Your Social Network: Stronger and More Satisfying

Alone again? Missing the perks of friendship? Here's how adults with attention deficit can build up their social network.


Filed Under: ADHD Social Skills, ADHD and Relationships
A line of paper cutouts represent ADHDers building their social network.

Friendship costs nothing but time and attention, and it gives just about everything that matters in life.

— Ned Hallowell, M.D.

We live in a world characterized by "The Modern Paradox." While communications technology connects us electronically, we've grown disconnected interpersonally. Lots of people are lonely, despite their LinkedIn connections and Facebook friends.

When you add ADHD to the mix, the problem gets worse. People with ADHD can have more difficulty than others making and holding onto friends. That's because we have to struggle to create the structures and observe the protocols that friendships depend upon: being on time and being at the right place to meet; remembering names; remembering people's stories; not putting foot in mouth; listening -- not interrupting; not getting too close too quickly; being able to tolerate frustration.

Friends with Benefits

We ADHDers are, in many ways, gifted in friendships -- we are warm, generous, forgiving, intuitive. But we often don't get a chance to show these qualities because of the obstacles we face in maintaining friendships.

So why bother making the effort to find friends? Because when you have good friends, your problems weigh less. You have people with whom you can worry, laugh, grieve, celebrate, and to whom you can turn for help. Friendship costs nothing but time and attention, and it gives just about everything that matters in life.

If you know how much friendship matters, your next question might be, "How do I make new friends, and how do I keep the friends I already have?"

Tending to your current friends is crucial. Friendships are like flowers in a garden. Without proper cultivation, feeding, and fussing over, they will not flourish, and will sooner or later die. You have to check in with a person regularly to make sure the relationship stays in its best health.

For most of us, making new friends is harder. We have to work at it, go outside of our comfort zone, and risk rejection.

Here are my best suggestions for finding new friends:

> Pick places where you can meet people you'd probably like. For example, if you like exercise, join a gym. If you have deep spiritual roots, join a church, synagogue, or other spiritual center. If you like cooking, take a cooking class at an adult education center. Go to places where you can meet the kind of person you'd like to meet.

> Introduce yourself, or ask someone to introduce you. Summon up your courage and go up to the person and say, "Hi, my name is Ned. I'm trying to meet new people. I'm kind of shy, but..." The other person will almost certainly interrupt you, extend a hand, and the next thing you know, you have a conversation in progress.

> Ask relatives, current friends, and business associates to help you meet new people. This is different from dating, but similar principles apply. Extend beyond your current networks and comfort zone.

> Don't expect perfection. The moment a friend or potential friend disappoints you, don't run in the other direction. Don't brood over an imagined slight. Cut the other person the slack you'd like to be cut.

> Keep at it. Making new friends takes work, but it is some of the most important work you'll ever do. Once you have made a new friend, cultivate the relationship.

If you are still reading, there is no doubt that you can deepen your current friendships and make new ones, because you are motivated. You want to do it. You can do it. Now do it.

Dr. Ned Hallowell has ADHD himself, and is a practicing psychiatrist and founder of the Hallowell Center for Cognitive and Emotional Health, outside Boston, and in New York City. He is the author of 19 books, including Shine: Using Brain Science to Get the Best from Your People.

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This article appears in the Fall issue of ADDitude.
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