I am 14 years old, in mesivta, and I have no friends. I never really fit in. I am not interested in sports and the things that other kids are into. I feel very lonely and spend most of my day reading. I have always been very shy and I am not comfortable talking to anyone. My parents are not nogeah to talk to. Please help me. Thank you.
I’m sorry that you feel that you don’t fit in. It’s very ironic that so many kids and teenagers think that they are alone in this feeling. Although so many people feel this way, the assumption is that no one else does.
Please recognize that your feelings are very normal. In fact, I would say that most teenagers feel similarly at one point or another…and many do so for a large portion of high school. The reason that this is so difficult to discern is that teenagers can be quite adept at hiding their feelings from other—and often from themselves. Most teenagers would never discuss their insecurities with others for fear of being viewed negatively. Since we aren’t privy to others’ thoughts and feelings, we base our assumptions on their outward projections, many of which are masks that cover up their true thoughts and feelings.
Loneliness is only a part of the problem. Certainly, not having friends and being isolated from others can be very difficult and upsetting. Perhaps the larger issue, however, is the view that we form of ourselves based on our perceptions. If your sense is that everyone else is well-adjusted, it’s easy to assume that there’s something wrong with you. This contributes to low self-esteem, which can cause shyness and social discomfort, in turn leading to further isolation. As in many areas of life, this type of vicious cycle is most easily arrested in its beginning stage, before it becomes deeply imbedded in the unconscious.
People who repress their feelings often wind up depressed or anxious without a clear understanding of the cause. Your open recognition of your emotions can help you to better deal with them before they become obscured by less obvious manifestations of your thoughts (like anger and general feelings of worthlessness).
You mention that you’re not interested in sports and other typical teenage activities. What you may not realize is that there are many teenagers who have a similar lack of interest. Some of them join in simply to feel included. Others enjoy the camaraderie despite not enjoying the actual activity. Yet others find like-minded kids with whom they can feel connected.
When I was a bit younger than you, my class had an informal recess “reading club” for those of us who were happier reading than playing sports. I don’t believe that anyone actually formed this “club,” and we all read our own books individually, but it probably helped us to recognize that our interests and socialization were normal.
It can be helpful to open up to someone who can help you see things from a more realistic perspective. You mentioned that you can’t speak with your parents. If you believe that they wouldn’t understand your feelings, you may be underestimating the impact of their own childhoods and adolescent experiences and feelings. Regardless, it can be very beneficial for you to find someone like a rebbi, rav, close relative, or a therapist who can help you to feel better about yourself. This can begin to change your feelings of shyness and discomfort, turning the self-esteem-shyness-isolation cycle in a positive direction.
-Yehuda Lieberman, LCSW
psychotherapist in private practice
Brooklyn, NY | Far Rockaway, NY
author of Self-Esteem: A Primer
www.ylcsw.com / 718-258-5317
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