We are having a conversation about friendships! For the purposes of this series, we are looking at healthy friendships as a necessary component of any relationship such as a best friend, a family member, a co-worker, or a life-partner. In week one, we examined the quality of being Easy, and we discussed the importance of friendships being authentic, honest, and trustworthy. In week two, we addressed how healthy friendships need to be Equal, and we focused on three essential elements: balance, reciprocal, and respectful. In order to get the most out of our series, please go back and read the previous articles here: Easy and Equal.
Today, we are moving on to the third quality to consider in cultivating healthy friendships – Enriching.
Are my friendships enriching?
This question might sound odd or silly! And yet, it is an important one. Because of negative portrayals of friendships such as arguing, fighting, backstabbing, bullying, cyber bullying, and other aggressive or toxic behaviours being glamorized through media and social networking platforms as normal and acceptable, our perceptions and expectations around healthy friendships have been skewed.
When we are in healthy friendships, they are enriching. These friendships do not degrade, diminish, devalue, or demean one another. Friendships which are enriching do just the opposite. Each individual navigates the relationship with a desire to improve or enhance the friendship. In order to work toward friendships which are enriching, we assume two important roles. We take on the responsibilities of a being a champion for our friends, and we demonstrate that we cherish them.
Enriching comes with being a champion to our friends.
In week one of Easy relationships, we talked about the importance of being trustworthy, of being able to count on our friends. Friendships which are enriching take on a deeper, more committed level of investment. In healthy friendships, we want the best for one another. This means that we advocate for our friends. It means that we support, encourage, promote, defend, and protect them. It means that we stand up for them and we have their backs. In our social media world of being very “me-centered” and “just looking out for ourselves,” being a champion for our friends requires that we step outside of our comfort zone and that we do what is best for them by taking steps which demonstrate our belief in them and support of them. And, it requires that we champion them with dignity and grace.
Recently, an online friend, who I will call Beth, posted a short blog on Facebook for parents/guardians which explained the grooming process utilized by pedophiles and predators who are targeting our children. Beth is an sexual abuse survivor, and she frequently writes articles on this subject. Because Beth had viewed the HBO documentary “Leaving Neverland,” she outlined specific examples of how Michael Jackson groomed his victims and explained how it is very difficult for parents to differentiate between someone who appears to care for our children and someone who has to ulterior motives. The blog was extremely informative and important for all audiences who want to be proactive about protecting our children.
While almost all of the comments on Facebook were supportive and grateful for Beth’s article, one individual, who appeared to know Beth quite well, took it upon himself to attack Beth for singling out Michael Jackson for utilizing predatory tactics. In fact, he was enraged. After several attempts by Beth to explain the importance of being aware of the grooming process, the attacks on her escalated. Immediately, several friends jumped in to defend Beth and her article. However, Beth’s friends did not retaliate. They responded, calmly and rationally. At the end of the exchange, the positive support for Beth far outweighed the negative comments by the reactive individual. Those friends, who chose to be Champions, not only neutralized the negativity towards Beth but their words cast a protective shield around her. And the manner in which they did so elevated the conversation while enhancing their special connection with Beth.
As the above example illustrates, being a champion requires that we advocate for our friends. At the same time, we can also serve as champions by being compassionate sources of accountability. What do I mean? Because as champions we want the best for our friends, if we see that they are placing themselves and their well being at risk, it means that we are willing to speak up. It means that we are willing to hold our friends accountable by questioning their choices. It means that because we care deeply about them, we are willing to create a bit of tension or discomfort in the relationship in order to address unhealthy behaviors and unwise decisions.
Although there are many situations which may arise, a few examples include the following:
- Returning to or remaining in a toxic relationship
- Falling back into unhealthy patterns of behaving, thinking, and feeling
- Relapsing from substance or behavioral recovery
- Following the advice of unhealthy and uncaring individuals
- Making risky or poor professional, material, or financial decisions
Friendships which are enriching establish a practice in advance where individuals agree to hold one another accountable, especially in areas of vulnerability. By doing so, friends do not feel threatened or judged when issues surface. They understand that each person wants what is best for the other.
Being a champion means being an advocate and a source of compassionate accountability. Healthy friendships are enriched with a blend of unconditional positive regards and timely counsel.
Enriching comes with demonstrating that we cherish our friends.
Cherish is a lovely tender word which has many connotations. In relationship to friendships which are enriching, we will define it as holding high value. In other words, friendships which are enriching are like special treasures. And, we treat them as such.
In week two, we discussed the importance of friendships being equal. We focused on the qualities of friendships being In balance, being reciprocal, and being respectful. We talked about how friendships need to have a give and take and an even playing field. When we talk about enriching, this takes the friendship to a deeper extension of ourselves. When we cherish our friends, we spend time thinking about what would please them. We ponder about special gifts, or plan surprises, or we go out of our way to make their days a little brighter. Whatever we choose to do, we do so because we want our friends to know that they matter and they are valuable. As the following story illustrates, all it requires is for us to turn our focus outward and to take action.
Many years ago I was teaching eighth grade English to a group of wonderfully diverse adolescents. Because many of them came from very disadvantaged environments, I witnessed their struggles academically, physically, emotionally, relationally, and financially. There was one special student who came in before school, during lunch, and after school to help me with anything I needed. She also volunteered to tutor other students. Her name was Sunshine! So appropriate because she never complained, even though she had reason to do so. As the end of the school was approaching, the students were getting excited about the end of the year activities. One afternoon as I was sitting in my classroom grading papers, two female students came to see me. Sunshine had already left for the day. The two girls, Monica and Jazmine, slowly approached me with a deep concern in their eyes.
Monica spoke softly, “Mrs. Kenley, Sunshine wants to go to the 8th Grade Promotional Dance, but her grandmother does not have enough money to buy her a dress. Jazmine and I have some money and our parents have put in a little. But, we still don’t have enough.”
Jazmine hesitated and added, “Would you be able to help us out?”
Barely holding it together, I grabbed my purse. “Of course. And let me give you a enough for shoes and a purse.” The girls’ faces lit up!
“Oh, Mrs. Kenley, Sunshine will be so happy! She helps everyone and we want to show her how precious she is to us!”
“Yes,” I responded. “She is a treasure.”
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For most folks, it really takes so little for them to feel that they matter. However, it requires an awareness on our part of being “other-centered” rather than “me-centered.” For a variety of sound reasons, many of us enter in relationships looking to see what the other person has to offer us. We absolutely should have high standards and expectations in any relationship, and we should not compromise ourselves. At the same time, in order for friendships to be Enriching, we must step outside of ourselves and our needs and focus on those of our friends. And because of the ways in which the Universe works, as we demonstrate to others that they hold high value, we will in turn be enriched.
Cherishing our friends means planning and polishing our actions with precision so their value will sparkle and shine.
Healthy friendships embody rare qualities of connection when treated as special treasures.
If we want our friendships to produce added layers of enrichment, we must be willing to work on being a champion for our friends and to demonstrate that we cherish them.
Consider the following questions:
- Have I been a champion for my friends? Have I been an advocate for them? In what ways can I improve?
- Am I a reliable source for compassionate accountability for my friends? Do I provide timely and thoughtful counsel? Do they feel safe to come to me when they have a difficult decision or problem?
- Does my role in a friendship “enrich” it? Why or why not?
- If I find a friendship worthy of investment, do I have the capacity to treasure this person? If so, what I am willing to do to demonstrate they hold value? What could I improve upon?
- In this series on friendships, what have I learned? What will I commit to work on?
After reflecting, write down your thoughts. As always, there is no right answer. Just what is healthy for you and your friendships.
In closing, friendship is a critical component of many of our relationships. We are messaged through social networking that the more friends, followers, connections, etc. we have, especially in our online lives, the happier we will be. Many individuals, especially young people growing up with a constant stream of social comparison, find this not to be true. In fact, artificial and fleeting friendships tend to be anxiety provoking, depressing, and confusing. In order to have meaningful friendships, they do require a sincere commitment to investing in them in healthy ways. However, If we can cultivate a few friendships, either online or in real life or both, which are Easy, Equal, and Enriching, we will indeed find ourselves experiencing truly authentic, lasting, and fulfilling relationships.
Publisher’s Note: Holli Kenley is an American Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and the author of “ Daughters Betrayed By Their Mothers: Moving from Brokenness to Wholeness” and “Power Down & Parent Up!: Cyber Bullying, Screen Dependence & Raising Tech-Healthy Children”