Friends are so important. Now that I am making some new ones, I am realizing just how much they are important.
When you compare having friends to isolation, the comparison really stands out. When I first started this blog, I was basically living in isolation, and this was one of the first ways I started reaching out. I had just come from a place where I struggled to relate to any of my peer groups, and the more I struggled to relate, the more anxious I got, the more anxious I got the more I was outcast, and the more I was outcast the more anxious I got. It was a cycle I couldn’t cope with anymore, so, given the choice, I opted to stay at home, and not go to any social functions if I could help it.
There were some people in my last home that tried to reach out to me, but I just couldn’t really accept it – anxious about why they were doing it, and worried about relying on them too much.
I couldn’t deal with the heaping loads of guilt and flashbacks about how I had navigated a social situation, or how I had treated people, or what I had said. Until I could not stay up nights thinking about these things, I said, I wasn’t ready to go back into society.
It was a very dark time.
Now I have hiked, step by step, out of the morass of difficulties I was facing 10 years ago. And these last two years, I have made TWO NEW FRIENDS. I have also deepened and strengthened THREE OLD FRIENDSHIPS. So now I have five irl friends. (I also have several internet friendships that I really treasure. ^_^)
So here are some things I’ve noticed about why friends are important:
They are different than you. Friends bring perspective. You have enough in common with them that you can appreciate their viewpoint, but they come at situations differently than you. This helps widen your field of view. This is good for building your compassion muscle, as well as instilling hope into what may otherwise be a bleak or fraught situation.
Friends bring new voices in your life. When I was “isolating”, I still lived with my family, so I did have companionship. And I started getting on the internet and branching out, and that was also helpful. But the people I lived with still lived largest in my mind. They knew me better than anyone, so if they condemned something I did, misunderstood how I lived my life, or made me feel insignificant, it became the law I lived by, even if I disagreed.
Now, I still live with my family, but having friends and new perspectives being brought to me helps me realize that my family’s are just one of a sea of voices and perspectives. I still go to my family for advice and input, and it’s actually even more helpful now. Now a word from them is not what I live or die by. I have a support structure that includes them, not that is them.
Friends have strengths in your weaknesses, and vice versa. Friends are so cool and unique and I love that relationship so much! Because of the differences between friends, there is usually this wonderful overlap where the things you’re strong at they feel weak in, and vice versa. So you can be amazed at them for what comes naturally to them, which feels encouraging, and validating, and all manner of good. And then you can also feel stronger through their strength. And on the other side, having you around makes them feel better, and they can rely on you for things you don’t even know you’re doing!
Friends make life feel worth living. At least for me. As an INFP, understanding people, and discovering how humans work is a major drive in life. So friendship makes life feel fulfilled. So much is out of our control, and needs changing, and feels hopeless. But within your group, you could have made someone’s day, or had a good time, or made a new discovery, or been able to comfort them, or unlocked a new understanding about the world, or just shared your life… and that is everything. Even if it’s actually just a tiny, tiny, tiny bit of the world. It is everything, and I think that is how it is supposed to be.
So, as you might surmise. I love friends and friendship and growing relationships.
Now imagine feeling like I’m not allowed to like it. That to enjoy, appreciate, admire, or love friends or their relationship is wrong.
Not only wrong, but sinful – in two completely separate ways?
That was me.
Reason 1: In my last place, I had also kind of gotten into religious zealotry, believing that nothing was important if it was not of eternal importance. There was only one thing should matter to me, and that one thing was God, and if anything mattered more to me than Him I was wrong. And there was one thing I didn’t want to be – and that was wrong. I couldn’t stand the fact that I might be doing something wrong. Which is another reason I further isolated myself both phsyically and mentally – not only should other people not be important to me, but if I messed up with them, I couldn’t stand it.
I was actually even told by a parent, many years before I grabbed hold to this cultish zealotry – “Okay, we’re going to church, and you’re going to see your friends, right? But remember that is not why you are here. You are here for Jesus, not to have fun with your friends.” And if I could go back, and just completely defeat that idea I would. Because that is actually so not true – church should be fellowship, and growing together. Friends and community is the best part about religion and faith, and is what is said to be the most important thing in the Bible.
It was such an off base thing to hear and believe that community is not important because “it’s not about Jesus”, but I didn’t realize it, and I tried to be less excited to see my friends, less devoted to befriending them, and tear down my love for them whenever I saw it being built up. I couldn’t endanger our souls like that.
Redefining what I believed, and what was important to me, and just taking time to observe the world was how I walked out of this one. When I did, I was ready to go back and apologize to the people I had tried to cut out of my life, and try to start making connections.
Reason 2: As if that wasn’t terrifying enough… The real kicker was seeing my dad and his behavior. My dad, if you don’t already know, was an element of fear and terror in my life. I wanted to make sure I never did anything he did.
But through my own lack of understanding of nuance, that eliminated a lot of things. I didn’t understand there was a difference between flirting with a waitress and being warm with a stranger. I couldn’t decipher that there was a difference between getting 16 cards after a restraining order and taking up someone’s time telling them a story. I wouldn’t infer the discrepancy between empty praises and promises that stung like knives because of a history of abuse, and giving compliments and praises to a friend. (After all, I hid my fear and terror from him – my friends could all be hiding their terror of me.)
I could take my dad yelling at me and attacking us. What I couldn’t bear was when he would say he liked something I did. Then I would never do it, or wear it, or try it again. How I never wanted to pass that on to someone else.
The solution? Never be nice or warm or kind or heartfelt to anyone! Then no one could ever feel worried about my intentions. (So simple!)
I have written a little bit about my struggle to climb over this wall here on my blog. It took me years before I dared use a heart on Twitter. Now I use them all the time. It took me ages to try to wish someone happy birthday without feeling like I had just made the declaration of a century, and waiting to hear back that I had ruined their life. It took, well, it took friends.
It took me receiving compliments, and hearts, and well-wishes, and warm thoughts and all those AMAZING parts of life to realize – they didn’t scare me. They made me feel better about life. They made me feel valued. They brightened my day.
So, I started in little ways, practicing doing the same. It was lovely each time I saw it go okay.
As I started growing in confidence that friendships were a valuable element of life, and that I could be kind and complimentary to others without it hurting them, I kept branching out.
One step was to sign up with Bumble BFF to see if I could make a local friend. Eventually, I made a lasting connection on there with someone who was very open and bright as the sun. She used emojis everywhere, told me immediately how much she valued our friendship, and stuck to me through ups and downs in our personal lives. I was uncharacteristically warm back to her, not wanting her to feel like I valued her any less. She helped me to tap in and continue to practice feeling positive vibes towards those who impacted me. And that it was okay, and not a sin, and beneficial to both parties.
As I became more confident, and settled and less panicky talking with her, I had a second person approach me and ask if I’d be friends. From my confidence in talking with my Bumble BFF, I charged ahead and said “Yes!” (It was dizzying to have been crying in my room the year before because I had no friends in my new home, and the next year have not just one but TWO!)
This other person is very skilled in encouraging words of affirmation. They have further helped tear down my walls of worry, in two distinct ways:
A) They told me right off that they wanted to be friends because I had been a light in their life. Huh? So I’m not an agent of evil? I’m not secretly terrible and everyone is pretending so they don’t get on my bad side? Am I… actually okay?
B) Their outright and unprompted declarations (they are an ISTJ, I think, and so are much more able to say blanket statements that I refrain from as an INFP lol) settled my anxiety so many times, and made me feel so valued and strong. In their mind, I am smart and thoughtful. This made me feel capable and kind. This was an incredible feeling. It wasn’t like anything I had shirked from from my dad. It was a feeling I wanted to spread to everybody.
And so I started trying to. Which has been an incredible journey.
The final thing that all of this growth culminated in together is the reason I began to pen this post.
I have been so excited about meeting this last friend and the growth that has come from it, I have felt a soaring level of apprecation for them. Because they are so forth right about saying they’re glad I’m in their life, and praising aspects of my personality, I’ve felt like I have persmission to also unequivocably believe the same back.
Wait. I’ve only felt like I can think that because they’ve said it to me?
So I still had a wall, a block. I knew friends were important. And I knew I could tell them they were important. But I didn’t feel allowed to feel they were important.
Nothing is more exciting, amazing, or incredible than friends to me. But I didn’t believe I was allowed to feel that way.
Like strangers misunderstanding a smile as an invite, I worried about elevating my friends to the status that they actually occupied in my life without express permission from them. And as an INFP who lives in her head a lot, and relies on creating abstract stories, and frameworks, and auras in order to really understand the world, cutting off this way of relating to my friends, cuts off more than it might seem.
So, recently, piecing together the lessons I have learned these last 10 years:
– tearing down the idea that its a cosmic mistake to place value on friends
– deconstructing the idea that compliments are mercenaries of terror
– feeling appreciated and valued myself
– doing a bunch of introspection as I make these new friends, forge new connections with old friends, and analyze the heck out of everything trying to make sure I don’t mess up lol, and realizing where my panic lies
– feeling a growing appreciation of my friends and the impact they have on my life
– reading articles and pins about friends, and how people value gestures they received in the past, and what gestures mean the most to them
– understanding better how I as a unique person make friends, where my tripfalls are, and what my strengths are
Altogether, I have come to the conclusion, that Yes. I am definitely allowed to appreciate, love, value, and hold my friends in high esteem. I feel like I need a waiver signed that they consent to live in my head. Your likeness may in perpetuity be used for daydreams, ruminating on gift ideas, random thoughts of “Hey they taught me this!” – if you agree, sign on the dotted line. But, they have all stuck around through so much, they definitely want to be in my life. There’s really no limit to their dedication to the relationship, which means that I can be as “flowery” as I want to be in my appreciation of it without troubling them – because they have definitely chosen me, and all the seeming strangeness that is me and it would only be good to fully embrace and return that love.
I can be enraptured by their skill in working in differing perspectives. I can be in awe of the way they face hard things I don’t even know how to begin looking at. I can believe they are the most important endeavour in my life. I can appreciate how their sharing of their experiences influences me to change and grow as a person.
The reins I had been holding onto so tightly, I could finally let go, because it was completely unnecessary and styming me as a person AND as a friend. To feel all of these things, but to reject them because I worried about their impact on others – when the impact would only be a positive one?
I could allow myself to be inspired – to poems and artwork, research and communication – because of them.
All of that was okay. My worried were unfounded. But I couldn’t know that until I tried. And I couldn’t try until I had confidence. And I have been blessed with friends and acquaintances and random encounters that have helped propel me towards taking one more confident step after another.
And now, my inner world – spilling over to my outer world – is so much more rich because it is populated not only with wonderful friends, but the freedom to believe they are wonderful.