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The unexpected secret to making new friends

Written by Anna Brech

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As we get older, our social circles narrow.

We are less likely to meet new people, and yet doing so makes us happiermore confident and better understood.

Read more: Why do we idolise ‘The One’? Having friends is far more valuable

So, how to reverse this decline in fresh friendship? You can start by “switching off” your safety mechanism.

According to Thrive Global, “We all do little things to not feel exposed and vulnerable. They’re called safety behaviours. And in protecting us they also make it more difficult to connect with others.”

What’s your safety behaviour?

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These habitual safety nets might be anything from avoiding starting a conversation with a stranger to trying to be funny (rather than genuine).

“When we use safety behaviours, we know we’re coming off as fake,” says Ellen Hendriksen, author of How to Be Yourself: Quiet Your Inner Critic and Rise Above Social Anxiety.

“We know it’s not our true self that we’re presenting to the world— instead, it’s a filtered, highly managed version.”

Read more: Travel and the power of friendship

This might sound like a positive thing (all the control!) but actually, it means that you’re less likely to bond with whoever you’re talking to. Why?

Be real, be vulnerable

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Firstly, you know that you’re not being totally real, or behaving in line with who you truly are.

This in turn, implicitly damages your sense of self-worth and purpose.

“Safety behaviours are designed to hide your true self, the one your Inner Critic says is flawed,” says Hendriksen. “But instead, safety behaviours keep us stuck in the idea that we’re unlikable or deficient. We never get the chance to prove those ideas wrong.”

new friends

Secondly, showing vulnerability is key to making strong connections.

If we open up and lose our “safety behaviours” that caveat how we are, we encourage others to do the same.

And so lies the route to intimacy and genuine, long-lasting friendship.

Read more: The life-changing magic of meeting new people

“Without vulnerability, relationships struggle,” says psychologist Karen Young.

“Vulnerability is, ‘Here I am – my frayed edges, my secrets, my fears, my affection. Be careful – they’re precious.’ In return, it invites, ‘Oh, I see you there. It’s okay, you’re safe. And here – here’s me.’ It builds trust, closeness and a sense of belonging. Relationships won’t thrive without it.”

No more barriers

The next time you’re chatting to someone new – maybe a potential new friend – be aware of the barriers you’re building up around yourself.

Once you catch yourself in the act of trying to behave in a certain way, you can work on breaking down your defences.

Read more: Fine quotes on friendship from Winnie the Pooh

This may also be why alcohol is a good social lubricant to friendship: it lets us drop the facade.

And while we don’t suggest knocking back a large round of tequilas every time you meet someone new, the residue lack of finesse is revealing.

It’s not unusual to have safety behaviours. For many of us, it’s just an automatic reaction.

But without caveating how we behave – or trying to be/not be a certain way – friendship has a better chance of blossoming.


Images: Flash Pack and Shutterstock


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