This question is asked quietly with eyes averted; ‘How do I make friends?”.
When I hear this question in my office from my introverted teen clients, it breaks my heart just a bit for a few reasons:
- I’ve been in this place before and I know that it’s a hard, lonely place to be.
- It’s a really hard question to ask so I imagine my client has been thinking about this for a long time before they finally said it out loud.
- When we don’t have friends, we likely believe some negative things about ourselves.
It’s a really brave question to ask as there is so much stuff that comes when we are in need of better connections. There is often shame, embarrassment, and many difficult memories that come up when this question is asked.
And quiet teens are told making friends is easy; just go talk to somebody, ask someone to join you at lunch, go up and approach some kids.
And it isn’t that these aren’t good suggestions, it’s more that it doesn’t address how they feel inside. Introverted teens often feel inadequate, out of place, or they need to be different from who they are to make friends. And if there is social anxiety, it also makes it difficult.
With these feelings, it’s really hard to make friends.
And this can lead to overwhelming sadness
My clients will describe the sadness that is always there. How I say this is; sadness without a story. They can’t say: I was sad today because of this thing that happened but I felt sad all day. They sometimes share that they wake up sad and nothing really changed it as their day went on.
It’s a bit that they are sad because of what didn’t happen. And that’s hard to describe. These kids watch others talk easily with friends, watch others easily being included, and it can feel impossible for this to happen for them.
So the sadness moves in. The sadness interferes with school, with family, with sports.
So how does a parent help with this?
There are a few things we can do as parents to help with this. Here are some suggestions:
- Name that you see the sadness and you wonder if it’s about the struggle with friends. You might worry that this will upset your teen more and make things worse but if you don’t bring it up, it means that your teen is dealing with it on their own. I know from my own experience growing up, my mom avoided these conversations which increased my isolation.
- When your teen talks about struggles with friends, do your best not to give advice. If you start offering ways to approach kids, it will likely shut down the conversation. Often there is so much shame with this, that your teen might interpret the advice-giving as blame.
- If your teen starts to cry, let them cry. This is really healthy. In our culture, there is the tendency to say “don’t cry”. The impact of this is that the person hears they shouldn’t feel sadness which reinforces they need to keep this inside.
- Talking about sadness is so important for our mental health. If your teen is able to talk about this, they will better understand why the sadness is there.
But as introverts, we don’t fit with just anybody. We have to feel a connection in order to spend time with people.