Finding & Fostering Faithful Friendships

Having a reliable, compassionate, and genuine friend by your side is invaluable in life. Here we offer practical and insightful tips for cultivating new friendships, maintaining current ones, and reestablishing relationships with friends from our past.

There’s no greater find in life than a friend. While making and maintaining friendships can be stressful, even overwhelming, for those of us with bipolar and for our companions, supportive and understanding friends are as important to recovery as medication or therapy. There is nothing like a faithful friend to alleviate loneliness, improve self-worth, identify potential triggers and mood changes, and respond during a crisis situation. Without a doubt, true friends offer an amazing combination of camaraderie, connection, and compassion.

Reaching out

Are you looking to make some new friends? Exploring a variety of interests increases your chances of meeting and connecting with others. Consider visiting a support group where you’ll find people who can relate to your experience. There is always a friend to be made at local places of worship. And don’t forget to check out free events in your area, where there are plenty of opportunities to meet people. If you get out and volunteer, sign up for a continuing education course, or join a local sporting team or book club, there’s an excellent chance you’ll make a new pal.

Use good judgment when meeting someone in person for the first time. Be open and honest, but pay attention to your intuition and know when to stay clear of questionable associations. Once you’ve gotten to know someone, let him/her know what you need in a friend and ask what he/she needs from you. Avoid sharing personal information with strangers online.

Helping bonds thrive

When it comes to fostering friendships, it pays to stay in touch—and that doesn’t mean by email or text messages only. Pick up the phone or send a hand-written note to a long-lost friend. Lend a hand to a buddy in need. Invite a pal to join you for coffee or see a movie. Spend regularly scheduled time in person with those you care about. It takes two—and that includes you!—to forge a strong relationship. Take your share of the responsibility in creating healthy bonds and making friendships last. Open up your calendar, your home, and your heart to your friends.

Having at least five true-blue friends means someone will be around when you need support or companionship. Avoid relying exclusively on one or two people, as that can weigh heavily on them and hurt your friendship. Since nobody wants someone in their life who only takes and never gives, take an interest in your friends’ thoughts and feelings, and make a conscious effort to actively listen to what they have to say. Should a conflict arise, don’t make assumptions or fail to take your friend’s position into account. Be willing to work with others to arrive at mutually satisfactory decisions. Respect established boundaries, and be willing to admit when you’ve crossed the line.

Ensuring quality friendships

As you form new friendships or rekindle old relationships, surround yourself with people who support your stability, not sabotage it. The wrong type of friend can do more harm than good. You should feel comfortable with the company you keep and benefit from all your relationships. Make sure that your friends:

  • Accept you, even when they don’t fully understand you
  • Take a genuine interest in what you think and have to say
  • Allow you to show your emotions without giving you a hard time
  • Offer help and advice when asked, without trying to “fix” you
  • Don’t always criticize or judge you
  • Recognize your limitations and are there for you in difficult situations
  • Don’t obsess over you
  • Give you room to arrive at your own decisions and make your own mistakes
  • Recognize appropriate boundaries, respect your privacy, and don’t violate your trust
  • Never exploit or take unfair advantage of you
  • Encourage, energize, and equip you to move forward in your life

That’s quite a tall order! Rarely will you find someone who meets all the criteria all of the time. Fortunately, a good friend doesn’t have to be perfect. Remember that you and I aren’t, either.

Sabotaging the relationship

In living with bipolar, I’ve found that as self-esteem shrinks, the number of friends who drift away grows. After all, nobody wants to hang out with someone who is self-absorbed, doesn’t like himself, acts desperate, or has no sense of humor.

While dealing with bipolar is not easy, the situation is made more difficult when we alienate the very people who can help us the most. In many cases, we don’t really lose friends; we simply fail to take our share of the responsibility to form healthy bonds and make the relationships last.

It never hurts to do a reality check and ask, “What am I doing to hurt my chances of getting and keeping good friends?” These are sure-fire ways to turn others off:

  • Being overly demanding or outright overwhelming
  • Being chronically negative
  • Turning a deaf ear to feedback
  • Focusing too much on our own diagnosis, our own problems and ourselves
  • Doing all the talking and very little listening
  • Pointing fingers and looking for others to blame

Another way we damage relationships is by hiding behind a facade. When we don’t accept who we are, we make it difficult for others to embrace us. The more you get to know and value yourself, the easier it will be for others to appreciate the real you as well. Transparency is key to lasting friendships.

In order to forge strong relationships, it takes two, and that includes you!

Finally, don’t push friends away by sticking too close, calling too much, or dropping by too often. People need their space, so learn to spend some time on your own. Pursuing a hobby, working on an interesting activity, or hanging out with a favorite pet can help you enjoy time alone without feeling lonely. Besides, spending time apart from friends helps you move toward self-sufficiency and away from too much dependency on others—an essential step on the road to stability.

Knowing when to say good-bye

Not all of your friendships are meant to last forever. If someone violates your privacy, gossips behind your back, doesn’t respect established boundaries, or is never interested in what you have to say, it may be time to say good-bye and end the association altogether. Other warning signs include a friend who is:

  • Belittling, disrespectful, or ridiculing
  • Overly dominating of your time
  • Too needy or clings too tightly
  • Intrusive, asking uncomfortable questions or talking about inappropriate matters
  • Physically, sexually, or emotionally abusive

Never permit a friend to persist in treating you badly. The choice is yours as to the friends you keep.

Starting today, what steps will you take to rekindle old friendships and make new ones? Are you willing to do what it takes to salvage a relationship when problems arise? Will you know when it’s time to call it quits?

Trust me on this: making new friends and cementing relationships is worth the effort. Having loving, lasting, solid, supportive friends makes all the difference in your overall well-being.

Printed as “Mind Over Mood: Finding & Fostering Faithful Friendships,” Spring 2010

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