As we explore the different RELATIONSHIPS within our lives at Seed this week, Counsellor, Helen Evans, looks at depth into the relationships that we have with our friends AND how we can build strong, supportive friendships.
Why are STRONG friendships so important?
Strong supportive friendships are important as they help to keep us connected. Friends are people who are there for us, warts and all. A good friend can make the world feel a better place. Our friends are the ones who can really brighten up our day, and who look out for us when we might be struggling, and equally who are there to celebrate and have fun with.
We are social beings, and we’ve evolved to live in ‘tribes’ where we are surrounded by friends and family all the time. BUT modern life can make this quite tricky at times, and we need to make quite a bit of effort to maintain our friendships, which can sometimes feel hard to do.
Where possible having a variety of friendships can be really helpful, and I think we can all appreciate that our friends can provide different roles for us, just as we will to them. We have friends who we work with, friends who we may meet through our children, friends who we were at school with, friends who we may go to the gym or outdoor activities with.
Also understand what works for you. Some people like to have lots of friends and a big variety. Others prefer to have a small number of trusted friends, neither is right or wrong, it’s just different and that’s ok!
What does a HEALTHY friendship look like?
A healthy friendship for me, is one where you feel supported and equal in your relationship. It’s a friendship where everyone can be honest and genuine, say what you would like to say without being fearful of judgment, where you can ask for understanding and acceptance, even if your point of view is different from the others.
There have been lots of examples recently of friendships really feeling the strain of differences in opinion with Brexit, Covid and vaccinations coming to my mind. I think a healthy friendship is one where there is room for difference and where there is equality.
One party is not over reliant or dependent upon the other – of course there are times when one of you is going through a difficult time so the other will be there for you, but that there is a reciprocal element to the friendship.
Above all, a healthy friendship is an easy friendship, one where we can trust that the other person has our back and our best interests at heart at all times, not who thinks about what would suit them, but what is right for us, and someone who is able to understand that.
What does an UNHEALTHY friendship look like?
For me an unhealthy friendship is one where there is judgement, expectation and often the idea of possession. Where you are worried that the friend might criticise or judge or be ‘cross’ with you for doing something, going out with different people for example.
Unhealthy friendships can contain a loss of independence on one part and where there is an element of fear or worry around a friendship that is definitely not a healthy friendship. Again, it comes back to that element of possession.
We should be with our friends because we choose to be, not because we have to be.
How can you remove yourself from a TOXIC friendship?
I think honesty is key here. If you find yourself in a toxic friendship, then being able to ‘own’ how you are feeling and what is going on for you in a measured and calm way is the best way forward.
This may be very difficult to achieve and depending on the situation there would be different ways to manage it. Being true to yourself and knowing your own boundaries is key. If someone is repeatedly crossing your boundaries, with no appreciation or understanding of them, then it’s important to be able to let them know in a kind way.
Also try to have compassion for that other person, it may be that things are not going well for them, or they haven’t learnt how to be a good friend or had good examples of that in their life. The important thing is to understand what you would like in a friendship and to know when to ‘bow out gracefully’ and move on.
What’s the difference between REAL friendships & ONLINE ones?
This is tricky as online there can be a concept of ‘disinhibition’ where we reveal more of ourselves from behind a phone or computer than we would in real life. Sending ‘nudes’ is a classic example of this, most teenage girls would not dream of walking down the road with no clothes on, but they can be persuaded to send a ‘nude’ of themselves which can then get distributed far beyond the person who they believed was the intended recipient.
Online friendships can feel very real, yet the reality is that we can only ‘see’ what the person at the other end wants us to see. When we are in real life friendships we can get a much better gauge of how the other person is, if they are happy, sad, putting a brave face on things, we can have fun in a different kind of way.
Social media can be quite distorting, in general people ‘post’ the highlight’s of their day, not the ‘lowlights’ so I think genuine contact can suffer with online friendships.
I wonder if the true measure of this, is if you were in trouble which of your friends could you rely on to come and help you out and I think for most people these would be our ‘real’ friendships. When we’re talking strong, supportive friendships, we are probably talking real friendships ahead of online ones.
How can we INVEST in our friendships (when we’re all so time poor at the moment)? What is the key to strong, supportive friendships?
Helen Evans in a Counsellor based in Beaconsfield. For more information and how to get in touch please CLICK HERE.
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