On Monday, I had the honor of speaking to a local Mothers of Preschoolers group on the topic of friendship. If I had any doubts that my talking points would connect, they were snuffed out as I met this wonderful group and got to know their joys and struggles. Initiating friendships, then strengthening and maintaining them takes work but the energy we put in can be life giving. The alternative is chronic loneliness and that, studies show, is more harmful to a person than smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Loneliness increases mortality rate by 26%, and it’s not just the elderly who feel isolated. A study in the American Sociological Review states that 18 to 34-year-olds cite loneliness more often than those 55 and older. With the false connection social media provides, the lack of civic engagement, and the deconstruction of community within many of our neighborhoods, the epidemic of loneliness—particularly in motherhood—weighs heavily on us. There is every reason to get out there pursue friendships, but so many women are held back by fear.
Below is an excerpt from my conversation with the wonderful group of women I spoke to on Monday:
The first obstacle we face on the road to more meaningful friendships is the common lie ringing in our ears: I am not enough. I have felt this way at all ages and stages of my adult life. Often when Graham and I moved somewhere new, the familiar feeling of not enough came back. I was scared to reach out to women because I didn’t feel I had anything to offer, didn’t think I could break into new social circles, and didn’t believe I could initiate relationships with lifelong friends in order to become one myself.
If we want to belong—to begin a new friendship or strengthen an existing one—we have to believe we are worthy of having a friend.
Dr. Brené Brown says, “When we can let go of what other people think and own our story, we gain access to our worthiness—the feeling that we are enough just as we are and that we are worth of love and belonging. When we spend a lifetime trying to distance ourselves from the parts of our lives that don’t fit with who we think we’re supposed to be, we stand outside of our story and hustle for our worthiness by constantly performing, perfecting, pleasing, and proving.”
Our story, as Brené mentions, is often the thing we want to tuck way. We are convinced that no one else could possible know what it’s like to fill-in-the-blank: parent this unruly child, deal with these kinds of issues at home, live with my partner, feel this kind of faithlessness, raise these children alone, live with my parents, have these financial problems, get this little sleep, lack these life skills, try to manage work and home, go back to school and parent at the same time.
We must begin to trust others to hold the most tender parts of our stories and love us enough to see our worthiness.
One exercise to get us peeling back the layers of unworthiness is this:
Write down the reasons you feel you don’t have the friendships you want. (ex I don’t want to put myself on someone; I don’t have time for friendships right now; I’m too shy to ask for what I need). Now, peel that layer back and ask why. Once you’ve answered that, ask why again. And again. And again three more times. Asking why 6 times allows us to get to the root of our emotions and uncover what has likely been there all along: unworthiness.
***Stay tuned for Part 2 on Obstacles to Friendship next week***