When You Feel Like You've Tried Everything But Your Social Problems Still Aren't Improving
A very discouraging and confusing situation to be in is when you feel like you've tried everything to improve your social situation, but success, or even just some encouraging initial feedback, still eludes you. You have no idea what you're doing wrong, just that no matter what you can't make any headway on your issues. The specific area or skills each person struggles with varies, but this article will cover some general explanations for why you may feel stuck.
It won't take you more than a few minutes to read the article. The tricky part will be figuring out which reason might apply to you. It'll likely take some time and effort to look into the different possibilities and get to the bottom of things.
When faced with difficult goals it's very natural to fall into some of these pitfalls. It happens to everyone. I want to emphasize that none of the points below are meant to come across as an attack on anyone's self-discipline or self-awareness.
Your goals may be unrealistic
Your progress may be perfectly fine and you may just feel unnecessarily frustrated because you're expecting too much, too soon. When people try to improve in some areas they can be driven by a goal that's not very realistic. A socially awkward college freshman may have fantasies of reading a few Secret Tips and becoming the most popular guy on campus, and having friends and women fall all over him. A shy woman who practices starting conversations may expect everyone to respond super positively to her, even though that's impossible. A lanky weightlifter may think he's capable of gaining the body of a steroid and growth hormone-enhanced professional bodybuilder in six months. With pie in the sky goals like that it would be easy for anyone to get down over their seeming lack of progress, even though they may be well on their way to hitting more reasonable milestones.
You may have technically tried everything, but haven't stuck with any approach long enough to see results
Sometimes when people say they've "tried everything" what's really happened is they used a number of methods, but didn't stick with or fully apply any of them. Instead, without even realizing they were doing it, they half-heartedly tested out each approach, then jumped to something else when it didn't produce instant, effortless results. There are often so many fads and suggestions floating around that it's easy to move on to the next thing. You see people do this in a lot of areas, such as dieting and fitness.
Many issues that people struggle with already have an effective, unglamorous solution. It's just that making it work requires consistency, discipline, and the formation of healthy new habits. The hard part isn't knowing what to do. It's being able to repeat it for months or years on end. If you're not fully committed to making it work it's easy to lose motivation and go looking for a magic pill.
A social skills example would be getting more comfortable with situations that make you nervous. You have to put in the time to face your fears and slowly get used to them. It can take a while, and the process isn't always fun. If someone's not 100% keen on making that kind of change, it will be easy for them to flit around and look for something easier.
You tried some things in the past, but were hindered by the lack of a proper foundation
There are foundations that have to be in place before you can learn new skills. For example, you won't succeed at trying to learn the guitar if you have a chronic hand injury, terrible practice habits, and a belief that learning should be quick and mistake-free. Similarly, some people force themselves into social situations without a good baseline in place, then declare whatever they tried was a bust. Like they may take the suggestion to join a club as a way to meet people, but they haven't learned any methods to address their anxiety, and they view interactions through a lens of counterproductive beliefs like "People are unfriendly and rejecting" and "If I have one awkward moment it means I've failed and should give up." Your mindset doesn't have to be flawless before you work on your social issues, but you have to put some time into it so it's not totally sabotaging you.
You haven't truly tried everything and the right approach is still out there
This seems simple, but sometimes people feel like they've tried everything, but they really haven't, and the effective solution is still waiting to be found. Depending on the field, it can sometimes be easy to get sidetracked and end up chasing a bunch of dead ends, especially as a beginner who doesn't know any better. For example, someone who's trying to lose weight may be introduced to the field by fluffy fitness websites and waste a year trying a bunch of trendy diets and gimmicky supplements before finding better information. When people try to improve their social skills they may pursue quick fixes or only focus on nitty gritty conversation tactics, and overlook other options like reducing their insecurities.
You may have a blind spot
If someone consistently gets bad reactions from people, but they don't know what they're doing wrong, they may have a social weakness they're not able to see for themselves. To give one of many, many possible examples, they may come across as a bit bitter, hostile, and thin-skinned, and scare people off, but not realize it.
If you research widely enough you may stumble upon something that makes you aware of your blind spot. If you want to search more directly, the best way to go is to get feedback from a mental health professional. A counselor can help identify your weak areas, and tell you about them in a constructive way. You could also try asking people you know in your day-to-day life, but it's often hard to get a straight answer from them. They may be reluctant to tell you, for fear of hurting your feelings or getting a bad reaction, or because they'd just rather not be the person to have to break it to you. This article goes into more detail on your options:
A larger mental health or developmental issue may be holding you back
There are developmental differences and mental health issues that make it harder for people to acquire and apply social skills. Individuals on the autism spectrum or with Non-Verbal Learning Disabilities can struggle in social situations, as their brains aren't wired to "get" interpersonal communication on the intuitive level that most people do. A variety of mental health issues are also associated with social skills deficits. Again, seeing a professional is the way to go. They can assess whether such an obstacle is in place, and if it is, help you work around it.
You may have an unconscious reluctance to change
There's a conscious part of you that's eager to change. It's very aware of how painful your social issues are, it wants them gone now, and it's motivated to do whatever it takes. There may be less-logical unconscious parts of you that are afraid of change. They believe if you fix your social problems something bad might happen, so they do what they can to keep you stuck. They cause you to procrastinate, give up quickly, feel too busy, or decide you're not that interested in having friends after all. Sometimes the conscious, motivated side of you manages to be in control for a while, and you make some progress, but eventually the unconscious parts get back behind the wheel and slow you down.
As I said, these unconscious fears aren't logical. They're often based on unspoken "kid logic" conclusions about the world people come to as children. There are lots of reasons someone may unconsciously believe getting over their social anxiety or awkwardness could go wrong, but one may be that they had abusive parents, and being worried and hypervigilant for signs of annoyance and disapproval kept them safe growing up. Deep, deep down they think they'd be putting themselves in danger if they gave up their socially anxious nature.
Getting to the bottom of your own unconscious resistance is obviously tricky because, well, you're not conscious of it. Working with a counselor who has training in this area can be useful. There's a myth that exploring this kind of stuff in therapy is always lengthy and inefficient, but that's not necessarily the case. This article has a bunch of techniques for exploring your possible unconscious roadblocks on your own:
You might need to look at your problem from a different paradigm
Sometimes when people tackle an issue they unconsciously view it within a certain, limiting, set of beliefs and assumptions. Inside that framework they may never be able to have success. However, if they adopt a new way of looking at things a solution may become clear. For example, some people are held back by their anxiety for years, because they approach it with the mentality of, "I have to put my life on hold until I completely eliminate all my nervousness." They try exercise after exercise, technique after technique, but nothing sticks. They never get anywhere because you can't fully remove a core emotion like anxiety. A more productive paradigm is to see anxiety as uncomfortable, but tolerable, and know that you can still do the things you want to do even if you're feeling jittery at times.
(Another non-socializing example is how many people in their 20's feel flawed and discouraged because they don't know what they want to do with their lives. They try to figure out a career path, maybe even enroll in some college courses, but nothing grabs them. Often they're approaching the issue through the societally promoted lens of, "The way to pick a career is find a pre-existing interest or passion you want to turn into a job, then complete a degree that will let you get a position in that field." That approach works for some people, but not everyone. Others arrive at their career in different ways. They may stumble into a field they never would have guessed would be a fit for them, even if they spent ten years taking career aptitude tests or thinking about questions like, "What would I do for fun if I won the lottery?" They may take a part-time job at a restaurant simply to earn some money and then find they love cooking. Others defy the idea that your career has to be an outgrowth of a passion. They may find fulfillment in their free time, and be content to earn a comfortable living doing an uninspired-on-paper job that they fell into, like managing a call center.)
Your overall situation could be slanted against you
Sometimes your lack of success has nothing to do with you, and in a new environment you may have a completely different outcome. For example, a young professional woman who's just moved to the United States from Sri Lanka may not be able to get anything going socially because she lives in a town full of mildly bigoted blue collar retirees. That's not to say her situation is completely impossible, but a huge factor in her lack of success is that she's not around people she's compatible with. It may just be easier for her to move on rather than swim upstream. Another common example is a high school student who no one will give a chance to because they've already built up a reputation as one of the weird kids.
This point isn't the same as the related issue of when someone feels they can't succeed because their circumstances are stacked against them, but it's more of a limiting belief on their part. In any particular case it's often hard to tease apart whether one person's lack of success is due to internal or external barriers.