3 essential ingredients and 9 important tools for building successful friendships
OR How to build friendships worth growing for a lifetime.
If you prefer to listen, here's the podcast version of this blog. If you are looking to make new and better friendships that you can invest in for a lifetime, this is a blog for you. I will go over what I believe are the three essential ingredients to a great friend in the hopes that it will better enable you to spot them. I also cover nine general rules for being a great friend to yourself and others —as well as some ways to locate potential friends.
This is for Catherine (thanks girl!). She asked that I talk about what it means to be a good friend and how to practice being one. Catherine's question was more general than my topic but I chose this angle because I feel it's a good way to force yourself to choose better relationships, despite any conditioned-in blinders. Because just like the rest of our decisions in life, old experiences can affect the way we choose friendships. Sometimes our issues compromise our ability to choose the right people for the right reasons, and give or receive the fruits of friendship. In other words, they get in the way of smart and self-loving decision-making. So I present this to you in the hopes that it will allow you to approach friendship from an intentional perspective so that you can build mutually beneficial and powerful friendships, and not superficial relationships that serve to soothe buried pain.
Part 1: What is a good friendship?
We gather friendships to enhance our lives: to share experiences, grow, and learn about ourselves. Often our hearts will lead us to individuals who will teach us lessons we are in need of gathering —in other words, we learn our own values the hard way. They are what we look for in others, moving forward. The short cut to choosing healthy and respectful friendships is through strengthening the bond you have with yourself. Once you have that bond with yourself, you will choose only those who treat you the way you deserve to be treated, even if it means you have to override the fearful emotions that come up in favor of abiding your highest values.
The strongest friendships are built around shared strengths, a shared desire to grow, and shared values. They are formed when you see each other accurately and honestly, and both parties decide to invest in the other person. It is through that investment that you build trust. When you have innate trust, a friendship reaches another level. When you know who a person is, deep down, you can rely on that knowledge over a lifetime —through thick and thin. Trust is built through actions. It is the physical manifestation of your wisdom. It is what gives you credibility. I believe there are three essential ingredients in a strong friendship: Credibility, Heart, and Reciprocity of Value.
Credibility is the demonstration of your wisdom and it's what makes one worthy of trust and further investment. It's not enough just to have good intentions —it's important to act in accordance with your values and demonstrate them with your actions. For you and others you are choosing to invest in, their energy and focus will be reflected in the lives they currently lead. When it comes to building a new friendship, you can build credibility with your actions over time, by the way you choose to show up. You demonstrate to others who you are deep down, and what your values are. That is how trust is built.
The second essential tenant of friendship is Heart. A good friend must have strength of character: a kind heart, a desire to give love and share their self with another person. However, the desire itself is not enough. A good friend must also have love to give —they must also have self-love. If a person doesn't like themselves or they're trapped by fear or pain, they are incapable of giving parts of them to others without depleting themselves. When people self-hate, they cannot receive love from others because they do not feel worthy of it. Instead, they hide their pain and instead give love to "earn" worth in a friendship. To create a relationship like this is one-sided and dishonest. When a relationship is not equal, it is not loving. You must first be right with yourself before you can give that self to others.
The giving you do in your friendships should always equal to how you treat yourself. If you don't treat yourself with love and reverence, you are not acting as an equal to your friend. You're also not acting as someone who deserves a very valuable friendship. Which brings me to the third tenant of a strong friendship. . .
Reciprocity of Value. Friendships need to be equal for them to be honest and loving to both parties. Both individuals must receive a gift from the relationship that is equal in value, though they don't have to be remotely the same. If they are not, the friendship is more of a charity case. For a friendship to be sustainable and self-loving, you must choose a person who is capable of accepting and valuing your gifts. Otherwise you are negating your needs while giving to a person who cannot fully appreciate you. Know that there are many others out there who can and would.
To build lasting friendships, look for others who possess qualities you admire that you want more of in your life. Seek out individuals who share the best traits you have —even if you don't have shared experiences or a shared upbringing. That stuff doesn't matter, it has no bearing on who you decide to be. You should be seeking out the greatest parts of yourself in others. Look for people who inspire and impress you, who make you say, "wow." Don't just go for the people you know you can get along with —try relating to others based on wholly bigger and better levels. Seek those who are confident, happy, and kind, basically all the traits you want yourself. Remember, no matter how intimidating a person might seem to you —the fact that you admire them shows they are a person much like you. You can see their value, therefore you possess the same traits. If you surround yourself with these kinds of people, they will activate the best in you, and you will rise to their level in areas you might be weak, and vice-versa.
Having inspiring friends is one of the most valuable influences you can have in the entirety of your life. They enhance you personally, professionally, spiritually, and support you through pain and also celebrate your triumphs. And it's a win-win relationship, because you give your gifts to them, too.
If you are trying to seek out more inspiring friends, go to places that represent what you want more of in your life. For example, if you want to be around more culture, go to screenings of foreign films and stay for the Q&A. Or take a class at a community college. Be open and be yourself and if it's a mutually-beneficial match, you will recognize the value in one another and grow a bond easily from there. Just be honest, excited about who you are, and relate to people you respect with your own self-loving, super-awesome language. It might be a frail bond at first, but it will be fostered with consistent friend-deserving actions.
How to Build High-Value Friendships? Here are 9 Golden Rules:
1. Be honest and intentional.
Curate the friends you choose to invite into your life based on what inspires you. It's not about closing off less than perfect friends or being elitist —it's about seeking out relationships that will support your own growth potential and doing it with intention. You have been given a wonderful set of eyeballs so that you can identify what's awesome in others, and they're out there, waiting to be mutually rewarded and seen by you. Just be intentional about what you are looking for: you should find an equal, not an obligation. Resist emotional instincts to cling to the "easy" and superficial relationships that don't support who you are. Don't let fearful emotions get the best of you —try to use rational thinking and act with honesty. This is the person you are choosing to invest in. You owe it to no one.
2. Be your own bestie.
You've got to treat yourself like a person worth being friends with. Be proud, happy, confident, and speak well about yourself. Take care in how you present yourself, including how you refer to yourself and your life. You should be proud of who you are and confident in your values. The most important of which is being self-preserving. That means demanding good treatment from others. No excuses. If you accept bad behavior, you're showing you are not worth investing in (aka, a charity case).
3. To motivate trust, first give it.
If you want trust from another person you feel is worthy of friendship, show openness and vulnerability, first. Put yourself out there! Say how you feel and be comfortable looking dumb —it invites others to do the same and feel comfortable around you.
If you are a self-protective person and trying to train yourself to be more open, I find it helpful to simply narrate how I am feeling, like, "I have a hard time opening up because I have never done it before," and see what comes back. Let go of controlling the outcome, aka needing to control what they think of you and you will give them the gift of your trust. Often this gift invites others to rise to the occasion.
5. BYOV: Bring your own value.
You should always be striving to bring value to your relationships. It's what attracted you to your friends —to be invested and engaged in your life is a gift you give back to all of your friends in return. If you want to build new friendships, start consuming and finding cool things that you could bring to a future-friendship. Be like-minded to those you want to attract.
6. Keep all your flags a-flyin'.
Don't edit who you are to fit what you think others will like. Be open to being seen as you are is what ultimately earns you real trust and respect from others. It looks sexy and confident and refreshing and wonderful. It shows you are mature and ready to skip the bullshit in favor of making real progress and honest connections. It's the fear of being judged that looks the most unattractive on a person. It's ironically what shows where you are weak or not confident in their ability to accept and value you.
7. Give freely, receive graciously.
This is truly a demonstration of faith and trust in the other person. Give when you have something to give, freely and unconditionally —meaning, with no strings attached. Receive graciously, and accept gifts. The act of giving is what gives a person enjoyment, and to accept a gift from someone is to show that you appreciate them as equals. It's to acknowledge their feelings toward you and accept them.
To deny a gift is to tell the other person that you are not on the same level —it doesn't make you look selfless, it builds a wall between your connection.
8. Leave Expectations out of the friendship.
It's all about choosing and seeing a friend and honestly accepting the reality of who they are so that you can understand where they are coming from. Good friends don't need to act like you would, and you don't need to analyze their actions with your expectations based on yourself. You can allow them to be who they are and let go off all the individual instances, because you have faith in where they're coming from as an individual thinker. You know the core is good. You don't have to talk everyday, or clarify things constantly. Both of you will have that awareness, innately. If the person is friend-worthy, their heart is definitely always in the right place. The rest doesn't matter.
9. Never stop investing in showing up as your best.
This relationship is about showing up for yourself via this other person: allowing them to witness the true and best you. In order to get the most out of it, as a universal rule —always show up to them as your best self. Yes, you can get away with acting weak and ugly and you will still be loved, but that is not loving. That is not respectful and also not who you are —act as the person you truly are capable of being, always and your personal bar will continuously be raised.
Why go for high-value friendships?
Just like a great partnership, when two people have mutual respect in the other's likes, dreams and abilities, you are able to produce growth far beyond what you would as individuals. I like to think of it as a rock climber belaying up the rock face with another climber holding tight for support. You need trust and then you can both help each other to blossom. You feed each other value and confidence — and life gets better, overall. Plus you get all the great perks that come with a person who cares about you —who's there for you when you need them, who genuinely wants you to succeed, and who will help you when you are low, and expand your life in more ways than you can anticipate. High-value friendships are also effortless to maintain because they rise above all the normal stuff. You can rely on the knowledge of your friendship's immense value to render the little conflicts meaningless, and transcend big changes in each other's lives —such as time you can spend together or location.
Conversely. . .
When a relationship is built on soothing a fear, it cannot support the same growth and value. Often people choose friends based on a fear that they are not good enough. Fear of not being accepted, or fear of being alone: friends become a way to hide or soothe that pain.
"Soothing" friendships are when you set up habits that stunt your growth. For example, when you alter yourself to be accepted by others, you end up isolating yourself within a group that is meant to be representative of you —and which stunts your gifts even more so. It ends up making you feel even more lonely and lost and disconnected to who you are. Or, let's say you feel comfortable as the unconditional helper and you never ask anything in return —you just give and give. If you surround yourself with "takers," you essentially hide your true self from others (it's always about them) and reaffirm the belief that you are not worthy of receiving the same treatment. That is not promoting growth in you, and it is not acting as a good friend to yourself by allowing it.
If putting yourself out there to meet friends is new to you:
Start this process by deciding to let go of controlling the outcome. Simultaneously, build what you like about yourself and who you are. Build value in yourself that you appreciate and can invest in —something you can stand behind, something that is great about you. That confidence is what will protect you regardless of the risks you take when putting yourself out there. You have to show your weak spots to experience the immense value of an intimate friendship.
Keep in mind the judgment you fear is in you and not them. You have no idea what is in the minds of others, and you cannot decide for anyone else —how they will feel. Give people the benefit of the doubt. When you give people your trust, they often rise to the occasion and show up greater than your expectations of them. You will be surprised by the capacity of others to see you and where you're coming from and also what you have in common. If that's not the case, you will have gotten some valuable experience under your belt. It's all about losing the fear of not being loved.
If you have unique circumstances that dictate how others can involve you in their life/be a friend to you and vice-versa, meaning there are circumstances in your life that override being able to do "typical friend stuff," trust people enough to tell them so that they can act according to that information. That shows you are trusting of them and also respectful of their right to make a decision for themselves. If you are worried about shocking them, give the trust time to build before dropping any bombs. Use your gut but also have faith in people's capacity to be supportive and understanding.
In closing. . .
If you don't have friends who support you like you do them, I would guess it's because you have been self-protective and some part of you has never allowed yourself to expect the same from them. Also you're likely choosing people who are selfish because you have issues or feelings you don't want to look at: literally, you don't want to be seen by others. You don't want to be known, deep down —because there's pain. Changing that dynamic starts with wanting to change it. Just start there, and start to build love in things about yourself. Start to ask more for yourself. Know that the more you love yourself, the more you can give to others —the pursuit is well worth it.
You owe it to everyone whose life you are meant to better to think honestly about the relationships you choose to keep and how they are affecting your life. This comes down to value. What is the value of a relationship that does not support your happiness and growth? If you're not seeking out more than just comfort or a salve for loneliness, then I would ask yourself: why? It's not that those people aren't out there —if you haven't found them, it's likely that you're not acting as the person they'd be friends with—because you're not placing enough value in yourself.
There's no limit to how many friends you can have —it's not about capping your heart to a highly select few. It's about investing in others who are capable of reciprocating value in your life, so that you might grow brighter and faster, and then give more of yourself to others who need your inspiration and love, to see their best selves. I believe that if you don't have great friends now, you should. You deserve to find your tribe, to be seen, understood and loved in all your glory. You deserve to receive support and know that you can rely on others. And most importantly, you deserve yourself as a friend.
I hope you enjoyed this and I send you all my love!
xox Sarah May B.
Featured image via Flickr