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.
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 being 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?