Chartered Occupational Psychologist, Consultant, Speaker and Writer

How to Create Friendships with Deep Connection and Soul

How to create friendships

You choke up with sadness, and your friend sits with you without words.

You bubble with delight that you got the new job, and your friend comes for a late-notice glass of wine to celebrate.

You grind your teeth in confusion about your relationship, and your friend talks it through with you without judgement.

Friendships are important, and enrich our lives in multiple ways.

As part of a personal initiative to connect with more kindred spirits last year, I’ve been blessed to make a number of new friends. I’ve written about where to find them, but wanted to share some thoughts on creating lasting and deep friendships.

Why Do I Need Friends Again?

Friendship is something most of us take for granted – there aren’t many of us without any friends at all. But whilst having friends and creating friendships is a critical piece of who we are as human beings, it can be easy to neglect friendships when life takes over.

We’re social creatures by biology, and connecting with others helps us to be happier, healthier, and live longer.

As if that wasn’t enough, the impact of friends goes even deeper. Jim Rohn is quoted as saying we are “the sum total of the five people we spend most of our time with”, and studies seem to resonate with this. For example, one study indicates that friends can either provide moral support around resisting temptation – or that they can conspire with us to indulge together in temptation too.

What is Important in a Friendship?

For me, the quality of my friendships is more important than the quantity.

An introvert, I enjoy deep connection, and open sharing, but it takes me a while to get there.

I’m reserved, and tend to reveal myself slowly, in a fan dance of information, as I build up trust.

A fascinating book that helped me to think about this, and the challenge and opportunities of vulnerability and building connection, is Daring Greatly by Brené Brown.

Brown says that vulnerability is core to creating connection with others.

And indeed, the friendships I value most are those where I can show all the different faceted sides of myself without judgement. The people who accept me completely, for who I am – the good (sometimes I’m kind, smart and curious) and the less good (I’m not hugely graceful, sometimes I make smart-ass remarks, and when I exhaust myself, friends have to help pick up the pieces). These are the friendships where I am truly vulnerable and am still loved.

But vulnerability isn’t about shoving our secrets down others’ throats. Brown describes it as “sharing our experiences with people who have earned the right to hear them.”

We need to share appropriately, with boundaries, with people with whom we have built trust. Trust itself is a layered process that builds up over time. We build it through tiny moments of connection – a shared joke, a touch when someone seems sad, the question “do you want to talk about it?”

Who Should You Make Friends With?

It’s ok not to resonate with everyone.

Not all of us like all people and that’s ok. If you’re a people pleaser, that might be hard to believe, but you can be kind, and respectful, to those you don’t resonate with, without investing time in a friendship.

Who is worth investing your time in? The people with whom hours pass without effort, who make you laugh and laugh at your jokes, with whom you can slip into deep conversation with little small talk.

Drains and Radiators

The metaphor of drains and radiators is another way of thinking about friendships and where you invest your time.

It’s something that’s part of our family conversation when we talk about outside friendships and interactions.

If we label someone a radiator, it means someone who leaves you more energised than you were before you hung out with them. If we label someone a drain, it indicates they take energy from us and leave us empty, without giving anything in return.

Because friendships, like any relationship, need balance. Which is not to say that you both need to do exactly the same things at the same time, but you need to feel that both of you are contributing in different but equal ways.

Of course, there are periods when one person in a friendship might be more give than take. After a break-up, or even just on a bad day, we might need more support from our friends, or vice versa. But if a relationship is only one way, and we’re always giving, or always taking, then it’s unbalanced, and unhealthy.

It’s taken me a while to truly realise this. I enjoy nurturing others, but now realise that accepting as well as giving help is key to friendships. I’ve accepted that sometimes I want to be looked after, and that I’m just as worthy of this as my friends.

What Are You Like as a Friend?

Developing friendships takes effort. Sometimes life gets in the way, and our friends take a back seat to work, family, or other priorities. But it’s worth investing your time in friendships just as much as in any other area of your life.

Fascinatingly to me, Brown calls disengagement the biggest betrayal of trust in a relationship. She says it’s when we turn away, and stop watering the relationship with those tiny moments of connection, that we truly let that relationship down.

We need to make the effort even when we’re busy, even when we’re stressed.

We need to listen to others’ problems even when we’d rather be doing something more fun.

We need to choose to prioritise them sometimes, instead of prioritising ourselves.

And sometimes, we need to let them choose us.

Do a Friendship Audit

Get out a piece of paper, and list all your friends. You can use your social media, your email address book, your Christmas card list. Don’t list every single person you know, but every person you consider a friend of any sort.

Then circle or highlight everyone who energises you (radiators) in one colour. Circle or highlight everyone who drains you (drains) in another colour.

What’s the balance like?

This week, try to find three opportunities to spend more time with the radiators.

Then say no, or reduce the time with three different drains.

True Friends are Worth the Work

You don’t need everyone in your life.

You need people who bring you joy.

You need people who you resonate with.

You need people who you love, and who return that love.

Who listen without judgement, celebrate at short-notice, and can be with you when you’re sad.

While you do the same for them.

12 Comments... Read them below or add one of your own
  • Lynn Louise Wonders February 15, 2016, 6:12 pm

    My dear great grandmother used to cite this little poem, “True friends like diamonds are precious but rare. False friends like Autumn leaves are found everywhere.” Perhaps “false” is a bit harsh but it is true that true, deep, connected friendships are dear and rare because they require dedicated, mindful cultivation and maintenance. I love this article as it really resonates for much of what I’ve been reflecting on lately. Thanks Ellen!
    Lynn Louise Wonders recently posted…10 Essential Steps to Creating Lasting Positive ChangeMy Profile

    • Ellen February 16, 2016, 3:57 am

      Thanks Lynn, and I so agree about the mindful cultivation and maintenance. It’s too easy to take the gift of friendship for granted. Thanks for your thoughts :-)

  • Sandra Pawula February 15, 2016, 11:34 pm

    Just what I need to read and think about, Ellen. I know many people, but it’s been hard to develop those deeper friendships since I’ve been in Hawaii. Like you, I’m an introvert and could stay by myself or just with my partner most of the time. I need this gentle and informative nudge.
    Sandra Pawula recently posted…Practical Wisdom on Life, Love, and LossMy Profile

    • Ellen February 16, 2016, 3:58 am

      Yes, I can hermit for weeks! It can be the easier path, especially if you have work or something similar to sustain you. But I know in the long run without the company of dear friends I’m worse off.

  • Vasantha Vivek February 16, 2016, 5:44 am

    Friendship Audit is a nice idea !!! I’m rushing to do it !!!
    Vasantha Vivek recently posted…Mindful Mornings – #MondayMusingsMy Profile

    • Ellen February 16, 2016, 6:32 am

      Thanks Vasantha! I think it can really help increase positivity and joy in our lives :-)

  • Iva February 16, 2016, 9:48 am

    This is a great reminder Ellen. I’ve lost many friends due to moving and my nature of an introvert. Now it’s just me and my partner, but this year I’m determined to get to meet people and make some friends. I will be on lookout for the ones that resonate with me. As well as tuning into myself so I can be a better friend.

    • Ellen February 17, 2016, 2:17 am

      Good luck with this Iva. It can be a lot harder as an introvert – but remember there are lots of us out here, and it’s all about finding a small number of right ones, rather than lots of wrong ones. Well done on working on yourself as well!

  • Elle February 16, 2016, 7:28 pm

    True friends really are worth the effort Ellen. It’s far to easy to neglect our friendships and they do all need nurturing with little connections. Brene Brown has so many wonderful things to say – I love that you’re quoting her. :-)
    Elle recently posted…4 Habits to Help You Get Through the Worst Times of Your LifeMy Profile

    • Ellen February 17, 2016, 2:10 am

      Thanks Elle, and just looking up the quote made me think I should read the book again, even though I just read it 18 months ago. There’s such great ideas in there.

  • Tracy February 17, 2016, 4:37 am

    Thanks Ellen – great post. We moved to Vancouver a few years ago and it’s a notoriously hard city to make friends in which I’ve found to be true. I try to maintain friendships back home in Australia – it takes effort but is so worth it. Hard when old friends don’t make the effort back though – maybe the drain category. I’m like you – only need a few close friends. I’m not one for small talk so would rather be on my own than spending time on superficial friendships. Thanks again – you made me think :)
    Tracy recently posted…The Life-Changing Magic of Early Potty TrainingMy Profile

    • Ellen February 17, 2016, 7:42 am

      Thanks Tracy. Sometimes I think when you’re an expat it can be easier to make new friends in the expat community than locals. Although going to events and conferences can be a good way of doing it. I would definitely agree that when you travel and you’re the one to leave, others you left behind tend to expect you to put more effort in to keeping friendships alive. But I’d always rather a smaller number of deep connections too. Good luck on finding the right people.

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