Thankfully yours…Gratitude and Friendship

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The time between Thanksgiving in Canada and the US always seems to remind of me how grateful I am for friends near and far. Since I became a dual citizen this year, it seems even more poignant. This moment when fall heads into winter feels like a time for *going in* and creating space to reflect on and celebrate our friendships.

It is amazing just to sit and reflect on the diversity of wonderful friends who make the fabric of one’s life so stunning. Thanksgiving is a reminder to be grateful for every kind of friendship, those that bring joy and delight, and those that are challenging.

We are all hard-wired to connect, in fact, our survival as a species depends on the health and strength of these connections. And these connections are what I am out grateful for.

In my experience, growth happens in every connection. When I am challenged in one relationship, I turn to people I trust to work through *my stuff* and then I can return to the challenge and face the issues with a deeper sense of myself and a greater ability to see the other’s perspective.

It has taken me a long time to hear my own voice in connection to others. Perhaps you know what I mean. I have long been afraid of loss of connection. Fearing that if I truly showed up as my *weird self* then I would be rejected. As with many, I had experiences of rejection that served to *prove* that my fear was real and legit. 

Phew! It can still be so intense to think about those hard experiences. I have learned that I can risk rejection, in fact I must, because I need to be able to show up fully as myself to those closest to me. I need to trust that I can be vulnerable and open and that my friends will do the same with me. In these connections, we experience and develop empathy.

Deep empathy for our friends releases the bonding neurotransmitter oxytocin and oxytocin helps to calm the *old*part of brain that is in charge of the flight/flight/freeze response. “Oxytocin… calms the reactivity of the amygdala, the fear centre of your brain, and strengthens its communication with brain circuits that help you control emotions. New studies are adding to a body of literature that shows oxytocin plays a key role in…social affiliation….labeled the “tend and befriend” response, as opposed to the “fight or flight”.

When we truly tune into each other — not sympathy or trying to fix things but really getting what an experience feels like for our friend — then oxytocin is released. You know that experience when you are sitting with a friend without judgement, pity or trying to fix things, and you just listen. Your heart is open and you are able to *hold* both yourself and your friend in the experience, whether it is deep pain or overwhelming joy. This is the part of the neurobiology of friendship and relationships.
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And, here is the really GREAT news: we don’t always have to be this tuned in because we can also repair if we need to! We can say, “Hey, I am sorry. I was trying to fix things for you the other day instead of just listening, and waiting for you to let me know that you were ready to move to action (fixing).”

Dr. Dan Siegel, the neuropsychiatrist who wrote Mindsight, talks about the hallmarks of a secure attachment as feeling Seen, Soothed, Safe and Secure. It is also known as attunement or feeling felt. What does this look like or feel like?  It might be that friend you can call when you are really distressed and she will *get it*, *get you*. It could be that friend who really just listens, who knows that that is what you need, at least in that moment. Or it might be that friend who jumps in and says, *I am coming over, just to keep you company right now.* Or, it might be that friend who is overjoyed at your good news.

I am grateful for all of the relationships in my life that have allowed me to know this experience. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.

So, how do we express our gratitude? And how do we know a friend is grateful?

I have one friend who writes lovely cards and pops them in the mail every now and then. These cards are sometimes “just because,” there is no occasion a4c898176735afde0dfe1b3698aa899e-1being recognized.

Giving of ourselves – whether it be a card or gift, a kind word, a helping hand, an ear to listen or spend time doing something fun together – is important for deepening connection and trust in our friendships, and showing gratitude. We all have different modes of staying connected too — text, email, cards, phone, social media, video chat, in-person — that feel more and less comfortable. Find what fits for you and use it!

Meditation is another great way to express gratitude. I believe that people can sense when someone is thinking of them. They might not know exactly who it is but they can feel held.

  • Do you have a favourite gratitude meditation you can share? If so, can you share the link or info in the comments section?
  • Do you have special ways you let your friends know how grateful you are for your connection?
  • What are your favourite ways to stay in  touch with friends?

Resources/Sources:
http://www.livescience.com/35219-11-effects-of-oxytocin.html
http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-20069/why-spending-time-with-friends-boosts-your-oxytocin.html

Forgiving. Forgiveness. For Good.

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On the heels of our previous blog post on Conflict and The Four Horsemen, we started to talk about forgiveness and what it means for friendship. Why is it important in friendships?

What does it mean to forgive following a conflict or in the face of unmet expectations?  In this blog post, we are talking about forgiving hurts, disappointments, let downs, humiliations, feeling left out, or feeling exposed without your permission (and more.)

Forgiving is not easy, especially for those of us who stockpile our hurts with a layer of resentment on top of it. Forgiving goes hand in hand with being able to be in conflict with each other which can be quite uncomfortable.

“Although it can be painful, sometimes a person we love seeks distance that we have to accept. Our friends are free to be friends with whomever they choose. Their feelings for us may wax and wane. We want everyone we love to be loyal and stable figures in our lives, but we can’t always have that. Change and impermanence are part of every relationship, and we can’t hold the clock still, much as we may try.”
~Harriet Lerner, The Dance of Connection

Sometimes forgiving is connected to what John Gottman refers to as repairing a rupture in your friendship. In relational terms repair is about getting back on track. And it allows for resilience to grow in your relationship. And, as it turns out, it is the recipient of repair that makes the difference along with how we choose to maintain friendship, intimacy and emotional connection.

Gottman describes a repair attempt as “any statement or action – silly or otherwise – that prevents negativity from escalating out of control.” If we need to, how can we develop these strategies within our friendships?

Forgiveness does not mean you are condoning what your friend did or said, or what happened, or didn’t happen. It doesn’t mean forgetting either or that you have to go back to the friendship. It might be part of the letting go process in a friendship.

Forgiving is for ourselves, not for the other person. Holding onto a hurt or a grudge can turn into bitterness and can become toxic within ourselves. It is for our own mental and physical health that we forgive ourselves and others.

The process of forgiving is owning what is our part in what happened. What is our role in what unfolded and how do we make amends? It takes courage to let someone know you have been hurt.

In his book, Forgive for Good: A Proven Prescription for Health and Happiness, Fred Luskin delves into forgiveness in all kinds of relationships.

“Forgiveness helps people control their emotions so they maintain good judgment. They do not waste precious energy trapped in anger and hurt over things they can do nothing about. Forgiveness acknowledges we can’t change the past. Forgiveness allows us not to stay stuck in the past.” ~Fred Luskin, Forgive for Good

While there is no *right* way to forgive, here are some guidelines:

  • Be genuine: apologize from the heart.
  • Be clear with your boundaries: in other words, be clear about what is OK and not Ok with you.
  • Know your own hot buttons.
  • Consider and share: how are we going to go forward differently?
  • You might want to write your very personal, raw, angry, unfiltered rough draft of your perspective. Do not send it. Keep writing and rewriting until, perhaps, you have words you can share with your friend.

It can be humbling and healing to forgive. It takes courage and self-awareness to acknowledge and accept our own flaws. Embracing our differences and understanding that conflict offers us opportunities to learn about ourselves and our friends.

1Perhaps we can imagine that forgiveness is a suspension bridge that keeps the lines of communication open and allows us to see each other more clearly.

“Forgiveness is the feeling of peace that emerges as you take your hurt less personally, take responsibility for how you feel, and become a hero instead of a victim in the story you tell.” ~Fred Luskin, Forgive for Good