Today we're trying something new! We've gathered up your most-asked questions about friendship and discuss them on the podcast. These are such thoughtful and real questions, and I love thinking through them with you. Here's what we cover:
1. The mother wound and female friendships
2. Managing expectations through your own healing season
3. Assessing trust in a new friend
4. Navigating a terminal diagnosis with friends
5. What about helping others who can't reciprocate friendship
Do you have questions about friendship for Dr. Alison? Leave them here.
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Music by Andy Luiten
Sound editing by Kelly Kramarik
While Dr. Cook is a counselor, the content of this podcast and any of the products provided by Dr. Cook are not specific counseling advice nor are they a substitute for individual counseling. The content and products provided on this podcast are for informational purposes only.
Learn scripts and tips for testing new friendships in The Best of You, by Dr. Alison Cook
Related Podcast Episodes:
Episode 58: How to Find Friends Who Bring out the Best of You, Why it Matters, and How a Good Friend Can Transform Your Life
Episode 59: Finding Your People, Overcoming Past Hurt, & Deepening Friendships Through Intentional Community
Episode 60: How to Make New Friends, Identify Red and Green Flags, & Extract Yourself From an Unhealthy Situation with Aundi Kolber and Dr. Monique Gadson
Episode 61: Reconnecting With Old Friends—Healing the Past, Naming Regret & Bringing Your Whole Self into the Future
Episode 45: Strong like Water—Finding the Freedom, Safety, & Compassion to Move through Hard Things & Experience True Flourishing with Aundi Kolber
The Best of You Podcast:
With Dr. Alison Cook with Cindy Gao Listeners' Questions Edition
Episode 62: Friends on Friendships
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Alison: Hey, everyone. I'm Dr. Alison and I'm so glad you're here to discover what brings out the best of you. This podcast is all about breaking free from painful patterns, mending the past, and discovering our true selves in God. I can't wait to get started, as we learn together how to become the best version of who we are with God's help.
Hey everyone, and welcome back to this week's episode of The Best of You podcast. I am so excited for this last episode, in this series we've been doing called Friends on Friendship. And today I wanted to take this last episode to respond to your questions. You all have been writing in, with so many great questions, and I really wanted to use this time to respond to some of your practical questions. How you're applying some of what we've been talking about in your real lives.
And, so, to help me with this, I've asked my media coordinator, Cindy Gao. Who has been assisting me with this podcast these last few months, to come on and join me as we address some of your questions about friendship. Cindy has been such a gift. She's a recent graduate of Harvard College. She reached out to me last fall with an amazing story. Which she's going to come back on the podcast to share with us in a few weeks, so stay tuned for that.
But in the meantime, she's been coming alongside me. Helping me out in many ways as we put this podcast together. It's been a huge godsend for me. As I've talked about on the podcast before, it's hard for me to ask for help and having her help has been just a gift. And, so, today she's going to be a conversation partner with me. Queuing up some of your questions and joining me in this conversation, as we talk about how to create healthy friendships in our lives.
So, Cindy, thank you for joining me today on the podcast. I'm so glad you're here, and I've so enjoyed having you as a conversation partner behind the scenes, and now here on the podcast.
Cindy: Yes, I'm so glad to be here. I've followed your podcast since the very beginning, and now it's so exciting for me to come on with you.
Alison: Yes. So in January, I hosted a book club for The Best of You, and Cindy would come on and help me do these weekly Facebook lives. Where you would queue up questions for me, and I would answer them, and we'd have a little back and forth. And I realized, "Oh, gosh, what a great way to respond to questions." Just makes it a little bit more structured for me. And Cindy's also got some great thoughts coming from a really different perspective, a different generation, different view of some of these questions.
So, with that in mind, I hope you will enjoy this special and final episode, Friends on Friendship, where we answer your questions.[00:04:23] < Music >
Cindy: The first question that we can dive into, today, is from Amy. She asks, "How do I heal this deep wound from my relationship with my mother. So I can have a healthy friendship with women? How do I spot the signs sooner and avoid getting tangled in narcissistic relationships?"
Alison: Oh, that's a good question. Yes, the mother wound is what I hear in that. So how do our wounds from our parents and, particularly, when we're talking about female friendships. How do our mother wounds influence our friendships with other women?
So, Amy, what I would say is, first of all, your awareness, that the fact that your relationship with your mom is influencing your female friendships is really astute and just such good awareness. So, of course, always, that awareness is the first step to begin to ask yourself. If you're struggling in your friendships, what's going on here? "What am I bringing?"
"What baggage am I bringing into these relationships?"
"What messages are floating or lurking in the back of my mind, as I engage my female friends?" And that awareness is so important. And I would say the next step is to begin to pay attention to what are some of those messages? What are some of those beliefs or thoughts that linger in the back of your mind, as you're approaching a female friendship?
So, for example, let's say you've got a friend, and you love this friend, and you enjoy this friend. But maybe you're aware that in the back of your mind, you're always wondering, "When are they going to leave me?"
"When are they going to disappoint me?"
"Are they really trustworthy? Can I really trust that they're there for me?" Whatever it is, begin to notice what is that static in the airwaves, a little bit? You got to get specific about it, and it gets back to that parts work that we talked about. Back in that whole series on boundaries for your soul. Where we talked about we have parts of us.
There are parts of us that we bring from our past and, especially, from those past relationships with those primary caregivers that have picked up burdens. Often those burdens from those childhood wounds have messages such as, "I've got to be hyper vigilant. I've got to make sure this person is okay."
It makes it hard for us to receive care from other people, if you didn't receive care from a primary caregiver. So that would manifest as hyper vigilance. It's hard for you to relax into the possibility that a friend could truly show up for you. Or that part of you might carry a burden such as "This person could never really accept the real me."
"I've got to always keep a guard up."
"I've got to always be performing, producing, pleasing, perfecting for them."
Because that part of you learned, at a young age, through the conditioning you received from a parent, maybe, from your mom, that you could never really be yourself. You could never really be seen as you are. And, so, that part of you learned to always be showing up in that perfecting, performing, pleasing way, and you've carried that into these adult friendships.
So begin, first of all, to do this process, that we've talked about so many times on this podcast, called differentiating. As you begin to notice that part of you and the messages or the beliefs it holds. See if you can get a little distance from it. And, maybe, even when you're with a friend you're noticing. You're with that friend, but you're present to the part of you that is wanting to keep you hyper vigilant, keep you performing, keep you on your toes, and it doesn't allow you to really sink into the fullness of a reciprocal relationship with that person.
How old is that part of you?
What are the messages it picked up?
What is it telling you?
You first got to differentiate that part of you to begin to understand what is coming from the past and what is actually coming from this current friend, oftentimes, they're very different. Cindy, as I talk about that, what comes to mind for you and your experience?
Cindy: Yes, that was really helpful. The first thing that I think about from this question is, also, that this is a pretty deep question. And that connection from how we related in our families growing up, and how that affects the way we move out into the world and our relationships with friends and everyone is so real.
And I would just add that part of the healing process is being willing to take a little bit of risk. For me, in my relationship with my mom, I guess, I never felt safe bringing up things that I was upset about because that would just escalate into so much conflict.
And, so, that's the way that I approached all my relationships, including with friends. And after a while I realized that I was feeling really disconnected from them. And I had to take a risk, eventually, and bring something up that I was afraid of. Because I had to experience something different in order to actually move forward.
I can hear all the time. You can talk to your friends and they'll be there for you, if they're good friends, and I can know that as a fact. But until I actually take a risk and experience it, I don't know. The experiences with my mom were more impactful on my moving out into the world, than any facts I might know about what a good friend looks like.
Alison: Exactly, yes, that conditioning. That subconscious conditioning. I love what you're describing, it's a corrective experience. You have to take the risk to say to a friend, and here's the thing there's a couple of ways you can do it.
You can even name to someone you actually think you can trust, but you notice it's hard. You can even name, "Hey, this is hard for me, but I want to share with you something I'm struggling with. This is new for me, it's something I'm trying." And then notice how they respond and, then, simultaneously, let the part of you know, that had this other experience with your mom, "See what's happening here this is different.
This is what it feels like when someone just witnesses you. When someone just listens, and is there for you, and shows up for you, and it doesn't escalate, and it feels good." And you really notice what does that feel like in your nervous system to receive that, and it becomes a corrective experience. You're training yourself that this is what it can feel like. When you take that risk and someone really shows up for you, and you've had some of those. Is that right?
Cindy: Yes, and it is really scary, so being patient with yourself, too. I love what Aundi Kolber always says of pacing yourself and being gentle with yourself. Because all of these corrective experiences can feel really activating and scary.
Alison: Yes. I love that you say that because you're out of your comfort zone. You're trying something new and, sometimes, you'll take a risk, you'll be vulnerable. You'll give a friend a shot to show up for you. And even when it goes well afterward, it can feel really upside down to your system. Really uncomfortable, like "I did something wrong."
And, so, just to sit with that for a minute. I like to think about it as putting little breadcrumbs out. Okay, "I put that breadcrumb out, someone picked it up, it felt pretty good." And then maybe try it again, and just give your system time to adjust to this different way of receiving care. I love that.
Cindy: Yes.[00:12:48] < Music >
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Cindy: So, moving on to the next question, this one's from T. T says, "I find myself struggling to maintain friendships because I'm so tired, busy, and overwhelmed with every other area of my life. That I don't have the energy to put into friendships.
Making and keeping friends takes a lot of energy out of me, and I feel like I just don't have what it takes to keep meaningful relationships. But, then, I also feel let down when I stop putting in the effort. What would you say to situations like this?"
Alison: Yes, that's real, and I bet a lot of people relate to that. I do, too. Yes, it's time consuming. Different friends have different capacities. I might have a certain capacity. Someone else might have a certain capacity. So you're always trying to balance that out. You're trying to figure out the rhythm of a friendship. And I would say, Cindy, I can see you nodding, tell me a little bit about your experience with that.
Cindy: Yes, well, I guess the first thing that I think about is how frustrating it is to have limitations, just our desires have no limitations. But our ability actually to do things, we are very limited and it's very frustrating.
I mean, I can feel really guilty and struggle with self-criticism if I'm just really tired and can't do things that I want to do. Especially with friendships and relationships that, kind of, I just dropped the ball on. Because I'm in a period of life where I just feel like there's so much going on, and I feel like just getting through the day is taking everything out of me. I've been there before and I can relate to this question a lot.
Alison: Yes, a couple of thoughts that I have. I feel this, too, I think it's true for all of us, different seasons of life. Sometimes we go through seasons where we have a lot of bandwidth for investing in friendship, and sometimes we have less.
A couple of things I would say is, number one, you've got your trusted friends, people who are already safe. I think naming is really helpful and I've had to do a lot of that, and say, "Man, this is a season for me where I'm not as available on the day to day, but I would love quality." And, so, for me, structure has been so helpful during busy seasons to just set those expectations.
So, for me, what can be helpful is, "Let's do a monthly check in where we're going to go deep. But I may not be so great at the day to day, just back and forth because that's hard for me." So that's one way I've learned to balance during busy seasons. Is just to name that with folks; "Here's what I can do. Here's what I can't. I'm not going to be that daily text buddy because I just don't have the bandwidth for that. But I'd love a monthly walk and talk on the phone." So that's one way. It's just to structure it, name it, and talk it through with a friend, maybe a friend.
And number two is you've got to figure out how to coordinate it with friends who might want more or who might want less. And if it's a healthy friendship, you can have that conversation. You can do it. You can say, "Hey, listen this is what I can do. What do you want?" And then you negotiate it, "Here's where we can keep in touch." I'm a big fan of structure and just naming. Just because someone else wants a certain way of interacting.
Someone else wants to be able to be on the phone every day or be texting all the time, doesn't mean you have to be that way. And it also doesn't mean it has to be the end of the friendship. It means you have to have a conversation.
The other thing is that research I mentioned last week, that I think is so interesting. That talks about we do have limited capacity for friendships. We have the capacity to sustain around five intimate friends. That's not that many, if you think about it.
And, so, you have to really be intentional and think about who are those people that even when I have a lot on my plate, I'm going to invest in. And if I know, in my mind, who they are and I've pre-committed to those people. I'll do the work to make sure that those ones stay intact, and the other folks I can care about.
When you get out to that outer layer of the 15 to the 20. Where you really care about them but you don't have as much to invest, you really have to let your actions speak. You may not respond to every email or every text. It doesn't mean you don't care about them. What I do with folks is I may not respond to every text but I know, in my mind, I'm going to respond about once a week.
Cindy: Part of it is there's a fear of disappointing people or disappointing friends. And that research you mentioned of, "Hey, we're not built to have 100 close friends." And, yet, many of us might feel the pressure to have these really huge best friend groups.
Alison: And I think social media has contributed to that. Where there's this illusion of in-touchiness, where we can be in touch with a whole lot of people. But as we've discussed in this podcast, that's not really what I'm encouraging you toward, which are these deep intentional friendships. And I don't know that all people understand that. Different people have different ideas about what a friend is.
I just want to acknowledge that it's okay if you are someone who says I need a couple of deep friendships. Where we have a few conversations, maybe, one or two deep conversations a week, and I don't do a lot of that extra stuff, that's okay. You don't need to feel guilty about that. I do agree. I think there's pressure in our world to be constantly in touch with people, and if that works for you.
Again, some people are more extroverted than others, there's a way in which that's fine. But if that's not you to really go into your own self with God and determine, "What do I need? What kind of friendship do I need and how do I thrive in friendship?" Name that for yourself, define that for yourself. Get really clear about that and it gets back to what I talked about in The Best of You. It's, "What am I saying yes to?"
So don't think so much about all the things you're saying no to because that's where the guilt comes in. Start with "What am I saying yes to?" I am saying yes to these couple of folks during this season. Where I meet with them once a week, maybe, it's a small group. Or I take a walk once a week with this person, or I have a phone call, once a month, with this group of folks. Whatever it is, get really clear about what you're saying yes to.
And, then, those nos, the things you don't have bandwidth for. You'll feel a little bit of guilt at first, but remind yourself, "This is what I'm saying yes to." This is how I become a better human, a better parent if you have kids.
A better wife, if you're married, a better friend, a better worker, a better colleague. And it doesn't mean I don't care about these other people. I can care about them. I can lift them in prayer. I can check in as I am able, but I only have so much capacity. This is just science. This is just psychology, "I only have so much capacity. I am not God."
Sometimes you can remind yourself, "I am a limited human with finite capacity. I can invest in this many folks and I am not God, and I have to let the rest go." And people who are healthy will understand that and they will be there for you, on the other side. People who get angry about that, people who are mad at you about that. Is it really your job to keep those people happy so they're not mad at you? No, it's not. You got to let that go and it's hard.
But this is a muscle you have to develop, this no muscle. I only have this much capacity and everything else is not my responsibility, and I got to let it go. And I'm not responsible for all of those folks, who want more of me than I can give. And this gets back, again, into those childhood wounds. Where we've been conditioned, we got to be all things to all people and that is just a lie. It is just not true. It is not your job.
So take that time, get really clear about the yeses, "These are the folks I'm going to invest in."
"These are the folks I will give time to."
"This is how much time I have to give."
"This is my optimal capacity." And then you got to let the rest go, and you got to hold your hands open and give those folks up to God. You are not being mean. You are not being cruel. You are releasing other people to live out their best lives with other folks. That's what you can do before God.
Cindy: Yes, that's so good. One more thing I would add is, I really like what you said about in different seasons we have different capacities. And, so, if you're finding yourself in a period of time where you're just really exhausted and tired. And I would say that, I mean, for me, when I really started doing a lot of therapy, and self-reflection, and this deep work of getting to know myself, and revisiting past wounds.
That work is really tiring and it takes a lot out of you. And, at the same time, it's so healing and good. But it's also extremely tiring, and it can be really hard to then have energy to socialize in the way that you used to. And your lifestyle might change and you might find yourself more lonely at times.
But, I think, clinging on to the hope that it's not always going to be like that. You're not always going to feel completely drained. And, yes, the metaphor of a cocoon is pretty good. In this period of time, I'm growing so much, but I'm in my own little, healing, bubble, I don't know. But, eventually, I'm going to grow out of my cocoon and move out into the world, in a new way. In a way that is going to be so much more life-giving to me.
But being patient with the process, and trying to release that guilt and self-criticism maybe about, "Oh, I'm not socializing as much as I used to."
"I'm not being everything to everyone like I used to because I'm saying yes to myself now." And that's so good, but it can induce a lot of guilt.
Alison: And I would take it one step further. You're becoming a good friend to yourself, and that should be at the top of everybody's list. It's, "How do I be a good friend to myself first because I'm not going to be a good friend to anybody else if I'm not, first, being a good friend to myself. I need time with myself. I need time to discern. We're undoing. We're unlearning some of this old conditioning." And it's very countercultural.
There's so much pressure both from the secular culture, from the Christian culture, from the social media culture. More and more is always better from all different angles. And I would say very much, I agree with you, Cindy, both in my own life and in my practice, I see it with my clients. Drawing inward, slowing things down, getting smaller, it can feel foreign. It can feel lonely.
But you learn how to be a good friend to yourself, and it is the best place from which to pull in those deep, meaningful, reciprocal, life-giving, life-changing friendships with other people. I want to add to that these seasons of life, it can happen when you first get married. When you first have children.
I've seen this throughout, at every season of life where you're adding in relationships takes more bandwidth, takes more capacity. We need these pauses. And, again, we don't do this in our culture. We don't take the pause to go, "Oh, this is a new season, I've just changed my responsibility."
Even taking on a new job, "I need to take a minute to pull back, to pay attention to my capacity, to realign, where I'm giving out, where I'm taking in." So it's so important with each season of life. It can happen at empty nest. Where suddenly you find you have more capacity to take a minute. Allow yourself time to adjust in every season of life.
Cindy: So, moving on to the third question. This one we got various people asking it's about new friendships and initiating new friendships, meeting new people, and navigating that whole process. So the question is, "How do you assess for safety and trust when you're meeting new potential friends?"
Alison: Yes, this is such a great question. And we're not taught this, which is so fascinating to me. We're taught so many things about, "Be a good friend."
"Show up for others."
But we're not taught how to test a new relationship. In fact, oftentimes, we feel bad about that. I think, especially, as Christians, we feel like we're supposed to be loving.
We're always supposed to show up for others. But it's so important to discern trustworthiness, to discern safety. Especially as an adult and, especially, if you've been hurt.
So the first thing I would say is to insert this idea that it's wise to move slowly. It's wise to test a new relationship, to discern safety. We would do this in our dating relationships, that's why we date. You're dating to discern not just fit but health, and safety, and you can do that very strategically.
Testing doesn't mean you're putting the other person on trial. It's not sitting back and going, "Are you going to be good enough for me?" It's not that. It's a process of discernment. And it's a process, again, of being a good friend to yourself. You're going to show yourself that you are worthy of a healthy friendship. And, so, you're going to take your time to discern trust.
And, so, the first thing I would do is consider your past patterns. Are you somebody who rushes into a friendship and becomes that listening ear for everybody else. But quickly find that nobody's doing that same for you, these one-way relationships. Are you somebody who constantly feels disappointed by other people?
Are you somebody who struggles with setting boundaries in your friendships?
Are you somebody who struggles with stating your own needs, with being vulnerable?
As you spoke to a little bit, Cindy, in friendship. So think about your patterns, and then that's what you want to test early on. Very early on, you want to challenge yourself to do something a little bit differently before the stakes are so high, and see what happens.
So, for example, if it's really hard for you to share in a friendship, practice early on, challenge yourself. And don't start with your deepest, darkest secret. But I tell the story in The Best of You. Early on, when I was making a new friend; just inviting somebody into my space, that was very vulnerable for me. I was pretty good at going into somebody else's space, and making them feel like a million bucks, and being super affirming and positive for them.
But I had to challenge myself, "What would it be like if I invited somebody into my space." Whether it's into my home, oh, that's so vulnerable. For me, that was vulnerable. Or whether it's into a story, maybe, something that's true about my past that's just a little bit vulnerable, and doing it intentionally to notice how do they respond to that?
Can they meet you there?
Can they provide that same encouragement for you? Or do they just blow past it, and not notice, and not really care? So you're putting out, again, a little bit of a breadcrumb. Can they take that?
Can they see you?
Cindy: Yes, that's good. I think a lot of what we're trying to find in other people. This ability to trust them and feel safe with them. I think being someone who you can trust, for yourself. Being someone you can trust and feel safe with, is so important.
Cindy: I know that I struggled a lot with trust, previously, and I still do now. But it's gotten a lot better, and it's because I committed to being honest and I really committed to living a life of integrity. And ever since I had that as a value that I knew I wanted to say yes to, I began to notice in other people. In new people that I met, signs of trustworthiness. And I don't really know how to explain it really, specifically, but I just could just feel that.
I guess one specific scenario, I was in a friend group and people were beginning to hit that slightly gossipy conversation territory. And one of the people in the group just said, pretty casually, "hey, I'm not really comfortable talking about this person behind their back. Can we move on to something else?" And that was like, "Oh, green flag, I love that they just did that."
But before I knew that I really valued honesty, and integrity, and had that value, I don't think I would have been as drawn to that.
Alison: Yes, that makes a lot of sense. As we become trustworthy for ourselves, we become attuned to what matters to us, and suddenly we notice, "Oh, I like that. I like what that person did." And, so, we're going to move toward, more seamlessly, folks who will be safe for us.
Cindy: Yes, and another part of that is, I think, what happens, subconsciously, is if I told white lies or if someone asked me to do something that I didn't want to do, but I still did it and made it seem like I wanted to do it. I would assume that everyone else is treating me like that, too. So if I asked someone to do something for me and they willingly did it. I would still fear that they were just pretending to willingly do it because that's what I was doing to all my friends.
Alison: That's so good.
Cindy: But when I started living with integrity, and saying no if I didn't want to and saying yes when I did want to. It really helped me trust that other people were doing that, too.
Alison: Yes, and you start to discern the more you're aware of your own propensity to do things like that. You do have a little bit more of an accurate radar for where it's happening. I always say that to people, the more health you bring in, the less tolerance you have for unhealthy and toxicity in others. You just notice it much more.
Cindy: That's so true much more. It just comes so much more quickly. So our inner work, dramatically, impacts our ability to pull in these people. Cindy, when we first connected and we were talking about the possibility of working together.
I remember, and it's a little bit different because this is more of a work situation. But this applies to friendships and it applies to any relationship, really. And I remember it felt very important to me that I named that I'm not very good at delegating all the things that I am not very confident in. As someone who has a hard time asking for help, not only from friends, but in my work life.
And, for me, it was so helpful to say, "Listen, this is what I'll be good at. This is what I'm going to be struggling with and what I've got a learning curve on, and I just want you to know that." And I want you to know that as you see that you can tell me. You can say, "I just want you to know this." So that you feel free we've named it. There's no surprises. And that, to me, is very freeing, and I'll do that with new friends, too. I'll be like, "Here's what's good, here's what might be hard." And it's on the table and then there's no surprises.
And, so, when I find myself doing things that I still do, that can be confusing to people, or if I find myself doing some of those things it's out there. And there's so much freedom inside of me, then, because I know there are no secrets.
I'm not trying to pretend that I've got it all together. I'm not trying to pretend I've arrived. I still have a learning curve, here's what it is. If you can accept that about me, if you can embrace that about me, and if I can, likewise, embrace your learning curve, whoever that may be. Whether it's you or someone else, we're going to do pretty well together because it's all on the table. There's nothing hidden, and that is such a freeing way to relate to people.
Cindy: Yes, I do remember us having that conversation. And it was so helpful for me that you were the first one to name these things, and I felt really nervous. I mean, I really wanted you to like me, but I felt anxious about interacting with you. But when you named that I was able to name it, and once I did, freeing is the word. I just felt a lot calmer after that.
Alison: It's fascinating just that naming can dissipate. Neither of us had to fix anything for each other. It was just, "Here's what I'm coming in with that makes me feel nervous." And, then, you, "Here is what I'm coming in." And I was like, "Okay, good, it's all out now. It's out on the table." So that is just another great way when you're testing a new relationship, a new friendship. That's another example where you can say to somebody, early on, and you think about dating, there's actually much better templates for dating than there are for friendship.
But it's not that dissimilar where you can practice saying, "Listen, I'm new to making friends. Here is what makes me nervous. Here is what I'm anxious about. Here's what I'm good at, here is what I'm not good at. I just want to put this on the table. And if that person cannot meet you there, good to know. You don't want to invest in them and if they can meet you there, wow, that's such a great feeling.
Cindy: Yes.[00:37:10] < Music >
Cindy: So moving on to our next question from Kim. Kim asks, "One of my close friends was just diagnosed with terminal cancer. How does our friend group help each other with the pain of this hard road?"
Alison: That's such a tough one, Kim, thank you for writing in. And our hearts and prayers are with you and your friend group, as you go through this together. There's nothing more profound than going through something like that with a group of friends, and it brings out the best of what friendship is all about. And I guess what I would say, number one, is this is something that affects all of you. It's, primarily, affecting your friend, and you're going to be rallying around her. And, also, you are dealing with your own grief as you process the loss of a friend with that friend.
So be really gentle with yourselves. I would say a lot of naming, just naming, less fixing, more naming. In the sense of just being very present to whatever it is that you feel. You'll feel there's so many emotions, the whole range of emotions. There can be a lot of joy and a lot of laughter as you reminisce, as you remember, as you name what's been beautiful, and, then, there's a lot of sadness. And those emotions flip very organically and back and forth, and just to be present to all of it.
It's okay to, at moments, be laughing together and then to just feel the grief together. You'll feel grief at different times, so to just be very flexible. There's this psychological flexibility that is needed in these times that are so poignant. Where they're precious times together. Where you are going to be present to the whole range of human emotions together with this other human.
The other thing I would say is safeguard it. There's going to be a lot of vulnerability. And, so, this may not be the time to be expanding your friendship network or taking on new challenges. This may be a season to really be present to this process, to this grieving process with this friend and with this friend group. To allow yourself to step into that place.
Which means you will have reduced capacity in other areas and to let other people know that, whoever you need to let know that. That "This is where I'm at. This is what I'm giving my attention to. I need to be present to this all of the full range of emotions that it requires." And to really just let yourself be in that process with your friends.
It's precious time, it's sacred, it's holy, it's hard, it's also beautiful. And to not deny yourself any of that process on this journey, with your friend. I would also say to not make assumptions about what your friend needs to ask. What do you need?
What can we do? And to not project and to not have any expectations or assumptions about what she might need. She may need you to laugh with her. She may need you to be normal with her. She may need you to just do the normal things that she's always done. She may want you to really help her in ways that you haven't anticipated. So just be really open to what she needs and honor that as best you can.
The other thing I would say, from my experience in my own family, if there are children involved, is I would as much as possible normalize. We don't really normalize grief in our society and the ups and downs of it. Children are amazing. Sometimes they will be laughing and having fun and just enjoying themselves, and that's normal and great, too. And sometimes they'll get really sad and it'll start to hit them.
So there's, again, that psychological flexibility to just be present, especially, if there are kids involved, especially to the immediate family that's grieving. The emotions come out in all sorts of ways. Sometimes there's anger and to be present to that, it takes that agility to support a family that is grieving, that is going through a loss. So, again, just prepare for that as much as possible by reducing your capacity. Because you will be surprised at all the things that will come out and at the flexibility that is required.
Cindy: All right, so I think the last question we'll hit on, today, is from Meg. "How do we be friends with someone who is draining but needs friends? Is it unbiblical to leave the social outcast because they're awkward and or don't have the social skills to be a deep friend?"
Alison: I love this question, and it's so important because we talk a lot about friendships being two-way streets. We need those folks who are pouring into us just as we are pouring into them. You have to have those friends. Again, that research that you need about five, three to five of those two-way friendships. You don't need a lot, but you need a few of those two-way reciprocal friendships.
That being said, we all need to have some capacity to love the folks who are hard to love. That is part of following Jesus. And, in my experience, those folks bring me joy in ways that are unparalleled. It's a different kind of thing, and I don't know that I would even call it friendship. I'm also not really comfortable calling it ministry.
Because, in my experience, some folks just showing kindness to folks, reaching out to folks who maybe don't know how to engage a deeper conversation or, for whatever reason, stand a little bit more on the edges of our social groups.
What I have found is those are some of my favorite people to interact with. And I make it a priority to have a conversation with those folks, and establish a relationship, and a rapport with people who may not have that capacity to invest in me or pour back into me, but I still get something. And I just see that in Jesus, He was always going to the folks on the margins, who didn't fit into mainstream society. And I love that you ask the question.
So what I want to say is this all of this gets back to healthy boundaries and capacity. If that's the only thing you're doing. If you're somebody who is compulsively reaching out to all the people who are hurting. All the people who are in need. All the people who are just desperate for your attention, and you take on that messiah complex and it's killing you, and it's draining you.
And I've seen people, in my therapy office, who just have that beautiful heart. And I talk about this a lot, the empathy trap where they just are pouring out and then they are just nothing coming in, that is not healthy. That will not work.
You have to have those two-way, reciprocal, deep, friendships. And, also, as you are nourishing yourself, as you are filling your own cup, you have more to give to folks. You have more kindness to give to people. And you will find, in that proper balance, that you get something back from those folks, too. You get something back. It's different. It's not the same as that mirroring that withness, but it's just the joy of seeing the image of God in all people.
And, so, I would say these two things go hand in hand. As you fill up your tank, as you have those deep, life-giving friendships. You have more capacity to show up for folks who maybe don't have the skills to relate socially in those same ways. But who also will just be delighted by those different kinds of interactions.
Cindy: Yes. I would say, to this question, I think, it's important to look inwards and see where you're at. I don't know if this is the case. But if the question is coming from a place of, "I'm really drained by this person, and I really don't feel like I have the capacity to hang out with this person anymore. Is it unbiblical to leave them?" I mean, I would say that if you're running on empty. It's good to do things that fill you back up before you keep trying to give when you have nothing left to give.
We might feel guilty for doing that. We're expecting ourselves to always be pouring out, even if we have nothing left in the tank. And I think it's so good, what you said about we can't just be these people here to help everyone else and lose ourselves in the process.
Alison: Yes, I would say, actually, the litmus test, so if you are feeling drained because you are pouring so much out to help others, you're probably out of balance. And, so, in my experience, when my own tank is being filled. When I've got those deep friendships in place, I find joy in interacting with folks where there is more of a need on the other end. And, so, that's my litmus test. If it's bringing me joy and I'm delighting in it, then, I know I'm operating from a full tank.
But if it's dragging me down, and I'm exhausted, and I'm bitter, and I'm resentful, and I'm like, "I just can't deal with this." That's a cue that something is out of balance. And, so, you may need to step back, for a little while, to get things back into balance where you're getting nourished. Where you're getting those needs met. So there's more overflow for folks who need a little bit of extra from you.
Cindy: Yes, that's so good. Just the litmus test of if you're feeling joyful versus if you're just building resentment.
Alison: Yes, resentment-based, guilt-driven love, resentment-driven love is not love.
Alison: So as we close, think about who are those three to five that you can pull in? Whether from your past. Whether you're going to really commit to making a new friend, to go deeper with, that takes work. That takes time.
So you may be listening going, "I need to devote the next six months to finding a friend like that." And, again, using that dating analogy, that will take time. There will be some trial and error, it may not happen overnight. It will happen if you put effort into it. And if that's the season you're in, focus on that, that overflow will come later.
And, then, if you've got those few people and you're getting more intentional, as we've talked through this series. About really ensuring you're spending the time needed to bearing witness to each other, to being with each other, then you might begin to notice. How is that overflowing?
How does that change my capacity to show up for others outside of those friendships? So pay attention to where you are on your friendship journey. It's never too late. You can always begin to make new friends, to pull old friends in closer, and begin to look for the fruit.
Where is their joy? Where is their goodness? Where are you feeling life? What is bringing you life? What is bringing out the best of you in these relationships? Move toward those, and I promise you that overflow will come.
Well, thank you, everybody, for joining us. Thank you, Cindy, it was so delightful for me to have you here with me, as a conversation partner. Thank you so much for joining me and adding your wisdom.
Cindy: I enjoyed being on here with you a lot.
Alison: We'll do it again. We look forward to hearing more about your story in just a few weeks.
Cindy: I'm excited.[00:11:28] < Outro >
Thank you for joining me for this week's episode of The Best of You. It would mean so much if you take a moment to subscribe. You can go to Apple, Spotify, Amazon Music or wherever you listen to podcasts and click the Plus or Follow button. That will ensure you don't miss an episode, and it helps get the word out to others. While you're there. I'd love it if you'd leave your five-star review. I look forward to seeing you, back here, next Thursday. And remember, as you become the best of who you are, you honor God, you heal others, and you stay true to your God-given self.
12th July 2023