“It is way too ‘people-y’ in here.”
A good friend of mine found herself completely overwhelmed by the intensely large group of people who we were hosting in our home. Every Sunday, we open our home to grill or BBQ for our community group at church. Sometimes it is a small and intimate gathering and other times, it looks like we are feeding a small army.
That particular weekend, the entire house was crammed with people and she thought it best to let me know she needed to sneak out the back door. I gave her hug, thanked her for coming, and made sure to overcommunicate that I totally get it.
You see, all of my closest friends have some version of social anxiety. Essentially, social anxiety can be summed up with feelings of embarrassment, fear, or insecurity in groups. Over the years, I have learned a thing or two about loving and caring for my socially anxious pals. I have also found that many people are unsure of how to nurture friendships with the socially anxious. So, I wanted to take a second and share some of the insights I’ve gained from my best friends as they learned how to navigate the tensions of being friends with an over confident extrovert like me.
First, drop the pretense most of us feel the need to portray early in a new friendship.
You know what I mean, the “I’m so sorry the house is a mess” phase. For a recovering perfectionist like myself, I always felt like I needed to “have it all together” when I meet new people. When I met my two closest friends, this “perfection act” was the first thing they asked me to let go of.
Next, invite them over for some low-key quality time.
Ask if they would like to get together, just the two of you, for a movie or something relaxing. Nix the huge events that require a lot of small talk or lack of connection. Another life hack I’ve learned is to simply exist in the space together. There have been so many times where a couple of us were just hanging around together without feeling the need to have every minute filled with conversation.
Try to talk about it.
Ask questions like, “What kind of things make you anxious?” or “What is comforting?” One of the things I never would have guessed is that “small talk” makes one of my friends absolutely uncomfortable. She never knows what to say and gets overwhelmed at the thought of making chit chat without any kind of depth. To add to this tip, I am also learning to listen without trying to offer solutions. My friends have shared that they want to express how they are feeling without me trying to solve the issue at hand.
Lastly, be patient.
Don’t stop inviting your socially anxious friends to functions, or to hang out. Leave a lot of slack and be willing to carry the burden of planning outings together. I promise. It is totally worth it.
While this list isn’t all inclusive, these are a handful of things I’ve learned (mostly by making mistakes or hurting feelings accidentally). I have come to realize that social anxiety is a deeply embedded experience in the lives of many people I love and I am so grateful for their friendship. My hope is that I can become a place of rest, a place to relax and know they are seen, wanted, and loved. I hope these tips and tricks work well for you too. After all, don’t we all need a little love and support?