Sandra A. Doron LCSW
I don’t have a boyfriend, and at this moment I don’t even want one. I am 27 years old, and am struggling to find a friend within myself. I am shy, and do not make friends easily. LOOKING FOR A FRIEND WITHIN
Dear Looking for a Friend Within:
Your letter is one of the most important ones ever written. To find a friend within ourselves is the goal of most therapy, and if you can succeed, you will have found the key that unlocks the secret of good mental health and “happiness.” Many people are shy, and your basic temperament will probably not change significantly over time. We now have evidence that shyness or outgoingness are with us from birth as part of the brain’s “hard wiring.” Your being shy, however, will not impede your search for a friend within.
Happiness that depends on others or outside circumstances is bound to elude us. We all have experienced, and probably will always experience, people who let us down, who come into our lives for a period of time, and then exit our lives for a variety of reasons. We may feel disappointed, or even rejected, angry, and unhappy when they are no longer in our lives. On the other hand, such significant changes as new homes, vacations, moving to another city, all give us a temporary “high” as we become consumed with the details of making such changes happen. Often, after the dust has settled, and our new lives are not quite what we had hoped for, the same sense of disappointment and unhappiness take hold of us once again. Many of us believe that if only we could find Mr. or Ms. Right, our lives would be complete, or if we had more money, or a good job, then we would be “happy.” But then Mr. or Ms. Right turns out to be not so right after all, and the job we thought was going to be great turns out to be not so great, and while more money is nice, it hasn’t changed our lives as much as we thought it would. So, again, we are back to feeling disappointed and unhappy.
It seems that the answer lies within us, and if we can work on developing our internal capacities, then, whatever happens outside of ourselves will not have so much power to affect our state of mind. We are building strength and resilience from within, and all the outside winds and storms will not blow our house down. I will discuss four factors that may help you to find that friend within:
1. Research indicates that our ability to deal effectively with stress is a pivotal factor in longevity. One way to reduce stress is to acknowledge the reality of our life, for example, perhaps we don’t have enough money to move to a new home, or take that vacation we so yearn for this year. We may need to postpone that vacation until next year, or for two or three years. If our house has been damaged from all the storms of recent weeks, then we need to find the money to pay for the repairs that we did not anticipate, and perhaps dip into that savings account and deplete the money that we were saving for our dream vacation.
2. Learning to cope is a skill we can all learn. When we come to realize that the time is not right for that vacation, and transform initial disappointment into an ability to take pride in our success in adapting to the changing circumstance, we are learning to cope in a mature way. Successful coping requires us to make a decision to look within and recognize that we can become stronger, more patient and more resilient. That learning comes from taking action, and giving ourselves positive reinforcement for doing something that was not easy to do. When we come to realize that we are able to overcome adversity and move forward in spite of our disappointment, that realization can work to make us feel good about ourselves—more energetic, and more productive.
3. Another important factor in finding a friend within ourselves rests in our ability to find more satisfaction in giving than in receiving, for example, you might invite a friend to a concert, or call people who are sick, just to let them know you are thinking of them. Giving is something I have mentioned before, but it is worth repeating: Giving to others has an amazing therapeutic effect in helping us feel good about ourselves. The more we can love--and like who we are--the more we can reach out to others, and that reaching out to others is what reinforces and strengthens the person we work to like and love--ourself.
4. You are important and finding activities that are good for you is very important. Learning to direct instinctive hostile energy into creative and constructive outlets is key to this process. If we choose to obsess about our losses and our pain, we will stay stuck in the mire of resentment and bitterness. It is not easy to change ourselves, but we can give ourselves positive feedback whenever we do something difficult. If we sit down to do our taxes, and work at it for an hour or two, we must reward ourselves for our diligence and hard work. Creative and constructive outlets include such things as writing a letter, organizing or working on a project, reading a book, taking a walk, or going to the gym. Whatever makes you feel good and has energized you is a constructive outlet.
I will end with a quote by Helen Keller:
“I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish small tasks as if they were great and noble.”
This site was last updated 02/06/06