Sunday, August 9, 2015

Defining Friendship

I don't know a lot of about social etiquette. I don't have a buzzing social life, and I don't do girl's night out. I forget to do simple things like say hello, or goodbye to people. I am moderately faceblind, so I will walk right past people I've known for years in a public place leaving to look like a space case at best, and a snob at worst.

I don't know a lot about having a lot of friends, but I know a lot about being a good friend, and what constitutes a quality friendship.

It has taken me many years to define what a good friend is, and I am still learning. One big trap that I get caught in is that I am very eager to open up my resources to almost anyone in need. I will spend hours talking to a friend in crisis, or spending the little money that I have on making a cheer up package for them. It's always been part of my personality to share what I have. In grade school this was rarely a good thing. Kids would ask to cut in line, for my food, for my money, or my seat and I'd almost always give it to them. I'd not hesitate. If they were asking they must need it more than me, and I'd always assume that they'd return the favor when I was in need. Obviously, that was not what happened, but I really didn't learn from it. Instead, the lesson I'd take to heart was that there must be something wrong with me as to why others didn't treat me with the same respect as I did them. Every time something happened where I was taken advantage of, or left out in some way it would chip away at my self-esteem a little bit more. I'd give more of myself away than before in hopes that it would somehow raise how worthy I was for friendship. I was setting myself up for failure. I was also letting other's behavior define my worth.

I still find myself doing this as an adult. It's been a hard habit to break. I don't necessarily think most people take advantage of me now in a purposeful way. Not in the way that they used to. I think it's far too often that people are more willing to take support than to give it.  When a crisis, or loss hits it is really uncomfortable for another person to be able to sit with you, and support you. Big emotions are hard to deal with, and it takes someone who has a well defined, strong character to tolerate maintaining a friendship during uncomfortable moments. What I mean by maintaining is actually playing an active role in the friendship. What I don't mean is staying
on the sidelines, and waiting for your friend to get back to being their regular selves before becoming involved again. One time years ago after I suffered a great loss someone who I  thought was a very close friend said she hadn't tried to call, or anything for a few weeks, because she thought I needed space to deal with things. That is exactly what I mean by staying on the sidelines. What separates a good friend from a best friend is a good friend will come around when they think they're in the clear for having to be involved with difficult situations. A best friend is one that contacts you immediately when they become aware of your situation. The latter is very hard to find in life. Very hard.

The problem is, there has to be some kind of crisis situation to find out which of those two categories your friends are. When you need a friend the most is when they'll be the scarcest, but the one or two that come around will be of the best quality, and quality always wins over quantity.

I ran into a bit of a crisis the other day when I had a meltdown. I know that is not a big crisis, and it is a temporary one, but it is a very, very big deal to the person who is experiencing it. Oftentimes, having the right support at the right time makes a big difference in how long the meltdown will last, and how bad the effects will follow you. A very bad reaction can follow an autistic person for years. A very good one can shorten a meltdown, and build trust. Ignoring a friend while they're melting down, and asking for help builds shame, because it often feels like you're being judged by people who are unwilling to reassure you.

The response I received was not what I expected. I began to question myself, and doubt myself as if I were 11 years old again. I kept trying to figure out what people were thinking about me, and what their silence meant. I felt wrong, and like a total misfit. Then, I realized that I was basing my self-worth once again on other people's behavior, which says more about them than it does me. I need to keep focusing on my goals, and protect my resources while not becoming jaded, because that leads to bitterness, and that is the last thing I want to be.

A strong friend is worth their weight in gold. They don't have to be rich, perfect, successful, or have it all together. All you need to possess to be a strong, supportive friend is empathy.A willingness to feel uncomfortable emotions with your friend for no other reason than to share your friend's burden in their time of need.


10 comments:

  1. Very true...excellent thoughts on friendship. I count myself very blessed to have a best friend who meets those requirements...having her its less of a need to meet with anyone else's needs...but I used to fill everyone around me with gifts, words and time...till I got so sick and slowly learned boundaries in cognitive therapy over a 5 year period- I can safely say I am fairly good at boundaries now but I still have my heart thud when I have to implement them...and I have become more of a happy hermit....u are right in empathy and funny thing is some of my favourite friends online and offline are Aspies who defy the stupid medical definition of our "capabilities" with empathy...we just express differently...as I see in your post you were always very empathetic (almost like me when i was so much I felt others pain too much) I am glad you are valuing your path too. this was such an encouraging post:) thank u for sharing it.

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    1. Thank you both for your wise and helpful words. I've been thinking sooooooooo much about boundaries. I am not naturally good at them nore do I understand them; while I try to keep my impact on others low and humble, I find others' opinions and emotional states impact me enormously. Working on that!!!!! Coming from an abusive and toxic family, my friends, in particular my best friend, have basically saved my life. AND they understand when i need to retreat etc. Love,

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    2. if you ever want a good book on the topic that is clear and convincing that really helped me in counselling - Necessary Endings by Henry Cloud. Also Brene Browns Gifts of Imperfection was AMAZING at self love and boundaries! Changed my life:) I understand what you mean...it is a struggle when so many things impact us so deeply

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    3. Boundaries are so important. I have learned a lot about them, and have learned to set them, but have not learned how to do so with myself. I almost sabatoge myself in that I put myself out there in a very volunteer type of manner to be helpful to others, and somehow assuming they'll turn around, and do the same for me, even when that was not necessarily the deal.I think I push through to make a friendship sometimes more than it is.By not letting it naturally develop it doesn't hold the strength it should. It's artificial, and I'm needing the real thing.

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  2. Wow, such great words. Your words about how others' responses or reactions to your meltdowns can stay with you for years reminds me of how I need to support my autistic friends and colleagues when they go through moments like you describe in your prior post. Thanks for being so open and helpful with your writing.

    And I know those who have you as a friend are fortunate :)

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  3. Beautifully expressed <3 (((Hugs)))

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  4. The timing of this is amazing. I really needed to hear someone else's perspective on this topic. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. Thanks for reading! I'm glad you found it helpful.

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