As a clinician, I often work with clients who may have moved to the area recently or are making a life transition in which they are no longer close to a group of friends on a daily basis such as in school or a work setting. They may be changing from an office job where they had coworker friends to working independently. They may be coming out of a relationship or divorce where they had shared mutual friends in their social circle.
I recall when I moved from a small city to a large city where I only knew one friend, and finding the idea of making new friends daunting at first. It was challenging to figure out where to even begin to make new friends let alone intimate friendships that I once had prior to moving. I hear clients share this overwhelming and isolating feeling as well as doubting themselves. While this feeling can be overwhelming, there are several encouragements that may be helpful for making new healthy connections and friendships.
Remember the fear of making new friendships is normal.
So stop being hard on yourself. Most people can experience thoughts of self-doubt. They fear that they are the only one that struggles with making a new friend or assume that other people are not interested in friendship or connection.
There are others that want or even need friendship with you.
Many people struggle with being lonely and desire new friendship, so you can let go of the assumption that you are not wanted or needed as a friend. Studies even show that making friends contributes toward optimal physical and emotional health. And studies show that friendship and social connections prevents dementia from developing. Also connection to a group contributes to a sense of purpose and meaning as well as responsibility to others and self-care. (McKay, 2019)
You can build trust gradually.
We can all fear rejection in trying to cultivate new connections and friendship. Try looking at making new connections in a “softer” or more gradual way of building connection. You could always sign up for a new group such as through Meetup.com or a friend-making social media web site. Give a new group a chance and attend a few times so that you see some of the same people and have the opportunity to see what you may have in common. You don’t have expect yourself to fully trust people immediately. A new friendship often starts with establishing a feeling of safety and trust just like many relationships in life.
Try the G.I.V.E Skill
In Marsha Linehan’s Dialectual Behavior Therapy model, she designed the interpersonal “G.I.V.E.” skill in acronym form, which stands for being gentle in your approach with speaking to people, act interested in what other are speaking about, validate others with something they spoke about, and practicing being easy-going in your attitude and expectations (Linehan, 2015).
Decide what your priorities are in a friendship.
You don’t have to expect yourself to be friends with just anyone. Since there are some people who may not seem like healthy friends or consistent or reliable in building a connection, that is okay. Decide what are important and healthy qualities to in a friendship.
Since new friendships do not form overnight, check out several avenues of potential connections. Attend different groups within a community. Be open to joining events that others suggest or recommend.
Remember that different friendships have different purposes.
Not all friendships have to necessarily be intimate best friendships. There are some friends you could plan to meet up with once per month over coffee, dinner, or a certain activity, and there are friendships where it may be comfortable to get together with more often such as going for a walk once a week. I often refer to this as a “portfolio” of friendships that can be cultivated; this is a healthy balance or variety of friendships.
If you are feeling lonely or isolated and want to increase your confidence in making new connections with relationships and friendships, you may benefit from with working with a counselor at Symmetry Counseling. You can easily schedule an appointment today with one of our counselors.
Linehan, M. (2015). DBT Skills Training Manual. New York, NY: Guilford Press.
McKay, S. (2019, July). Why Friendship is Great for Your Brain [Blog Post]. Mind Body Green. Retrieved from https://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-12905/why-friendship-is-great-for-your-brain-a-neuroscientist-explains.html