How To Feel Comfortable in a Group
Want to be social, but have no clue how to insert yourself into a group? I totally understand! It is a frustrating experience to want to make friends yet feel uncomfortable in the very places you would get to know new people. How can you feel comfortable in a group?
A few quick tips to feeling comfortable in a group include wearing discrete hearing protection to reduce overstimulation, sitting with the group but with a wall or corner behind you to reduce the amount of activity going on around you, attending functions with an organized purpose, and bringing a friend or “safe person” along if you have someone available.
Meeting new people can be intimidating but allowing yourself to explore new social scenes can be very rewarding, given time. Learn more details about the tactics listed above to ease into a social scene that will help you develop the relationships you want in life.
Feel More Comfortable in Groups with High Fidelity Earplugs
I didn’t realize how sensitive I was to ambient noise until I wore these earplugs (paid link) in a grocery store and had enough left over in me to go to a second store to look for ripe avocados and prepare a meal when I got home! Usually, if the first store I went to didn’t have what I needed, that was it. I just wouldn’t purchase that item as there was no way I was up to looking somewhere else.
What I love about high-fidelity earplugs is that they do not muffle the sound. You can hear what people are saying in a crisp and clear way, yet they take the edge or sharpness from what you hear and reduce ambient noise. These were originally developed to protect hearing at concerts while not diminishing the quality of the experience. These same attributes can go a long wat in helping you feel comfortable in a group!
Admittedly, I can only wear these for up to an hour at a time because my skin is very sensitive. But if you can wear other earplugs or earbuds without discomfort, you should be able to wear these for long periods of time as they come with three different sizes for you to try and are made of a very soft silicone material. They are very discrete as well.
Sit with the Group, But with a Wall or Corner Behind You
Being in the middle of a crowd can really heighten the overwhelm an autistic person or anyone with sensory processing differences feels. Whenever I go to a group setting, I arrive early so I can find what place in the room will work best for me. I do this in restaurants as well.
First, scan the room to get a sense of the general layout. If you can sit with the group, they will perceive you as being more socially available. Look for the place where the least amount of activity will be going on around you. This may be a table closest to a wall or a corner, or in a circle it may be the place where people are least likely to walk behind or past you.
With sensory sensitivities, limiting the amount of activity surrounding you in this way will give your mind fewer external things to keep track of, freeing you up to be more present with the group and lowering your tendency to reach the point where you’ve had enough and just need out. When you are not on sensory overload, you will naturally begin to feel more comfortable in a group!
Increase Your Comfort in a Group by Attending Group Settings with a Specific Activity
Commonly, autistic people can feel out of place when in a group with no apparent purpose or agenda. This is certainly not true for all autistic people, but it is for me. To be in a room with many conversations taking place is not only overwhelming and making me want to shut down, but it also feels impossible to know where to “insert” myself.
What I mean is that everyone is engaged in conversation already, so how do I join in? It feels rude to interject myself into a conversation, and even if I did, I probably couldn’t keep it going unless I were able to fully engage my interest as having many conversations going on around me feels so draining. It is difficult to feel comfortable in a group when I don’t know where I belong.
I prefer meeting with specific purposes. For example, I may go to a group strategy game meetup where I can play my favorites like Settlers of Catan or Ticket to Ride (paid links). Everyone having a central focus, the game, creates a situation where there is no pressure on any one person to carry the activity. Everyone understands taking turns, which allows spontaneous conversation based on the shared experience.
I find that in playing games, everyone’s personality really comes out. It is a non-threatening way to get to know other people with no pressure. If you choose to be quiet, the others around the game may not notice as they have the game and each other to focus on. But it is easier to join in the conversation, especially on your turn, if you do choose to make your voice heard.
Where to Meet People for a Group Activity Where You Will Feel Comfortable
Some people may be thinking, “Ok, great, go play games with my group of friends… the problem is that I NEED a group of friends to do something with!” I hear you. Allow me to let you in on a (not) secret. I met a lot of amazing people through a group called Meetup.com. The great thing about this website is that you can search for whatever type of group you want to be a part of.
I have joined hiking groups, meditation groups, public speaking groups, improv groups, etc. The beautiful thing is that if there isn’t a group in your area that meets your needs and desires, you can create your own Meetup group! It is free to join whatever groups you want, but you do have to pay for some plans if you want to create your own groups.
I once created a meditation group and ran it in a way that was perfect for me. Everyone took turns with a brief check-in. We then did a short silent meditation, then passed a book around taking turns reading a paragraph or two. When we felt we had enough to discuss, we would take turns sharing our thoughts and commenting on other people’s thoughts. We would close with a guided meditation.
The group I created was perfect for me because it was based on a special interest of mine, did not have room for multiple conversations to take place at once (something that is difficult for me to tolerate on a sensory level), and allowed us to open up and really get to know each other in a structured way.
Bring a ‘Safe Person’ Until You are Comfortable
Almost everyone gets nervous when going to a new social event, whether they are autistic or not. It is very helpful to bring someone along who can be a home base for you. I have done this with friends in the past. I wanted to attend a get-together that my Toastmasters club was hosting, but I thought I would feel lost as there would be multiple small conversations and I wouldn’t know who to talk to.
I asked a friend who was in the group if he could be my home base and help me feel welcome and included. I let him know that I would try to mingle with others but asked if it was Ok for me to stick close to him if I ended up not feeling comfortable enough to venture out. He agreed.
We arrived at the same time and walked in together. I stuck by his side for a half hour or so, but eventually began to feel comfortable in the group, enough so to venture out and talk to other people. It turned out that I had a great time and didn’t check in with him much after the first part of the evening. I probably wouldn’t have even gone had he not agreed to be there for me if I needed him.
Looking for Closer Friends Within the Group
If your goal is to develop a closer circle of friends, start paying attention to what people in the group you “click” with. Some people more naturally gravitate to each other, while others repel each other. This is due to subtle cues of personality and values.
Watch for people who have a growth mindset, meaning they focus on the possibilities of things rather than constantly on the negative or on what could go wrong. People with a positive outlook who want to improve their lives and reach their goals will help you do the same.
When you feel comfortable (this shouldn’t be forced), engage the people with whom you’d like to become friends in one-on-one conversation and see how things evolve. The blog post Top 5 Things to Look For in a New Friend provides more information on how to recognize potential friends.
Final Thoughts on Being Comfortable in a Group of People
The ideas I presented in this blog are all things that I have found work well for me through trial and error. I discovered what works well for me by paying close attention to everything I noticed about situations where I felt great, versus situations where I shut down and needed to escape.
Try some of these suggestions out if they feel right for you. Also, observe yourself closely while in groups to notice when you are more comfortable and when you are less comfortable. Find ways you can amplify and repeat those things that help you feel more at ease.