Did you know your friend group can influence:
Female friendships can be a source of guidance and mentorship. The reassurance of our self-worth. Compassion and nurturance. Stability and safety during times of stress and turmoil. Friendship is a buffer against anxiety and depression. It makes us more resilient. Yet for so many of us, we never fully realize the possibilities of female friendships.
They can also be a source of great wounding and trauma. We look to them for a sense of belonging, validation. As teenagers, wives, and parents we look to them to determine if we are doing things right, if we are okay and acceptable as women.
Friendships take time, and if you want to reap the benefits of them, you need to take the risk and invest the energy. Like all intimate relationships, this can be scary.
If we have a history of being emotionally injured in our immediate family or by friends early on, it can be challenging to move forward and take risks in friendships. We might choose friends poorly and have low expectations for what friendships can hold. Or, we might wall ourselves off and have no expectations that our friendships be rewarding at all. We may have them, but keep them superficial. In the most extreme cases, we might withdraw completely from the possibility of friendships. Unlike when we do this with romantic partners, we aren't as likely to be challenged by others if we choose this option. Deep down though, everyone wants friends.
What's the formula you how to pick good friends?
If you are like most women I work with, you don't have one. When you were younger, you might have been friends with whoever lived on your block. Your next-door neighbor or who sat next to you on the bus. As you got older, it may have been your college roommate or someone who had something else in common with you.
Friendship is an example of something we don't learn enough about as a child. Our parents don't teach us how to pick good friends. Of course, it's not likely anyone taught them how to pick good friends either. We don't learn enough about how to pick good friends in school either. We may have been taught how to BE a good friend, but those messages usually involved being a "giver" without recognizing what to do if a friend violated our boundaries. My female teens really struggle with understanding these issues.
Recently I had a conversation with a client during which I asked her what value a friend was adding to her life. She thought this was such a selfish question. Is this your reaction to a question like this?
What are the lessons you learned about friendship? What are the false beLIEfs you might have about how to be a good friend, how to pick friends, and how might being a woman affect the messages and beLIEfs you have about what a good friend is?
I can tell you I didn't learn much in this area, and the messages I did learn had to do with self-sacrifice and giving despite others' behavior. I think these things are worth discussing because, as a woman, feeling connected and supported in your friendships is a key part of your mental health.
I always encouraged my clients to think carefully about their friendships in this way and come up with new rules and new beliefs that are more helpful and healthy. Here are a few guidelines about how to pick good friends.
Break up with your friend.
Friendships, like relationships, can be ended. If friendships aren't working, you can break up with friends. Many of my clients end their relationships when they no longer serve them. In fact, when you are getting healthier, you might outgrow your unhelpful friendships and find yourself seeing them for what they are for the first time.
If a friend has become harmful for you, this can be a challenging process depending on the length of the friendship, and you may need time to grieve or the help of a therapist.
In one of my favorite shows Being Erica there is a scene where two lifelong friends break up. Erica, the main character, has a therapist who can magically take her through moments in her life through time travel (I wish I could do this). Please check out this show if you haven't seen it.
Jenny is a bad news friend who continuously jeopardizes Erica's life with her reckless ways, and ERICA always lets her take advantage of her. In the most recent episode, she helps her get a job, and she does something immoral, illegal, and selfish as she has multiple times in the past that reflects badly on Erica. The therapist takes her back through all of the times in her life where Jenny has really jeopardized her personal welfare ( through time travel), rather than acting as a true friend.
Here is the script from the scene.
"Friendship. Two people choose each other through some mysterious mix of alchemy and circumstance. On the surface, the reason for our choice seems obvious. They share our interests; they make us laugh. But is there more to it than that? And do we ever stop and wonder why one person and not another?"
Erica returns and sees Jenny sitting in front of her door. .....
Jenny: Why do I ruin everything?
Erica: I don't know, but you do. Over and over.
Jenny: I want to change that. I've said it before; I mean it this time. Can you forgive me? Are we still friends? Erica: This is really hard for me because I love you. We share a history; that's why I keep trying, but at some point, you have to stop and ask if it's worth it and if what we have can even be called a friendship. I'm not sure if this friendship is healthy or useful for either of us.
Jenny: This feels like a breakup.
Erica: I know you didn't mean to hurt me. But you did. And this time, I can't fix it for you, I can't make you feel better, and I can't make myself feel better by helping you. Jenny walks out the door and collapses in tears.
It isn't ever too late to make good friends and to wean out the toxic ones. As adults, we often believe that its too hard or too late to start working on making good friends. It's simply not true. Sometimes if you look around in your network you will discover people you already know who you enjoy spending time with but never really invested in. You can start to mine those relationships and see what you discover. You can find new friendships by joining groups like BFF taking a wine or cooking class, joining a meet up group, or a skill pop class.
Just like romantic relationships, friendships can be a place where old patterns from childhood play out. If you come from an abusive background, you may need help setting boundaries with people who are not healthy for you and drawing healthy friends into your life.
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