The friendship M.O.T.
Are you fortunate enough to have supportive, reliable friends in your life? Or do your friendships tend to ebb and flow like the tide?
Regardless of where we come from, what we do for a living, our marital status, family background or future ambitions, one thing we all appreciate is having a good friend by our side.
A good friend can be that all-important anchor in our lives when nothing makes sense. Some friends know how to pull you out of the doldrums, others have the sensitivity to give you space to think. Then there are those who know your shameful secrets yet they love and accept you anyway. Friends come in many shapes and sizes but when it feels like the whole world is against you, a good friend will fight your corner, wave your flag and bring you chocolate.
Whatever my clients talk to me about - addiction, despair, divorce, bereavement - they always mention friends. Some talk enthusiastically about how helpful they've been, while others tell me how their friends have let them down. It’s clear that when it comes to our emotional well-being, friends play a pivotal role.
Unhealthy friendships can cause, and exacerbate, feelings of anxiety, loneliness, isolation, stress and hopelessness. Struggles that feel small and trivial to one person can feel impossible to those who lack the warm reassurance of a caring friendship. Good friends inspire confidence and hope. 'Toxic' friends decimate our self-worth and pollute our inner world.
That’s why I’m always glad when a client tells me they have a network of loyal, trustworthy friends waiting for them in the wings. While counselling attends to the client's raw emotional wounds, healthy friendships provide a warm soothing balm to soften the edges and dull some of the pain.
Cultivating a friendship requires time and energy, and we're happy to do that when we're in the giddy throes of making a new friend. But when it comes to maintaining and strengthening friendships, most of us don't apply the same effort. We have a misunderstanding and suddenly everything is over, or we push the hurt aside and pretend everything is okay. Over time, grievances grow, resentments rise and a once-treasured friendship invariably ends up abandoned, broken or left to drift quietly into the sunset.
Like cars (and marriages), friendships benefit from a regular M.O.T. inspection to check that everything is ticking along as it should. If you're wondering about a friendship in your life, ask yourself:
- What am I looking for in this friendship? Am I experiencing this?
- What am I offering to my friend? Is what I'm offering enough?
- Does this friendship feel balanced and mutual? If not, what feels out of proportion?
- What brought us together as friends? What keeps us together now?
- Are there issues, grudges or resentments between us? Have they been dealt with?
- What am I not saying in this friendship?
You may find that you are content with how things are. Or you may feel inspired to start a discussion with your friend and invite them to tell you their side of things.
If things feel strained, you might even consider 'friendship counselling' - a growing therapeutic practice in the US and UK. The idea of bringing your friendship into the counselling room might seem drastic, but some people consider their friendship to be worth the investment. You might welcome the impartiality - and refereeing skills - of a counsellor to help you both express what you need from each other. Just one session can go a long way to kickstarting an honest and heartfelt dialogue between two old friends.
Whatever route you choose, having supportive, mutual friendships in your life is greatly therapeutic. Why not take a moment to perform a Friendship M.O.T. and explore how your friends influence your emotional well-being. And consider how you might be influencing their well-being too.