Making Friends When You’re Afraid People Won’t Understand You


“The greatest mistake you can make in life is to be continually fearing you will make one.” ~Elbert Hubbard

Tonight I am troubled because I have graduated college, and as I am looking back, I am hyperaware of my losses.

In the past few years, I have had the opportunity to make many friends and lose many friends, largely because of my inability to understand and articulate my bipolar disorder to others. I am ashamed at times because of the mood swings that others seem to dismiss as problems that are “all in my head.”

I have lost countless friends, have had relationships end, and have had family members retract because of my seemingly endless cycles of depression and sudden elevation that makes it nearly impossible for others to “sync up” with me.

It feels as though I am eternally trapped sometimes; even with medication and therapy, this illness still manifests itself in subtle ways, making intimacy (which I equate with understanding) very difficult.

I have personally known friends and family members with disabilities and illnesses of their own who isolate themselves because they think the challenge of relating to others is too much.

And I sympathize with them—it sometimes really is! These friends have started seeking out others with other illnesses; they’ve decided to select friends with similar traits versus values.

It may seem like seeking out those similar traits will lead to understanding, but it won’t necessarily lead to solid relationships. Shared illness and disabilities don’t guarantee shared interests and priorities.

Illnesses and disabilities don’t tell us who people are as people; it’s really about what they do with the cards they are dealt that reveals their character.

Some people choose to align with others with similar traits because it’s easier than discovering what their values are. However, the connections made with values are a lot more authentic because values are self-made, not pre-determined.

And as much as I personally want to give up on seeking these connections sometimes, I remember that we are all different in our own way, and most of us feel like there is some sort of deficit in us one way or another.

If it’s not bipolar disorder, it may be one’s weight that one is unhappy about, one’s health status or family baggage that holds one back from putting oneself out there to the world. Vulnerability is hard!

I don’t want to limit myself to only those who can understand me because they have the same illness. I am far too curious about the lives of others as well, although sometimes it is disheartening because I haven’t always had this reciprocated.

I am conflicted about whether I should live a life of transparency and be upfront about my mental illness to those I meet because I am so afraid of being judged.

The point is, I have put myself out there before, and the fact that I take personal responsibility, admitting that my moody behaviors have shocked, hurt, and offended others before, makes it both liberating and frustrating.

I almost want to stop letting new people into my life; the weight of rejection feels like too much sometimes.

There are a few things I remind myself to get out of this rut.

  1. The more I get to know myself, the more I can predict my tendencies and practice self-care.
  2. The more honest I am with others, the more honesty I am inviting from them, and the more likely I can help set the tone for intimacy.
  3. The more people I come to contact with, the more likely I will come across individuals who might be healthier for me and be in a place to work with me.
  4. The more people I come across, the more practice I will have in learning understanding, self-control, and compassion.
  5. The more I obsess about making a mistake with a new person, the more likely I will.

Therefore, despite my failed friendships and relationships, I have strong conviction that the strongest relationships are those with deep commitment—and that the first and strongest relationship should be that which is with yourself.

I have committed to not let past fears and rejection hold me back. This commitment is a type of freedom in itself, and a small model of what I can aspire to in relationships with others.

Have you ever felt limited by the fear that others won’t understand you? What’s helped you overcome it?

Photo by Nicole Abalde

About Naima Tracy

Naima Tracy is a recent college graduate living on a yoga retreat in Hawaii. She facilitates support groups & focuses on empowering those with Bipolar Disorder in relationships. She plays jazz, dances burlesque, and does yoga in her free time. Her love for learning and people is contagious—you’ve been warned! Visit

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