The Power of Friendship

The Power of Friendship

“I get by with a little help from my friends” – From The Beatles

“Make new friends but keep the old. One is silver, the other is gold. A circle is round, it has no end. That’s how long I will be your friend. A fire burns bright, it warms the heart. We’ve been friends from the very start. You have one hand, I have the other. Put them together, we have each other.” – A passage of a Children’s Verse, author unknown.

After 22 years of establishing community and a strong circle of friends, raising my children and building a flourishing Massage Therapy practice, my husband and I made the difficult decision to start all over, moving our work and lives 12 hours away from everything I had known for more than 2 decades. After recently returning for a visit, I was struck by how much love and gratitude I have for all the incredible people that I have developed relationships with over these past years. I am now in the process of growing new connections and friendships in a new community, which isn’t easy. With this, I have been reflecting on the significance of friendships and the role they play in  carrying us through on this wild ride we call life!

“A true friend never gets in your way, unless you happen to be going down” – From Arnold H. Glasgow

Many of my dearest friendships, primarily my women friends, have grown slowly, deepening over the course of many years. Together, we have celebrated the birth of our children and watched them grow, now letting them go into the world, supporting each other through the joys and challenges of parenting. We have seen each other through marriages and divorces, romantic flings and break-ups, affairs and even domestic abuse. We have lent helping hands moving homes, cheered each other through job and educational pursuits, empathized with financial hardships and physical ailments.) We have held space for one another through loss and grief and through the growing pains of personal transformations. We have been with each other as our lives have fallen apart and are pieced back together again. Through it all, we have feasted and indulged, danced and sang, celebrated our rites of passage and have laughed and cried ourselves  silly as we continued to navigate it all. What a blessed gift to love and be loved and so intimately witnessed by each other through the passage of time.

The Health Benefits of Positive Relationships:

“4 hugs a day, that’s the minimum, 4 hugs a day, not the maximum!” – From Charlotte Diamond, A Children’s Song

Social connection is one of the Fundamentals of Wellness. Humans are social animals, relying on each other for safety and survival. Yet there is so much more! Life is full of ups and downs and a solid support system can help us weather the storms more easily. Studies show that people that have strong, healthy relationships live longer, more satisfying lives. People that are socially disconnected and isolated are at higher risk for depression, chronic illness and suicide, as we observed through the devastating social isolation of Covid 19. 

Relationships can take on any shape from partners, family, close friends, neighbours, co-workers, community and support groups and mentors. The essential ingredient is trust. Strong friendships allow the opportunity to be real and vulnerable, expressing our thoughts, emotions and experiences in a safe and caring environment. This has a ripple effect on our physical, mental and emotional well-being. Ripples include:

  • Lowered blood pressure and Improved heart health.
  • May reduce food cravings and emotional eating, in turn, managing weight gain and weight related conditions.
  • Balances immune system functioning, thus reducing chronic inflammation and disease.
  • Better emotional and mental health regulation.
  • Reduces impact of chronic stress.
  • Reduction in depression, loneliness, isolation and suicidal ideation.
  • Boosts mental alertness, reduces cognitive decline and can inspire learning and new knowledge along with shifting our own perceptions into new concepts through the lens of another.  
  • Creates an outlet to process grief, loss and trauma without feeling overwhelmed and alone.
  • Creates feelings of belonging, inclusion, acceptance and self worth.
  • Facilitates higher levels of meaning and life purpose along with joy and happiness.
  • Can lead to healthier life style habits in general, in turn, increasing life expectancy.
  • Boosts feelings of being needed and offers a place for reciprocity.
  • Introduces opportunity for more laughter and play.
  • Increases quality of life.

Characteristics of a Healthy Friendship:

“It’s hard to find a friend who’s cute, loving, generous,caring and smart. My advise to y’all is don’t lose me!” – Unknown

Different people bring us their unique gifts and not every friend or relationship is going to provide us with everything we need which is why a variety of social connections can bring more balance. One friend may be our walking buddy, while another may be our sounding board. Regardless, it is important to remember that none of us are perfect and we may experience conflict or falling outs with friends. Friendships can ebb and flow bringing certain people inn-to our lives at times we may need the gifts and lessons that person has to offer. There are certain qualities that a healthy friendship possesses. Here are some green lights:

  • You can be real, honest and authentic with each other.
  • You express your thoughts, feelings, opinions and emotions without fear of rebuke or criticism.
  • Spending time together leaves you both feeling happy.
  • There is reciprocity in the relationship dynamic and both people are equally invested in the friendship.
  • You can rely on one another and are true to your word.
  • You are honest with one another in kind and respectful ways, respecting each other’s boundaries.
  • You are supportive of each other’s personal decisions and if you have concerns for each other’s safety or choices, you can express this in genuine ways.
  • You have feelings of trust and are trustworthy.
  • Compromises can be met.
  • Gestures of kindness and consideration are made unconditionally.
  • You equally reach out to check in during times of hardship and stress.
  • You celebrate each other’s successes.
  • You are patient and forgiving of each other’s shortcomings or mistakes.
  • You can both listen and share equally, feeling heard and held.
  • You communicate through conflict and move forward without drama.
  • If a resolution can’t be found, you can create distance in the relationship without shittalking the other.
  • You honour each other’s privacy and keep each other’s secrets safe.
  • You encourage each other to grow and shine bright, inspiring each other to be your best selves.
  • You prioritize time for your friendship, even if it is a simple phone call.
  • You can express feelings of endearment and appreciation for one another.
  • You can give each other constructive feedback and hold space for accountability.

At times, we may find ourselves attracted to certain friends that may not be so healthy for us. Often some time goes by before the red flags are flying. If these signs show up in your friendship (and/or romantic relationships), consider distancing yourself from the dynamic and don’t feed the drama. I like to say“once a victim, twice a volunteer” don’t settle for shitty relationships!

  • They show jealousy towards other relationships you have and become possessive.
  • They attempt to interfere or isolate you from other friends and family.
  • They put down or criticize other’s in your circle.
  • They put you down, criticize you or mock you.
  • They downplay your successes and accomplishments.
  • They love to point out your short-comings and mistakes.

  • They hold on to resentments and hold them over you.
  • They are demanding, bossy or controlling of you.
  • They take more than they give in the relationship, often leaving you feeling used.
  • You often feel emotionally drained and bad about yourself after your interactions.
  • You feel like you can’t do anything right for them.
  • You feel uneasy or guarded around them, like you don’t want to poke the beehive.
  • They refuse to communicate, ghost or stone-wall you after a conflict or misunderstanding.
  • They don’t respect your time and are constantly changing or cancelling plans or they refuse to commit at all, leaving you hanging.
  • They are negative and constantly putting down other’s.
  • They gossip incessantly about others. Be sure if you have a gossip friend they won’t hold back about disclosing your personal information and gossiping about you either.
  • You find yourself making excuses for their behaviour.
  • The relationship is hard work.

Creating and Maintaining Genuine Friendships:

“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched; they must be felt with the heart” – From Helen Keller

When it comes to building and sustaining healthy relationships, it takes time, effort and prioritization. The fundamental importance that healthy friendships play in our wellness means that investing in these connections is essential for a good life. It is great to cultivate a variety of interactions, not everyone has to be your bestie. In fact, I would suggest that having a few fun and superficial friends may keep it interesting. But, at the end of the day, nurturing a couple of quality close friends provides a depth and richness to your life that fair weather friends can’t offer. Genuine friendships can stand the test of time. However, we might encounter some challenges to staying in contact regularly, such as:

  • Re-locating to another community.
  • Physical distance and transportation limitations.
  • Parenting obligations.
  • Work commitments.
  • Work Travels and vacations.
  • Opposing schedules and time constraints.
  • Illness, disability and mobility.
  • Needing to prioritize other, equally important, activities.
  • Emergencies.
  • Demands of care-taking aging parents or partners.
  • Lifestyle choices and changes.
  • Unresolved conflict in your friendship.
  • Changes in values and opinions such as religion or politics. This was experienced by many through Covid 19 with differing opinions that drove marriages, friendships and families apart.

Staying Connected:

“Growing apart doesn’t change the fact that for a long time we grew side by side. Our roots will always be tangled . I’m glad for that.” – Ally Condie

  • Commit to the friendship and honour the importance of staying connected.
  • Schedule a phone call if visiting in person isn’t possible.
  • Multi-task your time together by including running errands together or become exercise partners.
  • Get together on a weekend and batch cook for the month.
  • Consider getting a couple of friends or a group together if you want to visit more than one friend but have time constraints. Group visits can be fun for everyone!
  • Spen time with your friends with their partners and families for game nights or Sunday morning brunch so that your time together doesn’t impose on family time.
  • Consider your friendships self care and make time in your schedule and follow through.
  • Avoid saying things like “let’s get to gether soon” and instead make a specific time and place for your next meeting, then mark in in your calendar and make it so!
  • take the 30 seconds it might take to send them a text and let them know you appreciate them and you are thinking about them despite running in a hundred directions. A kind text gives the warm and fuzzies!

Making New Friends:

“Friendship is so weird…you just pick a human you’ve metand you’re like, yup, I like this one and you just do stuff with them!” – unknown 

Making new friends as an adult seems like so much more work than it did when we were young. When I reflect on the close friends I have, we met in a small community all around the same age, all raising families, going to play groups and attending community events together. Now that I find myself starting all over, nearly 50, blind and in an entirely different phase of my life, it is all a little daunting. My saving grace is that I grew up in this community and I have returned to my roots after 26 years. I am reaching out to people I once knew, re-establishing some community and exploring common ground again. The difficulty is that everyone is so busy all the time. Not to mention, they already have established social circles. So how do we create new friends? Here are some ideas:

  • Reach out, take initiative and step out of your comfort zone. Be vulnerable, be real.
  • Get to know your co-workers, say yes to invitations to an after work social or plan one yourself.
  • If you connect with someone along the way, consider inviting them and their partner or a friend for a social, sometimes it feels less intimidating in a small group, opposed to one on one.
  • Get to know your neighbours. If you see them outside, say hi!
  • Get involved with a community project.
  • Join a group and support a cause.
  • Volunteer.
  • Sign up for a hobby such as pottery, dance, art, choir or cooking classes. Maybe you will even try something you have always wanted to do!
  • Join a gym, fitness class, hiking, running club or a dragon-boat team. 2 in 1, you get your exercise and you meet others!
  • Get out of the house, avoid on line shopping and banking, go talk to people in person.
  • Attend classes, workshops and seminars you find interesting. Mingle on the breaks.
  • Take your dog to the dog park and strike up a conversation.
  • Organize a social event at your home and invite people you know and extend the invitation to your friends friends so you can reach deeper into the network.
  • Remember to stay in touch, through text, phone or email, with old friends. 
  • Re-connect with friends you have lost contact with.
  • Make friends with your family, re-invent the wheel of relationship!
  • Don’t limit yourself to believing that another person of a certain group, age or demographic is the only person you will talk to, some of the sweetest friendships develop between the unexpected. Be open, be curious.

It can be difficult to put yourself out there and face the risk of rejection. I like to say “if you don’t ask, the answer will always be no, so just ask!”. Or, in the words of my own mother, nothing ventured nothing gained. Just remember, every friend was once a stranger!

One last Karynism for you…

When philosophizing on the meaning of life, my answer will always be “Life is about the love and relationships you create. Relationship with yourself, your family, friends, community and the Earth, herself.” The Beatles sang it right “All you need is love, love is all you need.”. The rest is just noise!

Are you searching for more balance in your life? Review Wellness 101 and explore the fundamentals of health and Wellness. A coach can help you navigate through the moving pieces of your life to encourage you into habits that support your well-being. Contact me for a free consultation.

Yours in Friendship

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Inner Vision Health and Wellness Karyn Lawson RMT INHC