Difficulties with forming friendships

In my therapy practice I frequently hear clients experience difficulties building friendships. As human beings we are hard wired for social contact, therefore a lack of close relationships is experienced as deeply debilitating, frequently leading to depression and/or states of anxiety.

Clients often describe their lack of social contacts as shameful. The sense of shame feeds into a person’s belief of not being worthy of attention or deserving of the love that friendship can offer. Feelings of shame tend to lead to a wish to hide away and to cover up the very part of ourselves that we feel ashamed of. Shame is therefore often the driving force that keeps an isolated person in further isolation.

People in social isolation often hold a deep seated belief that other people do not find them interesting enough or that they have nothing worthwhile to contribute to conversations. Social isolation often goes hand in hand with depressive feelings; the client often feels that nobody wants to spend time with them as they are not fun enough or burden other people with their negative thoughts. Often there is a sense that they are too much for other people to cope with.

Feelings of not being of interest to other people usually stem from earlier templates that were established in childhood or during teenage years. Children who repeatedly experience a lack of response from their primary care giver will learn that any attempt at getting attention is futile. Over time initial protest dies down and the child starts to internalise the lack of interest; the child eventually starts to expect that nobody is interested in them. By the same token consistently negative messaging from care givers fosters a negative and limiting self-image in the child. In both cases the child learns to make predictions about human relationships that are based on the assumption that they are not loveable or not worthy of care and attention.

Experiences of this nature are most powerful in the early years when templates about human relationships are formed. A child with positively attentive care takers tends to have a very strong foundation for adulthood, however, if that child as an adult has repeatedly negative experiences in the interpersonal sphere this will also shape or undermine their sense of self-worth. For example, a teenager who is bullied at school or an adult who is at the receiving end of domestic abusive will have their view of subsequent relationships with others shaped by these experiences.

In addition to feelings of inadequacy clients who are very isolated often have a deeply held mistrust of other people. The underlying fear is that others can be hurtful and rejecting. By avoiding contact with others, however much it is wished for, lonely people guard and protect themselves. Being on one’s own ultimately feels like the safest option.

Not having friends deprives isolated people from the very feedback that they will need in order to break out of their negative thinking cycle and to experience themselves as loveable. Positive experiences are needed in order to build positive self-belief and love.

In order to be able to build friendships isolated clients will need to understand firstly where their negative thoughts about themselves stem from. Once new insights have been gained clients can then look at themselves in a new light. This in turn can lead to new predictions and expectations about friendships as well as new interpretations of other people’s behaviour. A kinder way of understanding another person’s presumed lack of interest may be for example that this particular person is simply preoccupied with their own difficulties at a point in time and therefore not as attentive as wished for.

Compassionate thoughts will enable more openness to others which in turn will encourage other people to respond in kind.

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Written by Angela Dierks, BA (Hons), MStud (Oxon), MA Integrative Counselling, MBACP (Acc)

I am a dedicated therapist and work with individual clients as well as couples on a range of issues. I hold an MA Integrative Counselling (with distinction) and a Diploma in Couple Counselling and Psychotherap. I am BACP accredited. I completed a BACP accredited Diploma in Clinical Supervision (CPPD) and offer supervision to other therapists.… Read more

Written by Angela Dierks, BA (Hons), MStud (Oxon), MA Integrative Counselling, MBACP (Acc)

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