Tag Archives: friendship

Centering Friendship and Mental Health

Traditionally, the premise that partners are prioritized over friends has been the theme of many a movie, blog, and book. Recently, the idea that friendships may transcend and certainly equal romantic or marital relationships has received research attention in the psychology literature.

Some intriguing conclusions from these studies:

1. A substitution for assisted-living or elder care may be group communal living for friends who support each other as they age. Addressing and communicating the strengths and needs of each person entering such an agreement as an intentional living community is of course crucial, but it’s a fascinating premise. Early studies show a higher level of social support, mental engagement, decreased depression, and reduced perception of physical pain. Read: Goodbye Nursing Homes, New Trend is Senior Co-Housing With Friends.

2. Replacing the traditional model of a marital/monogamous/romantic relationship by centering friendships as equally or more important as a priority also shows indicators of positive adjustment and mental health. Read: What If Friendship, Not Marriage, Was At The Center of Life?

3. The literature on loss shows that friendship break-ups are as painful as loss of an intimate partner. The emotional impact of friendship is unequivocal.

4. The responsibilities of child rearing, housework, and the burdens and joys of everyday life can be successfully split among a community of friends, rather than a nuclear family.  It may indeed take a village.  Read more: The Ingredients of Friendship.

 

A delicious evening.

We walked along the water in Georgetown after scrumptious seafood, to an antique teak park bench, where I had last hidden a journal in the disguised drawer compartment underneath, waterside. Many have written in it over the years. I returned to it several times and added more entries. I took it home once to add more pages. But for the most part, over the years it remained hidden, waiting for the observant soul who sat on the bench, and felt the compartment below.

On this day, the Secret Compartment was intact, but empty. I was not surprised, but disappointed. She said start another one, and see what happens.

Friends help you reset. ❤️

Mental distress and social exclusion

Her: I usually feel excluded at work; with colleagues, meetings, or in conversations. I’m invisible: I don’t matter.f
Him: One of my best friends recently started dating somebody. I’m happy for her, but she has no time to chat or hang out. I feel like I don’t matter.
Them: My partner has a new job. Everything is about their work. I feel like I don’t matter.

Humans are “herd animals.” We all want to feel included. As much as we will hear “don’t care about what other people think,” “do your own thing,” that’s not how we’re built.

Belonging and ‘fitting in’ are core needs. Long-term social exclusion can lead to emotional distress and a host of mental health problems. One study even found that social exclusion can lead to impaired self-regulation, meaning that people may struggle to make healthy decisions for themselves when they are being socially excluded. For example, if you are feeling alone, you might eat that quart of ice cream or finish that bottle of wine. In contrast, people who are in close, caring, and secure relationships and friendships show elevated levels of oxytocin, which is the love/bonding hormone that keeps us ‘on course’, even at the cellular/neural level.

So it’s completely normal and understandable that you might feel rejected if you feel left out of plans or your friend group or people you care about are having fun without you.

If you feel left out regularly, there are some things you can do to deal with these feelings. We all get left out and ignored sometimes (no one can be liked by everyone), but we can learn to surround ourselves with people who truly want us around. In addition, we can learn to manage our feelings better, so we don’t feel as bad in the times we will be left out.

Accept your emotions
A lot of our hurt comes from trying to deny, suppress, or run away from our feelings. Giving space for our feelings can paradoxically make them more manageable. Accepting your emotions doesn’t mean that you have to love your current situation as it. You can still try to change and improve the things that are bothering you in life.

What does accepting emotions look like in practice? Let’s say you’re feeling left out of family gatherings or friends who are spending time together. Accepting your feelings means saying to yourself: “right now, I’m feeling rejected, and that’s tough. There is nothing wrong with how I feel. I can be still be kind to myself.” Self-compassion is not static; you may have a wave of hurt that takes you by surprise. Contrary to popular belief, self-actualization or Nirvana are not phases that are permanent; you have to soothe yourself as the feelings come.

Make sure you haven’t misread the situation
Sometimes we assume that we have been purposefully left out or rejected, but that isn’t always the case. It’s worth examining the situation and how we feel about it. Note that examining your emotions doesn’t mean shaming yourself for them. Your hurt feelings are still valid even if you misread the situation. Shaming yourself isn’t going to help.

Let’s say that you hear of two friends hanging out together on a day you were free. You may feel hurt and sad because they didn’t ask if you want to join them. Feelings of envy, jealousy, inadequacy, and shame may creep up. Thoughts like, “I guess we’re not so close after all” may fill your mind.

Ensure that you’re making yourself available
How do you deal with the feeling of being left out? Some people share their feelings, while others may pull away in an attempt to protect themselves.

It may come out of a fear of “burdening others” with your needs or presence. Or perhaps it’s a deep fear of abandonment or rejection.

Some people “test” their friends by not responding to their texts for a while. They wait to see if their friends check up on them and “prove that they care.”

The worst communication is tit for tat: they did not respond to me, so I’m not going to text them. They did not invite me so I’m not going to invite them. They don’t care about my feelings, so I’m going to show them I don’t care.

Bottom line is that you do care. You can learn how to make your overall communication appear more friendly and approachable. Just reply to messages and calls. Let people know you appreciate them. Give and receive compliments with grace. These actions send the message that you’re available for new connections.

Check if your expectations are realistic
People have different expectations from friendships and romantic relationships. Some people need a lot of time together, while others want to have a lot of alone time. While some people prefer to have two or three close friends they do most things with, others prefer to have many friends, contacts, followers, and acquaintances.

As we get older, our friendships change as well. As people become parents, they spend more time with their children and expanded families. When they meet up, they cannot be as spontaneous as their friends with no kids. They have to be back home by a certain time to say goodnight to the kids or send the babysitter away. Sometimes they’ll need to bring their children with them and prefer to go to kid-friendly places. This also relates to people who have companion animals who require attention. If they are rushing home to take care of their furry companion, it’s a responsibility that needs to be respected.

We also tend to get busier as we get older. Obligations such as work, juggling work, family both young and old, self-care, and keeping up the house take more of our time. Our interests change as well. You may have had friends you bonded with over late nights, meaning of life conversations, and barhopping, who may no longer have those interests or ability.

In some of these cases, friendships can adapt and grow. You may not see a friend for several months as they adjust to a new job, relationship, or parenthood, and you may hear from them again when things have settled down. Another friend may have moved away but reconnects. With virtual communication and travel, distance is not what it used to be.

Enjoy time spent alone
You’ll feel left out more if you’re not enjoying the time you spend by yourself. Learn how to be. Eat the delicious food, drink the delicious libations, watch your favorite show, read the book that you’ve been saving, light your favorite candle. Just as you nurture people you love, spoil the one who is with you the most.

Remind yourself of your amazing qualities
When we feel left out, we might come up with all sorts of stories about ourselves. You might start thinking: No one invites me because they don’t like me. I’m boring and needy. If I were fun to be around, I’d have more friends. Then, we start to believe ourselves. We feel that we don’t have anything to offer others, affecting how we interact with people, leading to a vicious cycle. Try to make a list of your positive qualities and remind yourself of them often. You can use daily affirmations or put post it notes on your laptop or mirror. Let yourself celebrate your successes, no matter how small. Give yourself a mental high five when you try something new, pay off a bill, or go for a run.

Meet new people
How do you know if you have flaky or toxic friends? If you find yourself extending yourself to others, with your time, energy, finances, and interest, and not receiving the same effort back, it may be time to make new friends.

A friendship that leaves you feeling consistently feeling left out and rejected may be doing more harm than good.

A good friendship should feel overall balanced and reciprocal. There are often periods in a long friendship where one person is busier than the other or needs more support. That’s normal and something you can work through together. But if you feel like you’re the only one giving in in your relationships, you may consider taking a step back.

Talk to a therapist
If you find yourself feeling left out frequently, there may be something deeper going on. It may be that you’re misreading situations and feel left out even around people who enjoy your company and want to include you.

Or you may be struggling to recognize when someone wants to be your friend, leading you to choose unhealthy friendships or put yourself in situations where you will be hurt.
In either case, you may benefit from working one-on-one with someone who can help you identify where you’re stuck. Together, you can come up with solutions on how to remove these blocks and make changes in your social interactions.

Honest communication; or how to express your needs. 
When bringing up sensitive topics, it’s always best to focus on “I” statements. Talk more about how you felt than what the other person did, so it does not come out as an attack. When people feel attacked, they are likely to respond defensively, and the conversation can turn into a conflict rather than coming up with solutions.

For example, if you want to share that you feel left out, avoid saying things like:
“You’ve been ignoring me.”
“I’m always calling you, but you never call me.”
“If you cared about me, you’d have made time for me.”

Be open and honest about your feelings, but don’t expect your friend or partner to “fix” them for you. Listen to what they have to say and try to come up with a solution together.
Takeaway: Being kind to ourselves sets the standard for what kind of behavior we accept from other people. This does not minimize normal human feelings of pain, loss, abandonment, jealousy, even anger.

All lost relationships hurt badly. The one you have with yourself is your constant.

On friendship pain

Sometimes it can be hard to tell if a friend’s taking advantage of you, or if you are just being overly sensitive. However, there are some infallible signs to be on the lookout for that will give you answers.

Here are 8 signs that you’re being taken advantage of in a friendship.

1. They don’t listen to you, but always expect you to listen to them.
If your friend expects you to listen to them vent for 20 minutes straight, then they should let you vent to them, too. If you always provide a shoulder to cry on, but they dismiss you or don’t give you their full attention when you have a problem or are feeling down, that’s not a true friendship.

2. They only want to hang out when it’s convenient for them.
If they want your entire schedule to revolve around their appointments or commitments, something is wrong. When making plans in healthy friendships, you should both discuss your schedules and compromise to figure out what dates, activities, and times work best.

3. They’re constantly asking you to do favors for them.
If your friend is sending you out on errands as if you’re suddenly their Personal Assistant, it’s time to reassess the relationship. Sure, friends with healthy relationships will do favors for one another, but if it’s one sided and the person is constantly asking you to go out of your way for them, they’re taking advantage of you.

4. They only reach out when they need help.
This is one of the surefire easiest ways to spot whether someone is taking advantage of you. Does it seem like your friend only hits you up when they need something? It may feel like they’re always needing your help, whether it’s borrowing money, career advice, or “brain picking” with nothing to offer in return, or a place to crash when they’re in town (but they never talk to you regularly throughout the year).

5. They are always making you pay for things.
It’s pretty common for a friend to offer to foot the bill once in a while, and it’s expected that the other friend will get the bill the next time, right? If you notice your friend is conveniently always “missing” when the check comes, they never offer to pay for anything, they’re just taking your money, and it’s definitely time to have a serious talk with them.

6. They’re using you to get ahead.
The sad truth is that a lot of people will use others just to get ahead in life, whether that means to gain popularity in a certain social circle or in a work environment. You don’t have to be rich and famous for people to try to use you and your friendship to their advantage. Manipulative people will keep “friends” just so they can step on you to climb on up to the top.

7. They don’t show interest in your personal life.
Friends care about their friends. Think about it — you want to know how your friends are doing, right? You care about your friends’ well being, how they’re doing, and you’re curious about their daily life. If your friend never asks how you’re doing, doesn’t show interest in your life, and only wants to talk about themselves, you are less than significant.

8. They are not happy for you.
You may have had a major win at work, lost weight, had a great date, or accomplished a personal goal. If they don’t take the time to appreciate your victory, they brush it off or minimize it, or switch the subject to their own life, you do not have a real friend.

Don’t let your “friends” take advantage of you, your kindness, or your time. Your true friends will never want to take too much from you or be manipulative. They genuinely desire your company, through good and bad times. They don’t forget about you when things are going well for them. if you feel like somebody’s taking advantage of you — they are.
Also see Friendships Are Good For Your (Mental and Physical) Health.

On Friendship and Mental Health

Connecting with true friends is one of the best things we can do for our health and happiness. The research unequivocally shows that having true friendships is good for our medical and mental health, decreases stress, helps manage depressive and anxious symptoms, and contributes to overall life satisfaction. Friends help us live longer: Seniors with a strong connection to a network of social support live longer and healthier lives.

Like any powerful relationship, friendships can hurt and harm.

Transactional friendships
Some people are friends with you because of what you can do for them. Red flags include friends who repeatedly try to sell you something, ask to borrow money, ask your help to buy things or services, or keep tabs on favors. These friends routinely cross the line between friendship and business. Unlike business, friendships can emotionally hurt you, because what you regarded as care or love was actually convenience.

Narcissus friendships
This friendship works great, initially, because you have a common factor: you both adore the narcissist. As long as you are both on the same page, aligned on the superiority of one, you get along well.

When needs become mutual, the relationship breaks down. The relationship might also be more subtle — they may love you back when you consistently admire them, and they validate you with heart emojis. In return you get a shot to your self-esteem.

Mutually unhealthy friendships
In 2007, a study in the New England Journal of Medicine tracked the spread of obesity through a “deeply interconnected social network” of more than 12,000 people, underscoring that social ties link to health behavior. Healthy (or unhealthy) habits can circulate within any friend group, too. For instance, unhealthy psychological habits like a tendency to put each other down, self criticize or denigrate, or to complain constantly can spread from friend to friend. Over-eating, substance abuse, and even overworking can become an acceptable and approved part of a friend group.

Emotional labor friendships
This is where you do all the emotional work — talking them down, shoring them up: “Of course you’re amazing. Sure, let’s talk about all the ways you rock. Again. Tell me about your terrible week.“ If you’re doing all the work in the relationship, you’re an employee, not a friend. Of course, over time the balance will shift back and forth — you will inevitably have a major life crisis at the same time your friend gets a promotion or falls in true love, but good friends are there to share in your successes and your struggles. You should feel sure in your friendship; winter, spring, summer, or fall, all you have to do is call.

Historical friendships
Historical friends are those who have stayed in our lives as we’ve grown up, for whatever reason. They are not necessarily the closest friends we have, but they have stood the test of time. These are the friends we usually meet in school. We bond with them and the bond may fade but never disappear. We may meet up with these friends only once in awhile, but when we do, we fall back into the rhythms of the relationship in no time at all. Then after the meeting we all go ou own way until our paths cross again. But historical friends make up a piece of our identity. Lifestyles, interests, and values may have drifted apart, but it’s OK to hold them in your heart without having to force time together.

True friendships
Your “friends of the heart” are the people you can call at two in the morning when you have a problem. They listen to you, give you their full attention, and are on your side no matter what. They know everything, or almost everything, about your life. With them, you feel confident and don’t need to hide your true self because the foundation of your friendship is acceptance.

They make time to be with you. You may disagree, even argue, but neither one of you exits the relationship. They tell you when you have messed up, and pull you up at the same time. Research on friendship indicates that most people generally only have between four and six ‘true’ friends, because friendship requires dedicated commitment, time, communication, and growth.Our brains are only dedicated to a special few people.

Also see:
Nine Reasons Why Cross-Cultural Friendships Are Great for Your Brain
The Ingredients of Friendship

The ingredients of friendship

Strong friendships are a critical aspect of most people’s emotional well-being. Psychology research indicates that close friendships are associated with greater happiness, self-esteem, goal orientation, and sense of purpose. These bonds are even associated with physical outcomes, such as lower blood pressure, decreased stress hormones, and a longer lifespan. [See Friendships Are Good For Your Mental (And Physical Health]

Friendships are a great way to learn our way in the world, explore, and find adventures, in the company of people who care about you.

Interestingly, a body of research has also found that friendships are initially formed when people find the other person to be attractive or engaging. Over time, as friendships grow, the estimation of a friend as attractive seems to also grow.

Friendship breakups can be as painful as romantic breakups, and leave us grieving, further adding to the importance of nurturing our friendships.

Dr. Degges-White, social scientist and researcher, at Southern Illinois University, has been studying friendship for many years. My review of her research has summarized the following defining characteristics of friendship.

-Friendships exist when pleasure is taken in the company of another.

-Friendship implies reciprocity and give-and-take. This is not in the sense of an immediate even exchange “economic model” of behavior, rather that support is expected to flow both ways in different forms, as needs arise for either party.

-Levels of friendship commitment vary over a lifetime, depending on the energy required by family, work, or other commitments. However, when crisis strikes, true friends can generally be counted on to offer support, regardless of inconvenience or challenges they may face to do so.

– Friendships are voluntary, and we recognize that our friends are also making a choice to engage in the relationship. The classic adage, friends are the family you choose, is supported by the research. 

– Importantly, friendships will flourish and maintain only if mutual respect exists between friends.

-Friendships may serve different needs over time.

Young adulthood: We enjoy sharing activities, interests, and create respite from our adulting responsibilities and pastimes. In sum, we enjoy having fun together.

Middle adulthood: We need friends who don’t waste our time, who challenge us to be better people, or to understand who we are without having to explain. We don’t have time to waste on superficial relationships that once might have claimed our energy.

Older adulthood: We need our friends as social supports. Our friendship circles shrink dramatically during the last stage of life and loneliness and depression can result from isolation. It’s essential that we stay involved in social support networks, either retirement communities, spiritual community (Sangha), or neighborhood groups.

Friendships are a huge part of our mental health resources.

Friendships are good for your mental (and physical) health

In neuropsychology, co-regulation is when you are in a close relationship, friendship or intimate, where your nervous systems actually attune to each other in ways that are soothing. Research shows that it has the effect of reducing anxiety and depression.

Co-regulation is usually applied in the context of overall emotion/affect. That The emotions of each individual within a dyad are constantly in flux. If emotion co-regulation is in effect, the result will be a decrease in overall emotional distress. A working definition of emotion co-regulation has been offered as “a bidirectional linkage of oscillating emotional channels during interactions between two people, which contributes to emotional stability for both.”

Although most of the co-regulation literature is based on parent and child relationships, there is an emerging body of research on adult relationships. Primarily, co-regulation in adult relationships is defined by reciprocity between two individuals, such that the responsibility to regulate the other is more or less equally split. Of course, the split may not be constant, but the fluctuation evens out over time. Second, research on adult co-regulation is more likely to incorporate physiological measures. For example, there is an increase in oxytocin, which is the bonding and comfort hormone, there is a decrease in cortisol, the stress hormone. Most importantly,  co-regulation in caring adult relationships increases vagal tone.

The vagus nerve is one of the 12 pairs of cranial nerves within the sensory-somatic nervous system. The 10th cranial nerves called vagus are the main nerves of the parasympathetic nervous system originating at the brainstem in the medulla oblongata. They travel from behind your ears, down the sides of your neck, across the chest, and down through the abdomen. People who have low vagal tone often clench their jaw, have muscle aches and pains, and gastrointestinal distress.

This nerve is the sensory network that tells the brain what’s going on in our organs, most specially the digestive tract (stomach and intestines), lungs and heart, spleen, liver and kidneys, not to mention a range of other nerves that are involved in everything from talking to eye contact to facial expressions and even your ability to tune in to other people’s voices. It is made of thousands upon thousands of fibers, operating far below the level of our conscious mind. It plays a vital role in sustaining overall wellness. It is an essential part of the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for calming organs after the stressed “fight-or-flight” adrenaline response to danger. People with higher vagal tone are able to soothe themselves more easily in situations of stress.

Love, laugh, hug. This seems a little “kumbaya” but if you hang out with people who fill you up with love, laughter, and kindness, it’s actually good for your mental and medical health.

Relationships matter.

Friendship, or the family you choose

Friendships are a beautiful thing. Through them, we can experience a sense of safety, emotional reciprocity, and receive support for our ideas, dreams, and accomplishments. When we surround ourselves with the right people, we feel supported, fulfilled, and nourished. Our friends can be part of our support system: the people we go to in order to share our thoughts, desires, struggles, and hard times. When there are health and longevity in the friendship, those friends can even become part of our chosen family.

Friendships aren’t without conflict and miscommunication, though. This is normal in friendships and, when resolved in a conscious and healthy way, can be corrective experiences and can even enhance the relationship. However, there comes a time in our lives when friendships (yes, including longterm ones) end up draining us more than they nurture us, cause us significant stress, and may have a negative impact on our mental health.

With those friendships, it is OK to set boundaries and even OK to call it quits. Staying friends with someone only because there is history or because you feel guilty for leaving them is a recipe for burnout and resentment. Here are some signs that indicate it might be time to end a friendship:

– They compete with you on various aspects in life and struggle to be happy for you.
It manifests itself as always trying to “one-up” you; you may be sharing your own accomplishments, which then results in them bragging about something they have done, a sign of their inability to sit with your personal successes. They may put you down in front of others and fail to provide genuine and authentic support when you are doing well.

Another sign is constant criticism that might be subtle. For example, when you are wearing your favorite outfit, instead of giving you a compliment, they might say, it looks like you spilled something on your sleeve. 

– They only call or ask to hang out when they need something.
When a friend only reaches out because they need something; maybe they need to borrow something or maybe they need someone to vent to—then this is a big sign that the friendship is one-sided and can leave you feeling exhausted, drained, and irritable. Furthermore, you might notice that your efforts are not returned, and these friends may be less available when you are in need. In healthy friendships, there is a sense of emotional reciprocity that includes checking in on each other’s emotional well-being.

– They disrespect you or violate your boundaries.
Our boundaries are what keep us safe, and they are what help to sustain our emotional and mental health. Boundaries can be physical, mental, financial, and emotional. An unhealthy friend may violate those boundaries by putting you down, betraying your trust, talking negatively about you to others, taking advantage of you, or being dishonest.

– Your personal growth is negatively affected by the friendship.
As we grow and evolve, our interests, values, morals, and ethics do too. The people we were in the past are often not the people we are now, and sometimes, this means letting go of friends who support the older narrative of who we once were and not who we are now. These are the friends who don’t support or reinforce your goals. It’s time to choose a friend circle that supports your growth and fosters the best version of you.

– The conversations feel forced.
Do you feel like you have nothing to talk about? Emotional reciprocity and mutual conversation are part of the foundation of a healthy friendship. When you find that you no longer have things in common and are no longer interested in the conversation, this is a sign that the people in the friendship may have outgrown each other.

– You feel exhausted after hanging out with them.
After a conversation with a true friend, you should feel energized. Feeling drained is a clear sign that the friendship is no longer healthy. Just because you are friends with someone does not mean that they are entitled to your emotional labor.

– They are jealous or controlling.
These friends feel entitled to your time. They become upset when you don’t call or text them back right away and may even demand that you explain to them why you were unable to answer right away. These friends may also become jealous when you do things with other people, or if they feel that you are getting closer to someone else. In healthy friendships, we allow others to have their own personal space, and we do not take things personally when friends don’t respond right away. We also understand that people have their own lives and do not emotionally punish our friends when they don’t reply to our messages right away. Healthy friendships maintain their independence and experience a sense of trust.

Ultimately, friendships should be about feeling joyful to be with somebody. It is important to strive for friendships that leave us feeling heard, respected, appreciated, safe, and loved.

Friends are relatives you make for yourself

Friends are relatives you make for yourself. ― Eustache Deschamps

Famed anthropologist Margaret Mead was once asked, what do consider to be a sign of advanced civilization, over the course of your research? Instead of mentioning development of certain tools or other advances, she described the finding of a fossilized skeleton with a shattered femur that had healed. She reported that it was the type of severe injury such that no one could have made it to the safety and shelter of the cave where it was found, without being carried or dragged by another person. Such injuries were fatal. She defined looking out for the best interest of another person as her definition of advanced civilization.

Today: Friendships seem to be especially helpful for the heart, metaphorically and literally.

According to an increasing body of medical research, close friendships are good for your health. A three-year Swedish study of more than 13,600 men and women found that having few or no close friends increased the risk of having a first-time heart attack by about 50 percent. A two-year study of more than 500 women with suspected coronary artery disease showed similar results. Women who reported the lowest levels of social support were twice as likely to die during the study. The women who enjoyed close support were not only more likely to be alive after two years, they also had lower rates of high blood pressure and diabetes and were less likely to have excessive abdominal fat, which is related to a host of medical problems.

As first reported in the Journal of the National Medical Association in 2009, friendships and other types of social support can help relieve stress, a well-known contributor to heart disease. Among other things, stress can encourage inflammation in arteries, a first step toward atherosclerosis (clogged arteries). Some studies have found that people who enjoy close support from friends and family actually have fewer inflammatory chemicals in their blood. The link between social ties and inflammation seems to be especially marked in older people.

When stress does appear, friends can encourage healthy reactions. People who lack strong social support tend to have highly anxious reactions to scary or worrisome situations. Their hearts pound and their blood pressure may soars. But friends can help keep the heart on a more even keel. A study published in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine found that young men and women discussing rough patches in their lives had a lower pulse and blood pressure when they had a supportive friend at their side.

Literally having a friend next to you is good for your mental and physical health.

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