Photo Copyright Geoff Adams
Friendship is a fascinating topic - ask someone who makes friends easily what they do to make friends and they will often say “I don’t know, it just happens”. Much like asking someone who sleeps well every night how they do it, they don’t know, it just happens, they fall asleep with ease. However, for some people, their experience of friendships is not one of ease, it is often riddled with negative experiences, upset and confusion.
At the start of my therapeutic career, I worked as a Speech and Language Therapist with children with autism. I spent many hours standing in playgrounds and classrooms observing and assessing social interaction and watched many of these children attempt to navigate their way through the choppy waters of social relationships. More often than not they desperately wanted friends but were unable to recognise and utilise the intuitive social skills needed to develop and maintain positive social relationships. Their parents often longed for them to receive one playdate invite, as it was so painful to see their child friendless. I can never underestimate the healing effect for that child’s well-being when they eventually developed one good friendship.
Now years later as a psychologist, I recognise adults in my clinic who may have experienced similar social communication difficulties as a child and support them therapeutically. However, the topic of friendships is not only relevant to these clients, we all experience our own relationship with friendship in different ways. As humans, we are all wired for human connection in order to thrive and ultimately friendship is about human connection. As friends, we share experiences, conversations, emotions, and time together - joy and laughter, as well as the challenges and discord that inevitably arise with human connection.
Friendship is often ‘glamourised’ through tv series like Friends and Sex and the City painting a perfect picture of friendship, infused with humour and shiny hair. In addition, social media is often peppered with friendship posts and photos of groups of smiley people on nights out. As a result, a visual representation of friendship has been created that excites and ignites aspirations for friendships to appear perfect online. Sadly, this leads to the false assumption that the quantity of friends and group photos, is a measure of likeability and social success. This can impact negatively on self-esteem and psychological well-being as the number of symbols on the screen starts to influence peoples’ thoughts about their friendships and dictate how they will feel that day. In a sense, the computerised information has a hotline to the person’s emotional regulation system without the quality of any real human connection.
Throughout all of my therapeutic work, I continue to be uplifted by the healing effect of friendship on a person’s psychological well-being. When people develop positive friendships in their lives, I see them grow and blossom. My observation is that the quality of friendships is always more powerful than the quantity of friendships.