My best friend just happens to be my sister. On the other hand, maybe it’s because she’s my sister that she’s my best friend. We often take liberties with family that we might not take with friends, which can be good or bad, depending on how we relate and how self-aware we are. This got me thinking about what, exactly, those differences might be and whether I might benefit from embodying more of them with my other friends.
First, though, I had to ask myself what criteria would define a good, healthy friendship, and I discovered some interesting things. For me, a close friendship—like any close relationship—involves emotional honesty, trust, mutual support, active listening, giving and receiving, respect, acceptance, kindred values, a heartfelt connection and a sense of humour. It also requires healthy boundaries and self-responsibility, so that we know the difference between ‘sharing’ and ‘dumping’, and so that we take ownership of our actions and reactions, rather than complaining or constantly reiterating some old, worn-out story that we don’t attempt to change. And perhaps the most valuable quality of all is knowing that we can trust our friends to tell us the truth about ourselves, even if it hurts or we won’t necessarily like it.
So far, so good. But what happens if you don’t have a super-sister-friend and you don’t feel you have the right to expect or express those qualities? While solid friendships are a positive, nourishing part of life at any time, it’s when we’re in crisis that we truly need our friends—and that our friends get to experience the more vulnerable, authentic, daring parts of us. This is where we get to discover who our friends really are, and what we ourselves are made of. This is where the real ‘juice’ is—the stuff of life that pushes us beyond the superficial layers of self, into pain, sadness and soul-searching.
What stops us from going deeper?
We often refrain from sharing our biggest wounds or problems with our friends, for several reasons:
1. We may think we’re protecting them by not burdening them with our problems when, in reality, we’re withholding a part of ourselves that we’re afraid to share because we feel ashamed or insecure.
2. We may not realize that sharing our deepest wounds is what creates the deepest intimacy and connection, while also touching others or opening their hearts in some profound way.
3. We may think our problems are not important enough or that we’re not worthy of being heard.
4. We may feel uncomfortable asking for support if we’ve been taught that other people’s needs are more important than our own.
5. Sometimes we forget that giving can be just as much a gift for the giver as receiving is for the receiver. Both are needed for a healthy flow and exchange, and giving to others is a way for us to recognize and share our wisdom.
Yet sharing those deeper parts of ourselves enables us to heal, while opening us up to positive input, comfort and support. Sharing our feelings helps us to process them and, often, it’s only in articulating what we feel that we gain an understanding of what we want or of what’s really going on. The parts that we tend to hold back are usually those parts that hold the greatest emotional ‘charge’—and thus the greatest potential for a breakthrough. Sharing our shame, hurt, guilt or despair lessens its power over us and demonstrates our innate worthiness and lovability. Sharing it means we give ourselves permission to be authentic and vulnerable, while acknowledging that our ‘stuff’ has nothing to do with who we truly are—and everything to do with who we can become, once we let it go.
It’s only by sharing all the tough stuff—the crises, break-ups, depression, funks, bad news and bad hair days—that we create depth and meaning in our relationships. Sharing is our invitation to others to be a part of what matters to us. And it’s the friends with whom we share the tough stuff that we will rush to tell about the good stuff, as soon as it happens. Because they, more than anyone else, will understand how good that good stuff feels, knowing all the challenges we’ve been through. And we will have the joy of sharing our more powerful side with them, knowing that they’ve also seen us at our worst.
Are you living in ‘me-ville’?
If there’s one thing I’ve learned, in my years of being a coach and sharing in the challenges of my many courageous clients, it’s that friendships—and relationships—are really all that matter. This is what makes life worthwhile and inspires us to be all that we can be. Sharing all of who we are is how we get to discover what we’re capable of and how empowering that can also be for others. Withholding ourselves, on the other hand, can create an unhealthy inward focus that keeps us imprisoned in our own minds. It can block the insights that hold the key to our emotional freedom; it can magnify our problems; it can promote catastrophic thinking; and it can create the perception that nobody understands us, that we are all alone, and that it’s all about me, me, me.
Daring to share our deepest, most powerful selves builds the kind of friendship that sets us free—the kind of friendship that will deliver us from me-ville.