• There are many reasons why having friends is important

  • Therapist Harriet Frew offers her advice on how to embrace friendship to combat feelings of loneliness and isolation

  • If you are struggling with issues related to this article, you can find a therapist here

Where would I be without my friends? If I am feeling a bit blue, the immediate way to bring a smile to my face and a glow to my heart is thinking about my friends.

I think of E, who I met at primary school and shared the wonders and magic of our childhood imaginations. K, the person I talked to about every intricate detail regarding boyfriends (or lack of them), and the possibilities of our future as we pushed impatiently towards adulthood. At the time, these conversations seemed so poignant and meaningful; the excitement and anticipation about what lay ahead. Then A, probably my closest friend to this day, who I’ve travelled with; poured my heart out to during numerous life crises and shared so many joyful memories on my life journey so far. My friends have always reflected back the shinier version of myself; they see my qualities, my strengths, they are my encouragers and cheerleaders and help celebrate life’s little victories and special moments. 

But what if you feel you haven’t got close friends? Many of my own clients will frequently talk about an aching loneliness and the feeling of being disconnected from loved ones. You might feel incredibly isolated and that no-one really knows what is going on for you. You may also feel that you would be burdening others if you expressed your innermost thoughts.

A common pattern is thinking that other people are ‘sorted’. They look outwardly happy: financially free, with an abundance of friends, heaps of confidence and a raging social life. What could you possibly add to the mix you wonder? You feel down on yourself, uninteresting and anxious when you think about being more social. You might also feel a sense of shame, feeling inadequate and inferior to others, so you hold back and protect yourself, from possible rejection or judgement. 

Face to face contact with friends or lengthy phone conversations are also less likely these days. You might feel that you have lots of acquaintances or Facebook friends, but very few people with whom you connect with deeply. Many of our interactions take place on social media, by email and text. You may have frequent contact with people around you, without really sharing and feeling known. This can leave an aching sense of loneliness and isolation.  

5 ways to embrace friendship and feel connected with others - 

1. Sometimes, you can wait for what feels like a lifetime for other people to reach out to you. To gain a friend, you need to be a friend first. Take the risk to connect. Invite someone for coffee or suggest a meeting. Look for friends in places where you are going to feel a sense of belonging and shared interest. You may also need to step out of your usual social comfort zone.

2. See yourself as someone with plenty to offer others. I always tend to assume that other people will like me. This is probably not always true by any means, but this belief enables me to reach out, smile, give compliments, to engage and to be genuinely interested in others. If you approach people in this way, they often will reciprocate.

3. Try not to assume that other people have it all sussed out. It really is not true. Everyone has their own troubles and difficulties at times. If things look too perfect from the outside, I would probably question that. As you begin to share your life and open up to others, it is a real sense of relief and joy to know that they are not only going through the same life calamities, but also they can listen, give you support and you can even see the lighter side through shared humour.

4. If you are feeling down and disconnected in your relationships, then no amount of external fixing is probably going to make you feel better. Trying to change your body, spending money, drinking alcohol or putting all your energy into your career: these may all leave you feeling a bit empty and lost. Be aware if you are trying to fill a void that may be better filled through your relationships. This could be a starting point for change.

5. Sometimes, you might feel really stuck with this issue. You may feel a deep sense of shame or feel inherently flawed inside. You might feel that others just wouldn’t be interested and this feeling seems too overwhelming to ignore or challenge. Possibly, you may have had experiences in your earlier life that have influenced your ability to trust or feel safe to open up and be yourself.  

Further reading

7 tips for feeling less lonely

Recognise the good people in your life – and keep them close

How to connect with other people

Talking to a friend isn't the same as therapy