Healthy friendships are a common focus for my clients of all ages. Here are a handful of things we discuss in therapy that might be helpful for you or a friend you know.
My clients range from ages 10 to 72 and they all talk about friends. They have meaningful friendships which offer support and compassion. They have difficulties with making new friends. They practice skills to help them mend and maintain relationships with existing friends. They grieve the loss of friendships or even the thought of what a friendship might have evolved into… They work through pain their friends have caused them. Sometimes they even choose to separate themselves from friends who do not provide the best environments for my clients to heal, grow, and make the changes they want with their lives. Needless to say, healthy friendships are a common goal for my clients and there are a handful of things we discuss in therapy that might be helpful for you or a friend you know… or want to know!
1) NOTICE HOW YOU FEEL WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Do you enjoy the moments you have with your friends? Do you feel anxious or worried? Are you distracted by your to-do list or other thoughts? If you do notice this, gently redirect your focus to the moment. Hear your friends. Be present. Notice how you are feeling. Give yourself permission to enjoy the here and now and get to those thoughts at a more appropriate time.
Do you feel put-down or devalued? If this becomes a pattern within a particular friendship do you feel safe to talk to them about it? You deserve to have friends who uplift you and are not mean, so it might also be helpful to set a boundary between yourself and friends who put you down. At Heartland Therapy Connection we help clients decide and practice ways to do this while respecting themselves and others (see remaining tips below), so please connect with us if this sounds like something that would be helpful for you!
2) IT’S OKAY TO SAY “NO.”
Healthy relationships involve healthy boundaries. Sometimes you may want to say “no” and your friends can be respectful of that even if they feel disappointed. Being in touch with your own comfort level and your own feelings can help alert you to times when you might need a break.
3) COMMUNICATE BOUNDARIES CLEARLY.
Assuming your friends are mind-readers and can understand your needs without you communicating them is not helpful. Communicating your needs assertively helps others understand you better. Assertive communication skills involve mutually respecting yourself and the other person, clearly and concisely making your point, and remaining mindful of how you are coming across to the other person. Are your arms uncrossed? Are you giving the other person appropriate eye-contact? Is the expression on your face approachable? Are you confused about what you are trying to say in the moment? They might be confused too, so ask for clarification or provide clarification if warranted.
4) USE “SORRY” AND “THANK YOU” ACCURATELY.
Are you saying “sorry” as a placeholder word or phrase? Are you apologizing for things that are outside of your control or things you do not intend to change? Is it meaningful when you say sorry? Sometimes a more appropriate response to something not going a friend’s way or not going as you intended is a “thank you.” You may have heard, “Thank you for your patience” or “Thank you for waiting” as alternative responses to being “sorry” for being late. Sorry can be reserved for more intentional moments when you have made a mistake as opposed to moments that unexpectedly do not go as planned and you assume it is your “fault.” Hearing “thank you for __” is also more reinforcing for your friends who get to feel appreciated rather than inconvenienced.
5) COMPARING YOUR GRIEF OR LOSS TO OTHERS’ IS NOT FAIR TO YOURSELF.
Some losses come with stereotypical responses we expect based on movies and cultural norms. We expect mothers to be devastated by the loss of their children. We expect families to comfort a person whose spouse passed away. But the truth is, grief looks different for everyone. Loss applies to friendships, budding romances, divorces, job opportunities, health status, pets, and so much more.
You deserve to feel grief in as many ways as comes naturally to you (shock, anger, numbness, hyper-focus on your responsibilities and own survival, sadness, etc.). There is no limit to these responses and no “right” way to react. However, if your reaction or lack thereof is inhibiting your life in some way (avoidance of close relationships, distracting you from your responsibilities for an extended period of time, inability to experience happiness, etc.) then you may need help processing your loss. As therapists, we provide support and options to cope which may help clients grieve and incorporate their loss into a meaningful future.
If you could use help in your life in any of these areas or more, please reach out to schedule an appointment or FREE consultation with myself or one of our other highly-trained therapists to find out more about how we can help you. Visit our contact webpage or call us at 816-287-0252. We believe we are all #betterconnected and hope to hear from you soon!