You can never have too many friends, but sometimes the idea of making new friends is scary. For women with anxiety, new friendships can seem impossible. However, experts have some advice for women with anxiety who do want to create additional friendships.
Carole Lieberman, a media psychiatrist and the author of “Bad Girls: Why Men Love Them & How Good Girls Can Learn Their Secrets,” said in an email that women need to think about the reasoning behind the anxiety over making new friendships.
“The anxiety that women feel when they attempt to make new friendships is the fear of rejection,” Lieberman said. “This is rooted in childhood experiences on the playground or in school, where girls were mean to them or excluded them. These unconscious memories sprout up to remind women of the feeling that no one wants to be their friend. So, the best way to overcome this is to acknowledge where the fear comes from and then tell yourself that you are not back in kindergarten and women will be more receptive to making friends.”
Karen Koenig, a psychotherapist with over 30 years experience working with women and the author of “The Rules of ‘Normal’ Eating,” said in an email that many of her clients have anxiety in some form and tend to turn to food to help with this issue. Her advice to help women improve friendships and decrease anxiety includes:
1. “Recognizing the baggage they bring from childhood to friendships around trust, validation, sharing, rejection, abandonment, shaming, etc. and separating the two, which usually involves explaining how negative transference reactions impede effective functioning in the present.”
2. “Encouraging them to talk more to people in general – [in] line in the supermarket, while they're waiting to pick up the kids at school, in the waiting room at the dentist, etc. This is to get them more comfortable with small talk, smoothing the way toward getting to know people.”
3. “Suggesting they eavesdrop on conversations wherever they are and decide which people (or women) would make good friends, which ones wouldn't and why. This points them in the direction of thinking about what they want in a relationship, rather than worrying about what someone will think of them.”
4. “Asking them to pick one or two people to share more with toward the goal of increasing intimacy. I instruct them to divulge something and see how the listener responds. Then they report back to me and we discuss whether the person seems like good friendship material. By deepening current friendships with women they trust a bit, they can see that this process can be replicated with new folks.”
5. “Encouraging them to go out with women friends to meet friends of friends, which is less of a crapshoot than meeting strangers. Also, going to events where there will be common ground with other women - feminists, kayakers, mothers, caretakers of aging parents, etc.”
6. “Using mindfulness to note anxiety rather than engage with or act on it. We practice doing this in session before they take it on the road.”
Barbara Neitlich, a psychotherapist in Beverly Hills, sent through email five tips for creating friendships despite having anxiety:
1. “Make an effort to use eye contact and smile. There is nothing better than a smile to open the door for a new friendship opportunity.”
2. “Use positive self-affirmations every day. An example would be ‘I am a likeable person with many wonderful qualities to share.’”
3. “Write down the type of friend that you want to be and the types of friends you would like to attract.”
4. “Do some visualization or relaxation and imagine yourself in the type of social situation you would like to be in surrounded by the type of people you would feel most comfortable with.”
5. “Start out small. Say hello to someone at the gym who you often see. Invite a co-worker to lunch or for coffee. Understand that building friendships for anyone takes time and trust.”
Lieberman, Carole. Email interview. August 9, 2011.
Koenig, Karen. Email interview. August 9, 2011.
Neitlich, Barbara. Email interview. August 9, 2011.
Reviewed August 11, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg R.N.
Edited by Jody Smith