Connecting with others is one of the necessary parts of personal growth. Although at times it may seem like other people are the very root of the problem we’re facing, and fantasies of fleeing to a remote island for 6 months might seem the most attractive solution, we are not designed to exist in isolation.
Some individuals have personality types with a tendency to turn inward when experiencing sadness or a high level of stress. This is not harmful in and of itself; having down time is crucial for stress recovery. However, chronic isolation can breed distorted thinking. Distorted thinking involves thought patterns based on faulty assumptions, misinterpreting people, situations and events; then reacting based on those faulty assumptions. Distorted thinking leads to increased stress levels and in some cases, symptoms of depression. How can we learn to turn toward others rather than away? If you’ve been disappointed or betrayed by friends in the past, this may be a struggle.
A friend of mine always says, “Everyone doesn’t need to be on your front row.” In other words, you don’t need to broadcast your deepest fears, hopes, dreams and struggles to a crowd. Rather, it’s important to identify at least 2-3 safe people in whom you can confide. A safe person is one who will listen to you, allow you to confide in her, and try to understand your pain or difficulty. A good friend will tell you the truth, even as he loves and accepts you for who you are. A safe relationship won’t give you a sense of the other person being “one-up.” Safe, quality friendships provide comfort, energy and encouragement to face our problems, and even healthy confrontation when appropriate.
Good friends, who truly have our best interest in mind, can ultimately help us:
• Take a step back from our problems and see another point of view
• Identify our blind spots and help us avoid problematic situations
• Gain new insight and expand our resources for coping
There is a difference between receiving support from others and relying on them to solve your problems for you. One should also be cautious about using friends as a substitute for professional counseling if that is what’s truly needed. A fruitful life involves taking responsibility, addressing those issues which are in our power to address, and engaging in relationships that help us grow.
This article is intended for general education purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional counseling or medical care. If you are interested in seeking professional counseling, please call The Stone Foundation at 410-296-2004.
Elicia McIntyre, a licensed clinical social worker, and graduate of Smith College School for Social Work, has 14 years’ experience providing counseling to adults, children and families in the Baltimore-Washington metro area. She has helped clients navigate life transitions, depression, anxiety and relationship difficulties. Elicia helps couples increase emotional intimacy and foster healthy connections among family members. She has spent the past 3 years traveling nationally and overseas, providing education and intervention to military service members and their families on communication, stress management and building healthy relationships.