So today I was hanging around at these cliffs by the lake I live near with a couple of close friends. About an hour into the day some of their friends showed up unexpectedly and both of the guys I had gone there with sorta just left me and the new dudes weren’t exactly ~hospitable~ or welcoming. They all ignored me so I just sat alone on a high rock. I’m not someone who’s usually afraid of confrontation or socializing but sometimes I just don’t know how to approach people. What can I do to I guess make more friends easier & get to know people?
This is a perfect example of a person standing in their own way. I wish I could say that making friends gets easier the older you get, but unfortunately, it gets harder before it gets easier. There are two main reasons for this: self-awareness and social assumptions.
When you are young you don’t know shame the way you do now and that ignorance allows you to be yourself with ease. It’s the sandbox mentality. When you’re placed in a sandbox with other kiddos you bring one hundred percent of yourself to the situation. You don’t mask who you are and so you build genuine relationships. As we get older we experience embarrassment and, as a result, learn shame. We become aware of ourselves and how we are perceived by others, which starts that social anxiety of “Should I have said that?”, “Are they laughing with me or at me?”, etc. We begin to protect ourselves with layers and layers of masks that we wear socially. We only share who we really are with people who we already trust. This is the birth of your self-awareness. Your ability to realize that others see you through their own lens.
As people, we don’t like blanks or grey areas. We research the mysteries of the world for answers, we push to add labels to relationships, we like definites, not in-betweens. This is great if you work in a research field, but in the real world, it can hurt you. Once we realize that other people are seeing us through their own lens we try to figure out what that lens is. Instead of allowing other people to make a decision about us and who are we are, we assume what they think of us. As anxiety is the largest mental health issue, it’s likely a negative assumption we make. They don’t think we’re funny, or cool, or pretty enough to hang out with. We project our self-consciousness onto others and form social assumptions that they are judging us from the beginning, seeing all our flaws as vividly as we do.
The second piece of social assumptions is that we assume because we act a certain way that others will do. Similar to projecting your self-consciousness we project our “way of the world” on others. When I meet someone new I am immensely shy (if you know me that may shock you, but it’s true). I’m a massive introvert and meeting new people makes me anxious and nervous and that manifests itself in my silence. It’s my own mask of self-protection. If you typically greet new people with a lot of warmth, and the two of us met, what would you think of me? Your social assumption in meeting me for that first time would probably be that I’m distant or cold, and neither is true.
We assume that our truths are true for others, and when they don’t match up we fall back into the pattern of a little voice telling us that we are wrong, we are the thing that’s “off”, and that everyone around us is having some underlying conversation about us. I’ve been there, overthinking every moment to the max, anticipating an alterior motive for every action. What you have to remember is that you are telling yourself this story. Some people are judgmental assholes, most people aren’t.
My biggest piece of advice is to give new people the benefit of the doubt. What you might be receiving as them being cold or exclusive could easily be their own nervousness to branch out from their group. Not a great thing as we all should be more eager to extend the olive branch, but not a reflection of you. Remember that we all have that little voice in our heads when meeting new people and sometimes you need to tell it to shut up. It’s not an easy thing to do, but recognizing that you are telling yourself a story of what someone else is thinking can help ease you into the first few steps of meeting someone new. Take the first step, introduce yourself, stand tall, start telling yourself the truth instead of a story. The truth is that you are worthy of other people’s time and friendship. You are someone who can *click* with someone new. You are someone who can boldly put yourself out there. You are someone who makes the first move.
I guarantee you will be shocked at how much this works out in your favor. Trust me, I practice this all the time. Initially, being aware that I was quiet when first meeting people (and that it was being taken negatively) was something I viewed as a weakness. But now I view it as my strength. Am I still quiet when meeting new people? Yes. But I channel it into being an avid listener. I pay attention to everyone in the group, even if they’re being talked over. I ask follow up questions. I show that I care.
Taking those little steps is like a social warm-up, let’s me relax, and bring down my social anxiety walls. Find the thing that helps grease the wheels for you. Maybe it’s a simple as offering a piece of gum, maybe it’s always opening with a compliment. Look for something that feels natural and easy for you to do and bring that to the table with confidence.
I’m in your corner! Good luck 🙂