By Anna Osborn, LMFT
One of the favorite parts of my day is being able to pick my kids up from school. It doesn’t happen everyday, which I’m sure makes me appreciate it all the more. I love being able to hear about their days, how they spent their time and any funny stories they’ve squirreled away. One thing I always ask is who did you eat lunch with and who did you play with at recess today?
It’s a seemingly small question, but it’s one that I learned the importance of from my own Mom. You see, her after school talks with me were much less about my academics and much more about who I was hanging out with. She would ask these small yet subtle questions about certain friends I’d talked about, how relationships were going with them and gently remind or ask me about friends I hadn’t mentioned in a while.
I didn’t know it at the time, but she was laying a foundation for me on how to be on the lookout for a tribe. A circle of friends that would be my biggest cheerleaders and safest critics. I’d like to say those after school talks with my mom helped me navigate adult friendships with ease and comfort, that I’ve had a strong tribe around me my entire life, but the truth is I had to learn the importance of this one the hard way, through risk and rejection.
In its purest form, the vision of a tribe is inspiring. A circle of friends, no matter the size, that support you unconditionally, yet challenge you to grow and stretch outside your comfort zone. They don’t, nor should they, agree with every idea that pops into your head, but instead hear and see you for who you are and who you’re striving to become. They seek to understand you, encourage you and call you out when needed.
But what happens if you’re tribeless? What happens if this vision for what can be is far short of your day to day support system? What if you’re struggling to make connections with other people and the loneliness is starting to feel like hopelessness?
The first thing I can say is, you’re not alone in this. My biggest feelings of hopelessness have always been compounded by me telling myself I am alone and no one would understand. I struggled to see to opportunities for connection, no matter how small or impossible they looked in the moment. I forced myself to show up with a smile on my face when in reality I was struggling inside and stuffing it all down.
And I assume it’s the same for you. That you’re pretty certain you’re tribeless because you’re not growing, the loneliness seems insurmountable, the feeling of being overwhelmed seems permanent and you’re lacking the perspective to see outside of your current set of stressors.
I’m not promising that having a tribe makes all of these things disappear. But what a tribe DOES DO is create a perspective of hope. It allows you to know, with the utmost confidence, someone you love and respect has walked (and survived) a hard path too and you’re not alone in this season of life.
If you’re struggling to find connection and the season of life you’re walking through feels exceptionally hard, you could very well be tribeless. I encourage you to will yourself forward and try a few steps to break that isolation and start intentionally building a tribe of authentic connection around you.
The first step is to really accept there is a risk in reaching. I’m not going to lie to you and tell you that it’s not scary to try. But what I am going to tell you with complete honesty, is that it’s absolutely worth it. Even if the risk ends up feeling like a rejection, at least you tried. And don’t stop there. Try again. Begin to notice when you risk with someone, do they begin to risk with you? Are they challenging you to grow and allowing you the same opportunity to challenge them to? Are there people around you extending themselves that you never noticed before; inviting you to do this life thing together? Lean into this.
Start small. You have to be really clear with what you’re looking for in a tribe so that when you reach for it, you’re much more certain you found it. If you’re looking for someone to encourage and challenge you, then don’t be shocked when you get honest feedback. If you’re looking for unconditional support, be a good observer of those around you who are good at doing that already and start to build a richer relationship with them. Start small and be intentional and clear about what you need.
Look up. We all know the reality technology and social media are playing in our lives. And I completely understand the convenience that building a tribe online can offer. I want you to look up anyway. Look around to see those familiar signs of loneliness and overwhelm in the mama next to you at the park and say hello. Take yourself on a date to the local coffee shop, ignore your phone and see who is sitting around you. Strike up a simple conversation about the weather or a new restaurant that’s opening down the street. Look up!
Lastly, be discerning. Don’t just accept every friendship that walks through the door. Yes, accept invitations and lean into conversations, but don’t feel like your need for connection means you should settle for less. Be solid in what you need and deserve and don’t settle for inauthentic connections.
You’ve got this. You have the ability to build a tribe that is a lighthouse in your life, encouraging you to swim a bit farther than you did last time while also being a steady reminder of the shoreline nearby.
Anna Osborn, LMFT, is the owner of Life Unscripted Counseling. She works with couples to improve communication, deepen intimacy and heal from betrayal. Anna lives in the Elk Grove with her husband, school aged twins and boxer dog. She can often be found at the ballpark cheering on her local team. More information about Anna and her Sacramento practice can be found at www.LifeUnscriptedCounseling.com.