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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: When I was young, I was extremely shy. I finally got over it, and here's how: I came to the realization that shy people have one thing in common -- they're all overly sensitive about how others perceive them. "Am I dressed right? Does my hair look OK?" They obsess about themselves.

Then one day someone asked me about a necklace I was wearing -- and that one question distracted me so I didn't think about myself. After that, I made an effort to find something of interest to ask other shy people about, and it would usually open up a conversation.

Conquering my shyness didn't happen overnight, but I was eventually able to go into sales and even make "cold calls." I've come a long way from the shy girl I was as a child.

If my experience helps even one shy person to be less self-conscious, the time it took to write this letter will have been worth it. Thanks, Abby. -- PAT IN TUJUNGA, CALIF.

DEAR PAT: Thank you for sharing your technique for overcoming shyness. Many people share the problem in social situations. In extreme cases, "social phobias" can also be treated with counseling and medication.

DEAR ABBY: My husband's 19-year-old daughter is being married in May of 2003. She has asked us to pay half of the cost of the wedding.

The problem is that she has a 15-month-old baby whom we've never met; she lives with her boyfriend, whom we've also never met; she dislikes me, and for that reason refuses to visit us. (She lives in Nebraska and we live in New Mexico.)

This girl has informed my husband that there will be 150 people at the reception dinner after the wedding, and 400 more coming to the reception later -- out of whom only my husband, myself and my mother-in-law will be invited from our side of the family.

In other words, we're being invited to this wedding as guests, but are expected to foot half the bill. What do you make of this, Abby? -- MIFFED STEPMOTHER OF THE BRIDE

DEAR MIFFED: I don't know enough about the history of your stepdaughter's breach with you and her father to make a judgment. However, the guest list seems decidedly one-sided to me, and you should pay only what you feel you can afford.

DEAR ABBY: "Very Sad Aunt" wrote about her brother's two children and their stepfather's abuse of them. Your advice was good, but did not go far enough.

I am a police officer in Maine, and I am familiar with how much time it takes for social services to investigate reported child abuse. Sometimes social service agencies will not even open a case until four separate referrals have been made.

The aunt needs to talk to her brother about seeking an "order of protection" from the local district court. He can then gain temporary custody while the allegations are thoroughly investigated. Imagine how this aunt and her brother would feel if they sent these children back to that household and one ends up seriously hurt -- or worse.

Abby, please urge them to get a protection order and remove those kids from that environment immediately. It could save their lives. Sign me ... COP FOR THE KIDS

DEAR COP: You have done that for me, and for that I thank you.

For an excellent guide to becoming a better conversationalist and a more attractive person, order "How to Be Popular." Send a business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $5 (U.S. funds only) to: Dear Abby Popularity Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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