8 Tips to Help You Connect
When was the last time you felt accepted? Do you feel connected to others? Who really gets you? What about your children? Are they building meaningful friendships? Are you? Notice how you feel as you ponder these questions.
If you noticed feelings of loneliness creeping in, you’re not alone. Next to anxiety, loneliness is one of the biggest problems people in all demographics are struggling with today. Even if you are surrounded by people, you may feel alone. You may be shy or introverted, feel like you can’t relate to others or may have difficulty navigating complex social situations. These are only a few reasons people feel isolated whether they are physically or emotionally by themselves.
Loneliness is all too common for highly intelligent people at any age for a variety of reasons. Gifted people often have higher emotional sensitivities, more complex and unusual interests, are often misunderstood by peers, and may have difficulty relating to the average person. Many also carry the pain of having been bullied and shamed by peers and authority figures starting in childhood.
I have worked with many bright people who have told me they believed their intelligence was more of curse than a blessing. Even highly successful adults have admitted sometimes they wished they could just be “normal”. They communicated the pain of being an outsider far outweighed the benefits of having high intelligence. When I hear this, I have to admit, my heart hurts a little. It doesn’t have to be this way. It doesn’t have to be lonely at the top.
Whether you are a lonely adult yearning for meaningful companionship, have lost connection with friends or partners, or if you are the parent of a child who is struggling to make friends there is hope. Meaningful, and lasting connections can be made. Here are some suggestions to help start creating great relationships.
1. Be accepting of who you are, and be that person. If you are a parent, be understanding and accepting of your child. This is a first step in making meaningful connections with others. We can feel vulnerable to be who we are, and the reality is, not everyone will accept us. However, being authentic is powerful, and the right people will be drawn to us. And for children, it is extremely important to be accepted by our families, this is one way we can learn to accept ourselves.
Self acceptance is important for everyone, especially those who don’t fit inside the box. You may get the message to conform, to be more outgoing, to be less weird, to pretend you are someone different. This in itself can create anxiety, because it feels unnatural to be different and you are getting messages that something is wrong with you. Let it go, and be who you are. If social skills are part of the problem, I will address that later.
2. Understand it takes time and persistence to build relationships at any age. This doesn’t mean become a stalker or ignore social cues. It simply means deep relationships are not formed overnight. Sometimes, it even takes time to build shallow relationships. Keep trying, and encourage your children to keep trying. Part of this process is putting yourself out there, and getting involved in activities where you (or your kids) are likely to meet people with whom you or they can relate.
For example, adults may enjoy book clubs, tennis and golf clubs, art classes, music groups and hiking meet ups to start.
Beyond playgrounds and random play dates, kids might be interested in art classes, robotics teams, chess clubs, individualized sports like dance, tennis, gymnastics, swimming and fencing where they have the opportunity to meet and socialize with others who may be similar.
3. Start small. Work on building one good friendship. Don’t worry about connecting with a whole group at first, or ever if that isn’t your thing.
4. Team up. If you or your child has one close friend, do things together. Sometimes a friend can introduce you to other people, and can give you confidence in new social situations where you have the opportunity to meet new people.
5. Learn and practice social skills. If you are a parent, teach and practice social skills with your children with planning and empathy. Let’s face it, we all have awkward moments, and sometimes struggle with social skills. It’s important to practice appropriate social interactions,.
For example, take turns in conversations. Show an interest in other people by asking questions about their interests (even if you don’t share the same interests), and share appropriate information about yourself. Try to find common ground. Avoid interrupting and talking over people. Show empathy and learn how to be diplomatic. It is important to monitor your volume if you tend to get overly excited, and speak up if you mumble. Be aware of and respect the personal space of others.
These are only a few social skills to work on, and to help your children with. If this is a challenge for you or your child, books can help and professional therapists can be great coaches for social learning.
6. Have empathy. Try to understand how others might feel. Realizing others may also feel awkward, disconnected or different can help you to feel more normal. If you avoid judgments of yourself and others, you have a greater opportunity to increase understanding and build deeper connection. Remember, this is also important in existing relationships with our partners, children and friends.
7. Just say “hi” and use small talk to your advantage. Sometimes it is that simple. How often do we walk past other people without a word? Offering an appropriate, friendly and simple greeting like “hello” or “how’s it going” can be the beginning of a friendship.
Additionally, mastering the art of making small talk can also be an important early step of this process. While many of us may not appreciate small talk, it is surprisingly important. It's important because it allows us to introduce ourselves to potential friends, establish a rapport, start to learn about each other and if we want to spend more time together. Small talk also gives us to more time to gauge if the other person is a safe person to develop a deeper relationship with.
8. Use your words. No one is a mind reader.
Humans are social creatures. We thrive when we have meaningful connections with others. Practice these new skills, and see how you begin to feel more connected with others. If you are a parent, helping your child with these skills can help them to make friends, and gives you the opportunity to deepen your relationship with them.
If you still feel lonely, remember, there is a community out there and professionals that can give you support. Don’t be afraid or too proud to reach out for help! The right support can be life changing.
About the Author:
Christy, is a Licensed Marriage Family Therapist and Somatic Experiencing Practitioner, practicing in San Diego, California. She has nearly 10 years of experience working with children, teens, parents, families, couples and individual adults with complex psychological and relationship problems. She specializes in the needs of gifted, bright and high achieving people, as well as those who have suffered past trauma. Christy uses an eclectic approach, meeting the needs of whomever she is working with. Her work addresses the needs of the whole person, incorporating mind and body.