—interactions, it helped me to realize that the chances of anyone rejecting me in the spectacularly mean and public manner I imagined was unlikely ever to happen. Outside of high school and Mean Girls people don’t tend to be so cruel. This is not to say that realizing this automatically made me stop having negative thoughts about rejection. It helped my put them in perspective though. And just in case, it helped me to develop strategies if the “dreaded event” did end up happening.

Working with others suffering from similar anxiety was also useful. It provided chances to role-play feared situations and ways of dealing with them and sometimes it was extra useful when someone else in the group articulated a fear or feeling that you had always felt but had been unable to put into words. This process was integral to developing effective strategies to counter negative thoughts and overcome fears.

Since participating in the group, I have put the skills I have learned there to use. I have expanded my circle of gay friends, and I tend not to view going to gay events with so much apprehension. I also started dating and found an amazing boyfriend. But this really is a life’s work. Though my general anxiety level in groups of gay men is significantly reduced, every once in a while my old thoughts pop up again. When they do, though, I simply turn to some of the strategies I learned in the CBT group. Armed with them, I don’t just get through these social situations, I’ve actually started to enjoy them.



M's Story

31-year-old gay, white man
Washington, DC

"I can just be me....
I moved forward. I took a risk, and the result has paid itself out so many times!"

T1's Story

33-year-old African American female
Washington, DC

"I needed to present this facade of perfection.
I didn't want to be another stereotype.
For me, I was representing my entire race
at such a young age, at 14."

K's Story

33-year-old married, white woman
Maryland, suburban DC

"I felt like I didn't really fit in with most people...
I felt like I was just bad at having conversations,
that I never knew what to say."

R1's Story

30-year-old African-American woman
Washington, DC

"I was bullied by all of my classmates....
I am a good person. No one can ever make fun of that."

Liz's Story

(audio & written)
27-year-old Hispanic woman
Maryland, suburban DC
(immigrant from Peru)

"People are finally starting to see me differently.
I'm pretty confident that there are going to be more great things along the way
that are still there for me to discover later.
Social anxiety therapy has really changed my life."

D's Story

37-year-old white, male writer
Colombia, South America
(formerly of Washington, DC)

"I struggled with shyness and low self-esteem,
specifically with regard to my physical appearance and feelings of attractiveness."

S's Story

44-year-old single, female nurse
Washington, DC

"My life is different now.
I feel like I can be who I always was inside."

I's Story

(audio and written)
56-year-old gay male, retired investment banker
Washington, DC

"It is possible to find personal strength and happiness."

Mike's Story

34-year-old Jewish man
Costa Rica, Central America
(formerly of Maryland, suburban DC)

"I finally had the courage to do things I'd always hoped I'd be able to do"

C's Story

33-year-old transgender, white woman
Maryland, suburban DC

"I fell into a core belief that 
I'm fundamentally different and defective
 and that I have nothing in common with 
those I perceive to be 'normal.'"

R2's Story

26-year-old African American woman
Washington, DC

"I was living too much in my head,
instead of being mindful and in the moment in social situations."

T2's Story

29-year-old South Asian man
Washington, DC

"Would people notice my nervousness?
Would I say something dumb?"

Judy's Story

(National Public Radio audio broadcast)
57-year-old white lesbian
Washington, DC

"Now it just seems like the experiments I did in the very beginning look so easy to me,
that I could do it without even thinking or without becoming at all nervous."

Justin's Story

25-year-old white man
Washington, DC

"Just having any person stopping by my cubicle at work
would bring feelings of trembling, blushing, sweating, and extreme tension."

If you have any questions or comments,
please email Larry Cohen, LICSW,
with offices in Washington, DC.

[Larry Cohen, LICSW, does not endorse any of the products or services advertised by others on this website.]

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