Creating True Friendships
By Barbara Hildt
We all need and want true friends. A few good friends are more valuable to us than having dozens or even hundreds of “friends” in Facebook. A true friend is someone you can count on being there for you when you’re in need or feeling down. The friend doesn’t always need to be there in person. Thanks to Skype and FaceTime we can be geographically far apart and still see each other’s faces and discern their feelings by listening and watching.
True friends let their friends speak to them about their concerns without interrupting. They can trust the friend they confide in will not break confidence by telling others about what the friend has shared.
To develop a friendship based on more than just things in common, two people need to show that they are truly interested in what the other is experiencing, knows, believes and feels about things. If a friend is a great talker but not such a great listener, the friendship is not balanced. As a result, the friend who mostly listens without being listened to tends to feel cheated and possibly resentful.
If one person talks most of the time, sharing his or her experiences and thinking without giving the other person a chance to speak about his or her experiences and views, then something important is missing in their relationship. The person who talks most of the time without showing interest in the other person sends an unspoken message of not caring, even if they have physically embraced that person.
In respectful, caring relationships, whether a friendship or a partnership, people show interest in what the other person is thinking and feeling. Disregard is a form of disrespect. Studies of social and emotional competency show that individuals with the ability to empathize with others have much better relationships, both personal and professional. Those who habitually fail to ask others how they are feeling send an unspoken message that how others feel does not matter to them. We need to show that we care by inquiring how others are and carefully listening to their responses.
Healthcare providers such as physicians, nurses and therapists have been trained to ask, “How are you feeling today?” All people who want to be caring friends should learn to ask others, “How are you doing?”
Empathy is an essential element of any true friendship. To feel empathy for another person, one must refrain from making assumptions based on knowledge and experiences stored in their dominant, analytical left-brain. Empathy comes when the heart and open mind, freeing the imagination and intuition, which reside in the right hemisphere of the brain. Individuals who haven’t yet learned to feel and express empathy for others lack the ability to create caring, healthy social connections and relationships. Some adults lack social competency skills because they were not taught these skills when they were developing socially. Some lack the incentive to risk showing they care for others because they have experienced hurt from people they once trusted. People with Aspergers Syndrome tend to have difficulties empathizing, expressing feelings and relating socially. But they still need to know others care about them.
The good news is that most people can learn to create more caring friendships by talking less, listening more with empathy and withholding judgement. In other words, by learning to accept and love others as they are. It takes awareness of our old habits, determination and practice to create better interpersonal relationships. The rewards can be enormous.