Why Do I have Trouble Making Friends?
by Vicki Nunn
(Extracted from Issue One: June 2015)
Why do I have trouble making friends? This is a complex issue and the answer depends on a number of factors:
- You may be shy;
- You may lack confidence;
- You may lack social skills; or
- All of the above
Just because you’re shy or lack confidence or social skills right now, doesn’t mean that you’re stuck that way forever, but it does mean you need to face up to a hard truth:
you need to change
because the world is not going to change to accommodate you. That’s a tough truth you need to accept.
Being willing to admit you need to change, can be difficult for some people and they throw themselves into work, volunteering or hiding out and keep themselves so busy that they fool themselves into believing that they simply don’t have the time to make friends. Or if they do pluck up the courage to attend social functions, they either leave early or hide if they can, eg if they’re at a party they may spend most of their time in the kitchen or go where there’s likely to be as few people as possible, eg on the patio.
I don’t wish to make light of the situation, because I know from personal experience, that for some people, social anxiety can be quite crippling and can overwhelm a person’s desire to socialise. As a young adult, I would become physically ill for hours before going out on a date, then I’d spend most of the evening desperately wishing that I didn’t feel so uncomfortable and feeling like a complete idiot. For days afterwards I would relentlessly pick fault with every little thing I did that I thought was wrong.
After several unsuccessful dates, I began to unconsciously sabotage any potential relationships. As soon as it looked like a boy wanted to get closer to me, I’d unconsciously convince myself that things wouldn’t work out, and I’d simply turn my attention to another young man and begin the cycle again.
My early relationships then were extremely superficial and as a result, my emotional development faltered while my social anxiety remained.
Those of us who suffer this anxiety know how easy it is to find fault with our own actions when in social situations. We often become quite adept at critiquing our performance afterwards and seeing poor quality interactions where in reality, often there were none or very little. We trust the hypercritical voice in our heads that tells us we are worthless and that our failings simply proved it.
We assume that people are being critical of our words and actions, which isn’t true. The majority of people we meet, have no interest in judging us and are genuinely interested in what we have to say. I wish someone at the time had told me that the voice in my head was the idiot! I wish they’d told me that I had the right turn its volume down so that I didn’t have to listen to it or believe it anymore and that I could tell it to ‘Get lost!’
Overcoming Fear and Shyness
There are several things that you may like to try, to help overcome your social difficulties:
1.Practice deep breathing:
Therapists suggest that daily practice can help you in social situations, because when anxiety threatens to overwhelm you, you can automatically go into your deep breathing technique without anyone else being aware of it, and it will still allow you to focus on the ongoing conversation as you regain control of your stress levels.
2.Set some achievable goals before you attend an outing:
Remind yourself that you have no control over sweating, blushing and feeling anxious, but instead you can focus on goals for the event which you can control, eg greet three strangers at a party; put forward an idea or make a specific comment at a workplace meeting; or say ‘no’ when someone asks you to help out.
Try to avoid thinking about other people’s response to your actions, because you have no control over how people will react. Instead afterwards, congratulate yourself for your achievement and remind yourself that you were brave enough to interact.
Read a good self-help book and make your mind up to follow the advice, no matter how scary it may seem. Perhaps you could join an online website that offers help. If you feel unsure about what book to read or which website to go to, then consider seeing a therapist in person. They can often put things in perspective and give helpful suggestions.
3.Self-talk in a positive, realistic way
As mentioned earlier, our own inner voice can often be ridiculously critical, so counteract it with positive and realistic dialogue. An example of this could be when having to speak in public. Your hyper-critical voice will tell you how terrible you’ll be. Instead of listening to it, ensure that you’re well prepared, then remind yourself that you’ve spoken in public before and survived, and since you’re well prepared this time, you’ll do your best, and that’s all anybody can ask or expect.
In social settings if you want to talk to someone or ask them out on a date, consider what is the worst possible outcome and prepare yourself for that. Remind yourself that they may even surprise you and say ‘Yes.’
When you feel the anxiety rise, your heart pound and you begin to sweat, remind yourself, “Yes, I am feeling anxious, but it will eventually pass.”
4.Create an exposure ladder
An exposure ladder is a list of social situations that make you feel very anxious or exposed. Write down a list of ten in order of difficulty and rate them out of a 100 with zero being no stress at all and one hundred being the most extreme anxiety. Challenge yourself to perform the least difficult of the tasks and work your way up the ladder to the most difficult. Set yourself a goal to complete the list in a set period of time, eg six months ( no longer than one year) and reward yourself with something special when the list has been completed.
You may have heard of the phrases ‘an open-ended question,’ or ‘a closed question.’ If you want to improve your speaking skills with others, then you must train yourself to use open-ended questions. ·
- open-ended question: is one which usually can’t be answered with a simple yes or no but requires the other person to provide a more detailed response; ·
- closed question: is one that requires only a simple yes or no response.
An example of an open ended question is, “What do you like most about your work?” An example of a closed question is, “Did you have a nice day at work today?”
If you would like to develop a friendship or a romantic relationship with someone and you know that you’ll meet up with them at another function in the near future, try to find out a little about their workplace or their hobbies. Then before the next meeting, obtain some information related to their work or hobbies from your local library or look up details on the internet. That way you can be prepared with questions before you go. This will show the other person that you know a little about what matters to them, and may provide a platform upon which you share a common interest.
Being prepared will make it easier for you to communicate with them, and help you to feel more in control.
The fear of rejection and negative comments can often discourage us in our social interactions. If you do come across nasty people who make fun of you, then you can use a wonderful ‘power phrase’ which I learned a few years ago:
“Did you mean to make me feel …”
If somebody makes fun of you, you can respond with:
“Did you mean to make me feel …… when you said that?”
and add in the appropriate reaction or emotion you felt such as:
“Did you mean to make me feel uncomfortable when you said that?”
It puts the other person in their place without you having to resort to being nasty or negative in response and makes you look like the bigger person in the situation.
If they reply with “No,” then it will appear to be almost an admission of guilt or childishness on their part. Sometimes it will force the other person to apologise or at the very least, encourage them to back off.
On rare occasions the other person may say, “Yes,” to your power phrase, which will just make them look like a bit of a goose in front of everyone.
On even rarer occasions, you may occasionally interact with some who chooses to continue with their nastiness, in which case you can respond calmly with: “Since you’re choosing to be nasty, I’m choosing to walk away from you.” Then physically remove yourself from that situation and join another group. Try to ignore them after that.
You may even stumble across some moron who insists on following you and trying to belittle you even after you’ve responded appropriately. Remind yourself that if you react to them, you are giving them all of the power in the silly little game they are playing. Don’t play their dumb game. They’ve played it enough to be good at it. Say nothing more as you walk away and join another group of people. In fact, the best thing to do is not to react to them at all.
Bullies don’t know what to do when people don’t behave like they are supposed to. Remember, you have nothing to prove to that other person. Their behaviour is a clear indication that they’re a contemptible human being and unworthy of your time or emotions.
Remind yourself that there are people who will value your friendship, so focus your efforts on them, and don’t allow the bullies or the idiots to ruin your day or your belief in yourself.
It’s amazing how God can grow us and stretch us. From my early beginnings of feeling extremely socially awkward and lacking in confidence, I grew to a point where eventually I became a leader of a Kid’s Club and Sunday School, coordinated a Christian singles group, sang in front of a church and shared a sermon with a congregation. In addition I became a volunteer radio presenter on Christian radio for more than ten years. That’s more than 2,000 hours talking to complete strangers on the air!
I didn’t start out with the confidence to do those things, let alone naturally have those skills. That was a result of God working slowly in me, because I was willing to overcome my fears and to grow and change.
May I encourage you to pray about your development. Ask God to help you to become a stronger person: tell Him about your fears and struggles; and scary though it may seem, be willing to change and grow.
© Vicki Nunn, SPAG Magazine