Q: Dr. Hurd, how can I combat social anxiety? People think I’m strange and weird. I wonder if people even regard me as a human being. I feel like such an outcast! I always have. Any ideas?

A: You really don’t know what others think of you unless they tell you. Because you’re uncomfortable, you probably come across as aloof and even indifferent. This will lead people, most often, to think that this is what YOU think of them. As a result they’ll reject you by simply withdrawing from you. You will observe and sense this withdrawal, but you draw the wrong conclusion: ‘They think I’m strange and weird.’ But you don’t know this. The explanation I just gave is much more likely. Your language is very strong. For example, ‘I wonder if people even regard me as a human being.’ This is strong! If you really feel that people are viewing you as some kind of inhuman freak, then it must be coming across to them that you are uncomfortable—extremely uncomfortable. It’s a shame, though, because they are also probably drawing the conclusion that you simply don’t like them when, in fact, you are merely afraid of them. So the first thing to do is realize you’re creating the environment around you. People are looking at you funny because you’re looking at them funny. You started it! End your role in the cycle, and the cycle will stop.