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Why Can’t I Look People in the Eyes?

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From a young man in the U.S.:   It’s very hard for me to connect with people. Through my childhood my parents would erupt into major fights that can get physical at any moment.  They are good parents to my brother and I but i’ve never experienced a moment with my parents showing love or affection towards each other.  They separated a lot and for over one year my brother and I had to move from one aunt’s house to the next while both parents were in different countries.

We came to the U.S. when I turned 15 and I started becoming self conscious about my looks. I got into a relationship with a girl when I turned 16 and lasted 5 years then she left me when another guy came in the picture.  The break up added so much to my insecurity and fear of abandonment. I started using drugs for a few years after.

When I start dating someone or make a close friend I start to feel inferior although I don’t think I am but I always act in the way that would appeal to people around never trying to truly be myself.  Lately, it’s been hard to look others in the eyes because I feel like they’ll see right through me. I always have to be achieving something to feel a sense of purpose and can never enjoy being myself.  I am well read, self-aware, and since the beginning of 2019 I’ve been on a quest to improving myself.  But I can’t shake the idea that people I meet won’t like me for either my looks or just who I am.

Why Can’t I Look People in the Eyes?

Answered by on -

A.

I’m sorry you had such a tough beginning.  Your parents apparently were able to love you and your brother even though they weren’t able to love each other. Sometimes the most loving thing a parent can do for their child is to let someone else care for them while they figure themselves out. I’m guessing that’s why you and your brother stayed with relatives for a while. I hope the aunts were kind to you.

You sought safety and security in a long relationship during your teen years. It helped you manage the difficult high school environment and gave you companionship and the love you had been seeking. But like most high school relationships, it came to an end just as high school does. The problem with such relationships is that often the two young people depend too much on each other and they get zero experience with managing the ups and downs of other relationships. So, yes, that relationship gave you safety. But it had a cost. You didn’t have the opportunity to get to know other people and to develop confidence in yourself as a friend and as a partner.

Turning to drugs blunted the pain but also deprived you of another opportunity to learn how to relate to others. I take it that you have quit drugs which is terrific. Like many people who have used and abused drugs, getting clean means finally facing what you were avoiding. Now you find yourself in many ways back to age 16 when you were so unsure of yourself.

One way to avoid your fear of negative judgment by others is to first judge yourself. You are like a salesman who presents his product by saying, “I know you won’t want to buy this thing I’m showing you.”  It protects him from feeling rejected if people don’t buy because he has already told them that he doesn’t expect them to.  Similarly, you have already decided someone won’t like you so you beat them to it by expecting rejection.

You are on an important quest. I hope this idea is helpful to you. If you can’t explore it further on your own, I hope you will consider making an appointment with a mental health counselor to help you delve more deeply into it.

I wish you well.

Dr. Marie

Why Can’t I Look People in the Eyes?

Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

Dr. Marie is licensed as both a psychologist and marriage and family counselor. She specializes in couples and family therapy and parent education. Follow her on Facebook or Twitter.

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2019). Why Can’t I Look People in the Eyes?. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 20, 2019, from https://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2019/08/19/why-cant-i-look-people-in-the-eyes/
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 15 Aug 2019 (Originally: 19 Aug 2019)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 15 Aug 2019
Published on Psych Central.com. All rights reserved.