Nicola Morgan

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Questions about anxiety #13: Female anxieties about friendship groups and fitting in?

Apologies for the blog hole – life intervened. I acquired a fourth grandson and, as with all my grandchildren, it wasn’t plain sailing. But all is well now. I’m just a lot older and more tired!

Anyway, back to your questions about anxiety. This one is from Heather:

“What are your thoughts on female anxieties about friendship groups and fitting in?”

The first thing to say is that I think there’s more that’s similar than different between males and females on the topic of friendships and the associated anxieties. There’s also more that’s similar between them when it comes to any kind of anxiety. We have all to some extent been programmed by society to think there are different ways to behave for females or males and that does often affect how we behave. But, in as far as anyone can know what someone else feels, I believe that the feelings we have about either friendships or anxiety, and the ways we experience them, are not made very different by either our sex or our gender.

The group of people who do have stronger anxieties about friendships and fitting in, however, are adolescents.

You might want to read this first

And the chapter on the teenage social brain in the new edition of Blame My Brain is also important.

You might also want to buy and read/share The Teenage Guide to Friends.

Fitting in is crucial to teenage wellbeing. It’s pretty crucial to anyone’s wellbeing but there’s a reason it’s more important – and more painful when it doesn’t happen – for teenagers: teenagers are breaking away from dependence on their nurturing, protecting adults and getting ready to stand on their own feet. Except that no one stands well on their own feet. Humans are social creatures and we do better – as individuals and as groups and as a species – when we have a support network and are part of a group. So biology pushes us to seek the group.

And once we’ve found the desired group, we have to make it sticky. We have to make it like us. That’s what fitting in means and this is how we do it:

  • We adjust our language, behaviours, dress, appearance, and values
  • We laugh together, cry together
  • We share personal details about ourselves.
  • We mould our opinions to fit the group

When it doesn’t work and we find ourselves excluded or we can’t find the group we can feel comfortable with, we feel insecure, lost and preoccupied. We can’t concentrate on things like work or family. We can literally lose sleep over it. We don’t do so well. Our brain bandwidth is focused on the lack of friends and the need to find them.

It’s a psychological “scarcity“.

You might also find this post about not fitting in useful.

Finally, another important aspect of adolescent brain differences is the extra-strong self-conscious they often feel. See the third point in this post.

I hope that gives you food for thought and helps you understand that young people – girls and boys – have an extra need to feel they fit in, to work to build friendships and to feel terrible when the friendships feel they’r not working.

It’s very tough at school because, although you’re surrounded by potential friends, there’s little time to relax into friendships. Everything is so hectic and pressured. Importantly, any negative experience has extra weight so one undermining comment can be more powerful then five potential friends giving you a smile.

Hang in there. It gets better! And you don’t need lots of friends – just the right ones. And that takes time and luck as well as a bit of effort.

Do you want to buy a gift for a teenager you care about? I have a great idea here.

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