I have a few good friends. I know I have the potential to create more friendships and I’m slowly learning how to be more comfortable with intimacy and vulnerability. PTSD treatment helped me understand the reasons why creating and forming healthy attachments is challenging for me. Hyper vigilance, untrusting thoughts, negative rumination, scanning for potential threats, waiting for the other shoe to drop, and the straight up fear of being known and seen, are not the ingredients for building and sustaining close, intimate relationships. Changing these attributes of PTSD takes time, patience, acceptance, and big doses of kindness towards oneself and one’s inner critic.
As I reflect back on 2017, four friendship themes rise to the surface.
Number 1: Friendships will be tested; healthy ones will last. One of the biggest obstacles in any friendship is communication. Should I be brave and really tell him/her how I’m feeling about the conflict we’re having? How many times have we weighed the risk before having the hard conversation? If a friendship is healthy it will withstand the discomfort and growing pains of a difficult exchange. It may take some time to resolve and both people may need some space to process and assess, but in the end, the friendship will either grow or wither away. It’s okay to let a friendship go. If it’s not developing in a way that is healthy then what purpose does it serve?
Number 2: Love is only one side of the coin. It’s easy for friendships to exist when both people are behaving in lovable ways. However, we all have a dark side, faults and inner programming that wreak havoc on our moods. Do I have enough inner resolve to tolerate a friend who isn’t putting their best foot forward? Can I offer acceptance and simply be present for whatever state my friend is currently in? Am I only present for them when things go smoothly, when life is easy, and fun? Does true friendship run on auto pilot?
Number 3: Be curious about the nature of your expectations. Our friends are going to disappoint us. When I reflect back on the times a friend has let me down, more often than not it’s because I have an unexpressed or unmet expectation. In fact, it’s only a perception of being let down. In actuality, I’ve created a story or melodrama in my head and I’m disappointed because a friend didn’t rise to meet my perception of how things “should” be or how they “should” go. Examine your expectations before you blame a friend for not meeting them.
Number 4: Don’t exploit, dismiss or punish vulnerability. Recently, I was in a situation with a group of friends where one of them over-reacted to something that was said. His meltdown was shocking, out of character and caught us all off guard. Clearly, he’d lost control and was embarrassed and very vulnerable. One my friends started to laugh because his reaction was so surprising. This added fuel to the fire and only made the situation worse. What my friend needed was a supportive, safe space for his temper tantrum, and the ability to express his feelings without judgement. Later, he shared with me why he reacted the way he did. He connected the dots in a way that made sense even though at the time, it was hard to understand.
I’d like to close with a poem by John O’Donohue but before I do I want to say, Happy New Year. May you be blessed with loving friendships, and above all, may you be a sweet friend to yourself.
May you be blessed with good friends,
And learn to be a good friend to yourself,
Journeying to that place in your soul where
There is love, warmth, and feeling.
May this change you.
May it transfigure what is negative, distant
Or cold within your heart.
May you be brought into real passion, kindness,
May you treasure your friends.
May you be good to them, be there for them
And receive all the challenges, truth, and light you need.
May you never be isolated but know the embrace
Of your anam cara.