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How to bounce back even if you’re shy, introverted, or just don’t like a big posse

(39 Comments)

We hadn’t heard from Noreen in three days, and I was getting worried.Portrait of business colleagues holding each other and laughing

She was in the hospital recovering from surgery but had developed pneumonia, so she had been moved to the intensive care unit.

For the first few days she was in the ICU, she kept up with texting and Facebook via her smartphone.

Then, suddenly—nothing.

I asked mutual friends if they had heard from her. They hadn’t.

A little poking around revealed that only one friend was listed as a contact on Noreen’s hospital medical chart, and that friend was out of town.

Frustrated and scared, I decided to go to the hospital to see if I could find out what was happening with Noreen.

On my drive there, more questions came up in my mind: Where was Noreen’s family? Who was her closest friend? Who was supporting her through this?

I arrived at the ICU and called the nurse’s station. I didn’t have much hope that I would get information due to privacy laws, but I had to try.

Inexplicably and mercifully, Noreen’s nurse came out to talk with me. She explained that Noreen was “out of it”—disoriented and not making any sense. The doctors weren’t sure what was causing the problem.

I was allowed in to see Noreen who, as reported, was not making a lot of sense. She told me that she needed to go home because she had a lot of things to do. Her face was ghostly white, and the tubes running in and out of her arms looked like a mass of plastic spaghetti.

So began a long journey for Noreen and her friends who love her.

I reached out to Noreen’s other friends and asked each one, “Are you closest to her?” Each time, the answer was, “No, I just know her from our dog obedience classes.”

After a while, we formed a group on Facebook so we could keep in touch with each other about how Noreen was doing. Slowly, we started to piece things together.

Noreen has family in another state but is estranged from them and didn’t want them coming to help her. She is a very private person, and it seemed this was why no one could step forward as her best friend and also why we didn’t know how serious her medical condition had become.

We quickly organized. I took the lead role and was designated as Noreen’s health care advocate. Other friends took care of her dogs and tended to Noreen’s home and financial affairs.

Still in the ICU, Noreen’s condition deteriorated as she contracted infection after infection. We almost lost her—twice.

But, excellent medical care and a steady stream of friends by her bedside, holding her hand and urging her to pull through because we needed her, somehow brought her back from the brink.

After two months in the ICU, Noreen is now in a rehabilitation facility and intent on getting back home to her dogs and her life.

Does ‘social support’ always mean having a best buddy and tight-knit group of friends?

Noreen’s story illustrates one of the components that contribute to the ability to bounce back in life: social support.

But, notice how Noreen’s social support was a bit different than what you might ordinarily envision.

When I suggest to people that increasing their social support may be helpful in getting through a rough time, I often receive replies such as these:

“I really don’t know a lot of people.”

“I’m shy, and it’s hard for me to make friends.”

“I’m new to the area, so don’t know anyone yet.”

“I don’t like to have a lot of friends.”

These are all valid responses and are true for the people who said them, so it’s not my place to say they are not doing social support right!

I’m not convinced there is a “right” when it comes to social support. We often think of social support as having lots of close friends and family or having a best friend. While close relationships are wonderful means of support—and I do encourage them when possible!—they’re not the final word in social support.

Let’s look at Noreen’s situation again. Does she have a best friend? Apparently not. Does she have family here to support her? No. Does she have many friends? Mmmm . . . sort of. She has a number of acquaintances; one might even say close acquaintances, plus a few good friends. But even her friends don’t know her that well.

The thing Noreen has that is so important is community.

Noreen is reserved and private and chooses not to be very close to people. Yet she is also part of a distinct group. She is a dog enthusiast and has participated for many years in activities in the world of dog sports. In so doing, she created a network of people with common interests who know her and grew to love having her as part of the dog-enthusiast community.

Even though she doesn’t have what we would ordinarily think of as social support—the best friend, the close circle, the tight family—she still has a community who became concerned when she took ill and sprang into action to help.

What’s your community?

Maybe your community isn’t centered on a common interest. That’s okay, it can still be a community!

A friend of mine told me a story about going into a print shop that she used to frequent often but hadn’t visited in a few years. As soon as she walked in, the owner broke into a huge grin and said, “It’s you!

That’s community.

Once or twice a week I go to my favorite restaurant where everybody knows my name. The servers all know me, the management knows me, and some of us regulars know each other. When one of us is missing for a while, we start asking after each other.

That’s community.

Where do I start?

If you’re asking yourself, “How do I develop community?” take a look at what resiliency researchers Steven Southwick and Dennis Charney suggest:

Gaining and giving social support is a process, not an event; it doesn’t happen overnight. Nevertheless, even if you feel friendless or isolated, it is important to start somewhere. No matter how small or weak your current network may be, you can take steps to increase its size and strength. For example, you might make a habit of smiling and saying “hello” to the neighbor at the elevator, or the coworker who sits near you, or you might pick up the phone and call a family member who is lonely or take the time to have coffee with a classmate who has just done poorly on a test. p. 95

 

So, you don’t have to have a best friend. It’s okay to be shy. No one says you need to have a huge circle of close friends.

But it helps to have a community. And that doesn’t happen overnight.

What does your community look like?

 

Reference: Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges – Ten key ways to weather and bounce back from stress and trauma. Steven M. Southwick and Dennis S. Charney. 2012. Cambridge University Press.

Comments

39 Comments

  1. dr munsif says:

    This is such a great article and will be a relief for so many. Keep it up dr.

  2. Denise says:

    Once again, Bobbi, you wrote about the heart of so many lives today. If we could just clone you and your caring spirit, this old world would be so blessed. Keep up the great work!

  3. Annemarie says:

    Such an interesting article, Bobbi.
    Though I do feel like for me, personally, it’s important to have close friends, too. Not just acquaintances. Working on it. :)
    Kind regards,
    Annemarie

    • Bobbi says:

      Annemarie, my personality style lends itself to having close friends, too. But I also have to remind myself that everyone has different styles and types of support and I think community covers a lot of them!

  4. Ann says:

    This is timely. My closet friends have moved away, interstate and overseas. I don’t go anywhere to make new friends so my local community is very important to me. Thank you :-) and I’m glad that Noreen is on the mend…

    • Bobbi says:

      Hey Ann! I’m glad you have your local community around you. Of course, there’s certainly nothing wrong with creating a closer inner circle to replace the one you had. If you want! :-)

  5. Ceci says:

    Nice article — a good reminder that we’re all in this together!

  6. Shelly says:

    Thank you for your warm-spirited article .
    I’d realized that even though many of my friends are no longer here, I do have a community-within my community.The “everyday heroes” as I call them: bus drivers, store clerks,joggers,children..and so forth. Our paths cross daily. We exchange smiles,a wave, sometimes conversation and coffee. These are my network. They are my network. I am enriched to have them.
    :)

    • Bobbi says:

      I love this, Shelly, because you are so adept at realizing the many people in your life who make up your network. Thanks so much for sharing – we’re enriched to have you here!

  7. Aliyu Ibrahim says:

    How excellent is this article! It increases me more in wisdom, courage, elevation from psycological point of views where man was personalized into introvert, ambivert and extrovert. U ar weldone!

  8. Bobbi, this is a perfect article for our times. So many are in a state of flux, especially those of us who are “pre-boomer-aged”. Some are now alone; others are moving to be near children and grandchildren. Many have had our circle of friends decrease due to death or relocation. Building and recognizing one’s social support through community can be a beginning to expanding that diminishing circle.

    Thanks for your thoughts and the insight you always bring, and for being the model of caring community.

    Best regards to Noreen.

    xoA

    • Bobbi says:

      Annis, thanks so much (as always!) for your warm words. You have a wonderful, caring extensive community who are attracted to your light like moths to a flame. Hope to see you soon!

  9. marianne says:

    Bobbi, I like this a lot. I used to have a lot of friends, a big group of friends, but over the years for different reasons, I had to pull away from them. I still see some of them on occasion but for the most part, I don’t consider myself part of a group anymore. This has been very hard for me as I feel a longing to be part of something bigger.
    I’ve been trying to get to know my neighbors the last few months and that has been nice, and I have met at least one person I can call a friend, not just an acquaintance.
    Sometimes it takes a lot to build your community but I think it’s worth working on brick by brick :)
    marianne recently posted…Friday Faves #8: lovely design inspiration… the mint + coral issue!My Profile

    • Bobbi says:

      Hey Marianne, sounds like you really miss your community! Sometimes it does take creating community brick by brick and other times we can speed it up a bit by taking a class or joining a club or spiritual community. I hope you find whatever works for you!

  10. Kitty says:

    This info regarding community is so good to hear. Sometimes a lack of close friends or a tight circle is not a voluntary choice! I find it so mystifying the way some people seem to further isolate or attack the quiet isolated person so it’s great to be reminded that those community relationships count for something and can be strengthened. Now i’m wondering where I can find a dog class with my newly adopted-me furry friend. Thanks Bobbi.

    • Bobbi says:

      Hi Kitty,

      I’m sure you can find a dog class somewhere nearby! And congratulations on being adopted by a furry friend!

      You have a good point that sometimes we might really want a close circle of friends and circumstances in life just get in the way of doing that. I think at those times we just need to be really proactive in reaching out to others – asking someone for a cup of coffee or joining a class or volunteer group.

      And people who choose to lead a quieter, more isolated life are often misunderstood in our extraverted society, aren’t they?

  11. Ayelet Zankel says:

    Wonderful article!
    SInce having deppression I hardly keep in touch with friends, but I know they are out there.
    A phone call away.
    You just made me think more about being more in touch with old & new ppl I know.

    Thank you so much!

    Ayelet Z.
    Israel

    • Bobbi says:

      Hi Ayelet,

      Glad this post prompted you to keep in touch with your community! Even when we’re not feeling well with depression or physical illness, just a short phone call to someone can keep the community intact.

  12. nirmal says:

    Bobby, Just a very simple and common thing which remained untouched for/by others.U touched,shaken and waked it up making it a “Great Article”.If applied in right perspective by everybody,really the community so formed, come into an existence will do miracles and helps a lot many people to bounce back high and high in life. Thanks Bobby for enlightenment.
    Nirmal.

  13. Such a powerful post, Bobbi!

    It’s so true that it sometimes takes a crisis to have you take a step back and REALLY see the important things. The things that are truly necessary to be healthy (or get healthy).

    Noreen is a lucky woman in more ways than one! ;)
    Kimberley Grabas recently posted…14 Things About Building a Blog Audience That You Think Are True (But Aren’t)My Profile

    • Bobbi says:

      Thanks, Kim. Unfortunately, it does seem to take a crisis to really get our attention, doesn’t it? I’m trying to work on paying more attention without the crisis in my own life!

  14. Gary Korisko says:

    Bobbi:

    Sorry I’m a bit late to the party here. But what a great commentary on community. You know what my community looks like, because you’re a part of it.

    I have a handful of *wonderful* people who I can always count on for support and honest feedback. Thanks for being a part of that :)

  15. karen says:

    Hi Bobbi, a lovely kind and thoughtful article. A true reminder to take notice of those around us. We dont have to be best friends to care for one another we should care for humanity. Your kindness shone through in this post.

    • Bobbi says:

      Thanks, Karen! I like how you point out that we not only need others to look out for us, but that we need to notice others as well.

  16. Gavriel says:

    Your post made me feel a little better. I do not have a lot of people I would call friends, especially close friends, but after thinking about it, I do have quite a nice community :)

  17. Ali Jayne says:

    This was such a beautiful story Bobbi, I’m glad I clicked on your link to read it :)
    As someone who has no blood family ties, and has moved to another country from my home country – I sometimes find myself scrambling to fill in the “in case of emergency” boxes. Thankfully, I have some really amazing friends in Canada, and some great friends in my home town too – but I understand Noreen’s viewpoint… it’s a lot to ask someone to be there when in need.
    Family sure, Best Friends no problem, the person you do a class with… ? more difficult.
    So glad you were there for her… she must have been so touched :)
    This was so lovely to read today it uplifted my spirit!
    Thank you for sharing,
    Ali J
    Ali Jayne recently posted…Adoption – Maternal InstinctMy Profile

    • Bobbi says:

      Hey Ali, welcome to Bounce!

      I’m glad you enjoyed the story. Noreen continues to improve each day.

      It is definitely hard to ask people for help when in need, but I think Noreen’s story shows that it’s important to have community and have at least one person who has your contact info and might notice if you’re not in your usual places at the usual times.

      Thanks again for your kind feedback!

  18. Dean says:

    Wow, Bobbi, what a moving post! First and foremost, I’m glad Noreen is improving. My mother suffered a nasty brain injury last Christmas, and it was quite a while before she was able to recognize us and communicate, so I can relate to how traumatic that is.

    My community? I, too, have let friends go over the years through my own neglect, so now it’s pretty much just my wife and my parents, a couple of good friends, and some work acquaintances. It’s good to be reminded not to take them for granted.
    Dean recently posted…Reason 74,832 Why It’s Worth It to Pay So Much to Live HereMy Profile

  19. Well done Bobbi! Take charge when you see a need to create a community. It happens when someone takes over.

    I have many online buddies and a few offline buddies but ultimately, it is about reaching out when you need help and offering help when someone needs it.

    Ryan
    Ryan Biddulph recently posted…3 Self Sabotaging Money Limiting Beliefs You Need to CorrectMy Profile

  20. Matanda says:

    This is a great post Bobbi. It’s definitely good to know that you’re not alone in the world and I have experienced both ends where I needed to support a friend in need and I needed a community in some form.
    I have a great group of friends back in Bryn Mawr but I decided to study back in my hometown for this school year which meant leaving them behind.

    There are some past classmates that are in the institution I’m doing my study-away program but since I don’t have Facebook like most college students, my relationships went back to the acquaintance stage. I had to develop my own sense of community and just the feeling of being part of something feels good. I still keep in touch with my Bryn Mawr buddies and I live with my family. It helps keep the blues away and it’s certainly something I’m grateful for everyday.

    Tell Noreen congrats on her recovery! :)

    • Bobbi says:

      Hi Matanda!

      I’m glad that you’ve been able to create some community even though you had to leave your posse behind at Bryn Mawr. You give a great example of how we can create community anywhere if we consciously choose to do so.

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Bobbi Emel is a therapist who helps people in Los Altos, Palo Alto, Mountain View and the greater Bay Area manage their stress and develop their strengths.
She is effective in helping people dealing with anxiety, worry and grief; and also those who want to improve their effectiveness and performance.