It's kind of relieving to read that other people go through the same things I go through. Because of that I feel inspired to write some of my thoughts and experiences related to this, though they are a little personal.
My parents used to verbally fight a lot over the smallest things. They were of course fighting with each other, but sometimes the fights would stem from me. I didn't really realize at the time that they were just wanting to fight with each other, and that I was just the excuse, not the real reason. Sometimes I would just ask for my week's worth of lunch money, and my parents would find some way to fight about that ("I gave him lunch money last week. It's your turn!" etc.). It got to the point where I was afraid to ask for things when they were in the room together. The spontaneity of their fights scared the hell out of me. I think that's one of the reasons I became so sensitive to negative reactions and tension, and now I have learned how to defuse it quickly.
In fifth grade I had a close friend tell all my other close friends lies about things that I supposedly said about them. They all stopped talking to me until High School, and I had no one. I remember 5th grade was probably the most awkward year of my life because I had no friends and I distanced myself from everyone else since I didn't want to go through something like that again. That of course made me the perfect target for bullying, which always caught me off guard and left me not knowing what to do. Once I was sitting on the school bus and a kid spit a mouth full of coke all over the back of my head for no reason at all. I was shocked and honestly scared; I had done nothing to him. I of course turned around and looked at him and noticed that there were two girls across the aisle from him that he was probably trying to "impress". I remember another time a friend I had sat with me on the bus in 7th grade, and another girl that was closer to her told her she couldn't sit with me because "he don't look good". What do you say or do when things like that happen to you? I didn't learn to defend myself until later in life, and I'm sure the severity of these instances are what caused the delay.
I ended up retreating into myself and filling myself with fears and insecurities that have never really gone away. I stopped volunteering to answer questions in class (I started doubting if I knew the right answers), I read books during recess and lunch (even during class!), etc. I basically turned into what psychologists call a "slow-to-warm-up learner" because I became so hesitant stepping into the unfamiliar. My grades dropped severely too.
I'm still quite hesitant to be friends with new people.
I am currently experiencing some anxiety about the school year. I am an RA and I was (unfortunately) assigned to the Freshmen Boys hall. Honestly, I am even more hesitant about being friends with any male because I'm gay. I have also had people I thought were friends act differently around me as soon as they found out I was gay. Being on a hall full of guys really fuels my fear of unexpected negative reactions. However, I am determined to face this challenge as just that... a challenge. A test to see if I am going to really let all of the people who didn't like me in the past hold me back. The more I challenge myself like this, the more esteemed and confident I become. Sometimes I envy people with an inflated ego. It is amazing to me that some people can be so confident in themselves, even though I know it essentially is a negative thing when it comes to their relations to other people.
All of this makes me think of Karen Horney's theory about Neurosis. It comes in three flavors: 1) Moving Toward Others 2) Moving Away From Others 3) Moving Against Others. Moving towards people is normally characterized as "The need for affection and approval; pleasing others and being liked by them.".
I try my best to be less sensitive to these kinds of social fears. I actually force myself to be involved with things that require a lot of social interaction as it makes me more desensitized. Examples of this: joined clubs and ran for officer positions, joined theater, became an RA, only worked jobs that require some form of customer service, volunteer for things in class, and the list goes on. Every one of these situations mark times when I was able to release my grip on my insecurities and fears... even if it was just a little, it was noticeable.