I used to have this problem, I can almost remember specifically when it started. I was at school one day, when I was maybe 10, we were playing card games, and I suddenly started to feel very intimidated by every person around me, people that I have always gotten along with throughout the years. From early years I had pretty good self confidence and had good friends, but I had a really high winner instinct and I felt that I was always better than other's and stronger, and I couldn't handle defeat.
This made me a little unpopular and some friends didn't want to hang with me. I remember one time, all my friends got really mad at me because I had been fighting with a good friend leading from an argument, I realized I had kind of a short temper, and people started to tell me that nobody liked me, these in the moment comments of anger. I took comments like these very close to me. Other comments was things like, "I think he is paranoid" which I didn't know what meant at the time, so I thought people were out to "take me". Over the years I started to become very popular among the girls, I toned down on being the best at everything guy, to being grateful for being liked by everyone, when all the girls started to really like me, the guys did so too. This was around 5th grade, so it was 1 year of dancing on roses, before the problem with the eyes started. In the beginning as I mentioned earlier I felt intimidated by everyone, the slightest collision with someones eyes and I would feel a wave of anxiousness moving through my body. When I tried to say something it wasn't funny at all anymore, and the glance I got when trying to talk was like, "wtf are you looking at". previously I was one of the most well-spoken, funny guys in the class. Now that I think back it was as if something caused a massive drop in self-confidence over night or my brain suddenly stopped producing a very important substance.
I went along with this problem, thinking it was something that would go over with time, little did I know I was in for the long haul. This does not mean any one of you who reads this necessarily will have this problem for as long, but mine lasted for 10 years, 10-20. In the beginning it didn't affect me too much, since I thought it was a temporary thing. I still got along with people when I started junior high, and I was fairly well liked by many, even though I couldn't see people in the eyes. I as many of you found techniques to cope with the problem like, looking down, looking back up, smile and look away, to show that it at least seems like you are interested. I also started to play a **** load of video games, and I mean a **** load. Like probably 15000 hours in 5 years. I started isolate myself, in my room, because I even felt intimidated thinking about having to talk to my parents, brother and sister whom I love greatly, because I couldn't look at them either.
During the junior high years It wasn't that bad I went to school. I did have trouble paying attention in class because I felt scared a lot, and always thought "if that person/teacher speaks to me now, I am going to look awkward as hell, and probably freak that person out. And when I thought these thoughts when the eventual situation happened it came exactly true as I imagined, and I really wish I started to change my though patterns earlier, and remove triggers like "what if" and not taking sorrows in advance. But in the moment that's really hard.
The toughest year for me was when I started high school, I felt more and more afraid of looking people in the eyes, and I was still hiding behind gaming and staying with my 4 standard friends a lot. I was also afraid looking my friends in the eyes, but I still found ways to cope with them, and i always felt excited when I wanted to be with them. Sort of a 50/50 scared/excited feeling. I was really good at hiding my problem, and my friends have now later, after I have told them of my experiences said that I was the guy in the group they thought would "land on my feet" work/relationship/life wise. I also picked up smoking weed in the last year of high school, when I switched to a school with very friendly people, yet very bad slacking environment, and I got 20% of the schools potheads in my class. I do not recommend smoking tbh, as it can cause both positive and negative feelings to get a lot more powerful.
After the last year in high school which was by far my toughest year in the entire process, I
started skipping a lot of classes, which I don't recommend because it will make you have a hard time getting into higher education, so force yourself to go to school and rather take a good free year or two after.
After high school was when things started to get brighter for me. Because I made my life's best decision after this whole thing started. I went into the military service. The marine. The first 8 weeks was recruit, I was really anxious because I knew it would be hard as hell to stay sane with this problem, among so many people. And being forced to look Veteran instructors in the eyes and other recruits. The recruit period was though as hell on me mentally, so I stayed a lot alone, and socialized as much as I could, and I didn't seem to get better even tho I was forced to do tasks/look people in the eyes and stay close upon people for 8 weeks. We did have permission to go home on weekends, and I only lived about 3 hours from the camp so I did that, which was important so I could see friends and family. I would often start shake in my entire face when being forced to look at someone, it was if 100 negative thoughts of how bad it was going to go went though my head, from the moment someone shouted my name til I turned around and had to look at them. And it was like this every time. I still managed to pull through the recruit and got to apply for further service. I was really unsure where to go and I kind of winged it a little, and put down Coast Guard, I knew if I went into the coastguard I would have to live really close up on people, but it was still by far the best place to be in the marine, since you get to visit a lot of places (especially inner coast guard). I was lucky enough not only to get into the Coast Guard, but also on the best boat. A fairly small but with highest budget of them all, and the capitol area.
On this boat I was 6 weeks on and 3 weeks off, sometimes more, sometimes less. There were total 30 people, but only 15 on at the same time, then staff switch midway, so I was basically forced to live upon people, and adjust every third week. I also had to spend up to 6 hours with navigator alone at night when I had lookout guard. After being on the boat for half a year, every time I got home for my 3 weeks off I felt really energized and happy like never before, calm too and my eyes was really calm. And when my military service was complete I had grown so much in my head that I was almost an entirely new person.
I still can't go up to any random person and just talk 100% freely and relax and not feel a little afraid, I am still working on that, but a year after the military I am now working hard at a local shop earning money feeling confident, happy and see bright on the future. I also planning to start higher education.
The reason I wanted to share this story was, because in 2013 I bumped into this thread desperately searching for any help on the issue, and I promised myself if I found a way to feel better I would come back and tell my story, I hope it helped any of you to see a little brighter on the future, you will overcome this problem!