I had occasion, years ago, to do a “friendship inventory”. I sat alone on the beach on a beautiful summer day and embarked on would become one of the most profound exercises of my life. At the time, I was struggling with a few relationships. I was spending more time with some friends than others. I was feeling drained by many and didn’t quite feel like our relationships were equal. I decided to examine them with objectivity and decide the fate of each. What transpired was truly amazing and essentially effortless.
“Friendship is a relationship of mutual affection between two or more people. Although there are many forms of friendship, some of which may vary from place to place, certain characteristics are present in many types of friendship. Such characteristics include affection, sympathy, empathy, honesty, altruism, mutual understanding and compassion, enjoyment of each other’s company, trust, and the ability to be oneself, express one’s feelings, and make mistakes without fear of judgment from the friend. While there is no practical limit on what types of people can form a friendship, friends tend to share common backgrounds, occupations, or interests, and have similar demographics.” ~Wikipedia definition
There are many kinds of friends, aren’t there? You would think that “a friend is a friend” but we actually classify our friends in categories and they are always the most flattering. Take a look at these and see where your friends fit in.
The friend in need. This is the one who only calls when there’s a problem or when she had a fight with her boyfriend. She doesn’t ever ask about you because she always needs your advice – which she never takes because, you are sure, she’d rather be miserable than do the work to improve her situation. She drains your energy and every time you get a text or a phone call, you cringe.
The childhood friend. You’ve known her forever and that is the only reason you are still friends. You don’t have anything in common anymore and you are somewhat uncomfortable around her other friends. You actually don’t like a lot of things about her but you couldn’t imagine not being her friend… mostly because of the guilt.
The friend of the family. You’ve shared holiday meals together and probably exchanged gifts when you were children. There is a fondness between you that you can’t really explain; a kind of respect. You like each other and exchange Christmas cards with pictures of your children but otherwise, you don’t really connect. If they ever needed you, you’d be there in a heartbeat but yet, you don’t invite them to your annual Boxing Day party.
The good-time friend. Whenever there’s a party, this is the person you call first. She’s a lot of fun to be around and never takes life very seriously. If you are in the mood to do something outrageous or spontaneous, this person is always available. While you wouldn’t trust her with a deep, dark secret, she is a good person who would never hurt you.
The BFF (best friend forever). This is your number one pal of the moment. You spend time together on a regular basis and share a lot of interests. If you had to pick one person to take on a trip, to the mall, or a concert, it would be this person. This is your baby’s godparent; your shoulder to cry on; your biggest cheerleader. You are that for her, too.
The tag-along friend. This is the friend of your friend who always shows up at the last minute. She’s nice enough but you don’t really know much about her. She likes the idea of being your friend but never initiates a call to you but that’s okay because you don’t call her either. Even though you may spend a fair bit of time with her, she’s more of an acquaintance than a friend.
The jealous friend. This one is in your inner circle but she really likes it when there’s just the two of you together and she makes it well known. Whenever another person arrives on the scene, she competes for your attention like a child and when the opportunity arises, she will cut down the competition without a second thought. She almost seems dangerous but you dismiss it because you really like her and clearly, she likes you.
The long-lost friend. You haven’t seen her in 2, 5, or 20 years but when you get together, it’s like no time has passed. You laugh and reminisce. You have a shared history that binds you and also a respect for who you have become over the years. This is a sacred relationship that transcends time and space. Because it stands the test of time, you know it is true and it holds a very special place in your heart.
When I found myself, alone at the beach with quiet space to objectively view all my relationships, these are the steps I followed:
- Record the names of all the people with whom you spend time or energy. This would include family members, former relationships (if you still think about them), acquaintanceships you would like to enhance, as well as all types of friends.
- Spend time considering each relationship in turn. How would you describe your relationship? Is it positive or negative? How do you feel when you are in the presence of this person or thinking about him/her? Do you feel this relationship is equal? How does this person treat you? How would you feel if this relationship ended? [It is not necessary to record answers to these questions but to honour each with quiet contemplation and listen to your heart.]
- Categorize each relationship as one you intend to (1) improve by investing more time and energy (love); (2) maintain as is; or (3) let go because it no longer brings you joy.
- Record an intention that, from now on, your relationships will be equal give and take, that they will meet your needs and add value to your life. Ask the Universe to support you in letting go of those relationships that no longer serve you so you can create space to attract new, satisfying ones into your life.
While it has been several years since I did this exercise, I can still feel the strong sense of empowerment that came over me when I decided to take control of the relationships in my life. I decided to take responsibility for my role in creating the relationships, stop being a victim to those who were no making me feel good about myself, and to be proactive in attracting positivity into my life. What was miraculous to me is that, almost immediately, I recognized a shift in those toxic relationships. My energy-zappers stopped calling. I started to turn down invitations that would have otherwise made me uncomfortable, and without feeling guilty about it. And, as negative people slipped away [without the need for difficult conversations, by the way], amazing new people crossed my path.
I am so fortunate to have a wide range of friends now who add value to my life with every conversation and encounter. These people match me on an energetic level and share similar values and a sense of purpose. Some friendships are deeper and require more maintenance but I don’t consider it “work” to be around them; it is a blessing and I gladly invest my time and energy because the return is priceless.
For you, I wish the blessing of true friendship. Let me know if you decide to take on this exercise and how life changed because of it. You deserve to be surrounded by people who love and support you for the contribution you are right now.
Yours in possibility,
PS – If you found this post addressed an issue you are having with a friend or family member, please share with others, too.
PPS – I’d love to hear how you were able to enhance a relationship or rid yourself of the toxicity by doing this exercise or another one. Email me privately or leave a comment below.