Last week I talked about trust and relationships—that we exhibit trust (letting others in) knowing that they might hurt us. I was clear to say that we have to do this (letting people in) in healthy ways. But what does that mean?
I’ve had to honestly look at that because before I had a lot of relationships I thought were pretty solid. It wasn’t until stuff kinda hit the fan in my life that those relationships were tested and I found out which ones were genuine and which ones were fluff—refined by fire, I guess. But really it was an incredible blessing and the friendships I maintained are pretty legit (thanks homies 🙂 ).
Since I value relationships, grieving those former friendships hasn’t been easy but it has been necessary to live authentically and love others well—mostly because I am able to love myself and not live up to the expectations of those around me.
You see, I’m a people pleaser, which funny enough I never knew until my therapist helped me flush it out. When I told one of my friends my “new” revelation of being a people pleaser, she was so dumbfounded that I never realized it.
What is people pleasing? My definition is that I have the natural bent to adapt my behavior, words and attitudes to receive affirmation, love or approval from others. I want to be liked so I keep parts of myself hidden or subvert certain behaviors if it displeases someone I want to earn approval from. As kids we become conditioned to adapt our behavior as a risk/reward response. But because my home life was unstable, with an authority figure who had wacky highs/lows, I overly developed this part of my response to not rock the boat and get the nurturing I needed as a kid. This transitioned into adult relationships and here we are today.
So now what? Well, I read a couple books, prayed, talked with my close friends, with my mentors, and with my therapist. I developed a small list of what a healthy relationship looks like to me in working through my people pleaser syndrome.
- You can talk to each other about anything.
Now this doesn’t mean you do, but it means that there is the option. You don’t have a fear that if you say something the wrong way or God forbid, disagree, the friendship is in jeopardy. You are free to share ideas, opinions, and the other person doesn’t limit who you are for their comfort or to earn their support.
- You make effort for each other but it is not a burden.
I had a former friend that their expectation for our relationship would be our seeing each other multiple times a week and we would text each other or talk on the phone pretty much every day. I’m sorry…but no! That didn’t work for me. My closest friendships are the ones that are intentional but that I don’t have to see them everyday. However, when we do see each other, we pick up right where we left off. I mean it’s great if I can see my friends often, yet making time for them should never be a chore but a mutual blessing.
- Productive conflict.
I always say finding adult friendships is like dating. You start in the initial honeymoon phase where you love seeing each other, hanging out and text all the time. You do dates and outings and enjoy each others company. But you have to ask—will it last? Will you survive your first fight? Conflict is essential in healthy relationships. We don’t agree 100% all of the time or sometimes we just don’t agree at all. That doesn’t mean the friendship ends (at least it doesn’t for me). I want to be able to work through the ickyness to move more towards unity. But any person who argues just to prove themselves right, is intentionally hurtful to another, or is passive aggressive to create guilt or shame, instead of seeking mutual understanding fights dirty. Boo on them!
- Mutual growth.
Relationships are not one sided. Whether it is a friendship or a dating relationship, it involves two people who are constantly changing. In thinking about growth, am I leaving room for that person to develop? Am I encouraging the best in others for them to flourish? And am I accepting and adapting to the growth the other person has made without thinking less of them or doubting myself? If a relationship is hindering our growth (our forming opinions, differing theologies than our own, our ability to try new things without ridicule or our passions) then it may be time to define the relationship (DTR), it’s boundaries, and maybe even it’s continuation. It is even an important exercise for ourselves to examine how we react to the change in others. Are we so fixed in our own thoughts, opinions, viewpoints that we are not flexible enough to adapt to the growth in others without forcing them into our own view of who they should be or what they should do.
- Considerate of you.
We ascribe care to what we value. If I get a new car, I’m going to be diligent to make sure it doesn’t get scratched or dinged. If someone values me then they are going to care about the things in my life, me as a person, and our relationship. They will show that in various ways: time, gifts, words, general acknowledgment, etc. Them having regard for me will be manifested, either directly or in regards to me (say if they are defending me against others). This consideration and care should grow as the friendship deepens & progresses. If I have a friend for 10 years, people looking at our relationship can see how much we care for each other in how we regard one another and interact together.
So that’s my list. First, I want to say that if something got stirred up in you as you thought about these things, think about where that is coming from. Maybe you think I’m way off base (even though again, this is my list and it doesn’t have to be yours). Or perhaps as you read, you agreed and you see a relationship that isn’t quite as healthy as you once thought. That’s hard and I’m sorry that may have come from out of nowhere. The next step in working towards health in relationships is to talk about it. Either it will work out from that point or it won’t. But if you never address it, it allows the unhealthiness to continue.
Communication is the bedrock for healthy relationships. If we are not talking, we are not connecting. If we are not connecting then parts of the relationship are heading towards atrophy and inevitably death (Yes, that escalated quickly even though the process in real life can be over many years). Engaging can be scary though and we tend to want to distance ourselves from uncomfortable situations instead of dealing with them (a whole different problem for another blog post). But let me just say making the effort to talk things through is worth it to live fully into who you are and have healthiness around you.
My encouragement for myself and for you is that we fight for health not only in our own lives (mental, physical, emotional, spiritual) but also in our relationships and for the people we care about. May we love people hard and without fear to grow more into who we are made to be!
This is my shout out to my inner circle, my ride or die peeps, and the genuine friendships I have. I’m grateful for your exhibiting these attributes in our relationship and loving me so well. I am honored to know you, do life with you, and your contribution to all that is me – you da best!
Until next time…Live as a Masterpiece!