Making friends can be a challenge regardless of your temperament. It requires finding people you connect with and building a trusting and mutually supportive relationship. It can be vulnerable and bring up insecurities. Shyness can make it extra scary to reach out because of the fear of humiliation or rejection. These fears can range from mildly uncomfortable to quite extreme. Sometimes it can feel easier to avoid trying to make friends all together.
Keeping to ourselves is one way we try to protect ourselves from the pain of being disappointed. Through isolating, we try to keep ourselves safe by removing the possibility of being let down.
But, what about the parts of us that do want to connect? What about the parts of us that would like to have meaningful conversations with people who get us? Friendships can be deeply nurturing, a lot of fun, and an important resource when we’re going through difficult times. Having solid people in our life can help us feel more grounded and confident. Having pals to run ideas by, share experiences with, and relate to can enrich our overall wellness.
Some Things to Keep in Mind
If you find that you clam up in big groups, it’s totally okay to keep your friend circle smaller, or to have multiple friends, but see them in small groups or one-on-one. You don’t have to be constantly surrounded by people if you don’t want to. You can determine your interpersonal sweet spot through trial and error. What’s too much or too little social interaction for you, and how can you tell and make appropriate adjustments? Your life doesn’t have to look like a sitcom. You don’t always have to be around a collection of people if it leaves you feeling drained. Enjoying a walk in the park with one good pal can feel really refreshing. Figure out what works best for you, including how many friends you can and want to keep up with.
Not Everyone Needs or Wants the Same Things Out of Their Friendships
This means that you don’t need to “force” a friendship. If something doesn’t feel right, you’ve tried to address it, and it’s still off, it makes sense to seek out friendships that feel more supportive and aligned. If you want to connect on a deep personal level, and a person you’re getting to know doesn’t want the same, it’s okay to seek out closeness with another person. Maybe you do really like the person who tends to stay a bit more on the surface, but mostly as someone to do outdoorsy stuff with as opposed to have rich philosophical discussions with. It’s totally fine if some of your friendships feel more deep and intimate than others in different ways. Consider what you’re getting out of your hangouts in light of what you’re contributing to them. If the proportion of giving or receiving support feels unbalanced, it’s good to have a conversation where you ask for what you need. It’s important to show up because you want to, not because you feel obligated or don’t know how to say no.
How To Go About Making New Friends
There are practical pieces to creating a network of social support. If you want friends, how to find them might feel like a mystery. Think about what you’ve already tried and where you feel you’re getting stuck. Is your shyness getting in the way of approaching someone in one of your classes and asking if they want to plan a time to get together to study? Are you able to reach out, but you find yourself unsure of what to say when you’re around folks that could turn into friends? What ways are you psyching yourself out? What do you need to take a risk and strike up a conversation with that person you always see at the cafe reading graphic novels?
Shared interests can be a great place to start in finding your people. Meet-up groups, online forums, and other events around a specific topic that you care about could all provide an opportunity for connecting with people. A common interest could be a favorite artist, a social issue that reflects your values, or a new skill you’d like to learn. Friendships aren’t all about sameness, but it’s a good starting point. Ongoing classes, groups, or volunteer opportunities can be especially helpful because they give you time to sit back and observe for a while without the pressure of “now or never” that you may feel at a one-time event. If you’re not sure where to start, you could make a list of hobbies you’re interested in and search for opportunities (such as an acting class, a cooking course, or a book club, just to name a few).
Be Aware That Tough Experiences Aren’t Proof That You Should Give Up
Sometimes when things don’t work out, we can find ourselves thinking, “I knew it. No one likes hanging out with me. I’m a total loser. I shouldn’t have even tried”. This is a way that a critical part of us tries to keep us small so that we won’t have to feel as much discomfort. It’s a noble effort by that part, but, here’s the thing that it doesn’t realize: it’s totally okay to experience discomfort! It’s a part of life to sometimes feel awkward. It’s very natural to have a full range of emotions. And, something else the critical part of us doesn’t totally get is that we can handle it. We can tolerate disappointment. We can ride the wave of anxiety. We can feel bummed out and still be okay. We don’t need the extreme level of protection from feelings of pain that our inner critic thinks we do. We have encountered adversity before and gotten through it. We are capable and resilient.
Feeling a sense of belonging is important and having people in our life who know and care about us can have a number of benefits.
If making friends as a shy person is feeling tricky, know that you’re not alone.
For further support, you are welcome to get in touch with me at email@example.com.
I offer individual therapeutic services for adults and teens as well as Shy Club, an in-person 8-week small group for teens and young adults that meets in my Downtown San Francisco office.
Photo used under Creative Commons from Ms. Salo.