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New & Improved!

Let Me Be Me is now The Art of Friendship!

Take  a look and see what you think.

“Tears are words from the heart that can’t be spoken.”

I’ve spent extended time with two close girl friends from my childhood recently. We were in the preschool Sunday School class together.  E and J know me from when I was loud and bossy.  They made fun of me, I made fun of them, we made up.

After church, we spent Sunday afternoons together making movies and inventing new worlds. We graduated from high school at the same time, we got married and now have kids near the same age.

This last week I shared with both of them details about a terrible time in my past, when something happened to me that I cannot recover. I know it means growth in me that I can breach the subject out loud, with someone other than my therapist. I know it means I trust them and that they’re good friends.

In some ways it’s easier to write cryptically on blogs for thousands than to share privately with one friend.  Do you know the feeling of sharing something terrible and being heard?

The day I found the courage to share what I know with close, trusted friends was the day I found healing soaking further into my heart.

Both E and J responded as good, long-time friends now how, intuitively, naturally, with full-hearts.

They listened with their eyes growing wide, they asked few questions, they tried to understand and then, they wept.

I do still, sometimes, cry over this, but I’ve invested enough tears and thought, prayer and therapy to not feel teary-eyed as I watched them reach for some tissues.

I sat beside them watching them cry and knowing they were entering my pain and discovering that I felt like my heart was healing with their tears. It reminded me of Rapunzel’s tears in Tangled.

Tears from friends–I believe they have God-given magical power.

“Faithful friends are a shelter. Whoever has found one has found a treasure.  Faithful friends are beyond price.

No amount can match their worth.  Faithful friends are the elixir of life, and those who fear the Lord will find them”

(Ecc 6:14-17 paraphrased by Elaine Storkey).

So far, in our Tough Cookie Series we have taken a look at The Demanding FriendThe Unaware FriendThe Disappearing Friend and The Unforgiving Friend, The Guilting Friend.  We’ll close with the Confusing Friend.

With the Olympics these last few weeks I’ve noticed how meaningful each country’s anthem, played in their language, feels to the gold medalist. They suddenly hear their language, unique and special to their identity.

In friendship, we all speak a language unique to us. And our family of origin or our spouse know it better than anyone else. The key to good friendships is finding someone who wants to learn our language. And I’m not just talking about love language, I’m talking about the specific words we use that mean something nuanced to me or you.

When my husband and I find our son with a tummy ache, our first response is, “I’m sorry.”  This is our family’s way of saying “I’m sad you are in pain. I wish I could make it better.”

But that’s just our family. When our babysitter hangs out with our son, she was intrigued that a two year old is so quick to say, “I’m sorry.” She’s surprised that he tells her, “I’m sorry,” when she scratches her arm on the hike.

She and most of the world use “I’m sorry,” to communicate personal responsibility in the pain.  But in our family it means something different.

This doesn’t mean that the way we use, “I’m sorry” is the right way.  It is simply our shorthand to empathize.

We all have ways to communicate unique to us, our language. But to others this dialect can feel confusing.

The longer you walk with a close friend the more chances you’ll have to face their confusing side.

We communicate one thing, but our friend hears something else.  The only way out of confusing-ness is to learn how to communicate, not necessarily better, but more appropriately. Friendship is nothing if not learning another language.

Each friendship gives us new ways to communicate. In the end we’ll both know another language.

Friendship is one way immersion. Each friendship is a two-way language course, with new confusing ways of communication crossing and hopefully forcing each of us to stop and evaluate how to communicate better. We’ll both leave changed, not just one of us.

If your friend requires you to do all the language learning and has not learned your ways of communicating, guess what?

You’re being treated as a foreigner in your friend’s country with no emotional culture or language to share.  Instead you need to be acting as two sojourners traveling to each other’s countries.

Sometimes it’s easier to spot these foreigner friends in other situations than in our friendships.  You see the mother who requires her child to fit into her life from food to bedtime to travel. She makes no accommodation for her child’s sleep schedule or eating needs. The child’s language is being erased by the mother’s. Or you see the mother who terminates all her work, interests and outside-the-home hobbies for her child. She forgets what used to make her feel alive, she stops having friendships outside of her children’s friend’s parents. She loses her own language for her child’s.

Both mothers are losing something precious.

The same with friendships. We each have friends who have required that we learn their language. The question that is key is how have your friends learned yours? How have you asked them to change their communication for your needs?

If your friend asks you to text her back immediately to show you care, how have you (say you’re an introvert) explained that you feel close when your friend doesn’t expect to see you each week. How has your friend learned your language enough to respect and speak your language (maybe an email instead of demanding a get-together each week).

Confusing friends are normal, but one-way confusion leads, inevitably, to an imperialistic relationship.  We don’t want to be the colony that our friend takes over and remakes her image.  We all need to know that our language, even if it at first feels like confusing communication, is cared about enough for someone to learn our native tongue.

But if you find yourself learning lots of new languages with your friends, but not seeing your friend’s learning your language… it’s time to find a better friends.

Good friends want to know how to speak with you, in your language. And they will make the effort to keep trying, even if their pronunciation is off and their grammar silly.

They will try because they think you are worth it.

I am reading a book I highly recommend, The Gifts of Imperfection, by Brene Brown.  Brown is a researcher and educator that lives in Houston, Texas and her work on shame and vulnerability is both needed and valuable.  View it for yourself in her TED presentation (definitely worth watching!) or begin stepping your way through her words.

As we wrap up Let Me Be Me and transition into our new, punchy website (out in September!), this August Tidbit focuses on what it means to Be Me.  Only certain types of friendships offer us safe places for “me to be me”,  to say what I really think, be afraid, try new things, to disagree, cry, or admit things I am ashamed about…to be authentic.

What does that mean: be authentic?  Brown makes these statements about authenticity:

…in order for connection to happen, we have to allow ourselves to be seen, really seen. (TED)

…authenticity is not something we have or don’t have.  It’s a practice – a conscious choice of how we want to live.  Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day.  It’s about the choice to show up and be real.  The choice to be honest.  The choice to let our true selves be seen.

The idea that we can choose authenticity makes most of us feel both hopeful and exhausted.  We feel hopeful because being real is something we value…We feel exhausted because without even giving it too much thought, most of us know that choosing authenticity in a culture that dictates everything from how much we’re supposed to weigh to what our houses are supposed to look like is a huge undertaking.

As many of us hope for friendships that are safe and accepting, Brown’s words are an encouraging reminder that we all struggle with authenticity, with vulnerability, with showing our true heart, with allowing someone else to see.  And she’s definitely right about one thing –  it is a choice.

photo credit: Sally H. Falwell

So far, in our Tough Cookie Series we have taken a look at The Demanding Friend, The Unaware Friend, The Disappearing Friend and The Unforgiving Friend.  In August, we begin with The Guilting Friend.

Pack Your Bags, We’re Going on A Guilt Trip.

Have you ever felt like this is someone’s motto?  Or that you suffer under so much guilt that there is a stack of heavy emotional luggage by your front door?

Guilt is an emotion.  It has a specific place in our lives and is appropriate at certain times.  Guilt is the feeling we have when we have done something wrong or failed in an obligation.

Feeling guilt is like carrying a heavy suitcase.  Once you have this suitcase, you have to carry it wherever you go until you can get rid of it.  So, as you can imagine, carrying around guilt is a burdensome task that most of us try to shed quickly, even if it means we welcome another negative emotion like anger, bitterness or resentment.

There are two ways guilt shows up in friendships:

  1. You use guilt to motivate others.
  2. You respond to guilt used by others.

Why Does Guilting Work?

Living inside discomfort and awkwardness is very challenging.  I question myself, I feel alone, I feel sad and afraid.  Knowing that I have upset someone, knowing that someone does not approve of me and what I have chosen, knowing that these feelings won’t go away until I give in…that is why guilting works.

When I put my well-being, my happiness, my self-esteem into my friend’s hand, she becomes responsible for me.  Instead of me being responsible for me.  So, if I do something she does not like or say “no” to something she asks or wants, the way she responds to me determines what I do next.  This means she has more control over the flavor of my mood and my daily happiness than I do (because I gave it to her).

  • I change my schedule to accommodate her, otherwise she will be upset.
  • I say “yes” to too many activities when I know I do not have the time. I don’t want to argue about it.
  • I include a friend on all my activities because she makes me feel guilty if I don’t.
  • I don’t say what I really think and feel to avoid feeling guilty about hurting someone’s feelings.

The Removal Of Love, Approval or Affection

Two common responses when someone does not do what we would like for them to do is to remove something they find valuable or attacking the person’s character.  So, until my friend says yes to my subtle demand, I might

  • withdraw my love, affection or availability from her.
  • withdraw my approval so that she questions her actions/decisions.
  • put an edge in my voice or become a bit icy so that she feels the coldness of my behavior to her.
  • show my disapproval in my facial expressions, nonverbal language (sighs, huffs, raised eye brows, eye rolling).

If I can hurt her enough with my words, then I have succeeded in making her question herself enough so that her “no” turns to a “yes”.  My criticism is strong enough to hit her in a spot that makes her feel insecure or disappointing.

  • You are so ___________. (forgetful, selfish).

Dealing With A Guilting Friend

One of the best ways to deal with a friend who uses guilt is to begin with yourself.

It is easy to fall prey to guilt so that I can find quick relief from being alone, shunned, emotionally punished, shamed or hurt.  However, there is a cost to my giving in, a high cost.

When I give in and act out of guilt, I give small parts of myself away to this person.  Inside, my heart and my spirit lose stability because I have not stuck to my no, my instincts, my own wants, desires, beliefs – I have set those aside to avoid feeling guilty.  So I gain relief from guilt, but forfeit self-respect.

There are a few things to do within a friendship like this:

  • Practice.  The more you practice handling difficult feelings while honoring who you are, the easier it gets.  You also become more aware of when guilt and manipulation are used to get you to do what someone else wants.
  • Make sure you have healthy friends that encourage honesty and balance in a relationship.  A friendship like this allows each person to speak their honest thoughts and works with a “No” answer.
  • Honestly evaluate this friendship.  Without honesty and balance, is this really a friendship?  Is this a place you feel honored, encouraged and accepted?
  • Be aware of where you falter.  We all have weak moments and give in to being guilted.  Review the situation, have someone to talk to that can support you as you practice.
  • Confront.  We grimace at this and the discomfort it can bring, but talking to your friend is one way to keep the relationship honest.

The Lighter Suitcase

To take responsibility for my own okay-ness is a bigger task than most people think.  It means that I do not use guilt to motivate people to take care of me, but that I accept who and what they are right at that moment.  Even if I disagree or wish I could get my way, even if they withdraw their love or approval, I hold onto who I am. This is hard and often challenges me to actively withstand someone being unhappy or disapproving.

When I am not “for sale” and there is no haggling over my choices, I am free to be responsible for my own happiness.  I do not give anyone else the responsibility of keeping me happy, secure, whole.  My own actions help me lighten the  load in my friendships, allowing me to be me, you to be you in a space full of safety, openness, goodness, forgiveness and acceptance.

I was shopping at an antique gallery in Los Angeles when the owner, who I’d know from years previous, came up.

She complimented my hair and called the women surrounding her (clients? employees?) and said, “Look at her hair, it is sooooo cute, isn’t it?!”

Photo Credit: Nina Leen, 1947

I don’t like being called cute, and I don’t like being a spectacle.

She started talking about her new paintings, and what she could do for me and I barely could contain my annoyance.

This is one of the types of women I just don’t like. I don’t want to be around people who aren’t genuine good listeners. And I just wanted her to leave me alone.

I escaped and started browsing for things on my list, feeling vaguely disappointed in myself.

I needed my husband’s artistic ideas before purchasing a few items so I called him and settled down into a corner where the hopefully  no one would find me.

I opened my book and read,

“Marriage partners (or friends) either call order and beauty out of chaos or intensify chaos.” (Intimate Allies by Dan Allendar, which I have not read, but which was quoted in: Sacred Unions, Sacred Passions: Engaging the Mystery of Friendship Between Men and Women by Dan Brennan, a book I’ve suggested all my friends buy).

Friends notice their friend’s beauty. They call out order; they see goodness.

What beauty was I missing in the antique dealer?

Why couldn’t I see any good in her?

Why didn’t I even want to try?

I was calling out chaos in her.

My husband and son arrived in a matter of minutes.  We started looking around and the owner spotted my son, “Is that your son?” she wanted to know.

“Yes!” I couldn’t help smiling because of how she was smiling. “He is so beautiful.”

I paused.

She was willing to see beauty.

I tried again with her, smiling into her eyes and willing myself to notice order and goodness.

It doesn’t come naturally, but it’s beautiful when we try.

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