(April 18, 2008)

Often I feel like an alien in the world, and even at church. As a teen I had social phobia, and it crops up again every now and then. In searching the internet I found that often social phobia is linked with mood disorders.

Research published by Cambridge University Press found that “Strong associations exist between lifetime social phobia and major depressive disorder (odds ratio 2·9), dysthymia (2·7) and bipolar disorder (5·9). Odds ratios increase in magnitude with number of social fears. Reported age of onset is earlier for social phobia than mood disorders in the vast majority of co-morbid cases. Temporally-primary social phobia predicts subsequent onset of mood disorders, with population attributable risk proportions of 10–15%. Social phobia is also associated with severity and persistence of co-morbid mood disorders.”

I guess it’s natural that having a mood disorder is going to make you feel different from others, like you don’t fit in, like you’re on the outside looking in. We are different in many respects. Those are such uncomfortable feelings to have.

On the blogs I’ve heard many say how they don’t feel comfortable at church. They don’t feel accepted; they feel judged. It’s one reason many stop going to church. But maybe these are false perceptions caused by social phobia. I know that my feelings of not fitting in are usually due to my own perceptions – not the perceptions of others.

When I reach out to others, not thinking about myself but thinking about the people around me, these feeling disappear. This, I believe is the solution to the problem. If we can stop thinking about our own needs but turn our thoughts to the needs of the people around us, our social phobia can stop being an issue.

I guess the biblical teachings to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is something we need to live by if we’re to overcome feelings of alienation. If we can think of others, have the courage to reach out to others and show our love for them we will soon feel more like we fit in. Others will then reach out to us and we will feel that we belong. The old adage: “to have a friend you need to be a friend” is a valuable lesson we should not forget.

I know all this, and yet…every once in a while I still feel like an alien in a foreign land.

Reaching out takes courage, especially when you’re not feeling very confident or good about yourself.