Focusing on Friendships: Superficial Connections to Fulfilling Relationships

Photo obtained via Google Images. URL: https://quotefancy.com/quote/928318/Virginia-Woolf-What-a-comfort-is-friendship-in-this-world

How the hell did we get to this topic? Quick background. I used to be a busy bee. In high school and in college, I absolutely loved being around people and always having something to do. Well, I THOUGHT I loved it. During this time, I was also incredibly stressed, overwhelmed, and believed there wasn’t time in the day to do everything I needed to do. Besides studying, one of my biggest time-consumers was keeping in touch with everyone. This could be by making plans to see each friend, sending texts to stay updated on their life, or talking on the phone/facetiming.

I thought it was great… well, I thought it looked great. The last thing I would want to be viewed as was a “loser” or “lame.” That was a huge motivation for me to attempt to be so many people’s friend. I strived to be looked up to, a role-model, and popular. To be honest, this view was driven by my own insecurities. Keeping up with so many people, for me, began to feel like a chore. It was stressful, exhausting, and weighing.

My therapist sat across from me as I attempted to justify why spreading myself thin across so many friends would be beneficial. Additionally, she asked me to describe how it could be self-destructive. As most could probably infer, I came to realization that there were far more cons than pros to this way of living.

Being everyone’s friend and go-to-gal would look great on the outside, but in the inside many of these friendships left me feeling depressed, stressed, and lonely. Weirdly enough, I came to realize that some unfulfilling friendships were a distraction from other unfulfilling friendships (That wording made sense, right?)  

How did I begin to differentiate fulfilling from unfulfilling friendships? I read a book on empathy, vulnerability, compassion, and connection (THANK YOU @BrenéBrown. YOU ARE TRULY MY IDOL).

*Side note: below are my own definitions based off my own circumstances, values, goals and life experiences. I truly believe that the definitions of fulfilment and unfulfillment differ person to person.

*Okay, back on track.

I started to notice an undeniable distinction between some of the people I would hang out with.

My definitions/realizations were as follows.

How I know, by my own actions, that a relationship is unfulfilling:

  1. Plans were made in advance, but when it came down to the wire, I didn’t want to go. It felt like something I “had to do” to keep up with someone, not something I necessarily wanted to do. I found myself being flaky.
  2. I was passive in those relationships because I didn’t want to risk someone getting angry. Instead of sticking up for myself I would hang out with a different group until the issue faded out. Total avoidance.
  3. I didn’t act like myself out of the fear that I wouldn’t fit in. I was terrified of being rejected by a group (one of my biggest shame-triggers… stay tuned… more to come on shame later)

How I know, by others’ actions, that a relationship was unfulfilling:

  1. I didn’t feel supported as I changed and grew as a person.
  2. Things that I was excited about or proud of would be put down or “swept under the rug” as unimportant.
  3. The silent treatment, outright rude comments (even as “jokes”), and “low-blows” that would involve things that I was embarrassed or felt shame about were present in those friendships.

How I know that a relationship is fulfilling:

My three best friends Haley, Hanna, and Grace were the ones that I felt I could never get enough of. The common denominator of all these friendships are ease and bliss. I don’t have to think about being judged, misheard, or a burden. We have mutual respect and support for one another which is, in my opinion, the most important part of any relationship. Haley is my personality twin that values self-love, is nonjudgmental, and has the most genuine and positive personality I’ve ever met. She brings warmth, coziness and comfort to my life. Grace and I are also personality twins. We enjoy the same guilty-pleasures, grew up with an identical lifestyle, and being in her presence feels like a second home. Hanna and I have quite different personalities (my favorite part). We keep each other grounded, balance each other out and offer new perspectives. I’m convinced it’s because of her that I have a 6-pack from laughing so hard.

I’ve learned after graduation that these are the friendships I crave.

I need the type of friends that are supportive of me as I change and grow, and I want to be there in the same way for them. I need friendships that value assertive communication, respect, and are free of judgement. I need the friendships where I feel immediate relief simply by being in their presence.

I feel that in the past I’ve put so much emphasis on trying to be liked by everyone, and in order to do that, I changed my personality when I hung out with different groups. It’s exhausting. It’s straining. It was putting a mask over who I was. I thought being able to get along with most everyone was one of my strengths as a person, but the more I reflect on the matter, the more I realize that being liked was a way for me to justify liking myself. Scary. That’s f$*^ing scary, but I’m learning.

Taking time to analyze friendships and relationships has been one of the most important things I’ve ever done. I’ve noticed the following benefits from this process so far:

  1. I have more time to connect with friends on a deeper level through active listening, compassion, vulnerability, and empathy
  2.  I have more time to try new things and do activities that make me happy
  3. I can fully be myself in more of my friendships
  4. I’ve noticed more self-confidence and improvement in my own self-worth
  5. Decreased stress, depression, and feelings of loneliness due to relationships
  6. Increased levels of ease and happiness

I believe that friendships change over time, and that’s okay. We change throughout our twenties as we try new things, form our own beliefs and values, and as we find our place in the world to be our best selves.

I’m not done or even close to being done working on my relationships. It’s a work in progress; I’m gettin’ through.

Have a wonderful week,

Jen

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