The Power of Friendship
“I would rather walk with a friend in the dark, than alone in the light” ― Helen Keller
Friendship, a state of enduring affection, esteem, intimacy, and trust between two people – britanica.com
When we teach a course, we always begin by describing our own friendship – the one that Resilient Practice grew from. Without our friendship, we would not have been able to sit together and dissect the bare bones of each other’s mistakes, shame and lessons and to celebrate the joy of our family’s achievements, passing on our passionate, heartfelt message to others or the excitement of our book coming into print.
We also both have the extreme good fortune to call our own spouses ‘best friend.’
Throughout life we make many friends. Some of those relationships are enduring and solid whereas some are more fleeting. Some are instant and full of energy whereas some are slow burning. Some are effortless and some take work. Some feel like new ground where with others it can feel as if we have known a person across lifetimes. To define friendship is to depersonalise it. Perhaps there are as many definitions of friendship as there are friends.
When we form friendships, there comes into being, an unspoken contact between both parties. That contract leads to expectations. There are common expectations that most of us will have on embarking on friendship, but because we all have a unique view of the world with our own emotional baggage thrown into the mix, these will differ from person to person. Common expectation include loyalty, trust, confidentiality, empowerment, generosity, humour, candour, companionship, listening without judging, offering advice, rescue, protection, defence, kindness, support, truth, and empathy. Please add your own. We are sure that there are many more. Because we are all different, sometimes these expectations are not met.
When a friend fails to meet our expectations, we can feel disappointed or let down. It pokes at our sense of self-worth, especially if we interpret their behaviour in a negative way.
For example: I have a friend who is loyal, supportive, and enduring but can be stand-offish and cool, in contrast to my demonstrative nature – it works for us. I text her one evening to ask whether she would like to meet up for drinks. She does not reply. When I press her for an answer, she replies curtly, putting me off until another time. I immediately recoil. I withdraw, feeling stung, as I see myself as rather needier than her, and I analyse the conversation. I then begin to tell myself that she has become cooler with me because she has grown tired of my exuberance or that maybe I moaned too much when we last spoke and she is creating some much-needed distance. Perhaps she has found better friends who are more like her – reserved and restrained and less like me
None of this is truth. She might be in the middle of a crisis herself. In fact, because of a primal drive to be accepted into ‘the tribe’ I have unconsciously developed a narrative that supports a belief that I am not worthy of friendship. This is intended to drive me to strive harder to be accepted. Because it is unconscious, I do not see that damage that it does to my relationships by driving negative cognitive behavioural cycles – the negative thoughts lead to feelings of sadness and despair and my resulting behaviour comes across as needy. I begin asking my other friends for reassurance that I am a good person and even make an enemy of the friend concerned by discussing her behaviour in a negative way with others – not very attractive behaviour – in fact rather friendship averse!
This is just one scenario. As you can imagine, since we are all unique and complex, our relationships are even more so.
Why are friendships important to us?
When they are going well, they have the opposite effect to the one in the above example. They contradict the negative belief about self-worth and support all the positive beliefs we hold about the Self. They provide us with all of the things that we listed above as ‘common expectations.’ Time spent with the right kind of friend is pleasurable. It leads to an increase in body chemicals, such as dopamine and serotonin. It counteracts the fight/flight stress response that we as a modern society have become so beaten down by. Within a friendship, we can also foster the feeling that we are not alone. We are bolstered by the fact that we have allies and do not have to tackle everything by ourselves This also supports our primal need to be accepted into ‘the tribe’ and consequently make us feel safe.
Friendship provides us with external validation which, as we have said many times, is not a key component of resilience. Most of us, however, are not looking for spiritual ascension right now. It is fair to suggest that to survive as a species – we need each other. This is real life and, in general, the benefits of good friendship far outweigh any possible negativity. With this as our caveat, we can however, consider practising some discernment.
What constitutes good friendship?
In her book ‘The Gifts of Imperfection’ researcher Brene Brown writes about shame. She outlines the detrimental effects that holding on to shame has on our body and mind. She also describes some really effective ways of dissolving it one of which is to share it with another. There are however some things to consider about the person with whom you choose to share. They should be willing to hear you without judgement. This means that they should not respond with all the reasons that they would never have had this happen to them. They should not immediately swamp your story with something of their own and make the interaction become about their pain. In short, Brene advocates finding a confidante who has ‘earned the right to hear it.’
Here are some of our ideas:
Nourishing, allowing us to be heard and witnessed in our authentic truth without judgement but not without challenge in a supportive way.
Forgiving whilst gently holding to account.
Empowering and encouraging.
Allowing space for new ideas and creativity.
Holding space for us to simply be heard and witnessed.
Creating room for growth.
Creating a feeling of uncreased energy for both parties.
Allowing for the giving and receiving of advice and counsel when asked for.
Celebrating our achievements and commiserates our losses.
Allowing for sharing of both joy and grief in equal measure.
You can evaluate your friendships and their effects on your wellbeing at any time. This is an act of self-care.
When reviewing your friends list, here are some questions to ask:
Does it nourish me?
Does it feel like work?
Does it leave me feeling drained?
Am I energised by it?
Is the sharing of information equal?
Is there mutual trust?
Is there loyalty?
Is there empathy or compassion?
Do I feel safe in sharing information that makes me vulnerable?
Do I feel empowered?
Do I feel celebrated?
Do they take form me without giving back?
Am I put down or belittled?
Is it nurturing my growth?
Is it positive?
Are there shared values?
Am I told only what I want to hear?
Is there truth?
Do I learn about myself through gentle honesty?
Does it challenge me?
Does it inspire me?
This is not an exhaustive list. Please add your own. Keep in mind that the purpose of regularly reassessing our relationship to those around us is to bring into our awareness those things which are good for us and those things which are less so. Friendships are unique and complex and sometimes we hold onto them out of feelings of guilt or obligation, or the need to fit in our need to belong – even if they are not entirely positive. Sometimes the negative aspects of a friendship are worth accepting because of the rewards. Re-evaluating our relationships as we grow is a great way of bringing them into our awareness and making them conscious. Increased consciousness can evolve into making conscious choices. This is not about thinning out the list but addressing our boundaries. Realigning with what we will and will not accept in our relationships and fostering in them the things that encourage both parties to thrive.
For more insights and a host of tools and techniques for exploring the Self and improving your human experience see our book: