8 Ways A Friendship Can Heal & Transform Your Mental Health
The environment in which you grew up in has a profound influence on your mental health as an adult — for better or for worse. After we leave our family homes and embark on our adult lives, we have the opportunity to explore these influences from the past, decide what we want to keep and find friends to help us to heal along the way.
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1) A deep-rooted anxiety
As a little girl growing up in a Christian family focused on “living well,” “making a difference” and “saving the world”, I quickly developed a love of perfection, a sober view of life, and a deep passion to correct the wrongs I saw around me.
As an adult, these values drove me to work hard at my studies, spend little on worldly pleasures, and become very involved in church life and environmental activism. However, the burden of responsibility I felt for “saving the world” weighed heavily on me, and my quest for peace and contentment saw itself further sabotaged by the anxiety caused by the perfectionist nature of my loving parents who had very particular ideas about how they imagined my adult life unfolding.
Then, in my late twenties, a series of events changed all this. In the space of a year, I moved overseas, left Christianity completely, and divorced my first husband (a sweet and quiet man who thought I was totally crazy). Now clearly outside of the belief system of my parents and their vision for my life, I finally freed myself from trying to please them and started on the road to becoming a strong, happy, and anxiety-free adult. This journey to greater mental health wasn’t one that I could take on my own, though, and the friendship and support I received from my sister, a chaplain friend, and my second husband were essential for helping me find the peace and happiness that I sought.
2) Sometimes it takes a sister to get through tough times
While I was in the throes of change and living far away from home, my little sister was an invaluable support and lifeline for me. A pioneer in many ways, my little sis had already trodden the path of self-differentiation and left the family values as a teenager — so she was able to identify with what I was going through and provide an empathetic listening ear.
In my friendship with my sister, I was able to establish ground rules for communication that helped me efficiently and effectively communicate my feelings. For example, we would always allow the most emotional one to talk first until they felt sufficiently “offloaded” and always made sure to check at the end for whether advice was needed or whether we just needed someone to listen!
3) A different kind of friend
The next friend that brought healing to my mental health was a chaplain at my first professional workplace. While her beliefs and values were largely similar to those of my parents, she had a wonderful way of being a non-anxiety triggering presence who listened deeply and cared about my well-being above my “performance”.
Her friendship was a breath of fresh air and helped me discover that it was possible to find someone who cared about my peace and happiness despite our difference in opinions.
Laughter is the best medicine
Finally, my relationship with my second husband has been the most significant friendship that has brought healing to my mental health. While people who know him see him as a bit of a clown, his happy, spontaneous approach to life has ended up being just what I needed to recover from my habitual anxiety and enjoy every day to the fullest. In the context of this intimate relationship, I discovered several powerful traits that can make a “recovery friendship” a force for healing:
4) Find someone who provides a safe place to share your thoughts
When we were getting to know each other, my husband and I made it a priority in our relationship to give each other a safe space when sharing our past experiences. Coming from an understanding that diamonds don’t form without a process of pressure and polishing, we accepted and embraced each other’s stories — without judging — as what made each of us who we are today.
5) Find someone who affirms your strengths
It’s natural to tend to see ourselves in a negative light; however, rather than pointing out my mistakes, my husband supports me in doing what I love and shows his admiration for what I achieve. He not only takes care of our young son so that I can dedicate myself to writing, but he also takes every opportunity to celebrate achievements (big and small) with me.
Finding someone, romantically involved or not, to affirm and celebrate your strengths and achievements with can be a wonderful way to not only build your self-confidence but your physical well-being as well.
6) Find someone who looks out for your well-being
Finding the right “recovery friendship” means looking for people who can help you flourish, nurture healthy habits, and support your growth as an individual daily. For my husband and I, we look out for each other’s well-being by making sure we each get the space we need to fulfill our individual needs.
For example, realizing the importance of exercise for my mental health, my husband checks in with me every day to see whether I’ve been for a walk. I use my time outside to practice mindfulness and decompress from the anxiety that builds within me despite my best efforts to be calm. If I haven’t had the time to walk, my husband stops everything to make space for me to get out of the house — whether that means taking over the dishes or cuddling with our little one, he makes sure I have the free time to do what makes me happy as I also do for him.
7) Find someone who affirms your intrinsic value
The final attribute that has made my husband a wonderful recovery friend is that he constantly affirms my value to him—whether or not I’ve done anything worthy of admiration. He tells me I am beautiful even when I stumble out of bed with my hair messed up and my eyes half-full of sleep. When we’re sitting around scrolling through Facebook posts, he will randomly say to me, “Do you know that my life is so much better with you by my side?” which makes me feel appreciated even in the smallest moments.
8) Having a friend and being a friend
A true recovery friendship is a relationship that creates the kind of space for you to feel completely safe to share, completely free to make mistakes and learn from them, and inspired to approach each new problem as a challenge through which you can become a stronger and happier person. Having that friend — and being that friend for someone else — are powerful opportunities for making this world a better place.
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