“I really have a hard time being authentic with my friends,” one of my clients told me the other day. “It seems like all they are interested in is the happy and excited “me.” But I am not happy all the time. I get stressed, too, and sometimes I am sad and frustrated. I just don’t feel like I can show that part of myself.”
“There was a time when I was going through a difficult time, and I really needed support, but I noticed that my friends seemed to all pull back and after a while they did not talk to me anymore. I couldn’t figure out what was going on, so I finally asked one of them. She told me that I had become so negative, I wasn’t fun to be around anymore. I hadn’t even noticed that I had become that way. I just wish somebody had told me earlier, rather everybody just disappearing. Isn’t that what friends are for – telling you the truth?”
One of the things that I have learned on my journey of life so far is that we cannot go it alone. We need support along the way. And friends are a great source of support. However, how much support are you supposed to provide as a friend? Does being a friend mean that you patiently listen to endless complaints? Or does it mean that you suppress what you are really feeling, in order to be considerate to your friends?
We need to take responsibility on both sides. I am a strong believer in authenticity. We need to be true to ourselves in order to lead fulfilling lives. And part of that means being able to express how we feel and share what we are going through. However, it is not fair to our friends to burden them with all of our problems every time we talk to them. This is where self-responsibility comes in.
If you know that you are dealing with some serious issues or have been unhappy for quite some time, you need to get help from a professional. You wouldn’t run to your friend every time you had an issue with your physical health, expecting them to fix it, would you? And if you are the friend on the receiving end, you can help by encouraging them to get the professional support they need, whether it’s through a therapist, a support group, a coach, or a counselor. They may not even realize that they have become so unhappy or negative, and an outside perspective can really help them. It is ok for you to take care of yourself by setting boundaries to how much emotional support you are able to provide. A true friend will understand.
So yes, we can be ourselves and share who we are, including our “flaws” and our not-so-happy emotions. But let’s not abuse that privilege. Let’s take responsibility for getting help to be emotionally healthy, so we can come to our friendships full, ready to share our love and caring, rather than arriving empty, expecting the other person to fill us up.
We need to take care of ourselves first, so we can be there for others.