Help! I'm shy and scared and I can't make friends.
I got this email from a reader today. She said:
"I had a question that I was hoping maybe you could answer or help me with.
So basically, I'm a really shy person. I was never part of the popular crowd or anything like that. I think the problem is that I have trouble trusting people so easily. I'm always afraid to put myself out there and try to make new friends.
This upcoming year I'll be starting high school, and to be honest I'm scared. I'm scared of losing the few good friends I made in middle school because we're going to different high schools.
I'm scared that I won't be able to make new friends because I'm so shy. I know what it's like to feel alone and lonely. There were times when I didn't have any friends at all and since then, I've been so scared of not having anyone.
I'm trying really hard to get out of my comfort zone and get out of my shell. I pray every night that God gives me the confidence I need and takes away my fears. I guess that I partly wrote this email because I needed to get this off my chest, and partly to see if you have any advice or words of wisdom for me.
If there's one thing I can't resist, it's a request for advice. I'm full of it! And hopefully, it's not too bad. This is what I wrote back.
Thanks for your email. I'm really glad you wrote it and I'm sure that even just the physical act of typing out your fears is going to help. Sometimes just verbalising what's going on in your head can help kickstart some changes.
BUT, to the problem.
I hear you saying that, having experienced loneliness before, you're terrified of it happening again. I hear you saying that you have trouble trusting people. I hear you saying that your fears are holding you back from making new friends.
First, the positive.
You said you have had some 'good friends' in middle school. That is wonderful. That means that you can make friends, that you do trust some people, that you do know what to do socially, and that some people do like you.
Okay, so yes, you've been lonely before. But most recently, you've had friends. To me, this is a great first step and the basis of your confidence.
Of course, confidence seems to be the real problem here. I hear a *lot* of fear in your words and thoughts. This is going to be the thing that makes or breaks it for you, I think.
I have a son with high anxiety. He has autism and ADHD and he pretty much refuses to do anything new and chucks a tantrum about it. I didn't get why and talked to his therapist about it. She explained to me that his tantrums come from fear and anxiety which in turn come from feeling incompetent.
The way I deal with his fears is to break down the thing he's afraid of into little steps and then help him take one small step at a time, giving him lots of high fives as we go.
So maybe you need to do the same.
Making friends is a big thing that's made up of lots of little steps. First you go to where the people are. Then you make some chit chat conversation and do something with other people. Then you get more and more chances to hang out or chat and then eventually you get to a stage where you can invite them out and you're sharing 'in' jokes and things just seem to work. Voila! You have friends. But you've done a lot to get there.
If you can see the task ahead as lots of little steps and approach each individually, it'll be a lot less daunting than thinking "Aagh, I've got to Make Friends!!!" and freaking yourself out about it.
And ideally, if you can find someone to high five you every time you take a step and succeed (or even if you don't succeed, at least high five the attempt) you'll build your confidence and competence that much more quickly. If you don't have someone who'll do that for you, do it for yourself. Treat yourself every time you do something awesome, no matter how tiny it is. And know that God's cheering you on as well.
Confidence is something that is built, not zapped down miraculously from heaven. Some people find it really easy to build and can do it really quickly. Others of us find it much more of a struggle, but you've got to know that it is possible to build it.
And you're not alone - many, many people struggle with shyness, but you can conquer it with the right steps and plenty of applause, both from yourself and from others.
The other two factors in making friends are time and proximity.
It really does take a lot of time to feel comfortable with other people. I've moved a lot and I think it takes at least 8 months before I even begin to feel comfortable in my new surroundings and with the new people.
Proximity means simply being there. If you want to make friends, you've got to be with people, even when it feels weird or uncomfortable and you don't understand the jokes. You'll get them eventually and one day you'll look around and go, "Hey, I'm not just the 'new weirdo' here."
Here are some ideas of steps to take to make friends:
- Join clubs and groups and teams at school. Do everything you're even vaguely interested in. Try it even if you think you're not interested in it. You might end up being great at it! Doing stuff with other people is a great way to get to know them. People often find their best friends in a club or group.
- Really work on your body language. Nothing says 'avoid me' more than a hunch and a fearful look in the eyes. If you're not feeling confident, pretend you are and walk tall. You can be an actress for a day, or a week or a year, until it comes naturally. I'm not saying you should pretend to be someone else. See it as practicing your own self-confidence. Oh, and always say 'hi' and smile.
- Make it a goal to ask one person a question per day. Listen to their answer and nod. If you're genuinely curious and interested in other people, with a kind manner, you cannot help but make friends.
- Remember that your fear makes it hard for other people to be friendly to you. If you're busy believing that no-one can possibly like you, you're not actually letting anyone in who might like you. So you're doing other people a favour by practicing not being afraid.
- Give yourself ten minutes a day where you mentally 'take off' your fears and put them in a corner of the room. See how it feels. A lot lighter and more fun. Spend some time thinking about what you could do without them. Gradually lengthen the time you spend without your fears on you, knowing that you can always pick them back up again.
- If you get hurt, cry and sob and feel bad. Let it all out. Send me an email and tell me about it. And then get back right up and start again.
- Read a lot about friendship. I like the book 'Safe People' by Cloud and Townsend. Definitely worth a chase up. I'll have a book on friendship available soon too.
- If you go to youth group, find a wise and trusted female leader or older friend and go and talk to her about the problem. Tell her that you need someone who'll 'high five' you every time you do something towards building your confidence and ask her for her affirmation and listening ear. (Just be careful about who you choose - someone who is kind, wise and a good listener is ideal.)
- Think about the Bible verse where it says that God doesn't give you a spirit of fear, but of power and self-control. That's yours for the taking! You've just to practice using it.
- Decide what small step you're going to do each day. Think about it, prepare for it, and do it. Make it a REALLY REALLY small step to begin with. Something as tiny as 'looking at the sign up sheets for the debating club'. Then there's no chance of failure. And once you've succeeded at one thing, you can take the next step.
- Oh, and keep praying, but asking God to help you take the small steps.
Let me know how you go!
And here's a gift for you. A free book
Just as a little encouragement from me, I'd love you to have a free copy of my novel, Invisible. It's basically about a shy girl who makes friends. (There are a few other plot points too, obvs, but mostly it's about the shy girl.)