Overcoming the Fear of Reaching Out to Others
Many of my overcontrolled leaning clients struggle with making friends. I often hear some version of the following sentence during our work together, “I’m afraid of reaching out to people.”
My clients try to explain their fear through a number of similar statements:
“I don’t want to interrupt what they are doing.”
“What if I inconvenience them?”
“They won’t want to talk to me.”
“I won’t know what to say.”
“My mind goes blank.”
“What if they are busy?”
The list goes on and on, and please feel free to list your personal reason(s) in the comments section below to this blog.
The theme I hear in these statements is the fear of being rejected. Every human being on the planet has been rejected at some point. It’s part of the human experience. Yet many of my overcontrolled clients fear rejection on a grand level. The fear keeps them stuck, isolated and avoidant.
We have to risk being disliked in order to be liked.
It’s true that we won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but we don’t need to have everyone like us in order for us to have great mental health and feel like we are part of a tribe. Actually the research shows that we only need one person with which we can share intimately about things that really matter, and that we know would be there for us in a pinch if we needed them.
So how do we reach out?
First, stop over planning and over thinking it. Just keep it short and sweet. Here are some examples for effective ways to reach out people we already know:
“Do you want to go grab a coffee?”
“Hey I miss you, can we get together soon?”
“Whatcha been up to? Want to go take a walk and catch up?”
"I'm going to _(insert place)__ on __(day)__, want to join me?"
Remember, it’s better to do a phone call than a text if you can, because people need to hear the excitement and inflection in your voice. Showing interest to another person is one of the best ways to make sure they are valued! Also remember, texts are NOT social signals! Texts are nearly impossible to read for emotional accuracy.
If you are trying to build friendships and don’t have anyone you already know to reach out to, try some of these challenges to get to building your friendship network:
ask for someone’s number when you enjoy meeting them
volunteer for a cause you think is important
ask a co-worker to lunch
join a “mom’s” group
go to the dog park and chat about people’s pets
join an intermural team
start a new hobby and take a class
join a bookclub at a local bookstore
practice chit chatting with a neighbor.
All of the above actions will require that you follow up with the people that you meet, if you want to start an ongoing friendship. There is a good likelihood you will have to express interest FIRST, risk being rejected, and continue to express interest multiple times if you want to develop a close relationship.
If you are terrified of trying, remind yourself: There will be pain if I do and pain if I don’t.
Then consider which action of reaching out or doing nothing gets me closer to my value goal of having close friendships?
You cannot sit around at home waiting for someone to take an interest in you. If magically you haven’t found friends by watching TV on your couch, trust me, it will not happen. Friendships take time to build. You aren’t going to find a “bestie” on the first meeting. It will take hard work, but the effort is worth it. Also don’t be discouraged if your first attempt doesn’t work out. There are millions of people in the world and you may have to go through many attempts before you find YOUR cup of tea.
If you are one of the people that says “I don’t know what to say.” Start by listening. We can only respond well when we are listening to the other person. Then ask questions, wait for the answers, share something about yourself and let it be a dialogue. (see Match + 1 skill, lesson 21.3, RO DBT skills manual) This means a back and forth exchange. If you get stuck in your head that “you don’t know what to say,” rather than listening and responding, it will be a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Also if this all seems too overwhelming, then an RO DBT therapist can help. One of the RO DBT principles is tribe matters. We don’t think everyone inherently knows how to create their tribe, but we do have techniques and skills to help you learn to chit chat, do new behaviors, join groups even if it’s scary, and figure out how to take the next step toward friendships, including practicing friendship social signaling.
There is a psychological term call pluralistic ignorance. Socially it refers to the belief that others are less interested in connecting with us, than we are in connecting with them. Numerous studies show this belief to be absolutely FALSE, yet you may be operating as if it is true.
I love the saying “You can’t please everyone, you’re not a cupcake.” So stop trying to be soooo likable and perfect, and start with a hello!