|Confronting the New Anxiety - Page 11|
Fifteen year-old Nick was in therapy because he had such a hard time making friends, and didn't know that his imperious demands turned people off. At lunch, for example, he'd go to a table full of classmates and shove his way into a seat, saying something MTV-ish, like "move your ass!" The kids at the table weren't impressed; they'd tell him to get lost. So, time and again, Nick's anxiety about his lack of friends would spike.
I quickly began to understand why he had difficulty making friends, because Nick acted the same way with me, demanding, "Where's my food?" After a few times of grudgingly going along, I told him, "You know, usually I look forward to these snacks. But I don't feel like eating with you when you talk like that." Looking deeply puzzled, he said, "But that's just the way I always talk."
"And what do the other kids say when you start telling them, 'do this, do that?'" I asked.
Nick paused and thought. He wasn't defensive--when I ask these kinds of questions, kids often aren't. They're just surprised; it hasn't occurred to them that an adult might have feelings about what they do and that there may be a reason why peers don't find them inviting. Over the course of several months, he developed a little more self-awareness. At school, Nick gradually learned when and how to ask if he could sit with others. Slowly, he was accepted at the outer edges of the "nonloser" table--not the highest rung on the adolescent social ladder, to be sure, but better than before.
Mandy was a sweet girl of 15, who "mysteriously" alienated other kids. After a few sessions, it became clear why. Mandy got so wound up telling me a story that she'd repeatedly leave her chair and stand directly in front of me, completely lost in the details of her experience. I felt myself shrinking back in my chair. Mentally pushing aside the neat diagnosis of "nonverbal learning disorder," I decided to respond in the moment, saying, "Please, Mandy, move back a little and tell me from a little farther away. I can't concentrate with you practically on top of me."
She stopped, looked surprised, and said, "You mean I'm making you nervous?"
"Yes," I said, "I really feel pushed."
She looked taken aback.