Maintaining Friends

The Ebb & Flow: Friendships Move in Both Directions

While teaching a Friendship Accelerator last weekend (sign up here if you're interested in me coming to your area to teach/facilitate) I made a note to myself, while standing at the whiteboard with marker in hand, that I wanted to remember to blog about how friendships move in both directions. Mental note remembered.  :)   We often talk about ending a friendship or drifting apart from friends as though they are being, or have been, "removed" from our lives.  But that's not usually the case.  Most frequently, our friendships aren't as cut-and-dry as someone simply being "in" or "out", bridges aren't always burning behind us, and there isn't always this declaration of the friendship ending permanently. The truth is, that for most friendships there is simply a shift that happens, often without intention or awareness.

I want us to visually see what that shift can look like.

Increasing Frientimacy with the 5 Circles of Connectedness

If you're a long-time follower of this blog, a past attendee of one of my workshops, or a reader of my book, then you know that I teach the 5 Circles of Connectedness as a visual tool for helping us see the movement of our friendships from those circles on the Left-Side to those circles on the Right-Side, from Contact Friends to Commitment Friends.  From the most casual of our friendships that depend upon a specific context for us to be connecting (i.e. work, association meetings, children's school) to the most intimate of friendship where we are confiding in them regularly, there are steps along the way.

5 types of friends image

For example, during my workshops, I find that the majority of women long for more Committed Friends when they find themselves wishing for more connection in their lives.  For them, it's not just knowing more people that appeals to them, but actually experiencing Frientimacy (the intimacy between safe and known friends) with a few of them that matters most.  Seeing where their current friendships fall on this continuum helps them assess which friendships could be moved to the right (from other Circles) to the far right where they want them, with an intentional increase in consistency, interaction, and revealing.

To be clear, all friendships start at Contact Friends.  We never meet someone and put them in any other circle, no matter how much chemistry there is, how much we like them, or how many things we have in common with them.  All friendships start on the left when they are new and then move to the right as we put into place the repeated positive behaviors that will become our friendship with that person.  Only as we get to know each other more (in new areas and in deeper ways), which comes with time together, will we move friendships to the right.

Decreasing Frientimacy with the 5 Circles of Connectedness

But most of that isn't new to you.  :) What I talk about less, but am determined to start talking about more, is that friendships go the other direction, as well.

This is huge for us because it gives us more options than to just ending friendships!  We now have a visual that illustrates for us that we can decrease vulnerability, time together, and ways of interacting to move friendships from the Right-Side to the Left-Side.

For example, women will often say to me a variation of "I'm going through a break-up right now... my friend is x (fill in the blank with any number of circumstances that aren't some obvious friendship failing but are exhausting the woman who has long called her a friend: having an affair, obsessed with losing weight, going through a divorce, dating some guy I think is horrible to her, or letting her entire life be run by her kids) and I can't take it anymore so, unfortunately, it's over."

But with the above Circles of Connectedness, we can mentally say, "X makes it hard to be close right now, with the amount of time we're spending together (or the limited amount of time I want to spend together right now), it's important for me to no longer see this friendship as a sustaining, meaningful, and supportive Community or Committed Friend right now so that I have appropriate expectations and boundaries with her.  With the decrease in time and pulling back of confiding in her right now-- she's probably more accurately in X Circle."

Moving someone to the left does two important things for us:

  1. First, it helps us acknowledge that something has shifted and the friendship isn't going to be as close and safe as it has been.  That means I don't need to feel guilty for not giving as much and I can definitely be more gracious to her as I won't be expecting as much. It means that we don't have to refuse to ever see her again, but neither do we need to pour energy into staying in touch with her as much as we have previously.  Now, just getting together once a month during this time is fine.
  2. And second, it helps us recognize that we need to make sure we have the close and safe friends in our lives that we need for right now.  It's not her fault for not being everything we wanted her to be as much as it is our responsibility for making sure we have the friends we need in our lives.  So if she left a vacancy when we moved her left, then we need to look for other friendships to nurture.  We need to start investing that extra time and energy into other friends.

This works for all kinds of circumstances-- even if it's a behavior of hers that isn't linked to a circumstance or isn't likely to change (i.e. talking about herself all the time, not opening up with you, gossiping about others, one-upping you).  Technically someone with behaviors that we can't stand shouldn't have made it over the Right-Side of our Circles, but if they did, then we can just as easily move them back to the Left-Side if we feel like our attempts to repair or enhance the relationship haven't worked.

There are many reasons to keep these women in our lives.  Just because she tends to squirm when the conversation gets too personal doesn't mean she isn't still a fabulous and thought-provoking museum date.  Just because she can get insecure and jealous doesn't mean she's not a super fun addition to your mom's night out group.  And just because she's not the person who responds without judgment to your secrets doesn't mean she can't keep you inspired as a fellow artist. In short, we can move the relationship back to where we're not over-sharing with someone we don't trust or spending too much time with someone who exhausts us, without having to let go of parts of them we do enjoy.

Our friendships don't have to be all-or-nothing.  This isn't "find one to be all to us" as much as "find several who can each meet different needs of ours." The most important thing being appropriate and healthy expectations of each other.

Relationships ebb and flow, wane and wax, drift and shift.

And you never know... someone you move Left today, may move back Right this time next year in a super meaningful way.... All things are possible on this Continuum!

___________________

Other pertinent blog posts:

Five Questions to Ask Before Ending a Friendship

Friendship Break-Ups 4: Holding On or Letting Go?

This Friendship Is Going Negative, What Do I Do?

The Friendships You've Always Wanted: Selecting the Friendship Faculty

So what a very interesting experience I've had in the last three weeks as I was interviewing the leading relationship experts in the country! No surprise that even I had a lot to learn! The Back Story....The Vision

It started because I had this almost-vision-like picture of hundreds of women all committing to focus on their friendships in the same month.  At first I dismissed it as a silly and fluffy and over-dramatic idea... but it kept feeling important.  It reminded me of being a pastor when we'd gather everyone for prayer-meeting. Even without understanding how prayer really works, there is something powerful about everyone doing it together, in purpose, in solidarity.  There is just a different energy that everyone feels in those moments that is very different from the experience of praying alone.  So anyway, I began to listen to that voice and ended up committing to invite all the women I know to join me for one-month of focused attention, hope, and learning in the area of our friendships.

Then... as I looked at my calendar to see which month I should aim for... International Women's Friendship Month jumped out at me and I just knew it was meant to be.

So then I had the vision and a date.  But because I'm what StrengthsFinder calls a Maximizer-- someone who takes something good and wants to make it excellent (trust me, it can feel like a curse at times!)--I started to brainstorm a gazillion inspirational ideas that convinced me I wanted to offer not just my own voice to this month, but I wanted to collaborate, invite, include, and connect with other experts. I made my dream list....

The Doubts and Insecurities

But I'd be lying if I didn't admit to sometimes being jealous of some of these experts--for their big book deal, their opportunities, their contacts, their credentials, their research, their niche, their angle, etc.

Here I am with the wealth of books I selected to feature in this month's "The Friendships You've Always Wanted!" friendship course!

And on the flip-side (because insecurity and arrogance are two sides of the same coin), I wondered if I'd like some of their answers and approaches as well as my own.  I cringe to admit it for I definitely don't think I'm more valuable than anyone, but sometimes it's easy to judge others within our own industry and feel like they should have the same approach I have.  I've been known to think critically of others as "too academic sounding," or for "giving advice that seems so trite or appears to be dumbing-down," or for getting caught up in the labeling of unhealthy friendships, which isn't my style.  I guess it's human nature to be trying to figure out where we each rank next to each other.  But it's not the person I want to be.

My fear definitely reared its little head.  But I knew, to my core, that I had much to learn from all of them, and that you would, too.  And I knew that we were all on the same page about helping you foster the best friendships you can... and that you'll learn better from different voices and styles. (Funny how sometimes we fear even what we know is right and good and truthful!)  But my conviction that a rising tide lifts all boats, and that friendships around the world will be better because we collaborated, pushed me through my insecurities and I reached out with the invitation to share them with my audience.

All that to say I am super proud of the "faculty" that I pulled together for this course.  Really, really proud.  When Ori Brafman wrote me back on Twitter and said he'd give me an interview (I quote his research from Click in my own book!)-- I squealed with delight!  When I interviewed Dr. Paul Dobransky--whose definition of friendship will help you know clearly which ones to end--about how we can set better boundaries, I was taking notes myself, amazed at how he was explaining things.  When I read Sophia Dembling's book The Introverts Way-- I was convinced I'd find her and beg her for an interview, which she happily agreed to give.  I could go on-and-on.  I secured a dozen amazing teachers.

I interviewed twelve amazing experts-- sociologists, psychologists, a university professor, many NYT bestselling authors,  an organizational consultant, a women's leadership coach, a marketing executive, and so many more roles.  What they all have in common is a wealth of wisdom that pertain to our friendships.

Here's a sampling of what you can learn from these teachers:

  • Why needing new friends is normal—and how to show up with less guilt, anxiety, and shame.
  • The one thing more important to friendship than chemistry
  • The best ways to make friends in a way that is congruent to your personality
  • Is it true that we are the sum of our five closest friends? If so, in what ways are you being impacted and influenced?
  • The five science-based accelerators that deepen our friendships
  • How many people you need to meet to actually find the number of friends you want
  • The biggest obstacle to friend-making and how to best respond
  • The three most effective tips for making new friends
  • How to determine healthy expectations for different levels of friendship
  • The biggest red-flags to watch out for and what to do when you see them showing up in your friendships!
  • How you can prevent friendships from being ruined by jealousy and competition
  • The boundaries that you need to set to ensure that you participate in mutually reciprocated friendships
  • The three most important practices you can add to your life to attract more love
  • Which of the five types of friends you already have and which ones you want to find
  • An exercise to help you feel less judgmental and jealous of your friends.
  • How to tell the difference between what friendships can be saved and which ones need to end

But I learned so much more than that list can convey.  I learned that even when my advice would be very different from someone I was interviewing... I heard the wisdom in their approach and knew it would be exactly what someone needed to hear.  My ego certainly likes me to think that my approach is healthiest, or best; but what is clear is that while none of us has every answer to your every friendship woe (because every circumstance and person and relationship is just sooo different!), we all also have expertise that can shine in different areas.  How we each speak to this subject and approach it is just so different, and so beautiful.

It has been a gift to work on something as comprehensive as this project. (Where else is there a friendship program featuring so many teachers and subjects?)  I'm really proud of the work.  And I so hope that you are one of the women I saw in my vision who was willing to say "I will focus on my friendships for one month. Count me in."

I hope you can join us.  Hundreds of women coming together to make the world a better place by making sure we're each supported, connected, and loved in ways that matter.

With love,

Shasta

p.s.  To learn more about the program and to sign-up to join us, visit www.FriendshipsWanted.com.

What is our Response-ability in Relationship?

While I'm in Cuba with a GirlFriendCircles.com travel circle, I'm posting this thoughtful guest blog from Susan Strasburger, an integrative counselor who works with individuals (and couples) who struggle with self-criticism, are in the midst of transition, or feel stuck in a decision process.  I requested permission to re-port this article of hers since it speaks so beautifully to what we've been talking about the last few weeks on this blog about dealing with negative friendships.

Thanks Susan for sharing your wisdom with us as we seek to grow more loving, healthy, and responsive!

-----------------------------

Two women were discussing recent experiences with their ex-partners: One had wanted her partner to be able to see that she had “turned a corner” in relationship to him, and felt frustrated that he engaged with her as if she hadn’t changed. The other woman was confused by her partner’s actions, and “wished he’d been more overt about telling me his perspective had changed.” Their combined question became:

Questioner: What is our responsibility in a relationship to get a friend or partner up to date on specifically how our perspective has changed?

Susan: The answers to this are actually embedded in the question. If there are “specific” changes about ourselves that we want our friends to know, it’s our responsibility to tell them (unless you have friends who can read your mind). And/but… if we are noticing something different about our friend, and they haven’t spoken to us directly, it’s also our responsibility to tell them our experience and ask to understand what’s going on for them.

At this point, you may be saying, “Wait, wait! You mean, either way, it’s my responsibility?!” Yup! Hopefully you won’t see this as a burden, though, if you’re willing to re-frame what “responsibility” means. The ability to be responsive, rather than reactive, is a cornerstone to our well-being, in any relationship. We want to make conscious choices about how we speak and act, rather than defaulting to defensive or accusatory behaviors. Having this intention means taking responsibility for the quality of our relationships. Of course, we get to feel disappointed if the other person isn’t taking as much responsibility as you would ideally like them to take. All we can do is keep modeling what it is we want, make requests of the other person, and see what unfolds.

Questioner: I really love the wisdom in your response. I find the connection between “responsibility” and “response” evocative, and sense that hearing a little more about this would be very helpful to me!

Susan: Ok, stick with me for a minute, while I dip into semantics: Dictionaries attribute many meanings to the term “responsibility.” I’m choosing: “the act of being answerable or accountable, as for something within one’s power, control or management” rather than other definitions that include words such as “blame” or “moral obligation.”

With this definition, we no longer default to: “You’re responsible for my heartache!” We may feel that phrase, and even want to say it! Yet that would be what I call “reactive” behavior.

Being “responsive” requires us to stretch beyond blame, shame-turned-inward, or just leaving without communication. We know that the other person stimulated something in us that we call “heartache” – perhaps we didn’t feel seen, respected, or loved in the ways we were hoping for. If we’re being “responsive,” we’ll find within us what is most self-caring to do next. That is, we claim responsibility for what we do with our feelings of heartache. It might still be to leave, yet first tell the other person “I’m feeling too overwhelmed to speak right now, I need a little space, and I’ll come back when I’m ready to talk.” Or it might be to engage with the person, knowing we’re “accountable” for what’s “within [my] power” which includes the words and actions I choose. This route of course takes skill, compassion and a lot of practice!

Are we then responsible for the outcome of that conversation? Ahh, semantics again: we’re responsible to each other, but not “for” each other. Perhaps another blog post?!  :)

My Favorite Sharing Question of All Time

While I was teaching and launching 4 more Friendship Accelerator groups yesterday, I made a mental note to myself that I would put to written words all the reasons I gave the attendees of that workshop for regularly using my all-time favorite sharing question. Here it is for you! The Question:

Called the "High/Low" question-- it invites all participants to share a highlight and a low light of their choosing.

A highlight can be: an event, a milestone, a decision, a choice for self-care, an accomplishment, a goal achieved, a moment appreciated, or a cherished conversation.  Anything that produced feelings of positivity... joy, contentment, serenity, gratitude, pride, or inspiration.

A low light can be: a tough conversation, a disappointment, a heartbreak, a loss, an unmet expectation, an obstacle, an insecurity, or something that is causing anxiety and worry.  Anything that produced feelings of negativity... fear, loss, sadness, anger, or disillusionment.

I call it the "High/Low," one of my workshop attendees in Chicago says she calls it "Thorns & Roses."  I like that, too!

Applications of The Question:

One of the four Friendship Accelerator groups yesterday that shared their answers to my Favorite Sharing Question!

If it's with friends you see regularly, such is the case for my weekly girls group or with family that comes over most Friday evenings, then the question can be limited to the short time period since we've last seen each other: "What was a highlight and low light from this last week?"

If it's with friends we haven't talked to in a while, such is the case with my "SoCal girls group" who is scheduled tonight for our first quarterly phone call, 2 months from when we were all together for our annual weekend trip, then it becomes more of a "What is one "high" going on in your life right now, and one "low?" giving the freedom to name a biggie that happened last month or to pick the thing that matters most this week.

If it's with a friend I haven't seen in ages, then the question might be bit more broad to encompass more time, "So in the last year, what would you say has been a highlight and low light for you?"

If it's with my husband who I see every day, and already happen to know most of what his day looked like, we still ask this question in a variety of ways.  If before bed, we might say, "So what was one of your high moments and low moments today?" as a good way to reflect on the day.  And I'm still surprised sometimes the impact one email can have... showing up in either category.  If it's after a trip, "Looking back on the trip, what would you say was one of your favorite highlights and low lights?"

The question is even great within themes, not necessarily constrained by time.  Yesterday, in the Friendship Accelerators, I asked the women to share with each other, "What is a highlight/low light for you in your current relationship status?" Or it can be in your job, where you live, about your body image, or any other subject.

Here's Why I Love The Question SO Much:

  • Honors Real Life: There's a time for hypothetical, but it's not when I'm wanting to connect with my friends and find out what really matters in their lives.  This question reminds all of us that there is ALWAYS a duality to life-- when you're in a season of uncertainty or grief, there are still moments of good to be recognized, and when you're in a season of recognition, goal achieving, or ease, there are still unmet expectations, stressors, and new worries.  And, sometimes, more-often-than-not, the very same thing that is a high can also be a piece of our low.
  • Decreases the Chances of Jealousy:  It's all too easy to see the highlights of each other's lives-- the marriages, kids, fancy trips, and awards-- and end up feeling less thrilled with our own.  But when I journey over the long-haul with my friends, seeing the lows and highs, I really think it reminds us that no one's life is perfect. We stop begrudging each other for what we each have.
  • Increases our Ability to Celebrate our Wins & Cheer for Each Other: For many women, we're more comfortable sharing our lows, than we are our highs. We don't want to be seen as bragging, and we've picked up intuitively that others seem to like us best when our marriages aren't amazing, our kids aren't perfect, and our career isn't rocking.  But if we can't practice our greatness and capacity with friends, then who do we get to practice owning our light around?  We need to be able to say, "I'm proud of this part of my life," and we need to keep practicing telling our friends that we're proud of them, too!
  • Puts Control into the Hands of the Sharers: By asking for a high/low there is enough structure to prompt and direct our thinking (as opposed to just saying "So what's up?" "What's new?" or "Tell me what's going on these days.") but it's also broad enough to let each person choose what they share. If one low light feels too vulnerable for that occasion-- pick another. On the other hand, if something happened that you secretly wish people knew and could support you in-- this is your chance to let them in.  Your choice!
  • Invites Honesty: You ask someone how they're doing, and they'll say fine.  You ask them what's going on, and they'll inevitably give you a summary of the kids or work.  I've noticed entire groups of people--even people who consider themselves close-- can spend the entire evening giving updates, talking about what they saw in the news, or telling a story they know will regale everyone. But if you give them permission to share two specific things that matter in their lives then the conversation changes to what they want to share, not just what they were asked about or what they thought would make entertaining conversation.
  • Protects Space for Each Person: I really believe most people want more substantial conversations, we just don't feel comfortable taking over the conversation and offering up some things that feel mundane, feel like downer-subjects, or could be perceived as bragging. But that doesn't mean we don't want people to know us. By asking this question to a living room full of people, we may sure that the introvert has protected space to share without her having to fight for the floor.  We make sure that the extroverts aren't just entertaining, but really sharing.  We make sure no one leaves saying, "No one even asked me about..." and feeling as though they weren't even seen.
  • Develops Intimacy: When done regularly, as each Friendship Accelerator will do in the ensuing four weeks when they get together, this question can build a real sense of connectedness.  We worry less that our highlight this week doesn't feel huge in contrast to someone else when we can see the pattern over time that all of us have joys and all of us have pain-- our turn for each will come.  In the meantime, we feel seen.  We know that someone knows that we're stressed about money, fearful about not getting pregnant yet, or worried about our grown son's latest seemingly-destructive choice.  We admitted it in a safe place because everyone else was sharing, too.  We weren't left "out there" feeling like we're the only ones with a problem.  And simultaneously, we didn't fear what others thought when we shared our pride or joy-- because they did it too.  We feel supported.  And we can support.

During the Friendship Accelerator, after I have all the groups share their high/low with each other, I ask the women to raise their hands if they would have voluntarily offered up what they just chose to share.  In other words, would they have guided the group conversation to that story, had the space not be made for it.  I'd guess about 15% of them raise their hands.  Indeed, sometimes the high or low is such that we might offer it up without being asked, but more often than not, we need someone to ask us before we gladly share.

I'm already looking forward to tonight's call with my 4 girlfriends who live in Seattle, San Antonio, and Southern California.  I genuinely want to know what's mattering to them.  And I'm glad I don't just have to leave it to chance that it's shared....

Here's a list of more Sharing Questions-- these are the ones we use in our ConnectingCircles (small member-led gatherings of 3-6 women in local cafes) in the GirlFriendCircles.com community.

 

 

 

My Annual GirlFriend Group: The Benefits of Long Distance Friendships!

Tomorrow morning I fly out to San Antonio for my Annual SoCal Girls Weekend. SO EXCITED! SoCal Girls Group

We used to all live in Southern California (hence why I still refer to us as the SoCal group!) where we would get together weekly for an evening of tea, book talk, and life sharing. I think we met for just over a year before life started moving some of us to new places, but we made a pact that we'd all get together at least once a year for the rest of our lives. We're seven years in to that commitment. I love that we made that decision.

Since I'm always championing local and new friendships, I thought I'd rave today about  some of the pay-offs that come from our time spent with more long-term, albeit long-distance friendships:

  • Provides Ongoing Intimacy: I rate myself pretty low on the "good at staying in touch" with long-distance friends scale.  If it weren't for this annual weekend these would be women who I simply would drift apart from. Sure, some of us see each other here-and-there if we're traveling through each others cities on business or visiting family nearby.  A few texts and phone calls are exchanged between different ones of us throughout the year, and we also try to periodically stay in touch on a group Facebook page and via a couple of scheduled conference calls.  But those are all just updates.  It's staying up all night talking for a weekend that brings us back to real Frientimacy.  These weekends are where we share the real stuff with women who know us.
  • Non-Negotiable Commitment: It's a no-brainer every year to buy the airline ticket. Since we already made the decision years ago that this is going to happen, we don't ever have to ask "Can I go this year?"  We don't get input from our busy calendars, our budgets, or our spouses/kids as to whether we can go this year-- we just say yes. The truth is we can always talk ourselves out of things if we raise the question--work will always be hectic, funds will always feel tight, kids will always need us-- so it's nice to have the important things in life already decided. Our friendship is important to us so we'll keep the weekend short and inexpensive, but we will always be there.
  • Protected From Life Change:  Since our time together is really only a weekend every year-- my friendship with these women doesn't go up in flux if they get married, have another kid, change jobs, move to a different city, or go through a divorce. That's a gift right there.  Most of our local friendships are constantly being impacted by the choices we all make-- we get our feelings hurt when one person is too busy or goes through a big life change. So the downside to our long-distance group is that we may not know each others kids and husbands well, but the up-side is that any of that can change and it won't change the fact that we are getting together for our 3 days.
  • We Know History & See Growth:  One of my favorite parts of our time together is that we all answer a few questions on paper about what our lives look like right now-- things we're grateful for, wounds we're nursing, fears we're feeling, goals we've set-- and we put them in a folder that we only look at this one weekend.  This year, we'll all open our long-forgotten page from last year and see how life has changed from then.  It's like this mile-marker for life, giving us a chance to say "oh yeah, I remember feeling that fear... look at me now" or "interesting that this same thing keeps showing up every year on my page..."  We share with each other what we've written-- sometimes crying, often cheering, but always loving. It's nice to have friends who see us deeply once a year.
  • A Bigger-Picture-Type of Sharing: I love my local San Francisco girlfriends-- we can talk on the phone ten minutes here-and-there, get together for tea, share dinners, and know what we're each facing every week ahead.  There's a consistency there that supports me in the best way ever.  But there's also something really special about the friends who are removed from my day-to-day life, the ones who only see me occasionally. We talk about different things. Whereas friends here might ask what I'm doing today or this weekend, these friends ask about highlights and lowlights from the last year. The conversations give me a chance to think about life in a broader way, to reflect on the bigger issues.  They observe changes in me that might be harder for people who see me all the time to notice. They ask about things I'd long forgotten. They hold a space for me to learn about myself in different ways.

I tell you all this because if you don't have this and want it-- you can make it happen.  We did not all know each other when the six of us all started getting together weekly.  It's not like we were all a clique from college.  I was new to SoCal and just started asking some girls if they wanted to come over for a weekly book discussion. Some of them invited someone else they knew... and our group formed.  You can do that.

For many of you it may be that you already have a few women flung across this country that you love and it may be that you simply need to make the decision to be the catalyst that gets you all together.  It can be affordable-- Southwest has flights on sale all the time, hotel costs decrease when split among several of you, and you can just buy a few groceries to keep it simple.  This kind of friendship is worth the investment.

So tomorrow I board the plane knowing that on the other end will be women that I may not have seen in a year, but that I know will hug me and love me like few others can.

 

All Those "Unhealthy People" Drive Me Crazy

It's all too easy to point fingers and feel frustrated at those people in our lives who don't live up to our expectations.  After all, they are our friends who are supposed to "do anything for me" and "if I can't count on them, then who can I trust?" and "I'm tired of being the one who always gives and never gets" and "I don't have to put up with this unacceptable behavior." We feel incredibly justified that we aren't asking for too much and that we deserve to have our needs met by those around us. I'm Not a Fan of This Trend in Blaming Everyone Else....

But I'm going to take an incredibly unpopular stance today and put myself in the shoes of the friends who are disappointing and annoying you.

What has become more clear to me in recent weeks as I've been listening to everyone around me is that this "kicking the toxic people to the curb" and "saying no to people who drain me" is all the rage.  It's like a diet trend where everyone seems to be popping the same pill.

Everyone is pointing to someone else as annoying, toxic, or draining; as though we're the only healthy and sane person left. We go around and tell the stories of these "crazy" people so that our ego has a chance to relive all the evidence we are collecting that ultimately will assure us that the problem is them, not us.

Let's start with a few real life scenarios:

1)   Last week, one of my girlfriends was telling a story about her boss who does something that annoys her.  And I thought to myself... "Eeeks, if I were your boss I could see myself doing that too!" (I mean, it wasn't an awful thing he was doing, it just wasn't what she wanted at the time.) Which got me thinking how much, if I were him, I'd want to know that my response was upsetting someone when my intentions were the exact opposite.  But, like most of us, we'd rather chalk that up to one more piece of evidence that our boss sucks and go complain on the couch with girlfriends, as opposed to telling the boss that when he does x it feels like x.

2)   I recently read a column about a woman complaining about one of her friends who annoyed her because she seemed to always want more time with her (which, mind you, was fine with her when she as single, but less acceptable now that she was dating someone) and then the last straw was she hadn't offered to come help pack up boxes when she was moving. These actions were disappointing and unacceptable to her. I immediately thought "Yes in an ideal world, I'd be packing up boxes next to you, but if I had sensed that you weren't wanting to be around me as much, had a new relationship to help you, and you hadn't expressed a need to have help packing, I may not have thought to call and take a day off work to do that with you. Especially if I have my own feelings hurt." It's a classic misunderstanding where they are both hurting and experiencing transition in their friendship-- no one is actively trying to wound the other, they simply both want more from the other. Rather than talk about it, here is the woman saying this is ending their relationship, it's the "last straw" that proves what a horrible friend this woman really is.

3)   Yesterday I was coaching a client who shared with me a story of how upset he was with the actions of someone in his life.  In the sharing of the story I realized that this other person undoubtedly doesn't even know how upset or hurt my client is. The mistake wasn't some huge grievance that we'd all agree was wrong, as much as it was more an issue of my client not feeling needed, validated and appreciated. And yet his anger is palpable.

Not Major Infractions, Just Miscommunications!

In all three cases, there is no doubt in the minds of the people relaying the story that the problem is with the other person.  Every single one of them devalued the subject of their dramas as being selfish, mean, toxic, annoying, or unhealthy.

In all three cases, I only know the side of the story of the one who is frustrated.  And, I validate all their frustrations.  They do deserve to have people who make them feel known, heard, loved, and appreciated.  I want that for all of them. I want them to have friends and colleagues who offer, give, and meet their needs.

However, in none of these cases are we talking about someone sleeping with your boyfriend, hitting your child, stealing your money, talking bad about you behind your back, or anything else we'd all agree was morally wrong.  I purposely left the sins vague to ensure privacy, but none of these were examples of people trying to hurt the other.We're talking about unmet expectations.

And in all cases-- not just unmet, but also, unknown.

I could easily be the person that all three of the tellers of those stories hate. :(

Does Disappointment Stem from Their Actions? Or Your Expectations?

Think about the situation right now that frustrates you the most. Is it a clear-cut "they did wrong" situation, or is it possible they just didn't do it the way you wanted?

Expectations. Also known as the Devil. Especially if you're the only one who knows what they are.

I'm becoming more aware of how frequently we get our feelings hurt due to the meaning we assign to someone's behavior more than to their actual behavior. We are tempted to think that their actions, of lack of them, means those people don't care, are selfish, or aren't good friends. Which could potentially be a bit of a jump?

With my people-pleasing tendencies, the only thing worse than disappointing you, is disappointing you without knowing I did. To think of me doing something with good intentions and having it misconstrued (as is the case in #1) or to not know what your needs were and what would have most mattered to you (as could be the case in #2) or to simply not be reaching out to you in the ways that make you feel most validated (as is the case in #3)-- I could most certainly be guilty on all counts.

So much of what's upsetting us isn't actual wrong-doing, it's feeling like people should just be like us and do things the way we think is best.  We're getting our panties all twisted because people aren't living up to our unknown expectations....

Which leaves me wondering if the greater problem isn't on us for better clarifying our needs rather then on them for not just guessing them?

What could happen if we said "How can I show up differently in this relationship to possibly get a different result?" What would happen if we sweetly reminded ourselves that there might be other interpretations to their actions?  And is it possible that they actually feel the same way, disappointed by you? Would it have helped if you had made a request of them rather than felt hurt that they didn't read your mind?

I know it's not popular for me to defend the ones you're trying to vilify.  I just wanted to give a gentle reminder that most people aren't trying to disappoint you. And most of them don't even know they are.

Show some love and grace and honest conversation, my friends!

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Want More Reading?

Two articles I wrote for Huffington Post last year on a similar subject: Four Consequences to Labeling a Friend Toxic and then Toxic Friendship? Or Can You Work Toward Frientimacy?

Top Ten Friendship Articles of 2011

In the spirit of celebrating another year lived and shared, I'm doing my first-ever Top Ten list. Here are the most read, popular blog posts from the last year: 1.   The Mistake that Cost me a New Friendship

This post re-proves that we all learn to love from the mistakes of others, mine included. It's a lesson I still hold in my memory bank--how easy it is to not initiate from a place of personal insecurity.

2.  To the Oprah-Haters and Other Women Who Devalue

This posting inspired lots of comments as we all wrestled with our temptation to devalue others, hoping it makes us feel better about ourselves.  I come back to this theme often-- trying to encourage us all to cheer for other women, that we might feel it for ourselves, too!

3.  Today is National Best Friend Day: How to Make a BFF

I share my Frientimacy Triangle with hopes of reminding everyone that Frientimacy (friendship intimacy) has to be developed, not discovered.

4.  5 Stages of a Friendship

We have a lot of language and understanding when it comes to the various stages of dating someone (i.e. the difference between "going on a date" vs. "we're dating"), but we forget that a friendship has stages too!  Here I describe the five--from curiosity to frientimacy-- I think are most helpful.

5.  Admitting We Need Friends

It's easy to be in denial about our need for friends-- too much pain and stigma in whispering the truth sometimes.  But hard to really do anything about it if you don't start with the first step: admitting the need!

6.  Nothing Kills a Potential Friendship Faster

A romantic relationship would never get off the ground if the two of you went out for a date, then ended the evening saying “That was fun… we should do it again next month.” And yet we do that with potential friends all the time!  Give the gift of momentum to your friendships!

7.  Used-to-be-Friends or Still Friends?

This one struck a raw nerve with many of you.  Just because we have had good friends over the years that we could call if we needed to, doesn't mean we have the good friends around us that we really need and want.

8.  Friendship Challenges that Come With Age

This post validates that indeed every decade brings its own challenges to our friend-making career. When I started GirlFriendCircles.com (my women's friendship matching site) three years ago I assumed it would be most popular with those in their 20's and 30's.  Who knew that the women who would love it the most would be our mothers and grandmothers? No matter our age-- we need to keep replenishing our circle of friends!

9.  The Flywheel of Friendship

The toughest part of friendship is that we all crave the BFF who just knows us and makes it easy to connect, but we hate that there is a long road to that comfortableness!  This post will inspire and motivate you to keep putting in the work now.  It does pay-off and get easier!

10.  It's Hard to Maintain Friendships Through Stress & Change

It's so easy to withdraw from people when we're tired and stressed.  These are some of the reasons it's hard for me to engage, and some of the ways I do it because I know it's good for me.

* And a bonus one!  This one was my personal favorite: My Prayer: Who I Want To Be

A huge thanks to all my GirlFriendCircles.com members, readers of my blog, and comment-ers who have shared the journey!

May we continue in 2012 to honor all that is right with friendship, committing ourselves regularly to the practices of healthy personal development and relationship joy.

________________________

I'd be honored to have you share this list on Twitter or Facebook:

Top 10 posts of 2011 from Shasta's Friendship Blog re: personal growth & relationship health by @girlfrndcircles.  http://wp.me/p1n4Bw-7l

Frientimacy: The Intimacy of Friends

This is a posting that was originally posted April 26, 2010 on my former blog. Because I've been writing more about Frientimacy, I wanted to re-port this illustration of how it's played out in my life. ________________________

Sitting in that circle of six women was powerful. There is nothing like being seen by friends you love and who love you back. Intimacy is a word that just brings up too much romance, so I call it "Frientimacy."

We all live in different cities, but this last weekend we had all flown into Seattle for our Annual Girlfriend Get-Together. And so there we sat catching each other up on our lives. Our real lives.

Frientimacy Is Authentic We listened as one shared that's she not sure she wants to stay married. Another, found out her husband cheated. And another just broke up with the man she wanted.  One is trying to decide if she wants kids. Another is due next month. Another just found out her baby isn't developing on schedule. Another isn't sure she'll find someone to marry before she has that choice. Another is struggling with weight and another with financial security and still another with contentment.  We shared our pains and disappointments.

We also listened as we went around the room sharing 3 things we celebrate about our lives in the last year. It was spectacular: The risks. The wins. The accomplishments. The completions. The new beginnings. The Ph.D, the new baby, the new business, the new office, the new love. The big anniversary.

It was beautiful to be among friends who have history sharing both. These are six beautiful, amazing, professional, intelligent women who live life fully and are committed to truthful friendships.

Frientimacy is Awkward And while it sounds so good to be honest, I'd be remiss if I didn't acknowledge how hard it can be go there.

We are far from being a homogeneous group: some married, some single, some divorced, some with kids, some with step-kids, some with none.  Through the years many us have traded those roles-the married one becomes single and the single finds her love. Often at the same time.  And we have to celebrate one and grieve the other. It is hard being the first or only in the group to have kids, and equally hard to be the last or only to not be in a relationship.

Even with people we love and respect, there is no way to be friends without bringing our personal insecurities, fears and baggage to the relationship. It's hard to celebrate each others joys even when we're jealous.  To hold their pain without projecting our story into it.

There were definitely awkward moments. Moments where you want to judge, give advice, justify your decision that's different than hers, wallow in self-pity rather than give her a high-five.

But we've practiced. We've made commitments to be generous with each other. Honest. We trust the commitment is bigger than the pain. We trust the history is deeper than the present moment. And we're still practicing.

We forge on. There will be lots of awkward moments we will witness and hold.

Frientimacy is Developed We can only trust our future because we've experienced our history. It wasn't instant.

It was due to consistency that we have fostered this.

Seven years ago, we were mostly strangers to each other. I invited a few women I had met to commit to a weekly group in my apartment. Some invited someone else. And over time, with one leaving here and another joining there, we had a group that was consistent. We didn't all necessarily feel like we would be friends with each individual in the group if it weren't for the collective time, but we knew the value of going deeper with other women so we kept coming.

What we celebrate now has taken effort. It has taken consistency. Far more than most women are willing to put in. Most of us think if we get together once a month with a new friend that a friendship will blossom. And I'd say once a month is enough to keep liking each other, but probably not enough to build enough history that when your lives change (and they will) that you have enough history behind you to stay connected through it. Once a week for one year gave us the gift we'll enjoy the rest of our lives.

I no longer live around those women so I've become part of another group of local women who meet weekly. We don't have the same history yet, but we will keep meeting and keep sharing and we are definitely developing our own new Frientimacy.

Who are you being consistent with? How can you schedule in some consistent time with other women? How are you building upon the new friendships you've started?

Frientimacy is Worth it You may not feel the potential after your first time together. Or your next time together.

You may doubt it. You may feel like they're too different from you. Or that you're not sure you like each of them.

You may feel insecure around one of them or find that one annoys you. It's likely.

But you will also begin to know you have a group that sees your life. That knows it. That you don't have to update but can simply share. You will feel the difference it makes to have close friends. Local friends. Not the kind you have to impress, but the kind you get to be real with. It's likely.

I had an amazing weekend with the women who have known me and loved me for seven years. And I'm committed to building more of that in my life, locally and on a weekly basis.

Frientimacy is authentic. It can be awkward. It takes time to develop. But it is so worth it.

Lonely Mommy: How Motherhood Took a Toll on my Friendships

Note from Shasta: For Friendship Month this September I’ve invited some women to guest blog for me, adding their voices and experiences to our journey.  Today I’m honored to host Daneen Akers, a good friend of mine honestly sharing how hard it was to make and transition her friendships after becoming a new mom.

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Once a week my 2.5 year-old daughter Lily and I go walking in the woods of San Francisco’s Presidio with several other moms and toddlers. Lately, as she’s been learning the concept of friends, Lily likes to make the friendship boundaries clear.

“I’m so excited to go see my friends,” she says. And then she’ll add possessively, “They’re not your friends, Mommy. They’re my friends.”

Sometimes she’ll toss me the consolation prize of, “You can be friends with the mommies.”

That’s big of her, but I’m afraid I haven’t found adult friendship, especially after becoming a mom, nearly this easy to define or nurture. If only a shared identity was all it took.

Friendships and Motherhood: A Tough Transition

When I became a mom over two years ago, I had no idea how difficult it was going to be to transition my existing friendships to the next chapter, and I really had no idea how hard it was going to be to develop real friendships with other moms.

On the surface, motherhood is the ticket to a whole circle of new communities of belonging. Suddenly you share this profoundly life-changing, heart-expanding, and utterly exhausting experience with women all over the world. I was a mom now—I felt this unspoken kinship with every pregnant woman, new mom, and grandma that I spotted on the bus or at the park. Women just like me were making do on cat naps, feeling lucky if they took a shower, and wearing the same pair of milk-stained yoga pants for days on end. I could spot another new mom a mile away and almost always shared a knowing look as we walked past each other, not wanting to stop and risk waking the sleeping babies that connected us.

There are groups aplenty for moms—support groups, breastfeeding circles, mommy and baby yoga classes, play groups, and a host of online networks. I quickly became a joiner, trying desperately to not feel so lonely in the midst of motherhood.

Despite being utterly in love with my daughter and having a very involved husband, I felt desperately isolated as a mom. Perhaps it was because I was the only one of my close girlfriends to have a baby. Perhaps it was because I worked from home. Perhaps it was because families in our culture have little to no support —we have non-existent or anemic maternity/paternity leaves, often don’t live near family, and have had very little preparation for the grueling work of parenthood.

But even after packing my schedule with support groups and gatherings, I still felt lonely. In fact, I was even more lonely because I was surrounded by women like me and yet I felt that nobody really knew me. We talked and talked, but it was almost always about how our babies were sleeping, how breastfeeding was going (or not), what new thing our babies could do now, what baby-related challenge we needed help with. It was all baby.

Babies change quickly, so our conversations evolved, but often just around the next surface-level baby/toddler topic. I deeply wanted to feel like I knew the women I was sharing this important part of life with and, just as importantly, that they knew me.

It wasn’t at all that I only met shallow women. Quite the opposite, the moms I’ve met are amazing. But conversations are inherently fragmented when a baby has frequent needs, and this only gets worse the more mobile they get. Soon we were meeting at playgrounds and feeling lucky if we could manage two or three minutes of adult conversation before one of our children needed attention, sometimes to be pulled off each other as they inevitably squabbled over a toy or turn. Ironically, we often had more meaningful conversations over email where we could put two thoughts together, but this sometimes made the frustration of in-person meetings more tangible.  I distinctly remember when Lily was two talking to a mom I’d met in a birth prep class and realizing that I had no idea what she had done before she became a full-time mom. All of my knowledge of her revolved around her mommy role.

And moms are just running tired. Whether we work in the home, from home, or out of the home, it feels like everyone wants a piece of us all the time. If I had two moments to myself, I usually needed to be alone or to sleep just to survive (I’m not sure what it says about me as a mother that my last two Mother’s Day requests have been for a day alone!)

Three things helped my lonely-mommy situation improve dramatically.

1)  Foster a Few New Friendships: First, I cut back on most of my mom-related obligations and focused on fostering a few friendships. I had sensed reciprocity with a few women, and I made a point of making these women a priority. Women like my friend Julie, who once managed to start a terrifying real conversation at a moms’ group by asking, “So, can I ask if anyone else is disappointed by who are finding yourself as a mother?” And women like my friend Sara, who asked questions about me as a woman and not just a mom and kept making the effort to find times that we could meet without our babies (luckily a wine bar opened in her neighborhood)

2)  Commit to Time with Current Friends: And second I made a weekly commitment to meet with my non-mom girlfriends. This might seem counter-intuitive at first. I was starved for female friendship but found respite with women who didn’t share one of my most important life journeys with me.  Their lives continue to look very different than mine. But that has turned out to be a blessing for our conversations. There is absolutely no chance that we’ll end up spending an hour talking about potty training.

My time with these women sustains and centers me. These women have shared my life for three hours every Tuesday night for two years over homemade meals in each other’s homes. They have seen me gradually recover a sense of myself in the midst of my motherhood, and I have heard their hearts as we all navigate the vicissitudes of life. (A nice side benefit to this particular practice is that my husband and daughter have developed their own Tuesday night routines.)

3)  Be a Good Friend To Myself: And, finally, I have found that everything in my life improves when I take my required alone time. I’d actually started this post with two turning points in mind, but half-way through writing I went to a yoga class after not making it for one reason or another for the past six weeks.

As I lay in Shivasana, feeling myself relax at my core for the first time in weeks, I realized anew that I am my best self when I truly embrace the concept of putting my own oxygen mask on first so that I don’t pass out while trying to help others, even my own child. When I am keeping my well full, I find my own inner peace and don’t have to project my lack onto others.

I still find myself lonely at times and struggling to feel like I give enough and am fed enough in my friendships, but I am starting to feel rooted again in my community.  I am finding my joy, my center.

An Extra Pay-Off to Prioritizing Friendships

Lily doesn’t make it easy to leave her. It can be difficult to explain why I’m leaving for a night off or a yoga class (or, I hope more often, an evening with my mom friends sans our adorable progeny). Last night her usually joyful countenance turned mournful, and she wailed, “But I want you to stay with me!”

As I gently hugged her and then pried her off of me to hand to my husband, I told myself that I’m setting an example for her. Friendship matters. Making time for a relationship with myself matters. How I model friendship in my life matters as much as the lessons she learns as she walks in the woods with her toddler friends. At least, that’s the hope I’m hanging my diaper bag on.

Daneen Akers writes from San Francisco where she's a mom to a vibrant two-year-old, a documentary film producer, and an occasional blogger at http://www.lifewithlilybird.com with an emphasis on parenting and spirituality. 

 

 

 

Healthy Friendship: How to Be the Best Friend Possible

Note from Shasta: For Friendship Month this September I’ve invited some women to guest blog for me, adding their voices and experiences to our journey.  Today I'm hosting two posts: one from a therapist highlighting four qualities of emotionally safe friendships, and the other from someone who has never written a blog but was willing to share how she's learned this in her own life. Thanks to both Lisa Brookes Kift and Kelly Cape! _____________________________

What is Emotional Safety?

by Lisa Brookes Kift

Emotional safety is the level of comfort two people feel between each other – and though I’ve written much about how couples can benefit from this, let’s take a look at how this translates to friendship and ways you can be the best friend possible.

Because emotional and relationship health are so intertwined it’s important to take stock of not only how you behave with your friends but how you feel around them.  Do you support and lift each other up?

Not everyone is clear in their understanding of what qualities make up a healthy, nurturing, supportive friendship.  This lack of clarity may be the result of never being modeled this type of relationship.  Whatever the case, it’s never too late to take stock of the people in your life – and how they experience you as well.

Emotionally safe friendships have some things in common.  These friends typically:

  • Listen well and attempt to understand where the other is coming from – rather than dismiss, appear disinterested or shift the topic back to them.
  • Offer validation and empathy when appropriate – rather than behave without compassion when sensitivity is required.
  • Respect each other and are supportive - rather than be competitive and undermining.
  • Trust each other and feel safe – rather than be unsure of whether the other is there only when it suits them.

Human beings are relational.  We are born seeking secure attachment with our primary caregivers and we continue to seek emotional safety through-out our lives, with our partners and friends.

I am very grateful to have a group of girlfriends who I feel totally at home with.  Some go back as far as kindergarten and a few I’ve made in the last five years or so.  The friendships I put the most energy into are the ones where there is a mutual felt sense of being able to truly relax, be ourselves and know that neither of us would do anything to harm the other.  It just feels safe.

It’s like being wrapped in a fuzzy, warm blanket on a cold, winter’s day.

This is a little of what emotionally safe friendships feel like to me.  Just like intimate relationships require effort to maintain, the same goes for friendships.  You get what you give.

Lisa Brookes Kift, MFT is the author of The Premarital Counseling Workbook for Couples and The Marriage Refresher Course Workbook for Couples.  She’s also the creator of The Toolbox at LisaKiftTherapy.com with tools for marriage, relationship and emotional health.  Lisa has a private practice working with individuals and couples in Larkspur, California. Twitter:@LisaKiftTherapy

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What I've Learned About Becoming Emotionally Safe

by Kelly Cape

When one friendship door closes, another opens.  But, unfortunately it has to hit you on the ass first.

I didn’t truly realize this until recently.  I’ve always hated goodbyes. And I cherish having lots of friends, especially close friends.  You know what I mean: the ones who know you in-and-out, and vice versa.

So naturally I felt reluctant to end a friendship even if I wasn’t getting anything out of it.  But because I never wanted to say goodbye, I confused myself into thinking that was because it was feeding me, even if it wasn't!  Hmm... a curious ego-driven, self-fulfilling cycle indeed. Sometimes, even as the friendships were in full swing, the connections I felt seemed forced or awkward.  Meaning that for me, I wasn’t getting exactly what I wanted in the way of a reciprocal friendship but I ignored my gut and just forged ahead making more plans for the next dinner or movie.  If these gals were spending time with me then I was getting something rewarding in return, right?

Well, it wasn’t until a fall-out with two separate friends in overlapping periods of time in my life that made me rethink what friendship meant to me and forced me to have my aha moment of discovery.  This experience took me down the necessary path of self-introspection, ultimately leading me to new enlightenment and more fulfilling friendships.  And most importantly, this included the most significant friendship of all—the one with myself.

I realized that I consciously contributed in the friendships’ demise because I felt needy (hence forcing myself even with internal alarms going off—danger, danger!) and desperate to keep these friendships at almost any cost.  In turn that fear gave off negative vibes.  Additionally, I was also unwilling to listen to my heart that told me I was putting in way more than what I was getting.

And it wasn’t just about ego.  I was keeping these friendships alive at the expense of my self-esteem and value as a person and as a friend. Which wasn’t doing service to them either because when I spent time with them, I wasn’t being fully honest or authentic.  I discovered that felt more awful than pretending I was their BFF.

After a lot of journaling, grieving and healing, I have since become not only a more grounded person, but also a more genuine and present friend, which naturally brings about positive and joyful reciprocity.  I listen to me more now and let go of forcing or acting like someone I’m not just to have friends, or to be invited to a party.

And as the Universe does so profoundly, I “coincidentally” and effortlessly have forged a wonderful new friendship that is both light-hearted and meaningful at the same time.  We are our genuine, honest selves with each other and we laugh a lot together.  My friendships of the past are gone... but never forgotten.  The lessons they taught me will live on and be carried in me with each new budding friendship.

Kelly Cape, 41-years old, lives in Campbell, CA where she consistently strives for an expansive life, including learning to follow her bliss—personally and professionally.  This is her first blog. 

6 Books to Help Your Friendships

I often quote the research from BYU that revealed just how important friendships are to our health.  The sentiment of the research didn't surprise me at all, but what they compared it to sure did! After compiling extensive relational studies, researchers revealed that if you feel disconnected-- it is worse for your health than smoking 15 cigarettes a day, twice as harmful as being obese, and as damaging as being an alcoholic. What shocks me most is how little training and teaching we get, outside of our own experience, in this ever-important life area of relationships.  Compare how much attention your teachers and leaders have given to the three things listed as less significant than your relationships: obesity, drinking and smoking.  Seriously! We have laws against smoking and drinking, yet it's never been illegal to be isolated! We have  billboards and commercials showing the effect of smoke on our lungs and the aftermath of driving while buzzed, but I've never seen one showing the effects of loneliness.  Even if your nutrition and physical education classes in school left a lot to be desired, at least they had them.  I never took a class on healthy relationships.

In an area that is touted to be most significant to our health, happiness, and longevity-- we just hope healthy relationships comes naturally. Unfortunately, with 85% of us admitting to having toxic friends, I'm not blown away by how well we've taught ourselves.

6 Books that Teach Healthy Friendships

Here are six books I think could help us start being more intentional in our healthy friendship education:

  1. Consequential Strangers, by Melinda Blau and Karen Fingerman, Ph.D.  As the tagline suggests, "The Power of People who Don't Seem to Matter But Really Do," you may not feel inspired to buy this book because you may not realize just how significant your connections through out the day can be in your life.  However, this book is hugely revealing and has much to teach us about our wider networks. For those of you familiar with my 5 Circles of Connectedness, this book is all about just how important the left-side of our continuum can be.
  2. A Return to Love, by Marianne Williamson.  The middle third of this book is one of the most impressive visions of healthy relationships on the market, not just friendships. While her field is spiritual growth, her case is that all our personal growth happens in our relationships.  She showcases the importance of every interaction we have, from what seems inconsequential to us all the way to the people with whom we have lifetime assignments. Her call to us to give love rather than project fear is inspiring.  To show up with others on a soul level rather than ego level would change the world.
  3. The Power of Female Friendship: How Your Circle of Friends Shapes Your Life, by Paul Dobransky, M.D. This book goes way past warm-and-fuzzy to give you really fabulous scientific charts, graphs, and formulas. His definition of friendship ("Friendship is consistent, mutual, shared positive emotion") is still one I use in my teaching-- helping women know the 4 things that must be present in a healthy friendship. He breaks up friendship in some of the most thought-provoking ways teaching psychology, boundaries, emotional health, and brain function.
  4. Best Friends Forever, by Irene Levine Ph.D. This tagline will sell the book: "Surviving a Breakup with Your Best Friend."  She's quick to remind you that it's an unhealthy myth to believe that your friendships should last forever, with most of us staying in touch with only 1 out 12 of our friends.  She's also quick to sympathize with why it can, ironically, sometimes be harder and more painful to end friendships than it is to end our romantic loves.  Her guide will help you thoughtfully process which friendships to let go, how to do it, and how to heal.
  5. The Friendship Fix, by Andrea Bonior, Ph.D.    This recent book is a fast and fun read as it aims to help women in their "choosing, loosing, and keeping up" with their friends.  I'd recommend this book especially to those in their 20's and 30's still trying to figure out how to do friendship as adults beyond college. Her style is witty and helpful in identifying what kind of friend you are, how to transition friendships through the marriages and pregnancies, and how to think through friendships with exes, family members, and work colleagues.
  6. Find Your Strongest Life, by Marcus Buckingham. This book isn't about friendship per say, but is about how women can live successfully and happily by leaning into your strongest role (9 options, we all have 1-2 primarily).  I put this book on the list for those of you who already have a fulfilling circle of friends as I think this is a fun way to get to know each other better.  The five-minute online test is free, but unpacking the results and learning about how you each give differently in the friendship is priceless. This is a great book to go through with a group of girlfriends as you all commit to cheering for each other as you seek to live your strongest life.

I'm holding spot #7 for a book that is to be released in January (you can pre-order) titled "MWF Seeking BFF" where the author, Rachel Bertsche writes about her year of weekly friend-dating as she went from friendless in Chicago to establishing a local circle of friends.  This will be an inspiring read for most of you who know what it's like to need to make new friends but feel the fear and insecurity of actually starting friendships from scratch.

And then spot # 8?  Well maybe I should write one?  :)

So there you have it.  Gold stars for those of you who actually decide to read one of these!  I really want to remind you that to simply sit back and hope for more friends isn't going to do it. Much like the fact that you have to get off the couch to get healthy, we're truly going to have to learn to keep making and fostering healthy friendships throughout our lives.

To reading that can change your life....

What I Wish I Knew Then About Friendship... by Cherie Burbach

Note from Shasta: For Friendship Month this September I’ve invited some women to guest blog for me, adding their voices and experiences to our journey.  I'm honored to host this posting by Cherie Burbach, one of the most prolific writers online about friendship (bio at the end!). Thanks Cherie for all you're doing to encourage healthy female friendships! ------------------------------

What I wish I knew then about friendship that I know now...is that friendships aren't always meant to last forever, and that's okay. When I was younger, it pained me to lose a friend to the point where I would beat myself up it when it happened.

Now, don't get me wrong, we definitely want to maintain our friendships whenever we can.

Cherie Burbach

But the reality is that sometimes friendships end. People make different life choices, they move, they grow apart, develop new interests, and through it all they change. When a friendship ends during this point, you may experience feelings of guilt or be stuck in a place wondering "why" over and over again. This perception that friendships should last forever comes from a few different places. Ever heard of the term "BFF"? Best friends forever might be a cute saying but it isn't the reality. Or how about people that talk about their long-term friendships? You don't often hear, "I've had three great friends that were in my life for five years" but you will hear someone talk about their "life-long friends" pretty often. If you don't have a life-long friend or two, hearing that may make you feel inept at friendship. But don't buy into that.

Some of my friends have lasted decades, while others have been brief. Most of the time, friends are not going to stay in your life forever, and even if they do, your relationship will probably change over the years. Having one true-blue best friend is great, and if it happens to you be thankful. For most of us, however, there are times when a really great friend only stays in our lives for a short time. After they go, what usually happens? You beat yourself up and wonder what you could have done differently.

But you see, that's the point of friendship: It teaches you about yourself. Instead of beating yourself up, learn from the experience. Being with your friend taught you a few things about yourself. Are there areas to improve on? Work on that. Were there areas you really rocked? Do more of that.

Each friendship you have will mold you into a slightly different, more confident, person, but don't go over the past and wonder what you could have done differently. You might have done everything you could have done at that point in time. Talking about "what could have been" is pointless and a waste of energy. You never know, even if you had done that one thing differently it doesn't mean that it would have prevented your friendship from ending. Sometimes the end of a relationship really is them and not you! If you feel like you would have done something differently with an old friend, use that knowledge to help improve your current friendships.

The point is, a friend can come briefly through your life and that's okay. Embrace each friendship, because there is no one-size fits all when it comes to our pals.

Cherie Burbach is the About.com Guide to Friendship and has written ten books and ebooks. She writes about dating, relationships, health, sports, and lifestyle. You can follow her on Twitter at brrbach.

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Note: I posted a new video blog on YouTube this morning: "Who Are Your BFF's?" that talks briefly about how many confidantes you may want, the importance they play in your life, and how you can develop these meaningful friendships.

Subscribe on my YouTube Channel (ShasGFC) as I'm picking a random winner every Thursday! Congrats to Tamisha Ford-- this week's winner!

 

 

My Name is Shasta. I'm a Recovering People-Pleaser.

I am a recovering people-pleaser. I Am a People-Pleaser.

My mom was visiting last week and told a story about me from junior high.  One of those random snapshot memories that revealed just how strong my people-pleaser tendency was at such a young age. Apparently, I had been upset that morning so withpeanuts cartoon a tear-streaked face I insisted I couldn't go to school "because everyone expects me to be the happy one who cheers them up. And I simply can't today." My mom said it was one of those moments where she saw just how serious I was, how her heart broke to think how much pressure I felt to ensure everyone's happiness, and how she couldn't figure out where I ever got such a "silly notion." I was a natural people-pleaser.

A people-pleaser is one who gives in order to feel valuable, who gains approval by giving to others. Warning signals include: feelings of resentment, a sense of depletion, and a fear that we mustn't say no. We are scared to show up in any way other than as the giver.

I Am Recovering!

But the word recovering is definitely a part of my DNA now too.  One of the gifts of my twenties was growing from a huge personal failure of mine.  Not only did I have to accept that I could actually hurt and disappoint people that I loved, but I realized that if I waited to only show up until I was happy-- it might be several years before people saw me again!

I had to learn to show up in my messy life with my tear-streaked face.  Acknowledge that I could hurt people even when I hadn't intended to.  That I couldn't be responsible for their happiness.  That I couldn't fake my own. It was an era of disappointment that I now cherish for the clarity it brought me about me, others, and life. Needless to say, I earned every letter of the word recovering as a badge to precede people-pleaser.

What Does That Mean Though?

As with any addiction, we are trying to use a substitute to fill a hole. In people-pleasing,  we lose sight of our inherent worth and are trying to feel valuable by monitoring how others feel, rather than on what we know to be true about us.

Unlike a recovering alcoholic who chooses to never have alcohol touch her lips again... I can't pull an all-or-nothing in my healing.  To be in my form of recovery doesn't mean that I never please people.  It doesn't mean that I always say no, that I make people mad, and that I don't try to bring joy wherever I go. Which is a relief as I certainly wouldn't want to be an anti-people-pleaser!

So determining whether I'm acting out of my people-pleaser mode could be more difficult because it's less about avoiding a specific substance, and more about determining my motives. Am I saying yes so that she likes me more? Am I offering this to win her over? Am I exerting all this energy so that I feel more valuable and needed? Am I over-extending myself because I'm out of touch with how I feel and what I need?

Notice that in all those questions we ask ourselves, there is a sense that when we give we are expecting something back. We give so that we feel better about us. We kiss-up so that we receive kudos and rewards. We please so that we feel needed or valued. And to point out the obvious-- when we give with a need to receive, it's hardly a gift, as much as it is a commodity exchange (where the other person may not even know or agree to the terms!)

5 Ways Recovering from People Pleasing Actually Pleases People

There are many resources for why we are this way, how to awaken to our worth, and how to start practicing the "no."  The angle I want to take is within our relationships... a few notes of encouragement to give you hope that saying no doesn't risk you losing what you value most.

Here are five ways your friendships can be enhanced when you learn how to metaphorically say no when you need to:

1)  No relationship is healthier than the lowest common denominator of the two individuals in it.  You simply can't have two depleted people and end up with a healthy friendship. Even one depleted person who can't hold her own worth ensures that her experience of the relationship is never healthier than her own personal health. The lowest common denominator between a 3 and 9 is a 3, not a 6. You getting healthy enhances your relationships, it does not detract from them.

2)  Your friends want a mutual friendship, not a doormat/slave/depleted martyr. You might think they prefer to have you doing them favors, but they wouldn't if they saw the price tag: resentment, a sense of imbalance, fear, scorecards, feeding your low self-esteem, your exhaustion, etc.

3)  Holding the belief that we live in a universe with enough love for both of us. I've also heard it called a "win:win universe" or as Einstein said "a friendly universe." It means that we trust that when we do something loving for ourselves, it also gives love to others.  Sometimes saying no is the most loving thing we can do.  Sometimes leaving a relationship is the most loving thing we can do.  Sometimes letting someone else hit their bottom without us trying to fix them is the most loving thing for them.  We are arrogant and foolish if we think we're the best judge of what's truly best for everyone else... especially when we obviously don't even know what's best for us. We simply don't know. All we can do is try to make the most loving and compassionate choice for our health and happiness and trust that when there is love present it's ultimately good for both parties.

4)  Saying no to them gives them permission to do the same. I had a friend thank me for my no to her requested favor this week.  She said it not only increased her trust that she knew she could ask me and I'd be honest, but that it modeled for her that it was okay to evaluate her own choices, too.  Interesting that what we fear saying may be the healthiest and most loving gift of permission to them!

5)  When we show up honestly, it tells them we will accept them when they do too. When I was in 8th grade, I thought if I could make people feel better that it was the loving thing to do.  I made the mistake of thinking sadness wasn't good-- that we needed to avoid that.  We don't.  Sadness isn't bad, it's a real feeling that gives us important information.  By refusing to show up with my tear-stained face, I, in essence, was saying to my friends that it wasn't an acceptable way to feel.  Which is hardly a place of love.

As with anyone in recovery, we still know our tendencies.  Someone from AA can be sober for 30 years and still describe themselves as an alcoholic.  To face your demon doesn't mean it's gone, it only means you can see it more clearly.

My name is Shasta.  I'm a Recovering People-Pleaser.  Anyone else care to introduce yourself?  :)  Nice to meet you.

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On a similar theme, I previously posted on Huffington Post a two-part series on Giving & Receiving: Do You Give More Than You Receive? and 6 Ways to Bring Balance To Your Relationships

Also, note that the 21-Days of Friendship Curriculum that I guide in September helps you evaluate what you should be giving and to whom.  Not all friends are equal! Be sure you know your own energy and where to best give it!

 

 

 

 

How Annoying People Can Grow Me

Call the Holy Spirit your still small voice, your intuition, your wisdom, your highest self, your conscience, your place of peace, or whatever it is that guides you, but don't miss the profundity of this upcoming statement.  Marianne Williamson, in her bestseller book, A Return to Love reminds us that we are not centered on what matters if the actions of others continue to dictate how we feel and show up.

"We're not aligned with the Holy Spirit until people can behave in any way they choose to, and our inner peace isn't shaken."

That's the kind of statement that our heads can agree with, but is simply so hard to practice, isn't it?

In our day-to-day lives, it is far more tempting to fall for the deceptive thought that others determine our mood, that circumstances dictate our peace, and that the behaviors around us require our reaction.  But that would be a victim mindset, a belief that leaves us feeling as though we are at the mercy of others, dependent on their whims. It's a defeating belief to feel we can't find peace until everyone, and everything, is fixed to our liking. Which is why our peace can be so hard to come by if it relies on our bosses, our kids, our romantic partners, our colleagues, our friends, and our in-laws all being in peace first!

Hard to Hold Inner Peace

Applying that statement to my own life, asking myself "where do I sometimes give away my peace because of others?" I found a few whispered answers.

  • Moods of Others: My husband and I work in the same office in our house which can create a fabulous synergy most of the time.... but it also means that we're at risk of stepping under each others black clouds.  Sometimes when our wireless modem takes him offline, I feel the stress that he expresses.  I can't fix it and it only makes matters worse if I try to "inspire" him (apparently it feels controlling and judgmental to him? Who knew?) to react differently.  How to hold my own peace even when he feels anything but that?
  • Judging Others: I've been working consciously the last several months to resist making judgments about others... it's amazing though how automatically those thoughts seem to jump into my head during first impressions or various conversations!  Ugh!  It's far too easy for me to attach a value to the statements and choices of others.  And as I judge them, I subconsciously feel they are judging me which moves me to try to impress them rather than just see them. An inner peace is hard to hold when we're judging and feeling judged!
  • Filtering Their Stories: Our default thinking process is to run the stories of others through our filter of "how does it make me feel?"  So their stories (i.e. their achievements, their break-ups, their stories about their kids, their insecurities) somehow start making us feel something about our lives.  It's so difficult to simply let their story be their story.  I find that I can start to feel intimidated, jealous, sad, fearful, and disappointed even when we're not talking about my life!  It's one thing to enter into their feelings, it's quite another to change how I feel about myself based on something about them! How's a girl to feel peace if every conversation risks her feelings changing?

How Others Can Grow My Inner Peace

Seeing the list above (and I could name so many more!) makes me understand why some people are tempted to go be in solitude in order to connect with their spirituality. Bumping into each other invariably pushes our buttons.  This is true whether we're talking about the people we live with, or the women we're meeting at a ConnectingCircle for the first time.

It's hard to hold our own peace around others.  They either aren't living up to our expectations or desires which disappoints or angers us.  Or they exceed our expectations and standards which triggers our insecurities and fears.  Hard for every person to stand on the little line we have for them, without falling into the ditch on either side! (Not to mention the remote possibility that we're not the best judges of where to draw the line!)

Clearly, we have to learn to hold our own peace and let others do their thing.

But Marianne takes it one step further, inviting us not to just tolerate others, but to be grown by them:

To the ego, a good relationship is one in which another person basically behaves the way we want them to and never presses our buttons, never violates our comfort zones.  But if a relationship exists to support our growth, then in many ways it exists to do just those things; force us out of our limited tolerance and inability to love unconditionally.

It's a concept I'm holding to.  I've been very mindful in recent months about trying not to attach judgements and values on the decisions of others, which does result in more inner peace.  But to actually show up, across from someone who annoys me or frustrates me, and see it as a way to grow me, expand me, teach me patience and deepen my ability to love?

It reminds me that even if we spend time at a monastery, an ashram, a church, in a sacred text, or on a quiet walk in nature for our spiritual centering-- those are only the classrooms for learning.  It is in our connections with others that we are on the practice field for personal growth. All my prayers are in vain if I'm not showcasing more patience for the people I meet.

So if you're annoying, bring it on!  :)  I have lots of room to grow!

5 Tips for Finding Time for Friends

If you're anything like me-- and you don't have to admit it if so!--I can get caught up in the idea of doing things more than the actual doing of those things. I like the idea of being someone who reads the classic books and authors, but when my reading time is limited, those aren't the books I pick up.  I think of myself as a traveler, though wonder how many years I can go without traveling abroad and still have that self-identity?  I want to do more physical activities outside, but often choose sitting at a cafe when free time arises. I love the picture of having friends over all the time, entertaining in those magazine-inspired ways, and effortlessly throwing together parties on a regular basis.

clock running out of time

And while I want to keep holding the ideal version of myself... I also know I need to create a way to still lean into what I value even if it's not ideal.  For we don't all have unlimited time to read all the books we want, the budget to travel every year, the energy to choose tennis over a drink in a cafe, or the space in our lives for ongoing party-hosting.  So I can't always have it all.  But surely I can have some of it?

Time-Saving Ways to Connect with Friends

So in our ideal worlds we have 3-7 women we keep in touch with, hopefully getting together regularly and easily for potlucks, parties, barbeques and girls nights out.  But what about when life doesn't warrant that all the time? Or, any of the time?

We have jobs, relationships, kids, mortgages, yard work, a growing pile of mail, parents to call, emails to respond to, facebook to check in on, a toilet that needs scrubbing... the list goes on.  There is no doubt that we live busy lives.  And that list doesn't even include the hope that we can find time to have our "me-time" to include our exercise, yoga, meditation, or at least a glass of wine and fifteen minutes on the couch before bed. We're tired.  Busy. Stressed. Where are we expected to fit in our friends?

Here are five friendship ideas I gave to the Chicago Tribune last year:

  1. Book it: Make a standing appointment with your nearest and dearest. Say every Tuesday night. Or first Sunday of the month. Or get really creative and buy yourselves a season subscription to a theater, or orchestra, or sports team. That way there are no five e-mails back and forth figuring out what works. You've got the slot; stick to it.
  2. Piggyback it: Figure out what you need to get done, what your dear friend needs to get done, and do it together. Be it a pedicure, or shopping for undies, or a trip to the gym.
  3. Bond it: When you do make time to be together, don't dawdle around on the surface, take it deeper. Ask questions that matter. Don't just get updates on the kids but find out how she's feeling about her parenting. Use the time to actually bond, not just be together.
  4. Make it multiples: See a few nearest and dearest friends at the same time. Get together in groups of anywhere from three to six close friends. I don't want to sound crass, but it takes less time to share stuff once, instead of calling each of those friends and retelling the same story. And that way you get four unique responses at once. This generous approach helps more of you reconnect — and if a pressing deadline or last-minute obligation forces one person to cancel, the rest still get to bond.
  5. Pare it: The challenge for some women is that their network of friends is so vast, they feel they can't possibly keep up with everyone. Pick anywhere from three to five friends who matter the most. You simply don't have to be friends with everyone as that risks you not really feeling close to anyone. Prioritize. Give the most time to the ones who matter most and who feed you the most.

The honest truth is that time spent with friends really will boost our energy so it's worth adding into a busy schedule.  But we're gonna have to cut out the guilt trips we're placing on ourselves to do everything!  Find a few women who are your priority and start leaning into more time with them in creative ways.

It's not all-or-nothing.  We can have meaningful friendships with a little something.  :)

What other ideas do you have?  How do you make time for your friends?  Leave comments sharing your tips!

Today is National Best Friend Day: How to Make a BFF

Today, June 8, is National Best Friend Day. The easy thing to do would be to write a posting on the glories and joys of a BFF.  But, I figure most of us have a sense of how good it feels when we have that best friend... the bigger trick is how to get it if we don't currently have it.

I Want a Best Friend, a BFF

When most of us start craving more friendship-- it's usually for that idealistic friendship. We want the women who see us, know us and love us.  We want that relationship that is comfortable, known, and easy.

Unfortunately, we can't just go out and find that BFF because she doesn't exist. At least not yet. A best friend has to be developed, not discovered. Meaningful friendships simply don't exist before we put in the time to create them.

This one little misguided expectation is what seems to throw off the best of us.

When members in the GirlFriendCircles.com community get frustrated, it is typically around the gap in expectations between what we want and what we find.  Meaning, we want deep friendships that are comfortable and require little energy, but what we find are strangers that require us getting to know each other. And so we are tempted to give up.  We sigh in defeat that we aren't meeting our best friends.

How to Make a Best Friend

Best friends are made up of two non-negotiable ingredients, I think.

Undoubtedly, there are a thousand definitions/preferences/nuances... such as if you think your BFF needs to be just like you, have a certain temperament, share specific interests, live in a defined proximity, or have proven herself to you by any number of tests. All things that can increase chemistry and connectedness, for sure!

But for every rule, there is evidence of the opposite being true, too.  Indeed, when most of us start a friendship we, not surprisingly, want that person to be at our same life stage and be as similar to us as possible.  And yet, as BFF's survive history and time together, it's amazing how different our paths can become, proving that friendship isn't dependent on that which we thought brought us together.  Which then makes BFF's this elusive creature where we're never quite sure what fosters the relationships we most crave. So we walk away from many amazing women because we're not sure how to get from meeting people to making friends, from here-to-there. If it wasn't instant, we doubt the potential.

The Frientimacy Triangle

So, today, on National BFF Day I wanted to blog for a moment on what I call the Frientimacy Triangle. I've modified it from various marriage workshops to be used for friendship purposes.

Shastas Frientimacy Triangle

In a nutshell, we all start at the base of the triangle with every person we meet.  And if a healthy committed relationship is what we desire, then we must move up the triangle by both increasing commitment and intimacy at the same rate. An increase on one side of the triangle begs to be matched by the other side.

As our platonic intimacy (defined, in part, by our ability to be vulnerable, and our giving/receiving of affection) grows, so should our commitment to that person.  And vice versa, as our commitment (defined, in part, by our level of engagement and willingness to protect the relationship) grows, so should our intimacy. Should we accelerate one too fast our triangle becomes lopsided and falls, not reaching the pinnacle.

A BFF then, should be a person we feel committed to and honest with. Which theoretically could take months and years.  For none of us should be walking around committing ourselves to strangers, no matter how charming, fun and engaging they are.  No matter if we perceive them to be our twin.

Commitment has to be raised inch-by-inch up the triangle. The highest level of commitment I can make to someone is "I will stay in touch with you and be a close friend no matter what." And I don't make that lightly.  For I know that as life changes-- divorces, moves, babies, our kids fighting, retirement-- that many of my friendships lower on the triangle won't make the transition.  That doesn't make them less important or devalue what they offer for the time we share.  But it's not realistic that I will stay in touch with every person I meet and like.  It's a commitment that is grown.   Commitment is earned, as is the trust that will invite us to be vulnerable.

So neither should we walk around vomiting our emotional stories on new friends. Many women make the mistake of thinking that just because they share something deep and raw that these two people should now feel super close.  Unfortunately, if the commitment is not yet there, the relationship can actually feel quite awkward and shaky, holding too much emotion, too early.                      

(Note: Here's an old blog I wrote on Frientimacy-- highlighting how important commitment is when you increase the vulnerability.)

Celebrating Your BFF Day

So I'm all for gushing over our BFF's.  And if you have one-- by all means call her today and tell her how much you adore her.  It's a good call to receive!

But should you not have one, or want to foster more than one (or the all too common: "have-one-that-I-never-really-talk-to-so-therefore-actually-wonder-if-we-are-in-fact-BFF's"), then I want to encourage you this National BFF Day to give the gift to yourself of committing to the journey of building that meaningful friendship this year.

Acknowledge how much time it takes to build a healthy friendship where both sides of your triangle are growing stronger.  Simply whispering a secret doesn't do it, nor can you just meet over coffee and pinky-promise yourself into a significant friendship. But you can keep doing both of those things and, over time and continued energy, find yourself a friendship that matters.

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*** Last Invitation to this summer's 21-Day Friendship Journey starting next week.  A tele-course and daily workbook to help you strategize how to foster the relationships around you that matter most.  If you're craving more meaningful friendships-- this curriculum won't disappoint! Join us with discount blog to save $10.

It's Hard to Maintain Friendships Through Stress & Change

I'm tired. May was one of those months for me. A month where so much energy was spent planning, thinking, deciding, wondering, processing and aligning. Change, Stress & Transitions

I'm sure you've had those life phases where there is just a lot going on?  Sometimes your call to change is prompted by something external (job loss, break-up, lack of funds, a move, a death), but sometimes it just starts inside as a whisper, a question you ask yourself about your own life.

We are called in these times to invite alignment in our lives.  Whether it's catching up our heart/mind to wherever our bodies are, or influencing life events to align with whatever internal decision we've already made--we're trying to line up life with what we feel. And while it all sounds important and valuable, that doesn't mean it's not mentally, physically or emotionally tiring.  Even good change can exhaust us. (I posted on Huffington Post last week that a move across town takes 6 months for your body to recover from the change!)

For me, this month to step into alignment meant making some tough decisions.

I know from my own life experience as a life coach and pastor that many people pull away when they have stuff going on in their lives.  It's always struck me as unfortunate that sometimes when we need people the most is when we withdraw.  And yet, I get it.

The Toll Our Stress Can Have on Friendships

Loss of Energy: For me, the most obvious was that as my energy flagged, it was harder to keep engaging with everyone.  Even a very social person, I kept feeling a need to pull away, conserve, withdraw.  Having commitments on the calendar felt stressful to a life that felt up-in-the-air. Hard to keep up friendships, or forge new ones, when my energy feels used up in other endeavors, real or imagined.

Unsure of What to Share: I think part of the hesitation to "get out there" was connected to the fact that my ability to engage in small talk decreased during this time.  When you have big things going on-- everything else seems to pale in comparison.  Harder to flippantly answer "fine" when people ask how you're doing. And yet, sometimes those big things aren't ready to be shared with the world, are still being processed or simply aren't appropriate to talk about with every person.  And so the conundrum-- if I don't want to talk about the small things or the big things-- what do we talk about?

Self-Focused: There's no question, when you have things going on that matter-- it's harder to be present for everyone else.  Which is understandable-- you have to put the oxygen mask on yourself first.  But still... hard to show up on their doorstep with the proverbial chicken noodle soup when you're sick in bed yourself.

My Stuff Brings Up Their Stuff: Undoubtedly, this is one of the hardest part of being in a relationship. We're so inter-connected that it's difficult to have a conversation about anything that matters without it reminding us of our experience or feelings on that subject--divorce, having kids, career choices, dating, retirement, health. My friend talks about moving away... I just think what I'll lose if she does.  One friend decides to take a job for the money and it makes me re-evaluate my own career.  When I went through my divorce-- it brought up all my coupled friends greatest fears.  When we're under stress-- it invariably will be felt in their lives.

I'm sure there are so many other ways our stress impacts our friendship and countless nuances to the ones I've named. (feel free to name others in the comments!)  We simply show up differently when we feel insecure, scared, and tired.

The Commitments that Helped Me

If left to my own feelings this last month, I surely would have been inclined to be a bit more of a hermit.  And to be sure, I certainly did pull back.

But there were some commitments in place that provided me the support of friends whether I had the energy for them or not.  Which was a good thing.  For friends, even though they take energy, end up giving us more energy.  The investment is worth it-- you stick five friendship dollars in the stock and you'll ten back.  (Compared to say, watching TV, where it might only cost one dollar of energy, but neither will it give you more than one dollar back, if that.)

And by the word commitment, I mean things that are routine in my life.  The things that I have put in place because they are important so it's never based on my mood whether I engage or not.

For me, talking on the phone every Wednesday at noon to my girlfriend in Texas is one of those things.  It's not that I wanted to call her those days when I was tired.  It's that I didn't even ask myself if I wanted to.  Hanging out with four friends (we didn't all start as friends!) every Tuesday has taken on sacred significance-- we schedule our lives around that night.  We show up-- no matter how yucky our day was or how intense our PMS symptoms.

My friendships were still impacted by my stress, undoubtedly.  But I still showed up.  (granted, not always full of energy, but still...)

In Latin, the word crisis means "to decide."

Which is ironic because usually in a crisis-- we are prone to feel like a victim, not necessarily someone ready to make choices.  Yet, choices we do have. We still get to choose-- no matter what we're grieving, deciding or feeling-- how we want to navigate it, and with whom.

As you encounter your stresses and life bumps, may you build in the routines that can help sustain you!

p.s.  In the ebb & flow of life, I'm thinking I'm headed back into the flow... :)

Used-To-Be Friends or Still Friends?

We all know those fabulous women we have loved over the years, the ones where our shared history with them puts them in that special category of proven friends. When we talk to them, we  pick up right where we left off.  They're the kind of women we don't have to explain ourselves to, apologize for the time lapse or call them all the time to know we're still loved. So certainly it pains me to pop that bubble of idealism, but sometimes it must be said: Just because you can call her and know she'll be there for you doesn't mean you do.

One of the most common traps that keeps us in denial about needing more friends is that we used to have good friends.  And, the greatest risk happens when we think of them still as our closest friends.

Used-To-Be-Friends Or Still Friends?

This trap throws off the best of us.  We can quickly name 5 amazing women we call friends, and often feel better with our sense of connectedness. But then we still hear that nagging voice whispering that we think we need more friends. We feel lonely.

If you’re only sending Christmas cards, seeing each other once a year, calling every couple of months and giving little sentence updates on facebook—that may be why you still feel a sense of loneliness?

Risking redundancy, it stands to be pointed out that your current loneliness is not because you haven't had amazing friendships before. Rather, it's because you may not be engaging in them now.

I know for me, when I moved to San Francisco, I pushed away my awareness that I needed to make new friends by telling myself how awesome my friends were.  And yet, even though they were only a phone call away.  They were still a phone call away.  A phone call I didn't make with most of them frequently enough to keep it intimate and easy.

southern cal girls

And I'm not suggesting that we shouldn't have these "former" friends.  (And by former, I only mean that the intensity & consistency may have been more in the past than the present.)  My girlfriends from Southern Cal lived through some of my worst and best moments with me-- I will always want to stay connected with them.  Those friends give to us in many ways by knowing who we used to be, giving us a sense of a wider net in our lives and helping us feel less alone in this world.

It's life-changing to know you have these friends you can call if you are diagnosed with cancer. You need to know you have people you can count on in the "big things."

However, I often talk myself out of calling these friends because while I know I can pick up where we left off... that's part of the problem.  I have so much updating to do with them to catch them up to life right now, that I often decide I don't have the time for a long conversation.

What Do We Most Need to Add to our Connectedness?

But what most of us crave are the kind of friends you can call to just ask her what she's making for dinner. Or how her day went. Or what she bought over the weekend. Or whether she wants to go get drinks tomorrow night. The "small things."

We usually feel more intimate with the people we can talk about nothing with as easy as we can talk about something with.

For the truth is, fortunately, that we make dinner more than we get cancer.

No matter how many women you used to be close to—you can still feel lonely now. And sometimes just knowing that you can call isn't enough. To abate loneliness we actually need friends we can go live life with, not just report life to.

SF girls

I ended up having to start over with local women.  It doesn't mean I don't still meet up with my used-to-be-friends every year for a weekend together.  Or that we don't call when the big things happen.  But it means I now have friends to call for the small stuff.  The small stuff that actually feels more important on a day-to-day basis.

So by all means, love those used-to-be women for the history they hold and the way they make you feel known, and by all means stay in touch with them!  But I invite you to own the fact that your loneliness may be your hearts way of saying “I would like some women who can journey with me more regularly.”

And perhaps 1-2 of them can step into that role. I called up one of the women in this circle for me a few years ago, told her how much I missed her and asked if we could schedule a weekly standing phone call to live life together a bit more.

But maybe that's not enough.  Maybe you still need new friends?

But either way, don’t confuse who used to be your best friend with the fact that you might need additional ones (or rekindled ones?) in that place now.

How Friendships Can Contribute to the Power Vs. Likability Conundrum

"Women can be powerful. Women can be likable.  Being both is hard to do." says Fortune editor Patricia Sellers in her post this last week, "Facing Up to the Female Power Conundrum." My Own Power Struggle

I totally resonate with this battle. And it's not just a theoretical fear.  From experience, I know that as others perceive me in leadership, power or influence that my relationships more frequently have experienced jealousy, competition & criticism. As a people-pleaser, it's a temptation to choose popularity at the expense of my power.

On Friday, I spent part of the day in a coffee shop with a girlfriend of mine.  Part of our conversation centered around a workshop we had both attended last weekend where six of us participants went through a process of discovering our essence.  While hard to explain, it's basically stripping away all the titles, identities and things we do for others to land on a handful of phrases that captures who we truly are.  An acorn has the essence of an oak tree-- that which it is meant to become.

The hardest part of that workshop for me was owning how powerful my essence feels.  For me, standing in that group and stating my essence was really difficult (even though they all validated and pushed me to see what they saw.)  It felt presumptuous, vain, bold and big.

The little voice of my critic kept whispering "Who do you think you are to say those things about yourself?"

I was raised being told that I could be anything I wanted, but somewhere along the way I received messages that it wasn't acceptable to look like I wanted it. Rather, I felt like others celebrated false modesty, encouraged giving all credit to others, expected me to undersell my contributions and wanted me to pretend I didn't care for ambition and accomplishment.

To be truthful, I know I have a greater power and force than I am currently owning. My fear? As the article nailed on the head: losing likability.

The Role of Friendship in the Power Conundrum

There is still a huge difference between how we perceive men in power versus women in power.  And it would be easy to point to men as the obstacle to us owning our power, but in my experience it is definitely more my relationships with other women that will influence whether I step into my ambition.  Apparently, both genders have a harder time liking women in power as much as we like men in power.  But I'll argue that women have a stronger influence in empowering or preventing other women from having to choose one or the other.

Two years ago, sitting in the living room of a girlfriends home, she read us all the famous Marianne Williamson quote:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."

And we sat in a circle, vowing to each other that we would rise to the occasion of being women who would contribute to all of us being our best.  It was powerful, to say the least. And now for two years they have proven that to be true. We have all chosen repeatedly, and it's not always our first impulse, to cheer for each other even if it makes us jealous and taps our own desires. But we hold to the belief that when she wins it will inspire my own wins.  It's not an either-or where only one of us gets what we hope.

The role of a friend is to remind us that we will both applaud each others happiness, not just our own.

Choose Both & Let your Friends Choose Both.

I can only hope that in the GirlFriendCircles.com community that we will continue to try to be women who show up in ways that prove that the choice doesn't have to be between likability and accomplishment. We may not be able to solve the media bias or bring equality per se, but in our own small way, we can offer each other friendship that can be sustained through whatever ambitions we each choose to chase. If we cheer for each other, we will at least know we are liked among those who know us.

On Friday, my girlfriend modeled this.  She is pushing me to trust that whatever I step into, she is going to be there. So while I totally understand the power struggle that women feel, here is one girl who isn't being forced to choose only one.

I will choose to own both my power and keep my friends.

Oprah's Tears Encourage Our Friendships

While Oprah Winfrey is generally the one asking the questions, we've long known she's also wise in answering them. In Barbara Walters "Ten Most Fascinating People" special last Thursday, Oprah reflected on her life, her 25 years hosting the national Oprah show, her relationships and her legacy. The segment from that interview that seems to be garnering the headlines is the fact that Oprah teared up, requesting a tissue. And while teasers mentioning the lesbian rumors are effective for causing viewers to stay tuned, that would be missing the point of the tears.

Oprah Cries in Talking About BFF, Gayle Oprah's most emotional moment in the one-hour special came when asked to talk about her friendship with Gayle King. Barbara acknowledged how all women want, but few seem to have, the kind of friendship these two women share.

And in typical Oprah fashion, her reflections revealed three poignant lessons about womens friendship that must be fostered if we want friendships to mature.

  1. To Want Her Happiness: According to Oprah, Gayle has cheered for her success from the very beginning, celebrating Oprah's achievements with joy. "She was even happier than I was in those moments," said an awed Oprah. All of us want our friends to be happy, few of us want them to be happier than us.

    It is far too tempting for most of us to live from a place of jealousy, envy or competition. When we are discontent with our own lives, it is far easier to devalue others or begrudge them their joy than to take responsibility in finding our own contentment. Therefore, all too often the voice of fear we listen to says: If I'm overweight, I don't want you to become thin. If I'm single, I will feel worse if you find the love of your life. If my kids are causing heartache, it is simply too much to be happy for you that yours are making straight A's. If I hate my job, it becomes more difficult to cheer for you when you start your dream company.

    To live with a worldview that believes there is enough goodness in this world for both of us fosters friendship.

  2. To Log the Hours: A classic line in the interview was "For all the therapy I didn't have. For all the therapy I don't need, it is because of the thousands of hours in talking with Gayle." Both women could be amazing, healthy, joy-full women but if they weren't putting in the time, sharing their lives with one another then an intimate friendship they would never have.

    Only familiarity breeds friendship. It's why friendship felt easier in school or work--the regularity with which we saw the same people helped us feel closer. Now, with so many of us working from home, devoting our attention to our children and moving frequently, we have to be diligent to carve out the time to put in the hours for that friendship to develop.

    To live in such a way that we schedule consistent time to share life together in meaningful ways ensures intimacy in our friendships.

  3. To Affirm the Role: Oprah loves Gayle, no doubt about it: "She is the mother I never had. She is the sister every person would want. She is the friend everyone deserves. I don't know a better person." But when asked what provoked the tears after this statement, it was because Oprah questioned whether she had really told Gayle how much she meant.

    Amazing how easy it is to go through life assuming people know what an impact they have on us. And yet, as is true for most any worthwhile thing in life, it's not the attaining of something that is as hard as the keeping of it. Affirming people for their contributions, influence and inspiration in our lives bonds us more to the people we admire.

    To live with gratitude for the people who choose to journey with us shows that we see them for who they are in our lives.

Oprah has made her billions, given her millions and arguably changed the lives of just as many, but we'd be remiss to not notice that her tears were reserved for those she loved: Stedman and Gayle. May she inspire you to find your voice, live your best self and contribute to the world. But may her tears also inspire you to foster the friendships that matter along the way.