I really want to feel connected to others, but I am always so scared when I start making a new friend. I was neglected and abused as kid and put into foster care as a teen…but I don't want to stay isolated so much. It's like a light switch that won't turn on. I just moved to a new place to start over and I want to take the right steps to feel secure and loved. I know God is with me always, and I eventually want to help others feel loved, too, but I am just too scared. Any advice?

Lauren Roth

Lauren Roth's Answer

1. “Just Do It.” Like running a marathon, you have to just take that first step. Like climbing a mountain, you have to just start your ascent. Like starting a diet, you have to just begin the restraint. It’s scary to begin. You feel like you can’t do it, so you don’t want to risk failure, so you put it off and delay and delay and delay…. But once you start, your heart will soar. It is so freeing to begin doing whatever it is you truly want to do, despite your fear. It’s liberating. (In fact, I’ve psyched myself up so much in writing this that I’m starting that diet I’ve been delaying TOMORROW! And even if I fail, even if I mess up, I will know that I took responsibility for myself and started to do what I really wanted to do.)

2. It’s okay to be human. And being human means being scared. It’s okay to be scared.

For example: I know and believe, as you said, that “God is with me always.” And even so, I get scared. Right now, my husband is in Israel with my daughter, and my other daughter is in Moscow (teaching Russian girls about Judaism). And I’m scared for my loved ones in those “shaky peace” zones. Even though I believe thoroughly in God and God’s plans and God’s plans being just. It’s okay to be scared.

Let’s do a little experiment. Concentrate on this screen. Concentrate on these words. Read this sentence carefully. Now, think of what would happen if someone sinister were to stealthily approach behind you, reach out his black-gloved hands to grab your hair, sneak up behind you with a sharp knife in his hand…

How many of you snuck a look over your shoulder? Even writing it scared me. And that’s okay, because: guess what? Every single one of us is human. And to be human means to sometimes be scared. And being scared is alright. Feeling the fear is fine. We can feel the fear, acknowledge the fear, then “Just Do It” anyway, if “It” is the right thing to do.

They are heroes for overcoming their fears, not for not having those fears in the first place.

If you notice, in books and in movies and in stories, the heroes and heroines don’t just encounter a scary situation and right away have the necessary courage. Usually, they first hesitate, they first have fears and doubts and misgivings. That’s called being human. They are heroes and heroines for overcoming their fears, not for not having those fears in the first place.

How to Make Friends

In your new place, make new friends by being kind to the people around you. Find something about each person that you like and tell him or her. Tell her, “You seem intelligent. I like that.” Tell him, “You seem considerate of others’ feelings. I’m impressed.” As Dale Carnegie writes in How to Win Friends and Influence People (a book I heartily recommend, which will teach you how to “win friends”): “Be hearty in your approbation and lavish in your praise.” Everyone longs to hear nice things about themselves. It’s a deep human need. Find the good in others and tell them about it.

Also from Dale Carnegie: listen attentively to people, and you will make good friends. People love positive attention. Lend your ear and you will gain friends.

Do for others. Search for ways in which you can help the people around you. I just lost my sister this month, and I am so impressed at the creative ways people have found to help me and my family. Bake cookies and bring them to the people you want to befriend. Pick up their pencil for them if it drops. Say “Hello!” to people brightly when you see them. People like to know they are welcome, that someone is happy they have arrived.

And know this: I can assure you that you can survive hurt if you are rejected. The rejection will not kill you. If people make fun of your friendly overtures, talk to yourself to stay calm and loving. Give yourself love if people give you hate. You can survive being hurt: I know that for sure. I’ve done it, most people living in this world have done it, and you can do it, too.

I’m certainly not saying you should continue to stick around nasty people giving you emotional beatings. I’m just saying that should you experience rejection—which is what you are afraid of—you can probably handle it better than your fears warn you.

Being treated badly as a child (and we all were, to a certain extent) makes us afraid to try to connect to people. And then we become lonely and sad. Even though you were hurt before, give yourself the gift of trying again. Maybe enlisting the guidance and support of a psychotherapist could help you navigate reaching out to people. If you do it while you’re in therapy, you won’t feel alone in your quest. An ally by your side can help give you courage.

Just do it. Until you try you’ll never know how well you can succeed.