This post is part 9 of the series 31 Days of Lessons I Learned in Therapy.
In lesson 8, I shared with you how I viewed the world as a place of danger and saw people as potential enemies rather than as potential friends. Now that I’ve learned how wrong my perspective was, I feel very sad when I think of how I lived in a constant state of fear.
Recounting today’s lesson triggers even more feelings of sadness in me.
I subconsciously believed that an enemy lurked in every friend.
I never knew when a friend would morph into an enemy, but I “knew” that was always a possibility. After all, I’d learned that the people I trusted most could cause the deepest pain. I’d learned that I must protect myself from the danger that lurked around every corner and in every one.
Since I couldn’t count on anyone to be on my side, I kept everyone at arm’s length. I couldn’t risk letting anyone know the real me. I couldn’t allow myself to be that vulnerable or let anyone that close.
My defenses promised protection, but they created isolation.
I can remember from my earliest school years yearning for a real friend, someone who knew me and loved me. I remember two friends who were that for me at separate times during my junior high and high school years. But for the most part, I couldn’t get past my fears enough to let people really be my friends.
Sure, I had plenty of friendships. I had boyfriends. I’ve been engaged twice and married once. I’ve laughed with friends, cried with them through their struggles, rejoiced in their triumphs. Yet I didn’t give them the same opportunity. I hid myself behind whatever facade I felt was desired, became whatever person I thought was wanted. I didn’t even let my husband, the person dearest to me in the whole world, see the real me. If he saw me, it was because he somehow got a glimpse through the chinks in my armor.
I wrote a poem expressing my feelings.
I built a fortress, tall and strong –
Built it deep and built it long.
Built it so that I’d be free
From threats against my deepest me.
Bit by bit the walls grew high
Until they nearly reached the sky,
Sheltering, protecting, shutting out
Tears within and fears without.
I built a fortress but found on waking
I was locked within
a prison of my own making.
~ Revka Stearns (written 2011)
For real friendship to exist, defenses have to be discarded.
It’s risky, this business of having friends. Friendship means dropping your defenses, baring your self, letting another see your imperfections along with your glories. It means trusting another with your frailties, your hurts, your failures. The closer you let another to the real you, the more vulnerable you are, but the deeper that friendship will be.
For more than three decades, I internally wept, yearning for deep friendship, wondering what flaw in me kept others from being my friend. Only when I ceased regarding friends as potential enemies did I realize that many people had desired and attempted to befriend me over the years. My fears had prevented the deep relationships I had desired.
Deep friendships now enrich my life.
Since this summer (2014), I’ve changed my perspective. Instead of tensely waiting for betrayal and a knife in the back, I’m choosing to believe the best of others. Instead of seeing a potential enemy in every friend, I’m seeing people who make mistakes just like me, people who truly do love me and want the best for me, people who don’t desire to harm me. I’ve made myself vulnerable to my husband and to others who are close to me. I’ve made mistakes, acknowledged my wrongs, asked for forgiveness, received it, and have allowed others the same latitude and understanding that I want for myself.
No one is an island, and life was not meant to be lived in solitude. Humans were created for community.
“ Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour.
 For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up.
 Again, if two lie together, then they have heat: but how can one be warm alone?
 And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken.
My life is richer, fuller, and happier because of the changes I’m making. My relationships are closer, deeper, and more fulfilling. I’m much less sensitive, more able to give and receive grace, and much slower to assign negative motives to actions, words, and attitudes. All of this richness flows from my decision to cease regarding friends as potential enemies. The risk has been well rewarded.
What has been your experience with friendship? Are you willing to take the risk to build strong and deep relationships?
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