Lesson 4 of 7 - optimize your relationships

Perspective on

8 options for increasing them

By Peter K. Gerlach, MSW
Member NSRC Experts Council

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The Web address of this article is https://sfhelp.org/relate/friendship.htm

  Updated  12-11-2014

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      This brief YouTube video previews what you'll find in this article:

      This article is part of Lesson 4 - optimize your relationships. It covers

  • a review of relationship basics

  • how friendships differ from other relationships

  • different types of friendship

  • why some friendships end, and...

  • options for inviting and keeping healthy friendships

      The article assumes you're familiar with:

      To raise your awareness, let's start with a...

  Status Check

      See which of these are true for you:

__  I have at least three good friends now.

__  I know the difference between a "friend" and an "acquaintance."

__  I make friends (vs. acquaintances) easily.

__  Other people would describe me as "friendly."

__  I'm a good listener.

__  I'm able to empathize with other people.

__  I'm comfortable with periods of solitude.

__  I rarely feel lonely.

__  I stay in regular contact with distant friends.

__  I do not have the condition called codependence .

__  I'm comfortable enough with interpersonal conflict

__  I'm able to enjoy social intimacy with selected other people.

__  I'm not overly concerned about what other people think of me.

__  My friendships usually last, vs. fading away

__  I'm satisfied with my ability to make and keep friendships now.

Note your thoughts and feelings. What did you just learn about yourself?

  Review: Relationship Basics

      See how you feel about these ideas:

      We humans are social critters. Most wholistically-healthy kids and adults need regular social interaction for companionship, stimulation, affirmation, and support. The intensity of this need ranges from low to high, and may change with aging. Introverts find stimulation in solitary activities, and may find socializing unpleasant. Extroverts depend on being with other people for satisfactions.

      We like some people better than others, which causes the common phenomenon of "best friends." Friendship-feelings can be one-sided or reciprocal: one person may need friendship more or less than the other which can cause discomfort in one or both people. They may or may not be able to admit and discuss this together.

      Friendships require mutual respect + admiration + trust + interest + caring (bonding) + empathy + common interests + honesty, + "enough" contact. If all these treasures exist, friends may feel platonic love for each other. If any of these requisites is lost, the relationship may stagnate or wither unless friends are able to admit and repair the loss. Has this ever happened to you?

      Friendships deepen over time with shared mundane and special experiences. They can range from regular meetings to eat, worship, discuss books, quilt, and play a sport or game; to sky-diving, exploring a foreign land, and prospecting for gold. Part of this deepening is each partner gaining trust in the other and gradually revealing intimacies about themselves.

      Interpersonal bonding is the process of mutually discovering common interests, values, and experiences over time, and learning to care about the other person's welfare. Survivors of early-childhood trauma may not be able to bond with some or all people because of excessive shame, fear, distrust (wounds), and unawareness or denials.

      Their relationships tend to be superficial, artificial, and impermanent, and often cycle between seeking closeness and avoiding it. This prevents filling primal needs for companionship, affirmation, and acceptance, and promotes social isolation, self-doubt, loneliness, and self-medication.    

      Even the best of friends may be annoyed by - or disapprove of - some traits of the other person. When the benefits of the relationship outweigh such annoyances, the friendship can prosper. This is most apt to happen when both people...

  • are usually guided by their true Self,

  • can communicate effectively, and...

  • know how to assert their needs and boundaries, and can problem-solve cooperatively. 

How Friendships Differ from Other Relationships

      A relationship occurs when the existence and behavior of one person has a "significant effect" on another person in someone's opinion. The effect may be local or ongoing.

      There are many kinds of relationships, depending on the social roles two people share - e.g. parent-child, manager-employee, neighbor-neighbor, lover-lover, doctor-patient, citizen-citizen, consumer-vendor, jailor-prisoner, teacher-student, etc. Some pairs of people share several roles at once (e.g. lover-lover, friend-friend).

      All relationships have some things in common (like the needs for mutual respect, caring, and courtesy), and some things that differ. Spontaneous (vs. strategic) friendships have some unique traits compared to other relationships. Think now of several people you call friends. What sets these relationships apart from other people you know?  See if your answer includes some or most of these factors:

__ a range of shared values, priorities, and interests;

__ adequate empathy for each other

__ genuine mutual admiration and interest (caring)

__ steady mutual trust and honesty

__ mutual ability to listen

__ mutual willingness to risk self-disclosure

__ mutual acceptance and respect - no need to compete for something

__ mutual willingness to hear honest personal feedback

__ clear, stable personal me/you boundaries

__  (add your own factor/s)

      Compared to other types of relationships, true (vs. pseudo) friends each have (a) most or all of these traits (b) to a higher degree than non-friends. Acquaintances have only a few of these traits. Notice how many factors are required for friendship.

Different Types of Friendship

      Friendships differ from each other in the mixes of the factors above. Imagine each of your friends standing before you in a semicircle. Include any children who qualify, Focus on each one, and decide which of these types of friendships you have with that person:

  • Genuine, spontaneous, mutual, and steadily satisfying

  • Genuine, spontaneous, one-sided, and somewhat or very stressful

  • Pseudo - i.e. dutiful, superficial, and/or dishonest about some things

  • Shallow or "deep" (intimate and spiritual)

  • Platonic companions - no sexual energy or needs

  • Loving (vs. liking) - special bonding and appreciation

  • Focused on shared activities, vs. on talking, or vice versa

  • Erotic - one-way or mutual desire

  • Soulmates - exceptional congruence of values, empathy, and interests

  • One-way or mutual dependency (neediness)

  • One of you is rescuing the other

  • Mentoring or coaching - teacher-student

  • Some other type of friendly relationship.

      Generally, the more often each friend is guided by their true Self, the more stable, balanced, and mutually-satisfying the relationship will be. Think of your "best friends" and see if that's currently true of each of you. By the way - do you count yourself among your best friends? How about your Higher Power / Higher Self?

Why Do Some Friendships End?

       As you know, friendships may deepen or decay over time. Some fade from active to inactive, and some end. Why is this? Meditate and say your answer out loud, and then compare it to this:

      Relationships exist to fill each person's needs for companionship, affirmation, stimulation, intimacy, feedback, acceptance, respect, and support. Reality-check that by thinking what keeps your favorite friendships going. What do you get (what needs are filled) from each of them?

      As people grow and age and the world evolves, the degree of need-satisfaction in one or both friends may gradually shrink. People's priorities, activities, interests, location, and mix of relationships shift slowly or abruptly. For example, "We shared an interest in sky-diving, but since your accident you've lost interest in that activity and don't want to talk about it."

      This need-shift can happen because one friend discloses something personal that their partner dislikes or strongly disapproves of.- like a friend revealing that s/he is an addict or a criminal or had an abortion or is sexually attracted to children. The values conflict overpowers the satisfactions of the relationship, and one of both people stop seeking interaction.

      Perhaps the most obvious and widespread example of major friendships ending is the U.S. divorce epidemic. It occurs, in my opinion, for five reasons, which manifest as one partner discovering over time that their mate is not the same person they fell in love with. A minority of ex-mates do maintain genuine friendships with each other, but most divorcing couples aren't able to do that.

      The core reasons that any relationship degrades or ends are (a) psychological wounds in one or both people + unawareness + ineffective communication + (possibly) incomplete grief.  See Lessons 1 thru 3.

      So what?

      All the ideas above exist to increase your awareness about friendships. Let's put this awareness to work now. If you're satisfied with the number of real friends you have now, skip to the recap - otherwise, keep reading

Options for Gaining and Keeping Healthy Friendships

      Tho every person is unique, some general possibilities for expanding and strengthening your friendships include...:

  • Assess yourself for psychological wounds, and intentionally reduce any you find - i.e. free your true Self to guide you.;

  • Intentionally work to strengthen your self-confidence and self-love;

  • Review your social attitudes and expectations, and upgrade any that inhibit healthy relationships;

  • Upgrade your communication effectiveness (study Lesson 2);

  • Assess for and complete any unfinished grief (study Lesson 3;

  • Upgrade your relationship skills over time (Lesson 4); 

  • Work to discover you life passion and mission; and...

  • take social risks - try new experiences.

      Could you have named all eight of these options? Do you think most other adults can? Which of these are you motivated to do now?

      Here's some brief detail on each of these options:

Assess yourself for psychological wounds

      Opinion: a core reason for most personal and relationship problems - including isolation - is unawareness of significant psychological wounds like excessive shame, guilts, fears, trust disorders, and difficulty empathizing and bonding with other people. Common symptoms of these wounds include excessive shyness, "anti-social" behavior, low self confidence, and addiction.  Lesson 1 in  this Web site provides an effective way to assess for and reduce significant psychological wounds. It's the foundation for progress in all 6 other Lessons in this Web site.

Strengthen Your self confidence and self love

      Do you believe the old saying "You can't love another until you love yourself"? Self-doubt, self-criticism, and feeling inferior inhibit friendships. With determination and patience, These can be converted to stable self-confidence, non-egotistical pride, and self-love over time, as you free your true Self to guide you. Study and apply Lesson 1.

Review and upgrade your attitudes and expectations

Attitudes - Human nature dictates that kids and adults form attitudes about a range of things. An "attitude" is an acquired good/bad, right/wrong, better/worse opinion about something or someone. Our attitudes come from our active personality subselves, and are often unconscious. A "toxic attitude" is one which inhibits or stresses wholistic health and/or relationships, For example:

"I'm smarter and/or better than you are."

"Males are more logical and better problem-solvers than females."

"Children should be seen and not heard."

"Liberals are better than conservatives."

"I deserve your respect, acceptance, and loyalty despite my flaws."

"Jews are God's chosen (i.e. superior) people."

"Native Americans are lazy drunks."

"All politicians are dishonest and self-serving,"

"Christians are right, and Muslims (or Hindus, Buddhists, Sufis, Wiccans, Rosicrucians, and/or Zoroastrians) are wrong" (or vice versa)

      Once aware of any toxic attitudes, you can upgrade them in two ways: The first is by freeing your true Self (capital "S") to guide you. That will automatically moderate biases and prejudices, as judgmental subselves activate less and/or take on new personality roles and values. Self-guided people characteristically are more empathic, compassionate, and non-judgmental than Grown Wounded Children (GWCs)

      The second way to convert toxic attitudes is to do ''parts work'' with individual personality subselves (e.g. a Bigot, Critic, Cynic, Pessimist, or Preacher) who bring you toxic old attitudes. As they begin to trust your Self and the world, such subselves become open to moderate their judgmental opinions. Even if they don't, your Self can choose not to express or act on their opinions.

      For more insight and options on reducing toxic attitudes, see this article when you finish here.

      Another useful option is to become aware of your...

Expectations of Other People Life experience causes adults and kids to make assumptions - expectations - about themselves, other people, and the world. Some expectations are realistic and others aren't. Unrealistic expectations are usually caused by false selves, and can unintentionally inhibit friendships. For example: "I expect you to want to...

  • ...put my needs before yours if I'm hurting."

  • ...listen to me if I need to vent."

  • ...side with me when I disagree with other people."

  • ...loan me money or your car if I need them."

  • ...treat me as well or better than your other friends."

  • ...attend me if I need you, unless you're having an emergency."

  • ...empathize with ,me in all situations."

  • ...make sacrifices for me at times."

  • ...spend more time with me than with other people."

  •  ...trust me with all your secrets."; etc.

In general, expectations of other people that are self-centered, pessimistic or cynical, arrogant, rigid, and unempathic will cause irritation, hurt, anger, conflict (or avoidance) - and ultimately, dislike and rejection..

      Some (subselves') expectations are self-defeating, like...

  • "I know you'll leave me, sooner or later."

  • "I'll probably bore you."

  • "You'll never tell me what you really think of me (I don't trust you)."

  • "You'll see that your other friends are more fun and interesting than I am."

Expectations like these usually come from a Shamed and/or Abandoned (Inner) Child, and a Pessimist, a Worrier, and/or a Doubter/Cynic subself. Over time, you can (a) free your true Self to guide you, (b) identify your toxic social expectations and where they come from; and (c) use inner-family therapy to convert them to more positive expectations. As your expectations improve, so will your social behavior and self-confidence.

      Reality check: are you motivated to review your social attitudes and expectations and upgrade them now? Which of your subselves is answering that?

      Another powerful option for improving all your relationships) is to...

Upgrade your communication effectiveness

      Human relationships form because they satisfy a set of needs in each person. Interpersonal communication occurs to satisfy a subset of these needs. The effectiveness of communication in calm and stressful situations is a major factor in forming and maintaining relationships - specially friendships.

      I've studied and taught interpersonal communication for over 40 years. In my experience as a therapist and instructor, most people don't know what they need to know about the vital process of interpersonal communication. To see if this applies to you, take this quiz and return here.

      To improve your communication effectiveness, patiently study and apply Lesson 2 in this ad-free Web site. It will show you why, how, and when to use seven specific relationship skills. It will also give you a variety of useful tips, tools,  and suggestion to amplify the effectiveness of these skills

      To gain the full benefits of these skills, you'll need to be steadily guided by your true Self (Lesson 1). Ideally, each of your friends would want to upgrade their own skills - specially if they're nurturing young kids.

      For an overview of ways to improve your communication effectiveness, see this when you finish here.

      Another important option for strengthening your friendships is...

Assess for and complete any unfinished grief

      Throughout their lives, most people (like you) form attachments or bonds to special people, places, objects, pets, rituals, visions, and beliefs. Exception: people with major psychological wounds may have trouble bonding and empathizing with some or most people.

      As people age and the world evolves, bonds break by choice or chance, causing losses. Nature provides a way to accept and adapt to these losses - the three-level grieving process.

      Few people are aware of bonding, losses, and healthy grieving basics, so many people suffer psychologically and physically from incomplete mourning. For example, many people mis-label incomplete mourning as "depression." Their symptoms are similar, but their causes and "cures" are very different. Test your "good grief" knowledge by taking this quiz, and returning here.

      The symptoms of incomplete grief can stress any relationship, including new and old friendships. The symptoms can promote excessive concern, frustration, anxiety, and avoidances - e.g. "You've been moping around, isolating, and oversleeping for weeks. I want the old you back!"

      Lesson 3 in this non-profit Web site provides a clear explanation of healthy-grieving basics, and resources for identifying and ending incomplete grief. For more insight on this often-ignored health and social issue, see this Q&A article.

      Another friendship-building option is to...

Upgrade your relationship skills

      Try defining "a skill" out loud. Then try defining the specific "relationship skills"  you've been learning since childhood. What do you think are the requisites for "getting along with" other people? Take this quiz, and then see how your relationship-skill list compares with this one:

  • effective communication - specially awareness, assertion, empathic listening, and win-win problem-solving skills

  • avoiding common communication blocks

  • managing interpersonal conflicts effectively

  • maintaining a two-person awareness bubble

  • feeling genuine empathy in calm and stressful times

  • maintaining mutual respect

  • stable impulse control - prevent emotional outbursts

  • patience and flexibility

  • learn how to respond effectively to obnoxious kids and adults

  • giving and receiving constructive feedback

  • knowing when to help and when to not-help

  • knowing how and when to play and relax

  • defining and living by your rights as a dignified person

  • asserting and enforcing personal boundaries

  • giving and receiving acknowledgement and praise

  • comfort with giving and receiving affectionate physical contact  

  • (add your own relationship skills)

      Did you realize how many skills and traits are useful in managing your relationships? Could you eliminate any item in this list and still nourish a true friendship? Option - review this list and check the skills you have now, or that you want to develop. Consider asking someone who knows you to identify your current relationship skills (and/or lack of them)..

      If you're nurturing young kids, are you helping them develop skills like these?

      The size of this list shows that "Upgrade your relationship skills" is a long-term project. Progress is directly proportional to how often your true Self guides you.

      For more perspective, options, and resources, study Lesson 4 (optimize your relationships) and Lesson 6 (effective parenting) in this Web site after you complete Lessons 1 thru 3.

      Friendships depend, in part, on shared interests. So to meet compatible people, ... 

Seek your life passion and mission

      Passion is intense interest in - and strong feelings about - some idea, person, activity, cause, or thing. A life mission is what you want to accomplish with your life. Can you think of one or more people who are clear on their mission in life? Are you clear on yours? The alternative is living aimlessly a day at a time with no long-term goals, and possibly regretting a wasted life as you're dying.

      Poor people are often focused on daily survival. Other people in developed ("high tech") cultures are challenged with over-stimulation, which hinders introspection and self-awareness. Both situations can make it hard for persons to recognize and pursue their life mission.

      Psychologist Abraham Maslow proposed that average people must fill a ''hierarchy of needs'' before they can "self actualize" - pursue their life purpose.    Survivors of early-childhood trauma often have trouble filling these needs, so they may not self-actualize until late in life, Some never discover their life purpose. Do you know anyone like that?

      People with a common passion (or mission) are often drawn to each other. They tend to congregate in local groups and larger societies. Participating in such groups can be a rich source of friendships! 

      For perspective on personal and family "mission statements": see this article when you finish here.

      A final option for discovering satisfying friendships is...

Take social risks - try new experiences

      Typical people who were well-nurtured in childhood are comfortable trying new experiences and meeting new people. People who weren't well-nurtured can be  loners who avoid people, or be compulsive, insecure socializers..

      If you're a loner or recluse, you may not know or miss the satisfaction of human fellowship. Your life experience may have been that most social interactions caused shame, hurt, frustration, rejection, anxiety, and/or boredom. If so, you may have trained yourself to avoid people and "not need anyone."

      If you inherited psychological wounds and become motivated to reduce them, you can discover that relationships with minimally-wounded people can he a rich source of companionship, stimulation, warmth, fun, learning, and support. To discover this, you'll need to intentionally risk new social experiences with an open mind. As you free your Self to guide you and increase your self respect, self confidence, and relationship skills, this will become easier and easier over time.

      To benefit from this option, learn to recognize Grown Wounded Children (GWCs) in denial, and to be cautious about befriending them. Relationships with Grown Nurtured Children (GNCs) are usually more stable and satisfying, and less stressful. An exception: two recovering GWCs can share rich friendship and empathically support each other's healing.

+ + +

      We just reviewed eight practical options for increasing and strengthening healthy friendships. Could you have identified these options before you read this? Note your reaction to what you just read. Are you motivated to try these options now? If you seek to improve your friendships but feel reluctant to try these options, suspect that a well-intentioned false self is hindering you. See Lesson 1 when you're ready to free your true Self to guide you.


      Social relationships can stress or nourish daily life and health. They can also help or hinder recovery from significant losses and other traumas. This Lesson-4 article focuses an understanding and improving your friendships. It covers...

  • a review of relationship basics

  • how friendships differ from other relationships

  • different types of friendship

  • why some friendships end, and...

  • 8 options for inviting and keeping healthy friendships

      To improve all your inner and outer relationships, study and apply Lessons 1 thru 4.

      Pause, breathe, and reflect - why did you read this article? Did you get what you needed? If not, what do you need? Who's answering these questions - your true Self, or ''someone else''?

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