One key difference between our family members and our friends is that we are born into a family without having a conscious choice on who will be our kin. But friends are chosen. Have you chosen healthy friends?
We have different ways of distinguishing our friends, for instance, we have best friends, childhood friends, work friends, our acquaintances as well as friends who are like adopted sisters and brothers. We often make these distinctions to establish how closely bonded we are to that particular friend. But rarely does this involve evaluating whether the friendship is supportive of our well being. Often, support is assumed, even if it’s not felt.
A healthy friendship is based on mutual choice. This means that both people in the friendship truly witness each other and genuinely want to be friends with each other. There are many situations where we are obliged to be friends with others, for instance when a good friend gets married and you attempt to have a relationship with their spouse. Another example is childhood friends, which are formed before we have a chance to discover our true identity in the world. Yet, we can still be expected to remain in touch with longtime friends because of the amount of years of knowing each other. But if longtime friends only see you as the kid they knew long ago, they can fail to witness the mature adult that you’ve become and will try to continue the relationship based on old familiar scripts. Change will be seen as an unsettling force in the relationship, yet change is required for growth.
Not all friendships are truly reciprocal. Recognizing when you give to a relationship consistently more than you receive from it is essential to self care. We only have so much energy for our work life and personal life, so if a friend is often clingy, needy, or draining, it may be a sign that they are more focused on securing their own emotional needs and they aren’t adequately considering your needs. They might not even be aware of the impact that they’re having on your until you speak to them about it. Healthy friends don’t need to offer each other the same exact qualities, but the effort put into caring for the relationship needs to be mutual.
True friends witness your growth and see the person that you’re becoming. They ask for what they need from you in direct ways and they make an effort to reciprocate. But the most important ingredient to building a healthy and intimate friendship is trust. Trust is built over time, as you face challenges together and create lasting memories during the shared adventures. As either person in the relationship grows and changes, trust can be shaken because change can be scary. So checking-in with yourself internally about the status of trust in your friendships is a healthy self-awareness practice.
This week’s challenge exercise is the Relationship Check-in. Write down a list of your 5 closest friends. Say their name aloud and feel your body as you say their name. What do you feel inside your body? Next to their name, write down that visceral response, such as where you feel tension in your body, along with any emotions that you may notice. Then ask yourself, “Do I trust this friend?” While this sounds like a simple question, you may find that your answer comes with conflicting feelings. Journal about each response to claim the maximum benefit. Feel free to share your general impressions about what surprised you during your Relationship Check-in in the comments below.