Many people can say they have a large number of friends. However,
the likelihood is that they do not enjoy true, sincere friendships with all those individuals.
True friendships take time and work to create. Building true friendships requires a lot of emotional give and take from both people. When formed, sincere friendships are enduring. A friend will provide unconditional love and support. Confiding in another person without fear of judgment is liberating. It allows us to speak without feeling the need to self-vet everything we say. How often in social situations do we monitor what we say in case we expose too much of ourselves? We live in a society where fragilities and emotional or mental vulnerability can be seen as some kind of weakness. Talking to others can feel like a vocal dance rather than an honest discussion about how we feel.
Friends do not want us to hide what we are experiencing – they positively encourage us to take down barriers and show who we are. How else can you truly get to know someone else if they do not expose all of themselves to you – good and not so good. Everyone’s definition of a friend or friendship is different. Perhaps it is realistic to tweak our expectations depending on the level of friendship we want and the situation where the connection developed.
Some friends become just that in a work environment. Water cooler chats, after work drinks or weekend socialising. All this sounds familiar in the working world. Some people stay in contact once they no longer work together. Others recognise that theirs was pretty much an office friendship for the duration they worked together. This does not make their bond any less important or valid, it’s just an understanding that friendship can take different forms.
Those of us who have developed friendships since we were young will probably have journeyed together through significant moments. A mix of elation and challenging moments will bond two people in a hugely significant way. Equally, it can also put a strain on the strongest friendships. Seeing people at their most fragile is an emotional honour and them sharing your most difficult experiences creates shared moments that are never forgotten.
The pivotal fact is like many, if not all, truly important relationships, friendships can flourish and bend a little because the foundation of it is so strong. We allow ourselves the luxury of being entirely ourselves with all the emotional shades that come with it. Is it possible to love and care for someone if they don’t actually know who you are? Our flaws are as much a part of us as the positive aspects of our personality. If we value a person then we want to witness who they are in good and difficult times, otherwise the bond is one dimensional. If we walk away when a friend needs us – there is no genuine depth of emotion there. Sincere friends will be there for us whilst we navigate all our life experiences – and will absolutely want to be part of joy and perhaps difficult situations.
Michael Padraig Acton is a consultant, psychological therapist (clinical and counselling psychology) systemic life coach and author with over 30 years experience.
Regarding friendship he says ‘As social creatures, we all need friends. Providing the relationship is healthy, we benefit in so many ways.
One of the most important gifts that our dearest friends bring us is their loyalty. We can trust them with our hopes, our fears and our pain. We can tell them what is going on in our lives and know that they will keep it in confidence.
With our friends, we can benefit from a different perspective on our problems. In return, we can experience life in their shoes, helping us to become more empathic.
Our true friendships help us to grow as a person. If they are to last, we have to learn to respect our friends’ opinions and attitudes, when they differ from our own. We are all unique souls and we will all need to accommodate our differences.
Friendships are an antidote to loneliness. As described in my article, Tackling Loneliness, The 21st Century’s Biggest Killer, the cauldron of thoughts and feelings that underlie that simple word, loneliness, is driving people to addiction, depression and even death. It is important that we reach out to others, especially as we emerge from the pandemic.
When we make that step, we turn our thoughts outwards. This helps us to escape our own brooding while giving us the opportunity to give to another human being. Friendships are about both give and take and we need to learn to do both graciously.
Social media encourages us to think about friends as numbers because it is the number of active users that drives investment. If we’re not careful we can fall into the same trap of basing our self-worth on how many friends we have. Quality of friendship is far more important to human souls than quantity. Build up friendships slowly over time because not all will last the distance.
Before you invest in a friendship, make sure it is a healthy friendship and not a toxic relationship that drains you. For more information on toxic relationships and how to escape them, see my book Learning How To Leave.
Apart from that one caveat, try to value your friends equally by not comparing them. Each of your friends plays a different role in your life, bringing out different aspects of your being. Some will pep you up when you’re feeling down. Some will encourage you to take on new challenges, overcoming anxiety and procrastination. Others will be there to listen to you with no expectations. Value all of them equally for who they are and what they bring to your life.’
Michael Padraig Acton’s next book, the first in the Power of You series, is Learning How To Leave: A Practical Guide To Stepping Away From Toxic Narcissistic Relationships (paperback out July 2021).