‘I’m a Friendship Expert, and This Is What I Want You to Know About Friendship Insecurity’

The John Mulaney, "do my friends hate me, or do I just need to go to sleep?" bit still hits hard in 2021. "When I think about insecurity and friendship more generally, it's just fear that your friends don't really like you—or they're going to reject you if you reach out to them," says psychologist and friendship expert Marisa Franco, PhD.  "It's also been called friendship doubt." Here, she shares ways to cope if you feel friendship insecurity.

During the pandemic, friendship insecurity surged because one of the major triggers is loneliness, says Dr. Franco. "Loneliness actually makes people hyper vigilant of social threats," she says. "And it makes people more likely to assume that they're going to be rejected, even if they're not." Basically, when we're feeling lonely it's the hardest time to reach out because we're more likely to assume that people are going to reject us.

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Also, people with anxious or avoidant attachment styles are more prone to feeling this friendship doubt (especially those who are anxious). "Anxiously attached people relate ambiguity with rejection; if they don't hear from someone for a long time, they assume it's because the other person is rejecting them," Dr. Franco says. Anxiously attached people are also more likely to experience "rejection sensitivity," where they project that they will be rejected and also respond to it more strongly. Meaning, instead of asking what's up, they're more likely to respond by rejecting the friend back or escalating the situation. Avoidants, on the other hand, aren't as conscious of their fear of rejection, so instead they devalue their relationships "as a way to feel powerful and less subject to that rejection," Dr. Franco says. "But unconsciously, they also have the fear."

Another group likely to experience friendship insecurity are people with low self-esteem. "The research actually finds that how we think people see us is more related to how we see ourselves," Dr. Franco says. "They kind of assume that other people see them the same way...which isn't necessarily true."

Dr. Franco's first tip to combat these insecure feelings is to just assume that people like you, unless they specifically tell you otherwise. "Try to make that your internal dialogue," she says. When you say, "I haven't heard from my friend, they don't like me anymore," have a counter voice that says: "They like me, things are okay." While easier said than done, Dr. Franco says to try not to let your friendship insecurity affect how you relate to your friend. "I think one way that you can do this is to use mindfulness," she adds. "What I talked about in my book is the idea of splitting into two selves. So when you have an anxious thought, almost see yourself as one wiser self, and the other your anxious self so that you can watch your thoughts and not assume that they're true. As you have your wiser self looking at those spots, and being more critical of them, and offering an alternative point of view that, starts to take over your whole system."

Repeat this to yourself: Dr. Franco says it is okay to bring up your insecurity with a friend. "But it's all about how you address it, right? Anxious people will kind of yell...make demands," she says. "Whereas secure people, it'll be more conversational, it'll be there'll be more perspective taking." She adds that a secure conversation may look something like, "Oh, hey, I haven't heard from you just wanted to check in with what's going on." More healthy communication! Take the vulnerable route! "We tend to fear that when we are vulnerable people will judge us more," says Dr. Franco. "But research finds that the more vulnerable you are the more people like you. And this is called the beautiful mess effect, the idea that when we're vulnerable, we think people see us as a mess, but they don't.—they see this beauty to us that we are genuine, authentic, and honest."

Similarly, there's also the acceptance prophecy. "I think in general, our insecurities are about something called meta perceptions, which are our thoughts about how other people see us. Working to change your thoughts about how other people see you, and assuming that other people are going to like and accept you, is actually a self fulfilling prophecy," she explains. She adds that we all have a bias to think people are rejecting us more than they actually are, which is called the "liking gap." Telling yourself that people like you, instead of assuming they're rejecting you, is more likely to be closer to the truth.

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