How therapy helped me change my perspective on friendship so I could let people in

September 17th is National Women’s Friendship Day.

I’d always desperately clung to the idea of belonging to a group of friends. It’s not that I’d never had friends; I’d just never had them all in one close-knit group, the way you see friendships portrayed in television and movies. Yes, I had an “inner circle” of friends, but each individual friend was so far removed from one another.

I’m in my early twenties. Some friends are getting married, others are finishing college, and some people, like me, feel as though life is moving too fast, and all they can do is mourn as it passes by. The changes happening in all of my friends’ lives threw me for a bit of a loop.

I didn’t feel supported without that close-knit group of friends. I craved the sense of belonging that I imagine one feels with an “inner circle,” but I was clueless as to how to achieve it.

Upon reflection, my concern feels a bit juvenile. When I first described my feelings to my therapist, she asked me if I felt that I needed that one group of friends because I thought my inner circle of individual friends had failed me. I was uncharacteristically quiet for a while, and then changed the subject — though I actually thought about that question for the rest of the session and thereafter.

To answer my therapist’s question, I had to dissect a couple of ideas that were fixed for me. First, what is an inner circle? To me, an inner circle described the people who knew everything about me, who had seen me at my most vulnerable. If they hadn’t been there for me at the exact moment that I considered my most vulnerable, then they were out. This, as expected, left very few people to have as close friends.

In a somewhat overdramatic moment of despair (though it was understandable then), I found myself crying at my desk. I’d tried to write a list of those I considered my closest friends, but the page remained blank. I simply couldn’t think of any people who I felt knew absolutely everything about me, and that devastated me. My day ended with a teary evening full of far too much ice cream for a Tuesday. I felt anxious and incredibly alone, struck with the realization that I had no “inner circle.”

My small crisis saw me reevaluating friendships on a level I didn’t recognize.

Suddenly, I’d begun to wonder whether the people who were my friends knew me at all, giving way to circular reasoning (excuse the pun) that convinced me nobody knew me.

At my next therapy appointment, I told my psychologist about the turmoil I’d experienced in the days since I’d seen her, and all of the ways I had tried to (unsuccessfully) deal with this new stress. After a good half hour of crying, she asked me why I thought this “inner circle” was so important. I sat opposite from her, offended for a beat, and then confused.

I didn’t have an answer.

I’d become so wrapped up in an idea of friendship — in a mold that I was convinced relationships should fit into — that I no longer knew why I even thought that way.

I had convinced myself that I needed to be closed off from my existing friends in order to find “real friends.” But life isn’t long enough for anyone to spend time concealing their truth.

Much time has passed since that crisis, but I’ve only recently come to a real understanding of what I was looking for. I’ve learned that it’s okay if nobody knows everything about you.

Nobody can know enough about you to be the friend that you need to be to yourself.

It’s too easy to get caught up in an idea of what friendship is supposed to be, so you ignore an opportunity for a friendship to actually thrive. Don’t hold back on what could be an incredible relationship for the ages. Find the people you connect with, and if it feels right, let them in.

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