Friendships

Why we protect our family unnecessarily, preventing real intimacy (and how to stop it)

 

I remember being bullied as a child and telling my parents for the first time. I was only five years old but I could plainly see how sad they were and how much it hurt them to know I was in pain. I told them several times after that but I soon learnt to protect them from my pain in an effort to spare them of theirs. When I had my breakdown as a result of chronic untreated depression I knew that I had to be honest with them about what I was going through and I’m so glad I was. For the first time in years they knew what I was going through and were in a position to empathise, help, comfort and support me. As a result of being honest with them our bond became stronger, deeper and our connection was more authentic.

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How to Forgive Your Friends

If you’ve ever had one of your friends hurt you, you will know it can be heart wrenching. One of the best ways to open the door to forgiveness is to try to understand the person better, taking into account everything your friend was going through at the time and how he or she must have felt. Remember that your friends are only human and they have flaws just like everyone else.

 

The issue of forgiveness is a very complex one but ultimately when we forgive someone release the pain and resentment we are harbouring – this is very liberating and makes what is often a hard process worthwhile.

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When do you need to say sorry? (and why it’s important to know)

As I’ve grown older I’ve realized that there are many ways someone can say sorry. Growing up I often thought of an apology as an outright admission of guilt and wrongdoing but I’ve learnt that there are many shades of grey. Of course you can say an outright apology and accept complete blame but it’s also possible to honestly assess the role you had to play in the conflict and apologize for your part.

 

Did you speak insensitively or in anger? Were you sarcastic or passive aggressive? Did you intentionally hurt them when you were upset? Did you ignore them?

 

According to Gary Chapman and Jennifer Thomas there are five different types of apology we can offer and often when we don’t offer all five the recipient of the apology may not value or recognize the sincerity behind the ‘I’m sorry’. The five different types of apology are:

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How to Be Healthily Vulnerable in Friendships (and why it matters)

In recent years I’ve come to learn that being vulnerable takes a considerable amount of strength and courage. In my twenties I would often hide behind my smile during times of depression and laugh and joke as if nothing were wrong. Not only did this add to my feeling of isolation but it inadvertently harmed my friendships because  I didn’t give my friends the opportunity to connect with who I truly was or what I was going through. On reflection, this left little room for an authentic, deep bond between us.

 

Since my breakdown in 2009 I realised that this coping mechanism wasn’t working for me at all and I started to become more open with my friends with how I was feeling. It was very scary at first to be so vulnerable but almost immediately I felt lighter and deeply loved and comforted by my friends. It was a truly liberating experience to finally take off my mask. As a result of this simple but significant shift my friendships grew and the bonds I had with my friends became deeper because I had been brave enough to expose my core self.

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Three Thoughtful Behaviors which Your Friends will Thank You For

One of the most kind things we can do for our friends is to be thoughtful towards them. For example, when one of my friends was really sad and having a hard time adjusting to living in America after moving from the UK I decided to put together a happiness gift pack, with ‘The Happiness Project’, ‘Happier at Home’, some pampering toiletries and a ‘5 Year Gratitude Journal’. Below are three ways that we can show thoughtfulness towards our friends.

 

Buy Meaningful Gifts

 

When ever I have been low or have had something in my life which was important to me I have been lucky enough to have friends who have shared in my joys and supported me through my pain. When I had my breakdown in 2009 two of my best friends visited me in the facility I was staying in and bought me treats – this was incredibly supportive and showed me that no matter what I was going through my friends were there for me. Likewise when I had one of my articles published in Cosmopolitan magazine South Africa another one of my best friends sent me flowers to congratulate me. It is these thoughtful acts which deeply impact and nourish friendships.

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Three Ways to Be Supportive Towards Your Friends

Being supportive towards our friends is important as it builds trust, strengthens our bond and helps us during times of stress when our demands in life are high and our resources are low. There are many ways we can offer support towards our friends, below are just three ways we can help our friends during life’s trials.

 

Words of encouragement and hope

 

It is one of the most basic human needs to have hope for the future. In times of despair one of the best ways we can be thoughtful towards others is to lift them up by offering encouragement and hope. Words can be very powerful and the act of encouraging your friends can give them hope for a better future, empowering them to make positive changes which will improve their lives.

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Three Ways to Increase Empathy and Enhance Your Friendships

One of the most fundamental building blocks for any great friendship is empathy – the ability to see things from others perspectives and understand their emotions, conflicts and struggles. Below are just five ways that you can enhance your empathy, thereby improving your friendships.

 

Help others whenever you can

 

We are all given unique strengths and abilities which we can use to help others. I have often been complimented on my resume, and I have offered to help many of my friends with theirs. I help homeless people by giving them food, treating them with dignity and listening to them. One of my strengths is organizing and so I’m planning one of my best friends baby showers.

 

There are so many ways we can help others and in doing so, not only do we reap the rewards of increased self-esteem, happiness and fulfillment but we also learn to place ourselves in others positions, cultivating a greater level of compassion, kindness and empathy.

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The memory game: How to remember what’s important to your friends

If you follow Accessible Psychology you know that I used to be bullied for many years when I was younger. Though I have completely recovered from that time in my life the traumatic experience has negatively impacted my memory, as most trauma almost always does. One of the best ways I have found to overcome my bad memory is to keep a diary listing everything I want to remember, including appointments, to do lists and texting or calling friends. If you struggle to remember the finer details of your friends’ lives, take heart, you’re not alone and it certainly needn’t mean you don’t care! Thankfully I created what I now call ‘The Memory Game’ to remember what is important to my friends and it’s proven invaluable.

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How to enhance friendships by listening intently so your friends feel valued and understood

Most people want to feel valued and understood, especially by their friends. Whilst I haven’t always agreed with my friends opinions, I have always tried to understand their perspective. When we listen intently to our friends and seek to understand them on a deeper level, both intellectually in terms of their rational and emotionally, we develop greater intimacy with them and strengthen trust. Below are just some of the ways you can show your friends you are listening intently, thereby enhancing your friendship.

 

  • Use positive body language: Tilting your head to the side, mirroring their body language and pointing your feet in their direction all indicate an interest in what is being said and that you are actively listening.

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How to strengthen friendships by showing an active interest in your friends lives

Everyone wants to feel like their friends are interested in their lives and share in their emotional journey. In my happiest moments my friends happiness for me has been a source of encouragement, serving to cement the fact that my friends care deeply for me. Likewise in my saddest moments my friends concern for me was comforting and allowed me to feel supported and not alone. Below are just some of the ways you can show your friends you are interested in their lives and invested in their happiness.

 

  • The memory game: Ask them questions about what is going on for them and note down any important dates in your diary to call, text or see them in person, so you can follow up on what happened and offer your support, be there to listen or share in their joy.

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