Just the other day I called one of my good friends who is currently coping with a major life crisis. Her father has been diagnosed with cancer and she tells me it is terminal. He has only months to live. It is during these times when I feel at my most inadequate. What can one say or do to help? So I just said a simple, “I am here for you.” Despite everything she is going through she made sure to ask about me, my family, and my kids. And I thought to myself, “This is a GOOD friend.”
When you live with depression making and keeping friends can be a challenge. I find that I tend to do best making friends with those who have faced similar challenges and those who understand that I will have my good and bad days. In my experience I have also found that trust is a key element in making and sustaining friendships. For anyone who has faced early traumas such as loss, neglect, or any type of abuse, trust can prove to be a very difficult feat. In many cases the person with depression who has experienced these life challenges may vacillate from extremes as in trusting too much or trusting too little. It is a very delicate balance. It can seem like many things could break that initially tentative friend-connection.
I am sure everyone here has experienced being burned by friendship where you thought you had a friend but it really wasn’t the case after all. For the person with depression these losses can feel devastating. You may beat yourself up by asking, “What is wrong with me?” or “What did I do wrong?” Part of the problem may be in our blind-spots due to our mood disorder or social history which leaves us clueless about what is healthy and what is not healthy with regard to our relationships. In this post I will share some of my hard earned wisdom about the warning signs of a doomed or unhealthy friendship and the elements of a friendship which can grow and blossom.
Warning signs of an unhealthy friendship:
• You feel like you can’t be yourself in the friendship.
You fear the loss of the friendship if you don’t act in a certain way to fit in with your friend’s standards. In some cases you feel like you have to dummy yourself down or be less than in order for your friend to like you. In either case you feel like you have to hide your true self in order to be accepted or liked.
• Your friend attempts to be your mentor or acts like you are a lost puppy they need to save.
I have had mentors in my life such as my first therapist, certain teachers, and adult figures when I was a child or teen. Some might argue with this but friends are not mentors and mentors are usually not your friend. There is an important distinction because with friendship you are on equal footing. A friend can inspire, give advice, and provide support. But a friend shouldn't be trying to mold you in their image. Eliza Doolittle I am not. When someone tries to fix me, save me, or tell me why I should emulate them then I know I have someone who wants a co-dependent sidekick and not a real friend.