I grew up in a rural Ohio. Our house was settled among the woods between two towns, each populated by 1,000 people. I’ve always been shy, and I still consider myself an introvert, needing time by myself to rest and reenergize.
However, after beginning my psychotherapy practice in Boulder, I soon found myself drawn to Lafayette, where my wife, Kelsey, and I live. Having my practice in Boulder, I felt disconnected from Lafayette, which I perceived as having a strong sense of community. I wanted to be more a part of that community, and I decided to move my practice to Old Town.
This past weekend, I participated in a networking group I started for Lafayette professionals, and Kelsey and I also volunteered at the Peach Festival, selling smoothies and cobbler at the Lafayette Chamber of Commerce tent. During (and after) each of these events, I felt joy and excitement.
And, to be honest, I felt proud. Both of these events felt out of character for me – I am not typically seeking out groups of people, particularly on my down time. It felt good to stretch myself outside of my comfort zone, especially because the experiences felt so positive.
The Benefits of Community
As I reflect on my experiences this past weekend, I’m not so surprised that even an introvert like me would find benefits in community, and I understand better my desire to move my office to the town in which I live so that I can become more a part of the community. Community is a central aspect of the “Social” layer of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, and it’s part (and, I would argue, contains aspects of almost all) of one of the largest categories on the Center for Nonviolent Communication’s Needs Inventory: “Connection.”
Connection provides many benefits: belonging and inclusion, acceptance, understanding, seeing others and being seen. Within a network of people organized around common values and goals, connection can also provide trust, security, and safety. Studies have also shown that people who feel connected have overall better functioning immune systems, experience higher self-esteem, and often feel less anxious and depressed (for examples, this article on Psychology Today is a great place to start).
Finding Community and Making Connections
The good news for those of us who are shy, introverted, or experience social anxiety, being ‘connected’ is in the eye of the beholder. Therefore, you don’t have to belong to a certain number of groups or have a particular number of friends to be connected; you only need to do whatever you need to feel connected. For instance, even though most of my conversations at the Peach Festival amounted to, “That will be $4,” I still felt connected to the community by just being there.
So what might work for you? Here are a few suggestions to help you explore finding more connection in community:
Online Communities: there are many opportunities to find communities online. I belong to several groups on Facebook specifically for Lafayette residents. Even though I don’t post much myself, seeing others’ posts and the conversations that result help me feel a connection. If you live in Lafayette, check groups like this one or this one. Many cities and neighborhoods have similar groups – it just takes some patience to search on Facebook to find them (try typing in your zip code!).
Communities of Common Interests: one aspect of community is belonging, and one easy way to feel like you belong is to find a group that specifically shares your interests. Meetup.com is a great website that allows you to search for groups that already exist (and meet in person!) around a mutually-shared interest, such as hiking, photography, or animals (and pretty much anything you can think of). If you are a religious person, finding a community that shares and supports your beliefs, such as a church, synagogue, mosque, or temple is an excellent way to find a welcoming community.
Volunteer: Joining a group with a common goal can provide you with purpose and meaning. Volunteering usually also means a clear activity, which can help provide a focus for the time and reduce some of the stress of social anxiety. Check with your local government or a local non-profit for volunteer opportunities that may suit your interests.
Therapeutic or Support Group: Sometimes, it helps to connect over the things that tend to isolate us. Depression, anxiety, and issues with anger often result in our cutting ourselves off from connection, as do struggles at work or within our families and relationships. By finding a group of people with similar issues, we can begin to counteract those isolating tendencies (which can also help us find relief from difficult emotions as well as to make changes to make our work and relationships more fulfilling).
If you struggle to find connection (or you feel like you don't really belong) and think you might benefit from support, either one-on-one or in a group, contact me. I currently offer a therapeutic group for men, and if that group doesn't work for you, I’d be happy to help you find other groups that will.
Peach image courtesy of David Slack.
Community image courtesy of Billy Brown.