Dr. Deb’s Mental Health Vitamin: Friendship
Dr. Deb Wade
GCU Vice President, Counseling and Psychological Services
The great Aristotle once remarked that an individual could have everything life has to offer – career, family and money – but if a person didn’t have a good friend, his or her life would be fundamentally lacking. He has been quoted as saying, “The desire for friendship comes quickly; friendship does not.”
Of course, for anyone paying attention, it’s clear that social media – whether it be Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Snapchat or countless other outlets – is changing the way we live and the way we cultivate (or don’t cultivate) friendships.
Obviously, face-to-face encounters are giving way to a single click, a text or an instant message. And, if asked, it seems that most people actually prefer these communications versus a simple phone call.
Whereas it once was custom to have a small circle of friends, this has given way to having hundreds of acquaintances on social media outlets. Where is this leading? Perhaps to a rather dark place where electronic stimuli have slowly replaced the joys of human contact and investment.
It is a fact that loneliness is frequently regarded as a mental health issue. Loneliness can lead to feelings of despair, isolation and depression, resulting in a sense of intense emotional emptiness.
From my chair as a therapist, the longing for a real, deep, meaningful friendship is a common desire for all ages and both genders. I personally have counseled many people who have expressed that their depression and loneliness could be immediately lessened if they had a friend – yet they also note that finding a friend and building a deep, trusting connection in this hectic, busy world we live in is definitely not easy. In fact, it feels impossible.
Consequently, the loneliness and depression are intensified, paradoxically, with the notion that one’s hundreds of “friends” online are only a façade of shallow, unfulfilling “relationships.”
How can we solve this conundrum?
It seems that structured time, which is a positive thing most of the time, can in fact derail the fallow time needed to deepen friendships. When we simply “hang out” with no tasks, no deadlines, no pressures and just serendipity – it’s in those moments that we get to know one another deeply and satisfyingly.
Maybe if there is a secret to close friendship, it’s this: Put down the device, engage in the person!
Why can’t each of us make a personal commitment?
- I need friends.
- I need to devote unstructured, intentional time just “being” with my friend.
- I want to share more than just a text of information; I want to share my life.
- With my friend, I want to enjoy laughter and silliness and also share difficulties and troubles — life’s bitter AND sweet moments.
- God made us for relationship; though I’ve noticed that Facebook can be a delightful departure from the seriousness of life, a real friendship cannot be replaced in its value.
- I will choose to deepen the connections face-to-face rather than deceive myself that hundreds of friends online will suffice.
- And the bonus? While I’m investing in my friend, he/she is also investing in me! Win/Win!
Loneliness is a dark place to reside … but having a REAL friend can brighten the place pretty quickly! The beloved Helen Keller once said, “Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light.” Wise words, indeed … and a sure antidote for loneliness!