Psych Corner: The Secret to Making Meaningful Friendships

Flickr/Benedetto Iurlaro

Finding a group of friends that you click with after graduating can sometimes feel impossible, much like Patricia described in her recent story “How Thinking Positively Saved My Friendships.” School provids a concentrated group of people you spend a great deal of time with and provides plenty of opportunities to find like-minded people to make friends with.  But after graduation, it can become a lot harder to find a group of people you feel like you belong with. Let’s take a look at this from a psychological perspective.

Patricia described a light-bulb moment during which she realized that her negative thinking about herself had become a self-fulfilling prophecy. She realized that her negative thoughts and evaluation of her current situation was partly responsible for her difficulty making friends.

“I read somewhere, on my spiritual journey, that basically if you think it, it becomes. I thought so long and hard about how I wouldn’t have friends, about how I was so unhappy and trapped. And that’s exactly what happened. My negative thoughts became like a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

Turns out Patricia was on to something! The power that thoughts and feelings have on our actions has been well researched by psychologists. In fact, research tells us that we are more likely to be satisfied with life, more optimistic, and have better relationships with others when we have control over how we feel, according to Meg Jay, a psychologist and author of The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter- And How to Make the Most of Them Now.

Well-known psychologist Albert Ellis explains that when something happens to us, our thoughts often influence the way we react to an event. For example, if you think to yourself, “No one would want to be friends with me anyway. I’m not smart/pretty/cool enough”, you will act much less confident than if you think to yourself, “I have a lot of great qualities that make me a good friend and people want to be around me”. Over time, these thoughts and judgments about ourselves can become a habit, whether they are helpful or not. For Patricia, she says her feelings of being trapped and unhappy perpetuated her belief that she couldn’t make friends. Only after changing her thinking and increasing her confidence was she able to find friends she really clicked with. Patricia says,

Something changed in my thinking and in the way I saw myself, which changed the way I related to other people.”

With this food for thought in mind, try taking some time to assess how you feel about yourself. Challenge those negative thoughts or judgments you may have about yourself. Are these thoughts you have about yourself really true? Probably not. Take an outsider’s perspective on your life and list your positive qualities. Identify all of the amazing things you’ve done and experienced in life so far and write them down if it’s helpful. Look at that list whenever you’re feeling like you need a confidence boost.

Remember not to compare yourself to others. Social media can sometimes make us believe that everyone else is living an amazing and carefree life but that is often because they are only posting the positive things that happen in their life. Meg Jay says, “We don’t recognize that most everyone is keeping their troubles hidden [on social media]”. One of her clients told her, “I feel pretty good about how my career is going until I look on Facebook and see what other people are doing.” In other words, he let himself believe that everyone else was achieving great things which made him feel inadequate. Remember that you are seeing only part of your friends’ lives on social media. You aren’t seeing their sink full of dirty dishes or their pile of laundry.

So Patricia was right. Negative thinking can contribute to feeling trapped in a cycle of not being able to make friends. Once she gave herself permission to think positively and changed her thinking about her ability to make friends, she felt hopeful about the possibility of making friends and not long after making this shift, she reconnected with an old friend.

Here are some tips if you are having trouble making friends:

01. Join a club or sports team that you are interested in. Making friends is easier when you are involved in something that you are already interested in and it means you already have something in common with your fellow teammates and club members.

02. Take some time to think about how you feel about yourself. Are you confident and optimistic about yourself and your abilities? If not, take some time to work on your confidence in yourself. Remember, how you feel about yourself influences your actions and people pick up on this.

03. Be proactive about making friends. Life after school is busy and it can be easy to let things slip through the cracks. Invite someone for coffee or enlist a friend to attend an exercise or art class with you. Create opportunities for friendships to grow.

This article is not intended to be a substitute for or serve as professional counseling or treatment. 

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