By Diane Ako
I recently read an article in the New York Times about President Obama's friendships. The story talks about the importance of childhood friendships - "High school friends who predate adulthood and professional attainments often know each other’s siblings, parents, even grandparents — and know each other in a way that later friends often cannot."
It got me thinking about my circle of friends, in which many are from my school days. I have a group of girlfriends that I've hung out with since seventh grade. I have other friends that I'm still actively in communication with who I met when I was eight. It's comfortable in a way that does feel very different from the relationships formed post-college.
Then I came across a study that claims most Americans (75 percent!) are not satisfied with their friendships; 63 percent lack confidence in even their closest friends; and almost half of us would choose to have deeper friendships rather than more friends.
Those are the findings of a new study, The State of Friendship in America 2013, by Lifeboat Friends at Their Best and Sea Change Strategies and Edge Research.
“Strong, trusting friendships are crucial to our sense of peace, happiness and well-being,” says Dawna Hetzler, a speaker, women’s mentor (and mentoree), and author of the new book, “Walls of a Warrior: Conquering the Fears of Our Hearts” (www.DawnaHetzler.com).
“But many of us, women in particular, build so many walls around our hearts to protect ourselves, we can never open ourselves to all the possible relationships we could have. Or, we do allow some people in, but we keep them at arm’s length.”
Strong friendships do make us happier, according to the new study. Forty-nine percent of people with seven or more close friends strongly agreed that they feel happy most of the time, while only 24 percent of people with just one good friend, and 19 percent with no friends, could say the same.
“You have to know and trust a person before you allow them into your heart, because when you open yourself up, you become vulnerable,” says Hetzler. “We all build walls to protect ourselves from hurt, fear, rejection, disapproval and other painful emotions, and that’s natural. Some walls are healthy. But the invisible walls we’re often not even aware of prevent us from experiencing the honest, real relationships that can benefit us in so many ways.”
Hetzler shares some of what she learned working with Jericho Girls, the women’s group she founded that focuses on dismantling unhealthy walls:
· First, identify the walls you have. We build walls in response to many things – real and perceived threats, fears, conditioning, rejection, Hetzler says. Many of us put up walls to hide our weaknesses; if you have trouble asking for help, this may be you! Jericho Girls members learned that acknowledging and being honest about their weaknesses allowed them to grow stronger. And that asking for help from friends offers those friends the gratification of giving. Making a list of your walls and understanding why they’re there is a good place to start the process.
· If the wall is unhealthy, identify the steps necessary to dismantle it. Sometimes we erect walls to protect ourselves from ourselves, Hetzler notes. “One of my walls revolved around being needed too much,” she says. “I tend to take on a lot, then exhaust myself getting it all done.” She realized she built a wall to prevent people from seeing that she really cannot do it all, and she pushed away those she feared might demand too much of her time and energy. She dealt with that wall by setting limits with herself and others. “I say no when I need to, which allows me to build friendships instead of pushing people away.”
· Arm yourself with words of inspiration. Powerful words help when we need positive reinforcement or reassurance when the way ahead looks scary. Hetzler has found that calling upon a quotation that she believes in provides both. “Write down the quotes or other inspiration that have great meaning for you,” she says. Each day, read one, reflect upon the meaning, pray or meditate, and contemplate the message it holds for you. “These words will stick with you, and you’ll have them to call upon when you need them,” she says.
Creating deeper, honest friendships begins with opening our hearts to others, Hetzler says.
“When you begin taking down the walls, you’ll find you’re more at peace with yourself,” she says. “And that allows you to develop the wonderful relationships that come from trust and sharing.”
I'm happy with my friends - but one can never have enough of that, so it's interesting advice to mull over! Who are the friends in your life?