I was bullied at school and never made friends

I care about others but I have never been able to build a connection with anyone

PROBLEM: I was bullied all through school and never seemed to fit in. I only ever had one or two friends at a time, and they were rarely healthy relationships. My older brother would bully me, too, and often interfered in my life in a very negative way. I’ve distanced myself from him because of this. Although my parents were loving, there was never any support from them, and I’ve often felt like a burden.

After school I went on to college and made one friend, who I’m still friends with, but again it’s a patchy and not very healthy relationship. We’re in contact often but every conversation with her is always doom and gloom, no matter how much I try to lighten the mood. Everything is always on her terms if we meet up; she will want to do things that I have no interest in. I leave feeling stressed and burdened; she has no other friends either.

After college I went to university and felt like I had the plague: everyone avoided me or had very negative reactions towards me. I made one friend during my time at university, but we’ve drifted and no longer speak. I became extremely anxious and nervous of people during this time and extremely self-conscious. I would often have panic attacks and avoided people as much as I could.

I have also had very toxic romantic relationships where I was cheated on and physically and verbally abused.

I decided to seek counselling to try and discover what is so wrong with me and why I am such a pariah. I started a course to try and meet new people and really attempted to put myself out there, but nothing has worked.

I care very much about others and I would help anyone who needed it. I’ve learned to build some boundaries and put myself first. I’ve built some confidence and have worked through the panic attacks, but I’m tired of being so friendless and getting such negative feedback from others. I know I’m not a bad person – I genuinely care about others and what they have to say – but I have never been able to build a connection with anybody.

ADVICE: Life sounds as if it has been a huge struggle for you. It is very sad that all the efforts you have put into place have not yet paid off. You have been engaging in all the right things in order to shift the social balance in your life; I wonder if you persevered would you start to get some results.

It is wonderful that you have worked through panic attacks – this is no small achievement – and also that you have learned about boundaries and developed confidence. Attending counselling and enrolling on a course are excellent ways to increase self-awareness and to begin to forge links with others. However, it seems that true friendship has evaded you, and if you had this you would be well on the way to having the kind of life you would like.

It is true that the people we spend most time with have huge influences on our lives and moods, and you have been unfortunate in this area. Your brother was a negative influence, your school friendships unhealthy and your one college friend gloomy and isolated. It would be good if you could choose to spend time with people you admire and who function well in the world.

If these people are not around you at work, you might consider where you are likely to meet them. Doing a course is often a place to start, but it might take a lot longer than the time a course allows to forge a real friendship. Would you consider volunteering? This might meet two needs in your life: your desire to care for and help others; and to be in the company of like-minded people who are positive, interested and outgoing. It might take some time for you to become close to these people, but spending time with others while engaging in a mutual activity over a period of time often results in friendship.

Of course, this will not be easy for you as you have had a series of negative experiences in your past, but you must start from the belief that you are a person worth knowing. This means dropping the idea that you are a pariah. If you find that this idea still holds sway, more work needs to be done on it. Perhaps a short-term return to counselling might be a good idea.

There is evidence that you do not give up easily, and this, together with your wish for connection with good people, will act at the motivation you need to instigate change. It will take some time for this change to happen, so make a decision to stick with the new plan for at least a year before reviewing things.