Loneliness

How Many Hours Does It Take to Make a Friendship?

Do you want to make some new friends this summer?

Yes? Well, you're in the right spot! And you're not alone in that beautiful desire!

Unfortunately most of us just want that to mean "I want to meet my best friend in such a way (hopefully today!) that we both immediately know we're best friends and therefore can start acting like best friends immediately."

But, as I've been saying for a looooong time: we don't just discover a best friend, but rather we develop a best friendship. And no matter how much chemistry we might have with someone... it still takes time to see each other, know each other's stories, and figure out who we are together.

In fact, recent research from the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships revealed that it takes approximately 200 hours for a 'best friendship' to develop! 200 hours!!! That means if we grab lunch for 90 minutes with someone that we'd have to schedule 132 more lunches before we felt that close, knew each other that well, and felt like we were tired-and true. That seems a bit high to me... but nonetheless, the point is well made: feeling safe and close to someone takes time. 

So while it's perhaps unrealistic that we can go from meeting someone this summer to being best friends by September... it's certainly do-able to start logging the initial 50 hours of interaction that they found turns an acquaintance into a 'casual friend'. That we can get started on!!!

Like this summer.

I challenge you this month.. while it's still May, to actually write down realistic goals for your friend-making journey this summer. The season of festivals, walks, outdoor dining, and long days is ahead of us-- and it's made better with friends beside us. So start by being both realistic and hopeful as you answer the following questions:

  1. Is my situation that I need to meet more people or that I need to devote more time to some of the people I've already met?
  2. How much time (and where is it? weekends? evenings? at work?) can I devote to friend-making this summer? In other words, how much of a priority is this to me? 
  3. And what's the best use of that time? Where can I meet new people OR who do I need to be reaching out to now to start scheduling time on the calendar?
  4. What will most support me in this journey? What will help me stay motivated? What will hold me accountable? (Want a resource to help? We're starting an 11 week journey together this summer!)

This is our work, GirlFriend. There is hardly anything more important in this lifetime than our relationships. 

And this is our time. While what we ultimately want are close and intimate friendships-- we know that we have to start by simply putting in the time to meet people and get the friendships started. It's not what we like doing, but it's where we have to start. So we will.

This is our summer for making friends! Let's at least get started!

Loneliness Can Be A Result of Social Exhaustion!

Loneliness Can Be A Result of Social Exhaustion!

Do you come home from work too tired to do anything except crash on your couch? Does the very idea of calling a friend sound like too much work? Do you panic at the idea of scheduling a social event into your calendar? Do you end your workweeks so tired that you need the entire weekend to simply pull the blinds and recover? Do you wish you had time to go meet new friends but by the time you prioritize your partner, your kids, and others in your family-- you've reached your limit?

Why We Have to Risk Being "Inconvenient"

Why We Have to Risk Being "Inconvenient"

Yesterday, I felt discouraged.

My Pain Blocked Me

Like, really discouraged. The kind where I start to question my capabilities and my worth. My voices of fear whispered, "You're never going to make it. You're a loser. You're a failure."

While there was a big part of me that wanted to retreat and be all by myself in my misery, there was also another part of me that desperately wanted to hear other voices besides my own.

I wanted to reach out and say to my friends: I need you to remind me that I'm not the loser that I feel like I am.

The Four Most Common Types of Loneliness

Hello GirlFriends!

I am more convinced than ever that the vast majority of us are suffering from loneliness. And it's not that we're hermits or socially awkward individuals as much as it's a combination of:

  1. We're exhausted and distracted with our lives.  Some of us are, in fact, around people all day long and serving people in every direction, but still feeling lonely because there's a difference between being networked and feeling like we have a support net under us. We're lonely because we don't have the energy to engage more meaningfully.
  2. We haven't been taught how to connect with others. We feel like intimacy and connection should come automatically to us, but few of us have ever studied the subject, practiced new relationship skills, or been inspired by amazing modeling. This is a subject that we can learn and improve with intentional focus! We're lonely because we don't know what to do to change it.
  3. We've been told that our friendships are a luxury when in fact they are very much a necessity to our health. More important to our health and happiness than our marriages, children, exercise, or work and money is whether we feel like we are supported and loved.  We're lonely because our life is full with everything else and we haven't prioritized our sense of community.

In this 11 minute video, I want to talk about loneliness, what it looks like in our lives, and how I want to address those needs by helping you meet new friends and make better friendships.  Here's a glimpse:

  1. Why friendship is the most important health issue of our time. Wait until you hear the quote I share by Dr. Dean Ornish!  Amazing!
  2. Why admitting our loneliness is important and what the statistics show us about how few of us feel we have someone with whom to confide. If you don't feel like you have a close friend-- you will soon realize you are not alone!
  3. The four most common types of loneliness so we can recognize the needs in our own lives.  Which one most accurately reflects your current, or recent, experience?
  4. And how GirlFriendCircles.com can help women meet new friends and make better friendships.  We're getting ready to re-open our doors to a new community that wants to provide resources and inspiration for all four types of loneliness!

At the end of the video I invite you to leave a comment and share with all of us which of the 4 areas of loneliness speaks most to you?  Which need do you most need to pay attention to meeting?

With so much love and a desire to transform our lives from that gnawing loneliness into fulfilling connections,

Shasta

p.s. This video is the 2nd in a series of 3 so watch for my next one on Saturday when I teach how we can grow our sense of connection! (And in case you missed the first one.)

p.s.s. I am re-opening GirlFriendCircles.com next Tuesday, July 19! Get ready to say "yes" to greater connection in your life! xoxo

National Best Friends Day: But I Don't Have One

Tomorrow, June 8, is widely purported to be National BFF Day. It's a day where I want to invite those of you with meaningful friendships to celebrate them (call them! give them a shout out on Facebook! write a text expressing your love!), and also be thoughtful to the fact that the majority of you may be feeling like having a BFF is more like trying to find a unicorn.

You're not alone.

Most Women Don't Have a BFF

Friendship research is still a growing study of topic so we don't have a plethora of statistics (compared to the traditional familial and romantic studies), but taking into consideration all the studies I know of where they measure the degree of friendship-- I'd venture a guess that about only 1 in 4 of us have a best friend.  Many more of us have close friends, but the vast majority of us are left feeling like we're missing "that one."

I'm of the opinion that far more important than putting the emphasis on finding the one person upon whom we can bestow the word "best" is teaching women how to foster their friendships to experience more of the qualities of excellence.  In other words: let best refer to the quality of our relationships, not the quantity. Unfortunately even by this measurement, we're suffering too: In a survey of nearly 1200 women that I conducted last year for my book Frientimacy, when asked how satisfied they were on a scale of 1-10 with the depth of their friendships, (with 10 being the most meaningful), only 6% of respondents scored themselves a 10.  The number goes up to about 34% of us if we include everyone who also score a 7, 8, or 9.  But even that suggests that about two-thirds of women are feeling the gap between the frientimacy (friendship intimacy) they are experiencing versus what they wish they were.

If you are coming into this holiday feeling like you'd like to develop more closeness with one or two friends-- I'm teaching a class tomorrow for you:

More Friendship Please!  What To Do If You Don't Have a Best Friend

Audio Class, taught by Shasta Nelson

What:  Receive a 60 minute class, taught by Shasta Nelson, and a worksheet with reflection questions.

When:  Listen to the recording at your convenience.

Where: Listen from your office after work, in your car on your commute home, from your living room couch with a glass of wine, or get in your pj's and listen from bed! We'll send you the mp3!

Who: For all women who want effective and inspiring strategies for developing "best" friendships.

What You'll Learn:

  • What is the best definition for a best friend?
  • The 5 Myths About Best Friends that Are Damaging Our Relationships
  • Strategy #1: Where to Find for Your Best Friend(s)
  • Strategy #2: The 1 Action You Have to Do To Create Deeper Friendship
  • Strategy #3: Get Your Needs Met, No Matter What

Purchase the Class here!

We don't necessarily all need a BFF, but we do all need to feel like we have as much love in our lives as we can possibly hold.  We all thrive-- both literally and figuratively--when we feel supported in life.  Most of us have the capacity to give and receive more love than we're currently experiencing and it's our life invitation to keep leaning in and saying yes to more connection.  We've long given romance such a huge place in our human quest and journey... but that's just one relationship and we have so much more love to experience.  And so much more that we can.  It's not impossible.

Hugs and love to all of you this National Best Friends Day. If you have one or two of those types of friendships: reach out and express that love!  And if you're in a season where you feel like you don't have that depth with anyone: don't despair... love is always available and our willingness to open up to it will be honored.

May we all appreciate the love we do have in our lives and commit to fostering more if we feel that hunger.

xoxo

I feel fortunate to have several "best" friends but allow me a moment to give a shout-out to at least one: Thank you Sher for making the time for over 10 years to talk on the phone every week, and for sharing so deeply and honestly while always inviting me to do the same. xoxo

Feeling the Edge of My Circle of Love

The month of Christmas, for all it's wonder and festivities, can also be a season where our "edge of love" can rear its little head. I call it the "edge of love" because even the most loving, non-judgmental, and kind people among us all have a perimeter, or boundary, of who and how we love.  I love easily the people and moments in the middle of my circle of love: girls nights in front of fireplaces, snuggling with my husband, talking on the phone to my sister, getting together with family I adore.

Shasta's Circle of Love

But... certain types of settings and certain types of people (or even very specific people) don't invoke in me the same pure love. I can feel myself show up with a lack-of-love as I reach the outer edges of who and how I love.

My goal, of course, is to make that circle of love so big that I can show up in nearly every setting with absolutely anyone and feel nothing but innocent love for the people in front of me.

But I am still far from that:

  • When I'm tired or have been around a lot of people lately.... I notice the circle closing in and getting smaller.
  • When I hear certain rhetoric or politics on the news... I notice myself feeling tempted to move an entire segment of the population outside of my circle because of my judgments.
  • When I feel forgotten or neglected or uninvited to something... I notice myself closing up a bit, which also shrinks the circle.
  • When I am so focused on my to-do list that I can't sit and be with people in meaningful ways... I know that my agenda is filling up too much of my heart.
  • When I am in certain settings that don't feel obviously meaningful (i.e. school programs, parties with people I don't know well) I am tempted to believe and expect little, therefore not showing up with an open heart.
  • When I am with a certain friend who has felt more draining than fulfilling, I can feel the edge with her where I want to love her but am not feeling expansive.

Maybe you know the feeling, too.  We know we are loving people; there's no question of that.  But if we're honest, every single one of us has an edge to our circle. I invite you to close your eyes and ask yourself where you're seeing the edge of your love show up recently.

It's more important than ever this year.  Practicing loving others is for our benefit as it leads to greater peace and joy in our lives as we watch ourselves judge, worry, or fear less. But this year, with all that is going on in the news, it's not just us that needs to feel more peace and safety, but our entire world is moaning with out it. Fear shrinks and closes us; love expands and opens us.  We need a world where humanity is still showing up with open hearts.

Loving Others Can Include Boundaries. To be clear: we're talking about a circle of feeling love for someone, which isn't the same as having boundaries for what we can give or do for others.  The circle of love doesn't mean I have to seek them out and hang out with them, spend time with them out of obligation, do whatever they ask of me, or give them all my time and energy.  It does mean that we see the value every person has-- that we see them as the innocent and loved people that they are even if we don't understand them, agree with them, or if they act out of brokenness and wounds, like we do, sometimes. It means I can think about people, or see them in person, and want to only send them love and light. It means showing up able to wish every person the very best and mean it.  Even with someone with whom I need to set boundaries with or limit my time with:  I want to be able to think of them and feel love. In fact, I set the boundaries because I love them.

Loving Others Is About My Need for Healing. And when I don't--or can't-- I know it's because there is something in me that is wounded and still needs healing. And I want to see that, own it, and pray for healing in me that I could then show up with greater love for the other.

It's not their fault I have a hard time loving them, it's my invitation to become a more loving person.  It's my responsibility to:

  • Invite in all the love I can from the people and places that fill my tank up.
  • Engage in the self-care and self-love that helps me hold all the love in my tank.
  • Choose self-awareness over blame so that I have more opportunities to ask myself "Why does this really bother me? What is it triggering in me? What's this about?"
  • Practice looking at those who annoy me and silently think "I love you anyway. You deserve love in this world," while simultaneously praying "Keep healing this in me so I don't feel provoked."

Loving Others Is the Work of a Lifetime! Oh I am far from this.  It's one thing to write-up my ideals and quite another to actually reach them.  But I will say that I have seen my circle of love grow bigger over the years, and that's encouraging!  I can think back to people and situations that would have bothered me years ago where now I can stay peaceful or better able to access my joy. I can see the growth in me! That excites me!  It reminds me that whatever "edge" feels impossible right now could feel easy this time next year!

This holiday season--whether you're with your in-laws who exhaust you or reacting to the news we see in this world--if there's anything we all wish we could put on our wish list, wouldn't it be more peace, love, and joy?

My prayer: Oh that we might see our love expanded this season. Replace our judgments with a willingness to see people differently, increase our ability to see people the way God does, and keep healing in us anything that limits our love.

With Whom Should I Be Vulnerable?

Relationship stress, parenting disappointments, financial scarcity, career failures, crippling fears, health challenges, exhausting depression, unmet expectations, identity crisis, paralyzing indecision ... There is so much in this life that hurts. As if those aches weren't enough, compounding the fear and angst, far too many of us suffer alone.

Heart and Key

Why We Don't Reach Out

We stay quiet for any number of reasons, including (but definitely not limited to):

  • It's harder to stay in denial if we have to speak it out loud.
  • We've been hurt before when we've shared honestly so it feels far too risky now.
  • It's important (to our job, to our ego, to our spouse/family) that we keep up a certain image.
  • We can hardly manage our own shame/grief around the situation that we doubt we could handle anyone else's feelings, too.
  • Our greatest fear is being rejected or judged so why would we ever want to look less than perfect to someone else?
  • We don't really know anyone well enough to share deeply.

Why We Must

Unfortunately I have to stay brief on this part since what I really want to talk about is how to determine who to talk with, but it's worth reminding our brains that external processing is crucial for growth.

Self-reflection is limited to that which we are already conscious of in ourselves; interacting with others is what pushes us to new ways of thinking.

Even for people who prefer internal processing (a descriptive of many introverts), they are limited only to their own thoughts (which often just keep spiraling and spiraling) and can't access all the new inspiration, ideas, resources, awareness of blind spots, and reminders of love, acceptance, and normalcy that others can give. (Similarly, I'd tell those who prefer external processing that there is also a huge need for them to spend time checking in with themselves and reflecting more! Both are needed!)

Furthermore, oxytocin, the hormone that helps us feel safe, connected, and loved flows through us when we are sharing, touching, and being seen.  This powerful chemical also prohibits cortisol which is released by our stress, so engaging with others actually protects our bodies from the impact of whatever is causing us pain or stress. Our stressors deplete us, but relationships fill us up. (We can't always eliminate that which is draining us, but we can always be responsible for adding more of the things that energize and heal us.)

So Who Do We Share With?

  • Do we share with the people we like the best?
  • Or the ones who we've known the longest?
  • Or the ones who have been through something similar?
  • Or the ones who appear to not struggle in this area?
  • Or the ones who have opened up and shared with us in the past?
  • Or the ones who seem to have time?

The answer is: none of the above.

While the person we practice opening up with may fit 1-2 of those descriptors-- in and of themselves, they are not a reason to be vulnerable with someone. The chances of backfiring are high with any of them if we don't take into account the real reason to choose someone.

In short the answer is: The person we practice being vulnerable with the big stuff is the person we have been practicing vulnerability with on the small stuff.

What does that mean?  Let me give you an example:  If you'd rate your pain/fear as a 7 or 8 on a scale of 1-10, then you're better off sharing it with someone whom you've shared with before and appreciated their response.  So hopefully there are a few people you've practiced being vulnerable with regarding matters that you'd consider 5's or 6's? The jump from a 5/6 to a 7/8 really isn't that risky.  You have a history of practicing vulnerability with them in a way where their response was meaningful or helpful so while it may still feel scary to share, you don't need to fear their response or wonder if they will still love you.

You two have practiced vulnerability so it's not a new dance, but rather just a more experienced dance move.

What If I Don't Have Anyone?

The other option if you don't have people around you whom you've practiced vulnerability with already is to intentionally and incrementally start deepening some of the friendships you do have. Think of the scale in your mind and make sure you're sharing only a little bit at a time to then have the opportunity to step back and assess how it feels before sharing more.  In other words, if your pain is an 8, share as much as feels like a 3, before jumping up to 5, and before eventually sharing the 8.

What does that look like? Maybe you're struggling with a possible impending divorce. Before you pour out your heart and dump on someone, see how it feels to share a small piece of it: maybe just a fight you've recently had or acknowledging in broad strokes how hard marriage can feel sometimes. Does she meet you there? Does she judge? Does she listen and ask questions? Does she validate your feelings? If she responds in a way that feels safe to you, then you can up the ante a bit and maybe share something more specific or deep.

But I'd caution you that if you've bottled up a lot and haven't shared too deeply with others, it's probably wise to not go from 1 to 8 in one sitting with someone, even if she is responding kindly and encouragingly. My best advice would be to see it a bit like a first-time at the gym-- don't overdo it; you can always do more next time, building up to higher numbers as you engage more often.  Your goal isn't just to find someone to vomit on, but to build a lasting relationship that can support both of you so make sure you ask about her life, share something positive, and be someone who she would look forward to getting together with again. (If you NEED to talk and don't have those friendships in place, it's usually wise to realize that what you need might be a therapist, pastor, or other professional whose goal is to help you, not to build up a mutually confiding friendship.)

I'm excited for my next book to come out next Spring (the title is Frientimacy) where I talkFriendship cover in-depth about how to deepen friendships, but if you want more now then see pages 163-168 specifically about how to share when you're feeling broken and hurt (and all of chapter 8 on vulnerability for more general sharing) in my book Friendships Don't Just Happen!

What I want for all of you, eventually, is the awareness that you have developed a net of supportive relationship under you, made up of people who have practiced going as deep as possible with you... so that you live with confidence and peace that when the 10 hits (and chances are high it will), you have a couple of people who can support you through it.

Far too many people say, "When I went through such-and-such, I learned who my real friends are" as though it's an indictment against all those who didn't stick by them, but often it says less about the people, and more about what level of relationship was developed.

We owe it to ourselves to develop the relationships that incrementally and intentionally foster safe and mutual sharing. I want that for you!

Leave a comment!  Does this make sense? What questions do you have? Do you have any experience with sharing too much/too fast or not sharing enough to feel supported? We'd be honored to learn with you!

Are You Motivated Toward Pleasure or Away From Pain?

A guy giving me a sales pitch last year said to me,

"We've found that only about 20% of people are what we call 'Toward People'-- the ones who move toward pleasure; the other 80% of people are 'Away People' who move away from pain."

How Are You Motivated?

Am I able to see what I want and go after it or do I wait until the pain of what I have is so heavy that my motivation comes more from avoiding discomfort?

Any parents, teachers, managers, or other professions that necessitate motivating others know first-hand that this rule holds some truth. With one kid you have to promise ice cream to get the desired results; whereas with another it's not until you threaten to take away their TV privileges that they feel inspired. With weight loss as the example, some friends are chasing a goal--say posing in a bikini-- that motivates them; others, if honest with themselves, are just tired of feeling shame and would give anything to stop feeling that way.

It seems important to know which one we are. The last thing we want is to be in a bikini and still feel shame.

Why Do You Want to Make Friends?

Are you seeking new friends because you know how much fun it will be? Are you already looking forward to the activities, the sharing, and the bond?  Are you motivated to invite now by thinking about what you can be experiencing a year from now?  Are your eyes on the prize? Are you moving toward the pleasure you want?

Or... are you seeking friends because you're tired of feeling disconnected? Are you feeling the loneliness, the ache, and the angst of what it feels like to not have the friends you most want?  Are you motivated to invite now because you want to stop feeling the pain of feeling unsupported or unknown? Are your eyes on the pain? Are you moving away from the pain you feel?

Of course the two are interconnected: accomplishing one hopefully impacts the other. But that's not always the case, is it?  The strategy and results might look different based on which one is the primary motivator.

  • For example, if you're a Toward Person then you probably have a vision of what you want. Perhaps it's sitting in your backyard with a friend watching your kids play, meeting up with a group of friends for lunch downtown where you can talk work and vent, or having one person who knows everything going on in your life because you're both texting each other all through out the day?  Knowing the picture you want-- gives you instant information about the strategy you will want to employ, whether it's finding other women who work nearby or other women who have kids who will play with yours.
  • Whereas, if you're an Away Person then you could theoretically reach any of those visions listed above but still feel angst if you didn't first identify what pain you're trying to avoid.  Maybe it's the pain from being mad at someone, the pain of feeling misunderstood, or the pain of feeling isolated.  Sitting in the backyard watching your kids play may not be the answer?  In fact it may exacerbate the pain because you'll be confused why you still feel mad, misunderstood, or lonely if you didn't figure out why you were feeling those things and articulate what you believe would help you move away from that feeling.

I don't actually think one is worst than the other as much as they both just describe human nature and how we're wired differently. What could be damaging is not knowing which path feels most motivating to you.

Questions to Lead to Your Own Motivation

It's undoubtedly not as easy as an either/or answer for you, but I challenge you today to try to answer these following questions:

  1. Do you most need to move toward something or away from something?
  2. Based on that answer, write at least one full paragraph articulating either the feelings/experiences you want to pursue or avoid.
  3. Now let an image come to mind of you reaching your goal (what does it look like if you're not feeling that way, or what does it look like for you to reach the experience you're pursuing) and describe or draw what you see.  What are you doing? What does your face look like? Who else is there? What are you feeling?
  4. What does your voice of wisdom and maturity say is your take-away from this exercise? Is there an action you want to take? Is there something you want to remember?

Naming which one resonates with us might give us some ah-ha into how to best keep ourselves motivated.  It also hopefully helps us reach our real goals--whether it's the obtain something or avoid something.  Both are important.  But which one matters most?

If I could wave my little magic wand then I'd hope for you both the joy of pursuing pleasure and the peace from moving away from pain.  But since I can't find it right now, what I want for you is your clarity in knowing which one matters most to you right now so that your chances of success increase.  May you feel more relaxed in your friend-making journey as you sense that you have landed on what really will keep you motivated.

And, by the way, I bought the software from that sales guy. He won me over. Ha!

xoxo,

Shasta

p.s.  I finished my next book manuscript!  Woohoo!! This was a case of first being a Toward person as it was the joy of writing and teaching that motivated me to write a book proposal last summer for my agent to start pitching to publishers.  But then, in recent months I was definitely more motivated by recognizing that there was pain I wanted to Avoid.  When the book felt hard-- and oh this one was squeezing me tight and pounding me with pressure--the only thing that kept me going was not wanting to miss a deadline or disappoint my editor.  I was all about the avoiding pain! Ha!  So sometimes we can use both to our advantage!  :)  I CANNOT wait to share this book with you... as soon as I know the publication date-- I'll let you know!

A Theology of Self-Love

Thank you for letting this be a place where I process all kinds of things, even theology, as it pertains to our relationships.  I think it's important to do so since so many of us have roots in worldviews that come with the "stamp of God" on them. And those beliefs, whether we still believe them or not, impact us, which impacts our relationships with others. In a recent interview Oprah had with Jack Kornfield, a Buddhist teacher and American author, he made this observation:

"Our western culture has produced a society of epidemic loneliness and self-hatred."

Oprah & Jack Kornfield

One of my keynote talks is titled "Loneliness:  The Surprising Epidemic of the Busy & Social Woman" where I speak to what I believe is a world full of women who are scared of loneliness and therefore missing the information that loneliness offers.  It is far more prevalent than most of us dare to admit. That Jack mentions self-hatred as a sister epidemic is equally powerful, intrinsically connected, and incredibly relevant to those of us who value healthy friendships.

Most of us would recoil from the idea of self-hatred, but that doesn't necessarily make us good at self-love.

Since it's nearly impossible to connect meaningfully with others if we don't like ourselves; and because, conversely, I've found it's harder to forgive ourselves and show compassion to ourselves if we haven't practiced giving it to others-- we must talk about self-love when we talk about loving others. The two are definitely linked.

Some World-Views Resist Self-Love

Some women actually have some resistance to the idea of self-love, confusing it with vanity, arrogance, or narcissism. Whether it's gender roles, religious systems, or a false understanding of humility, many of us have been taught to love others without regard to loving ourselves.

To illustrate, in response to a status update about how excited I was to be interviewing Christine Arylo* (a friend of mine, and author of Madly in Love With Me who has been affectionately dubbed "The Queen of Self-Love") about ways we can all step into greater self-love this month of February, someone wrote this comment on my post:

"The more one who loves Christ, the more one will be drawn to be more like Him. Should that not be our goal. Also, the more we look to Christ, the more we shall distrust self."

First, it bothers me deeply to have anyone think that it's good for us to ever distrust ourselves, or imply that we shouldn't focus on loving ourselves; but you add cloaking it all in religious garb and I had a visceral reaction.

As I began framing my response, my husband wondered out loud if I shouldn't just leave it alone, reminding me that I can't go changing how everyone thinks.  I paused for a thoughtful moment, and then concluded that I, in fact, couldn't ignore it. Not this time.

Theology, or World-View, Affects Our Relationships

The former pastor in me cringes when I hear any picture of God being propagated that doesn't end up leading to greater love. Greater love for the divine, yes; but also greater love for others, for the planet, and for ourselves-- all things that Christians believe God created. In fact the Bible says "Love your neighbors as yourself!"

Self-love is actually made up of self-honor, self-respect, self-care, self-esteem, self-compassion-- and a lot of other things that my picture of God would want us all to have in vast supplies.

My picture of God, rooted in origins of Christianity, teaches that God wants us to have "life abundantly" that is filled with the "Fruits of the Spirit" which includes things like more love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control.

Any belief system that doesn't line up with making me more of those things is strongly suspect. Whatever name you might possibly use to describe the "More" that is out there, I hope your picture of that which is sacred, expands your life, rather than shrinks it.

In fact, going on a little rabbit trail for a moment, the science of behavioral kinesiology highlights this truth for us in a very practical and real way.  In learning that our muscles instantly become weak when the body is exposed to harmful stimuli, psychologists and scientists have been able to test perceptions, worldviews, and spiritual beliefs with the effects those words and concepts have in our bodies.

It will come as no surprise to anyone that the emotion that weakens the body more than anything else is shame. Just think about how little energy you have when you feel safe-hatred. Only slightly more powerful than shame, is guilt, followed by apathy, grief, fear, desire, anger, pride, and then courage.

Courage calibrates at 200 on the Map of Consciousness which is the tipping point toward strength.  It is of no coincidence that emotions such as willingness, acceptance, reason, love, joy, and peace (pretty similar to the Bible's list of fruits of the spirit!) make us stronger.

Any church, picture of God, or theology that uses shame, guilt, or fear to teach or "motivate" is actually weakening our bodies, shrinking us, and literally making it less likely that we'll ever become more loving people.

And I'm pretty sure that becoming more loving should be the point of any religious system.

My Theology Affects Me

But if I spoke out every time I heard damaging theology then that in itself would be a full-time (and very exhausting!) job.  So what provoked me this time?

Because it spoke directly to a place where I have been wounded before.

Several years ago, I was doing some intentional self-growth work, trying to increase my awareness around any self-limiting beliefs I might be acting from and the one that kept popping up for me personally was, "I am not worthy." (For others of you it could be other variations such as: I am not loveable, I am not safe, or I am not powerful.)

I resisted it, not really resonating with it, and so not wanting it to be true.  My self-confident little ego voice said, "That's crazy! I know I'm worthy!"  Where would I ever have picked up such a self-defeating and silly belief?

A week later I was visiting a friend and went to her church with her.  Imagine my horror when the worship leader on stage prayed, "Oh God, we're not worthy!  We're not worthy to be your sons and daughters...."

And it hit me.  I probably had heard versions of that throughout childhood-- this picture of humanity being evil, bad, untrustworthy, and unworthy of any of God's goodness.  How could it not have affected me?

The belief that I may not be worthy not only leads to a very denying, punitive, and condemning God, but it leads to a negative self-image, as well.  Not owning my worth can be directly linked to me not charging the prices I am worth, not asking for what I need in my relationships, or not believing I am worth being taking good care of by others and my self.

But I know now that I am very worthy.  BECAUSE I am a child of God, I am worthy.  All by myself, without me doing or saying or believing anything, I am valuable, worthy, and loved. The spark of God that lives in me ensures that I am worthy.

To be clear, I believe Christianity is an incredibly expanding worldview, just not the way it's always presented...

Some Christians are so afraid that to own our worthiness we might become entitled, unappreciative, or putting ourselves as gods.  In my experience, that can't be further from the truth.  Knowing our worth helps us see the worth in others; and I for one, become more appreciative of my God who created an abundance of love and goodness for me to keep living into and aligning myself with.

Shame has No Value in Loving Relationships

I hope your story is different from mine. I hope you have felt worthy your entire life.  And I hope that you have no resistance to loving yourself well.

But if you sense hesitation, shame, or fear, I hope that you'll take the time to examine your own negative self-talk and worldviews that might be limiting your ability to shine.

Because I believe so deeply that healthy and loving people create healthy and loving friendships, it's important to me that we--this community of women who value meaningful friendships--do the work of loving ourselves.

Let's practice being a best friend to ourselves so we can be it for others.  -------------------------------

* When I first met Christine Arylo, she intimidated me with her clear sense of calling and confidence. My temptation was to pull away from her so I wouldn't feel insecure or jealous.

Self Love Party Invitation

Instead, we've become friends. And I've become far more comfortable shining my own light in this world because of her modeling. We are now both in a group of women committed to supporting each other.  It is my honor to invite you to her upcoming free live-streamed event on Feb., 13, the International Day of Self-Love.  You won't regret taking the time to make a self-love promise to yourself this year.  And your self-love will give permission to others to shine brightly that we might all treat ourselves well so we can contribute to this world in the ways we're each called to do so.

 

 

I Don't Feel x (Accepted, Connected, Loved)... What Do I Do?

Last week I shared a bit of my process for choosing my feeling words or themes each year... so this week I wanted to share how I take those words and plant them in my life. Because it's one thing to find words that resonate... it's another thing to remember that you chose them, why they matter, and what wisdom they have for your life right now.

I am a person very comfortable in the world of the "unseen"; I love talking about spirituality, ideas, and feelings. And while I think it's important to start there, and spend as much time there as you can--journaling about your word(s), making lists of how you already see that word showing up in your life, defining it in a way that excites you, and getting comfortable with owning that word--for me, the power only continues if I figure out a tangible way to take the word with me.

In other words, I can have an amazing journaling session and get excited about my word(s), only to forget them a month later, if I don't choose how to plant them.  It's akin to going on a retreat and having that "mountain top experience" that stays on the mountain if I don't intentionally figure out how to bring those ah-ha's into my day-to-day life.

Unlike goals (i.e. "Lose x pounds," or "Go to x networking events each month") that can feel all deadline-y, guilt-heavy, and task-focused; our feeling words should feel inviting, hope-full, and come with a sense of ease (i.e. "I desire to feel invigorated" and "I desire to feel supported.")

Transforming Feelings into Tangible Form

So where I get excited is in figuring out how to plant that word into my life so I keep seeing it, regularly choosing to feel the hope of it, and remembering that it's guiding me this year.

It's similar to why some people get tattoos to remember someone or to recall a significant transition in their life, others do vision boards where they can see their dreams manifested, and others make altars that center them immediately in a certain feeling.

Almost all my jewelry reminds me of something that matters to me.  Just touching it or seeing it can focus me immediately on what I believe matters.

I actually do quite a bit of my remembering with my jewelry. Here's a picture of my left hand right now....  every time I touch or see these things, they act like a "string around my finger" to remind me to not forget something that I've said is important to me.  That thumb ring has been there ever since my divorce fourteen years ago.  I remember crying as I took my wedding ring off... and my naked finger just kept serving as a reminder every time I felt for it, and it wasn't there, that I didn't feel loved.  I was living in Guatemala at the time and bought a ring to put on my thumb to remind me that I loved me and God loved me and that was enough.  That ring rarely comes off my hand-- and every time I feel it, play with it, and see it-- I think "I am loved." That belief has been cemented in my belief system in ways that fuel me far greater than I could have ever imagined.

That red string is from a retreat I went on in September where I realized that I was showing up with hesitation and fear in some areas of my life and I wanted, instead of fear, to show up with willingness.  So now, I tug on that string and whisper "I'm willing" whenever I feel fear.  I'm willing.  I'm willing... to show up and stay open even though this person hurt me.  I'm willing... to walk into this room of people even though I feel insecure.  I'm willing... to do what's in front of me even though this project feels so overwhelming. I remind myself I'm willing and my entire body changes almost instantly to match the new message my brain is giving.  (In fact, it's a spiritual truth "by beholding we become changed" that has been proven truth also by neuroscience!)

As a pastor I used to love sharing all the stories in the Bible of how people chose to remember their truths by infusing meaning into physical form.  Whether it was the Israelites miraculously crossing the Jordan River and collecting dry stones from the riverbed to pile up on the other side so that they could "tell their kids about the time that God parted the river" or the story of Jesus in the upper room with his disciples saying "When you eat this bread... remember me" which has turned into the practice of the Eucharist, or Communion, we know the power of being triggered to remember.

We do this almost automatically for much of our life when we want to remember something that has happened.  We take photos to remember events, we save a piece of hair from our child's first haircut, and we bake a family recipe to recall a person or a memory.

I'm inviting you to take your word and choose how you want to remember it this upcoming year.  Not to remember something that has happened, but to remind yourself of what is happening--what is true for you, what is already present in you, and what is also being called out of you in more ways this year.

I'm gifting this friendship bracelet to the women in my upcoming program so that they can remember their intention for the year ahead!

In fact, I think it's so important that I am including a bracelet with the word "connected" on it that will be given to all* the women who are signing up for my 21-day virtual program on friendship this month.  I picture them spending the rest of January just planting their feeling of connection, (or intimacy, acceptance, inclusion, or whatever other word resonates most deeply) as they listen to the interviews and journal for their own awareness, and then receiving that beautiful bracelet that they can wear as a reminder of the connection that they are inviting into their lives this year.  I want them to touch it and see it and remember that they are pursuing the feeling of being close to others in meaningful ways.  I want it to guide them to say yes even when it feels awkward, to initiate again because that's what it takes to build a friendship, and to hold hope that no matter their circumstances or personality or past experiences, they can experience more connection.

This year... I invite you to take the word you want to feel with you.  Infuse it into something tangible that can remind you to feel that feeling every time you see it or touch it.

We get to choose how we feel.  I don't have to feel unloved or fearful-- my ring and my red bracelet pictured above whisper to me repeatedly that I am loved and willing.  And that, I want to remember all year-long.

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* Just wanted to clarify that the bracelet (and the entire Gift Package valued at nearly $100) is only being given to the women who sign up by Wednesday at 10 am PT at FriendshipsWanted.com.  You're welcome to join us... I'd love nothing more than for you to pursue feeling connected all year-long!  (Or, you can buy your own piece of jewelry that says "Loved" or "Connected" here:  www.ConnectedGifts.com.)

To Our Loneliness Around the Holidays

I want to speak to that loneliness in so many of us that's exacerbated during the holidays. You are not alone if you feel lonely this holiday season!

This is a time of year when I'd guess that loneliness skyrockets.  The feeling of being disconnected or dissatisfied with our relationships might be one we can ignore other timesof the year.  But come Christmas, when the expectations are elevated that everyone be jolly, merry, and surrounded by a big, loving, and healthy family, we are prone to feel the disappointment ever more obviously.

Holiday Loneliness

For some, the feeling of being alone is an annual experience.  You are used to the grief of not having a loving family, a present family, or a healthy family.  You know how to manage your expectations and you've undoubtedly created coping mechanisms and rituals to avoid sitting all alone in your apartment on Christmas Day.  But it's still noticeable.

For some, the feeling of being alone might be relatively new to you this holiday.  Perhaps you experienced a loss this last year-- a divorce, a death, or another ending-- that makes this holiday feel anything but festive.  You wonder what rituals to still do, how many times you can paint a smile over your ache, and whether you want to even try to be around others.  The pain still feels raw.  If one more grocery store clerk tries to make small talk by asking you if you've got big plans for the holidays, you might just break down and cry.

For many, you will not be alone, but you will still feel some disconnection.  It may be as you notice the absence of someone you wish were still in your life, but is noticeably gone.  It may be that you miss that your family isn't all able to get together this year.  Or, it can even happen when you're surrounded by people if you don't relate to them, don't feel close to them, or feel stress in their presence.  It's so common to look around at "family" and wish for a different experience.

Loneliness can be one of the most painful human experiences ever.

What is Loneliness?

One of my keynote talks is all about loneliness.  Because the honest truth is that we all know this feeling. It's far more universal than anyone thinks.  That's one of the ironies of loneliness is that we feel so alone in the feeling.

While we many not all face being completely alone during the holidays, we all know what it feels like to crave more connectedness.

And that's how I define loneliness-- it is your body's way of telling you that you want more meaningful connection in your life.

Much like hunger tells you that you need food, thirst tells you that you need water, and exhaustion tells you that you need sleep-- those pangs of loneliness is information to you that you wish for greater connection.

And there is no shame in that!  None at all!  I don't feel shame that my body needs to eat, drink, and sleep; and neither do I feel shame that my heart needs to connect.

Loneliness is information.  Information that shouldn't be ignored, stuffed down, fed with food, or drowned with alcohol.  Information that should be trusted, appreciated, accepted, and thanked.  Information that we shouldn't try to talk ourselves out of feeling, to buttress with cheerfulness, or to wallow in despair.  It's information.  Information that the healthiest among us will note, hold, and act upon.

My Prayer for You

If you're in this season wishing for more connection, I want you to know that you're not alone.  Not at all.  Don't let our happy Christmas card photos trick you into thinking that our lives are perfect.

So many of us have loved ones in the hospital this holiday, people missing from our family tables, financial stress and work obligations that prevent us from being with everyone, and people we have to be with that aren't meaningful.  We know, in varying degrees, what it means to not be surrounded by all the love we want.

Take the information from that and own it.  There is much beyond our control... we can't place an order for the family and the finances that would reflect what we think makes a perfect holiday.  And that has to be grieved.  We ache for whom we have lost and for whom we don't have.  And I'm so sorry.

And then ask yourself what is in your control.  Is there anything you can do that will help invite more love into your life this week?  Anyone you can reach out to?  Anything you want to schedule? Any rituals that will bring you peace or contentedness?  Any conversations you can create opportunity to have?  Any love you can give to others?

We acknowledge that few will experience this holiday the way the commercials evoke. But we also acknowledge that love is not limited to those things.  We can let go of needing it to come in a specific package, in what we think is the ideal form; and instead open ourselves up to letting it come in surprising ways.

Be someone this month, if you can muster it, where you know that love is in your hands.  You are not a victim--reliant on anyone else, or anything, to help you experience love.  You are a creator of love.

I see your pain, and I'm so sorry for it.  I also see your hunger to be loved more, and I'm so grateful for it.  Feed your hunger this holiday, more than you feed your pain.  Reach out for connection in any form, and whisper over and over, "I am connected."  For you are.

xoxo,

Shasta

p.s.  To launch our new year together, a year of inviting more connection into our lives in 2014, I'll be speaking on a free, live phone call about the 4 different types of loneliness we all face at different times, the 5 Circles of Friends we need, and the two most important actions we can take to invite more connection in our lives.  Friday evenings are sacred time for me-- time for family, God, and rituals that end my week and step me into peace.  So I'm picturing a call on the first Friday night of 2014-- make yourself some tea or pour yourself a glass of wine-- and join me on Jan. 3.  Sign up for this free call here.

 

 

Celebrating All Love, Not Just the Romantic Kind!

I am a big fan of romantic love.  A very big fan. And I'm all for having a day where we can celebrate those loving feelings. But... every Valentines I find myself worrying more about all the women who are so obsessed about being chosen by some dream man (or woman, as the case may be) that they forget that love comes from so many other places!  Today isn't just about whether we are "in love," but rather about whether we are living loving lives.  What a huge difference!

Anne Lamott (a popular author who writes spiritual memoirs such as her latest, Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers) wrote this on her Facebook page this last week:

"I would estimate that approximately 17% of people enjoy Valentine's day. Mostly, women will be given boxes of chocolates that they don't want and can't resist, and will be really mad at themselves for inhaling. Many people will be filled with resentment, anxiety, and guilt at having forgotten, or having shown up late, or having accidentally been having affairs with other people. Many people will feel a sheet-metal sense of loneliness and rejection. They will be comparing their insides with other people's outsides, especially those happy valentines actors in advertisements and commercials. Most of the day, except for the lucky few, will be a nightmare."

That's a pretty depressing view.  And I so hope the number is higher than 17% of people who step into today with joy, contentment, and gratitude.  But it illustrates my point that for many, today has the potential to be depressing or disappointing.

Lamott is calling for an Occupy Valentines Day where women focus today on radical self-care instead of looking for external validation.  That is certainly in alignment with my friend Christine Arylo, the Queen of Self-Love and author of Madly in Love with ME: The Daring Adventure of Becoming Your Own Best Friend who has declared every Feb. 13 as the International Day of Self-Love.  The message that I am so glad is entering our consciousness is the reminder that love has to start with us.

Let's Choose All Love Today!

I invite all of us to decide today that we are going to choose to remember that we are loved. That means recognizing that whether we are in a romantic relationship or not, that we are valuable, worthy, loveable, and amazing.  We are no less so, no matter what our relationship status.  That means that we're going to pry our little fingers open and let go of any set expectation of what someone has to do for us today to make us feel good.  We can choose to feel loved all by ourselves.  Yes, we can.

Choosing to celebrate our own worthiness can take on many different forms. Whether it's planning this evening to be filled with the things that bring us personal joy, scheduling some 30 minutes of self-care that we give ourselves, or setting aside time to journal and ground ourselves in what we know is lovingly true about us, we can decide if we want to choose love or fear today.

Choosing love is an inside job.

Proof of that is that we have all been in relationship before and still not felt like we were "enough."  A relationship doesn't mean we're in anymore loved or able to receive love any easier.  So let's not fall for the delusion that we need someone else before we can feel it.

And then, after accepting our own personal love, let's also commit to reach out to others we love.  So for some of us it may include a romantic partner, but for all of us it also includes family members, co-workers, and friends.  It means showing up in ways that remind others that they are loved.  Let's make sure our very presence invites others to feel good about themselves.

This can include such things as:

  • Leaving a voice mail for a girlfriend telling her 5 things we love about her.
  • Taking 2 minutes to write an email (or send an e-card) to any of our friends who have recently gone through a break-up or divorce and reminding them,"Just in case you are tempted to doubt your amazing-ness today-- I just wanted to jump in your inbox and tell you how absolutely love-able, wonderful, and beautiful you are. You are so loved and thought of on this Valentines Day!"
  • Calling your parents and thanking them for showing you so much love over the years.
  • Scheduling an impromptu Valentines happy hour at your apartment after work and inviting anyone you think of or see throughout the day!
  • Give hugs everywhere you go.  Few of us get too much healthy and loving touch in our lives.
  • And commit to just really listen and see people tomorrow.  Everyone you encounter in meetings, during sales calls, and in the break room is fighting their own battles-- be sure they know you saw them and valued them.

There is a very real spiritual truth and it is that love goes every direction; meaning that it's impossible for you to give love and have any less of it yourself.  As we give, we receive.  As we hug, we get hugged. As we smile at others, we feel happier.  As we remind others of their inherent worth, we remember our own.

Today, let's be a community of women that loves.  May we exude the love we crave.  May we be the love this world needs.

With love and hope,

Shasta

p.s.  Want to buy a gift for a girlfriend, sister, or mother? Send a note telling them you just purchased "Friendships Don't Just Happen!" and are having it sent to them as a thank you for how much love they have shown you over the years!

p.s.s.  Just went through a recent break-up or feeling bad about being alone this year? My friend, Ellen Smoak of Break-ups are a Bitch has begun a free 1-month Cupid's Roast filled with interviews with all kinds of sex, dating, relationship, and love coaches to help inspire and heal you.  (I'll be featured toward the end!)

 

When The Holidays Aren't Always Merry...

Happy Holidays!

Except when they aren't.

For many, this year won't live up to the Christmas dream.

This time of year the expectations are raised so high that we are ever more acutely aware of what we don't have, who's no longer with us, and how imperfect our family can look. While it's one of my favorite times of year, research shows us it's also one of the hardest and most stressful.  Loneliness sky-rockets, heart-attacks are more frequent, exhaustion is more prevalent, and finances feel most strained.

When I used to pastor churches I was acutely aware that the holidays were some of the hardest times for many in my congregation. This time of year--with the huge emphasis placed on family, travel, and being together--serves as a mile-marker that can highlight who we have lost in recent years or fear losing in the year to come. For many it was their first Christmas without a specific loved one.  For some it was a reminder that they didn't have any family.  For others who were suffering with pain, age, or uncertain health prognoses it was a time of wondering if this would be their last Christmas season. And for still others, this holiday will be spent around hospital beds as sickness, accidents, and heart-attacks are known to ignore calendars.

Even without tragedy and loss, the picture of a Norman Rockwell family holiday can seem more rare than normal. Many don't have the money or time to travel to be with family, others don't want to be with their family, and still others will go but will feel like they can't always breathe through their family dysfunction and dynamics. We find ourselves wishing that we had the soul mate we've been looking for, the baby we have been trying to have, or the divorce that we can't bring ourselves to initiate.

The Hallmark commercials showing the whole family coming home with grand kids, happy hugs, and big meals often leave us feeling like we've been robbed this illusive experience. It's hard to always feel happy when the bar gets raised.

Add to all of this the gazillion extra things we take on: shopping, holiday cards, cookie bakes, kids concerts, company parties, extra spending, shipping lines, childcare during school breaks, decorating, and all the extra activities that help us get into the spirit of the season.

Yes, I was very careful what I said up front during the holiday season to a church full of tired-looking people. For as much as we want to just say "Happy Holidays!"-- saying it doesn't always make it so.

Love's Blessing For You

This season I want to anchor us in something that we can all exude regardless of the losses, stresses, and disappointments that are sure to be there, too.

So for all of you, my GirlFriendCircles.com community, whether your weariness comes from planning the perfect holiday or whether you're mourning the holiday that won't be this year-- I invite you to a moment of rest.

Christmas heart

"Come to me all who are weary and I will give you rest."-- Jesus, the Love we celebrate this season

You're weary.  I can see it.  I know it.  You weren't created to feel this anxiety, panic, stress, or fear. For one moment, can you release it, or hold it more loosely? Can you hold all your stress in your hand and symbolically open your fingers to remind yourself you don't have to cling to it? You don't have to grip it so hard.  Do you see it there in your hand?  Outside of you? It's not in you... you choose what to inhale.  But see this stress in your hand and know that you can choose what you hold, or at least how you hold it. Take another deep breath. And let it out.....

You were created to feel loved, be loved, and give love. And that you can do without dollars in your bank or extra time in your day.

Rest from your unmet expectations.

Rest from your fears.

Rest from your ache.

Rest from your sense of alone-ness.

I invite you, in this moment, to inhale love, and to exhale worry.

I invite you, in this moment, to name something you're grateful for in your life.

I invite you to look around and whisper "In this moment, I have everything I need.  I really do."

I invite you to put your hand on your heart and say "I am deeply and fully loved."  Because you are.

You can be love even when you're lonely. Release the picture of what you think you need before you can feel loved.  Let go of the limitations you've placed on what form it can take.  Be gentle with yourself and know that there is no shortage of love for you.

You are love.  You were created in the image of Love. We so often forget, but today we can remember it.  Remember that we are love.

Today, let our actions be connected to our love.  Let's make sure that the things on our to-do list come from a place of love.  And stay in a place of love.

  • Rather than bake cookies because we have this picture of ourselves as having to live up to Martha Stewart, let's bake cookies as an expression of love.
  • Rather than sit next to a hospital bed with fear and regret, let's stay in the place of love.
  • Rather than bemoan the family that isn't, let's find others to love.

Let's reach out and tell a far-away friend that we love them. Let's find a moment to remember that we love ourselves.  Let's think of someone we know who might be hurting this holiday and drop a card in the mail. Let's love.

Girlfriends, our lives may not feel perfect, happy, and perky this season.  Jolly and merry may not be within reach. But love is already in us.  We can love no matter what.  Let's be women of love-- women who exude love, women who receive love, women who give love.

May our Christmases be centered around love, no matter the circumstances. With tons of love for you!  Hugs!!!

 

The Impact of Self-Esteem on Friendship

When it comes to self-esteem and friendship, there is no end to the correlations that are so frequently made.  People with more friends have higher self-esteem, and people with high self-esteem seem to have an easier time making friends-- the two results almost creating this self-sustaining cycle that can keep feeding itself.  If you're already in the cycle, that is. But what if you're not in that supportive cycle?  You may have a hard time making friends and struggle with a low self-esteem.  Then it's a catch-22 because while making friends will increase your self-esteem, it's harder to make them without having it first.  So do you try to make friends to feel better about yourself or try to increase your self-esteem before making friends?  A classic chicken-or-egg first kind of question.

My answer? Both.

Increasing My Self-Esteem

Self-esteem comes from having a strong belief in who we are and what we can do.  So certainly believing in oneself to make friends and then accomplishing that goal comes from, and results in, one feeling an increase in self-esteem.  But several steps before self-esteem comes such things as self- awareness, self-trust, and self-care.

If we didn't do the deeper work then our self-esteem rises and falls with every life change. Exhausting and not sustainable. We don't want to feel good about who we are when we make a friend, and then feel bad about who we are when we lose a friend.  Same with any life circumstance-- we don't want how we feel about ourselves to look like a roller coaster that is based on what job we have, our current weight, or our relationship status.

Nothing circumstantial has the power to do the deep and sustaining work of fostering what you're actually creating: love.  Self-love.

My friend Christine Arylo, author of Madly in Love with ME: The Daring Adventure of Becoming Your Own Best Friend, is dubbed the Queen of Self-Love. A word we don't use all that much, and yet she makes the convincing case that it's the tree trunk out of which everything else must grow:

"Each of these aspects of self-love relates to and supports the others, just as the branches of a tree rely on each other to grow, be healthy, and keep the tree balanced and strong. When you practice self-care, you increase your self-compassion. When you build your self-awareness, you increase your self-esteem. When you improve your self-esteem, you more fully feel your self-worth. When you practice self-trust, you base decisions on self-respect. When you take actions that reflect a deep self-respect, you honor yourself. When you express yourself fully, you increase your self-pleasure. And when you exude self-compassion, you create self-acceptance. Each branch supports the other branches, and as one grows, so do the others."

Her first suggested step for building your self-esteem?  Increase your self-awareness.  Get to know yourself.  It's hard to love who you don't know.  :)  Past all the titles, images, and pretenses.  Deeper than what others say about you or who you wish you are-- explore and get to know you.  (You can see why self-compassion and self-forgiveness need to be intertwined in the process!)

Increasing My Friendships

While we need to be our own best friend before we can truly be in healthy friendships and feel confident in our friend-making process, it doesn't mean we sit in a cave until then.  We can't lock ourselves in isolation, because no one grows more loving in a loveless vacuum.  Our self-esteem, belief in ourselves and our abilities, doesn't grow without practice.  So while we're having honest conversations with ourselves, understanding who we are and aren't, and seeking to embrace how we're wired-- we're also observing how our thoughts, actions, and decisions are affecting our relationships.

One study came out this year that gives us a little guidance about how to engage in meaningful and healthy ways even when our self-esteem isn't quite yet where we want it to be.  The study tracked high self-esteem and low self-esteem individuals engaging in Facebook to see if perhaps that forum was a safer place for low self-esteem individuals to interact without fear of awkward social situations.

The study results showed that:

  1. Low self-esteem individuals were more likely to post negative status updates than high self-esteem individuals.  (And get less of a response to them compared to when a high self-esteem individual posted an occasional negative update.)
  2. And, that others who read the status updates of low self-esteem individuals ended up liking them less as they were perceived as sad, negative, angry, or pessimistic.

So while the low self-esteem updaters may, in fact, feel safer on Facebook; their honest revelations are backfiring if their goal is to be more likable and build friendships.  Other studies have shown that Facebook causes more stress for those with low self-esteem as they also see what everyone else is doing and can frequently feel worse about their own life.

From this, a word of encouragement to those who feel that their self-esteem journey is closer to the starting line than the finish line: practice engaging, but stay positive.

In other words, you may not yet have the self-esteem to be making friends, but you can start with being friendly.  Being friendly is a choice-- it's a choice to be affirming of others, warm, and hopeful.  As you give that gift to others, you'll find you also give it more to yourself.  And your cycle of self-esteem and relationships can start-- your friendliness and your growing self-love-- will both get healthier together.

The end result hopefully being a woman who genuinely loves herself and others well, products of a strong self-esteem.

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  Christine's book, Madly in Love with ME: The Daring Adventure of Becoming Your Own Best Friend, walks readers through a very fun and engaging journey filled with exercises and tips to build a very healthy self-love tree! I highly recommend it.  Plus she's going on tour across the country in 2013!

 

 

 

Go Friend-Fishing With a Net, Not a Line!

It's been over two weeks since I've blogged... mostly because I was on a retreat to plug away on my book manuscript all last week and a girl can only produce so many scribbles at a time!   I'm still trying to replenish my ideas and words. woman with net

While on a a group coaching call on Monday night for my 21 Days of Friendship Curriculum-- during the live Q & A I found myself saying to the women on the call "If you are looking for new friends then put away your fishing line and pull out a net." So welcome to today's rant.  :)

A Friendship Fishing Line

Friend-Fishing with a line is where a woman stands on her metaphoric boat, with her limited bait (time/energy), and hopes someone swims by and jumps on her hook.

This method could work if you have a wide repertoire of friends in your life, feel fulfilled with the depth of multiple relationships, and are looking for one specific type of person (i.e. someone to go running with me around the lake twice a week, someone else who is going through a divorce right now too).  With that kind of specificity-- you can strategically pick the bait that attracts that particular type of fish... er, uh friend. Meaning you'll know exactly where to go to cast your line: Where do those type of people hang out?  How can I increase my odds for meeting her?

Then in these cases of line-fishing, you'll care less if she isn't the same age as you, sharing similar religious beliefs, and claiming the same interests as you... because what you were looking for was someone to run around the lake with you, not to become your BFF.

A fishing line allows one fish at a time.  You stand there and hope.  And then you either need to be okay with pretty much whatever you hook, or you have to be ready to make quick judgments and throw them back in the water to go free. And then stand there some more, throwing your line into a big ocean.

It's not an impossible way to find friends, but it's time consuming and rarely effective for the majority of women who actually have room in their lives for a couple of really close friendships. Research shows most of us have only one person we're confiding in, but that we'd be happiest if we had a small handful of people. While we feel time constraints-- we actually need several more varied friends in our lives.

If that's true for you.... you can't hook 3 people and expect those three people to become BFF's.  That's like saying you're only going to go on one date and expect that person to be the one you choose to marry.  It can happen, but it's not likely.  What we need is a wider approach.

A Friendship Fishing Net

A net approach invites us to recognize that we will need to meet many, many different women, experiencing a pile of options, before we will know which ones have the potential to become the friendships we're hoping to develop. Like a funnel, we can invite in many and trust that the narrowing down process will happen as we move forward. Our odds increase exponentially based on how wide of a net we start with!

A net approach reminds us that we need more than one friend so we can practice saying yes, more than we say no. Yes to events. Yes to new things. Yes to doing things in groups. Yes to her even if we don't see the obvious commonality yet.  Yes to people who are different from us.  Yes to her even if she is a different age, a different life stage, or a different personality.

As one of my clients said on the phone "The truth is I could talk myself out of not asking just about everyone I meet, if I let myself." Isn't that familiar?

But it doesn't have to be.  If we change to a net approach then we start giving ourselves reasons to talk ourselves into people.  At least temporarily.  We don't have to be able to see the end with them (are we going to be BFF's?) in order to start the journey.  We can almost always find something curious about the other.

A net approach reminds us that we can be more expansive, ratter than more selective.  That we can withhold the need to make immediate judgements.  That instead of showing up with a "Prove you're worth my time/interest" approach, we can show up with a "I want to see what's interesting about you" approach. That we can let more people into our lives, not less.  That we have room.  Room for more love, not less.

We hold the wisdom to know that the more people we meet and the more we try to connect with them in meaningful ways will produce more consequential options for us down the road.

Be Expansive, Not Selective.

At this stage in our lives, when we know how important it is to invite friends to journey beside us-- we have to keep telling ourselves "I don't have to say no to everyone who doesn't immediately seem to fit everything I'm looking for."  I can say yes to several and trust that collectively, my needs will get filled.

Maybe right now you don't need one person to be everything as much as you need a few people to share the job description?  The good news is that we don't have to be all-knowing right now.  We don't need to know if they will say yes before we ask them, if they will like us before we know if we like them, if they will have enough in common with us before we get to know them.

All we have to do is say yes to finding out.

May you put your net out, saying to the Universe that you are more open than you've ever been to the platonic love that is waiting for you.

Happy Fishing!

 

Breast Cancer & Friendship

"Slow down! Don't do it alone!" the stranger said to me as he passed me on my morning jog. I tried to force a polite smile, but what I really thought was: "What kind of a guy has the audacity to tell me what pace to set as though he thinks he's my coach? And who is he to care if I'm running alone this morning?" I rolled my eyes after I passed him and kept jogging.

Then horns began honking, pink pom-poms were seemingly spilling out from passing cars, and in front of me a group of five women cheered in response. Then two more in front of them followed suit. As those cars made their way down the busy street, small little groups of women, flashes of pink dotting the sidewalk, seemed appreciative of the praise. I looked around in confusion, shaken out of my jogging rhythm.

Almost as soon as I became conscious to the energy around me, I quickly realized I was not alone in my jog today.  Apparently my typical exercise route was being shared today with the amazing women participating in the Breast Cancer 3-Day Race for the Cure. They were seemingly everywhere on this busy street leading into the park.

Unknowingly, I had joined them on their course! And since my outfit was black and pink, I fit right in, looking like one of them!

I chuckled, feeling pride at what all these women and men were doing. My heart swelled with appreciation for their energy toward this cause.

Then I suddenly felt guilty.

Not only for being cheered as though I were steps away from completing the 60 mile, 3-day race (when in fact I was simply a girl trying to get a couple of miles in on a day that otherwise was a lazy Sunday); but also because I had appeared to be a solo jogging dissenter in an event that promoted community and walking.

If Life Could Be... I crossed the street and spent the rest of my run pondering how amazing life would be if we could model this race:

  • Where who you do it with counts more than how fast you do it.
  • Where in fact, pacing oneself for the long-haul is of higher value than speeding past someone.
  • Where the journey matters more than simply reaching the destination.
  • Where we care more about our health than our appearance (I saw some seriously 'over-the-top' outfits today! LOL!)
  • Where slowing down to walk with someone who's tired is more the purpose than a delay.
  • Where it matters more to us that we "all" make it, not just me.
  • Where strangers feel bonded because of a combined passion for a cause.
  • Where women cheer for each other, rather than compete.
  • Where men look over-joyed to be driving in cars covered in pink, honking for women and their success.

Oh to live in such a world!

The Friendship & Breast Cancer Link

Consider the headlines we’ve all seen from research out of the University of Chicago: Loneliness Heightens Risk of Breast Cancer. While we all feel the pull to do more, be more, and be better than everyone else, a reminder that sometimes just increasing the stress in our lives (to be the one jogging up the hill alone) while everyone else walks in groups, isn't necessarily success.

And the New York Times reported on the 2006  study of nearly 3,000 nurses with breast cancer that found that "women without close friends were four times as likely to die from the disease as women with 10 or more friends. And notably, proximity and the amount of contact with a friend wasn’t associated with survival. Just having friends was protective."

I share the research not to add any fear or guilt, but to give hope.  To remind us that when we feel tempted to withdraw, there is enough data to nudge us to reach out. And it's never too late to invite more love into your life.

Celebrate Breast Cancer Awareness! So this October, as we are celebrating National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, send your cards of celebration to the women who have survived this disease, and honor the memories of those who didn't. Wear your pink proudly and buy those products whose proceeds support the awareness and research we still need in this battle. Schedule your mammograms and value your breast health more than your breast size.

But above all, perhaps the wisdom of the stranger who cheered me on this morning might become your mantra this month? Words to be taken seriously: "Slow down! Don't do it alone!"

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To subscribe to Shasta's Friendship Blog (a weekly article on friendship, relational health, and personal growth) enter your email address in the top right corner. Shasta is the Founder of GirlFriendCircles.com, a women's friendship matching site.

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Easy Contest: A Save the Ta-Ta's Give-Away!

Ever since last spring when I met Julia Fiske, the founderof Save the Ta-Ta's (read about my mistake that almost cost me a friendship with her!)-- I've been a fan of their fun t-shirts that help fund research (they donate a portion of every purchase) while increasing the smiles on our faces.  The one pictured on this posting, "now is all we have",  is one of my fave's and they are going to send one of my lucky readers this awesome shirt!  :)

To be the lucky winner who has this shirt, in your chosen size, mailed to your house all you have to do is re-post/share this blog on your facebook AND be sure to tag our facebook page (@www.girlfriendcircles.com) so we can track your share! Contest ends at noon (PST) on Friday, Oct. 28. Winner will be selected randomly from those who share this post!

Step-by-Step Directions: To share this post on your facebook page:

1) first make sure you're a facebook fan of www.GirlFriendCircles.com by liking our page so you can tag us. 

2) Either copy/paste the blog post url into your facebook update or simply select the facebook sharing icon at the end of this post and it will do it automatically.

3) Write whatever status you want to share with your friends, highlighting this blog posting, and be sure to tag us by selecting the "@" key in your update, and start typing "girlfriendcircles" which should give you the option to select us, posting your update to our wall so we can track your involvement! (Should you have any problem tagging us-- simply share the post on your wall and come comment on our wall that you did it!)

THANKS! We'll announce the winner on our facebook page on Friday and contact her!

Lonely Mommy: How Motherhood Took a Toll on my Friendships

Note from Shasta: For Friendship Month this September I’ve invited some women to guest blog for me, adding their voices and experiences to our journey.  Today I’m honored to host Daneen Akers, a good friend of mine honestly sharing how hard it was to make and transition her friendships after becoming a new mom.

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Once a week my 2.5 year-old daughter Lily and I go walking in the woods of San Francisco’s Presidio with several other moms and toddlers. Lately, as she’s been learning the concept of friends, Lily likes to make the friendship boundaries clear.

“I’m so excited to go see my friends,” she says. And then she’ll add possessively, “They’re not your friends, Mommy. They’re my friends.”

Sometimes she’ll toss me the consolation prize of, “You can be friends with the mommies.”

That’s big of her, but I’m afraid I haven’t found adult friendship, especially after becoming a mom, nearly this easy to define or nurture. If only a shared identity was all it took.

Friendships and Motherhood: A Tough Transition

When I became a mom over two years ago, I had no idea how difficult it was going to be to transition my existing friendships to the next chapter, and I really had no idea how hard it was going to be to develop real friendships with other moms.

On the surface, motherhood is the ticket to a whole circle of new communities of belonging. Suddenly you share this profoundly life-changing, heart-expanding, and utterly exhausting experience with women all over the world. I was a mom now—I felt this unspoken kinship with every pregnant woman, new mom, and grandma that I spotted on the bus or at the park. Women just like me were making do on cat naps, feeling lucky if they took a shower, and wearing the same pair of milk-stained yoga pants for days on end. I could spot another new mom a mile away and almost always shared a knowing look as we walked past each other, not wanting to stop and risk waking the sleeping babies that connected us.

There are groups aplenty for moms—support groups, breastfeeding circles, mommy and baby yoga classes, play groups, and a host of online networks. I quickly became a joiner, trying desperately to not feel so lonely in the midst of motherhood.

Despite being utterly in love with my daughter and having a very involved husband, I felt desperately isolated as a mom. Perhaps it was because I was the only one of my close girlfriends to have a baby. Perhaps it was because I worked from home. Perhaps it was because families in our culture have little to no support —we have non-existent or anemic maternity/paternity leaves, often don’t live near family, and have had very little preparation for the grueling work of parenthood.

But even after packing my schedule with support groups and gatherings, I still felt lonely. In fact, I was even more lonely because I was surrounded by women like me and yet I felt that nobody really knew me. We talked and talked, but it was almost always about how our babies were sleeping, how breastfeeding was going (or not), what new thing our babies could do now, what baby-related challenge we needed help with. It was all baby.

Babies change quickly, so our conversations evolved, but often just around the next surface-level baby/toddler topic. I deeply wanted to feel like I knew the women I was sharing this important part of life with and, just as importantly, that they knew me.

It wasn’t at all that I only met shallow women. Quite the opposite, the moms I’ve met are amazing. But conversations are inherently fragmented when a baby has frequent needs, and this only gets worse the more mobile they get. Soon we were meeting at playgrounds and feeling lucky if we could manage two or three minutes of adult conversation before one of our children needed attention, sometimes to be pulled off each other as they inevitably squabbled over a toy or turn. Ironically, we often had more meaningful conversations over email where we could put two thoughts together, but this sometimes made the frustration of in-person meetings more tangible.  I distinctly remember when Lily was two talking to a mom I’d met in a birth prep class and realizing that I had no idea what she had done before she became a full-time mom. All of my knowledge of her revolved around her mommy role.

And moms are just running tired. Whether we work in the home, from home, or out of the home, it feels like everyone wants a piece of us all the time. If I had two moments to myself, I usually needed to be alone or to sleep just to survive (I’m not sure what it says about me as a mother that my last two Mother’s Day requests have been for a day alone!)

Three things helped my lonely-mommy situation improve dramatically.

1)  Foster a Few New Friendships: First, I cut back on most of my mom-related obligations and focused on fostering a few friendships. I had sensed reciprocity with a few women, and I made a point of making these women a priority. Women like my friend Julie, who once managed to start a terrifying real conversation at a moms’ group by asking, “So, can I ask if anyone else is disappointed by who are finding yourself as a mother?” And women like my friend Sara, who asked questions about me as a woman and not just a mom and kept making the effort to find times that we could meet without our babies (luckily a wine bar opened in her neighborhood)

2)  Commit to Time with Current Friends: And second I made a weekly commitment to meet with my non-mom girlfriends. This might seem counter-intuitive at first. I was starved for female friendship but found respite with women who didn’t share one of my most important life journeys with me.  Their lives continue to look very different than mine. But that has turned out to be a blessing for our conversations. There is absolutely no chance that we’ll end up spending an hour talking about potty training.

My time with these women sustains and centers me. These women have shared my life for three hours every Tuesday night for two years over homemade meals in each other’s homes. They have seen me gradually recover a sense of myself in the midst of my motherhood, and I have heard their hearts as we all navigate the vicissitudes of life. (A nice side benefit to this particular practice is that my husband and daughter have developed their own Tuesday night routines.)

3)  Be a Good Friend To Myself: And, finally, I have found that everything in my life improves when I take my required alone time. I’d actually started this post with two turning points in mind, but half-way through writing I went to a yoga class after not making it for one reason or another for the past six weeks.

As I lay in Shivasana, feeling myself relax at my core for the first time in weeks, I realized anew that I am my best self when I truly embrace the concept of putting my own oxygen mask on first so that I don’t pass out while trying to help others, even my own child. When I am keeping my well full, I find my own inner peace and don’t have to project my lack onto others.

I still find myself lonely at times and struggling to feel like I give enough and am fed enough in my friendships, but I am starting to feel rooted again in my community.  I am finding my joy, my center.

An Extra Pay-Off to Prioritizing Friendships

Lily doesn’t make it easy to leave her. It can be difficult to explain why I’m leaving for a night off or a yoga class (or, I hope more often, an evening with my mom friends sans our adorable progeny). Last night her usually joyful countenance turned mournful, and she wailed, “But I want you to stay with me!”

As I gently hugged her and then pried her off of me to hand to my husband, I told myself that I’m setting an example for her. Friendship matters. Making time for a relationship with myself matters. How I model friendship in my life matters as much as the lessons she learns as she walks in the woods with her toddler friends. At least, that’s the hope I’m hanging my diaper bag on.

Daneen Akers writes from San Francisco where she's a mom to a vibrant two-year-old, a documentary film producer, and an occasional blogger at http://www.lifewithlilybird.com with an emphasis on parenting and spirituality. 

 

 

 

Our Used-to-be-Closer Friends on YouTube

New YouTube Clip:

This video explains the value of both our current and our "past" BFF's. In this 3rd video of the series, Shasta Nelson, life coach and CEO of GirlFriendCircles.com dives deeper into her Confirmed Circle.

Often a move, a job change, or a life shift will put women into our Confirmed Circle-- meaning we can pick up where we left off with them, that we know they'd do anything for us, and that we still consider them our friends, but we are no longer in a consistent friendship with them, seeing them regularly and sharing life along the way.  It is different to have friends we update every several months from the friends who actually know our day-to-day lives.  We need both.

It also give two ways to make sure you create a current, meaningful and consistent group of friends for wherever you are now.

An overview of Shasta's 5 Circles of Connectedness is a video titled: "What Types of Friends Do You Need?" The 2nd video in the series is titled: "Who Are Your BFF's?"

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Huge thanks to everyone who has subscribed to my YouTube channel to help me get started this month! There's a random drawing for a Flying Wish Paper gift every Thursday in September so subscribe today for 2 more chances to win this month!

 

Used-To-Be Friends or Still Friends?

We all know those fabulous women we have loved over the years, the ones where our shared history with them puts them in that special category of proven friends. When we talk to them, we  pick up right where we left off.  They're the kind of women we don't have to explain ourselves to, apologize for the time lapse or call them all the time to know we're still loved. So certainly it pains me to pop that bubble of idealism, but sometimes it must be said: Just because you can call her and know she'll be there for you doesn't mean you do.

One of the most common traps that keeps us in denial about needing more friends is that we used to have good friends.  And, the greatest risk happens when we think of them still as our closest friends.

Used-To-Be-Friends Or Still Friends?

This trap throws off the best of us.  We can quickly name 5 amazing women we call friends, and often feel better with our sense of connectedness. But then we still hear that nagging voice whispering that we think we need more friends. We feel lonely.

If you’re only sending Christmas cards, seeing each other once a year, calling every couple of months and giving little sentence updates on facebook—that may be why you still feel a sense of loneliness?

Risking redundancy, it stands to be pointed out that your current loneliness is not because you haven't had amazing friendships before. Rather, it's because you may not be engaging in them now.

I know for me, when I moved to San Francisco, I pushed away my awareness that I needed to make new friends by telling myself how awesome my friends were.  And yet, even though they were only a phone call away.  They were still a phone call away.  A phone call I didn't make with most of them frequently enough to keep it intimate and easy.

southern cal girls

And I'm not suggesting that we shouldn't have these "former" friends.  (And by former, I only mean that the intensity & consistency may have been more in the past than the present.)  My girlfriends from Southern Cal lived through some of my worst and best moments with me-- I will always want to stay connected with them.  Those friends give to us in many ways by knowing who we used to be, giving us a sense of a wider net in our lives and helping us feel less alone in this world.

It's life-changing to know you have these friends you can call if you are diagnosed with cancer. You need to know you have people you can count on in the "big things."

However, I often talk myself out of calling these friends because while I know I can pick up where we left off... that's part of the problem.  I have so much updating to do with them to catch them up to life right now, that I often decide I don't have the time for a long conversation.

What Do We Most Need to Add to our Connectedness?

But what most of us crave are the kind of friends you can call to just ask her what she's making for dinner. Or how her day went. Or what she bought over the weekend. Or whether she wants to go get drinks tomorrow night. The "small things."

We usually feel more intimate with the people we can talk about nothing with as easy as we can talk about something with.

For the truth is, fortunately, that we make dinner more than we get cancer.

No matter how many women you used to be close to—you can still feel lonely now. And sometimes just knowing that you can call isn't enough. To abate loneliness we actually need friends we can go live life with, not just report life to.

SF girls

I ended up having to start over with local women.  It doesn't mean I don't still meet up with my used-to-be-friends every year for a weekend together.  Or that we don't call when the big things happen.  But it means I now have friends to call for the small stuff.  The small stuff that actually feels more important on a day-to-day basis.

So by all means, love those used-to-be women for the history they hold and the way they make you feel known, and by all means stay in touch with them!  But I invite you to own the fact that your loneliness may be your hearts way of saying “I would like some women who can journey with me more regularly.”

And perhaps 1-2 of them can step into that role. I called up one of the women in this circle for me a few years ago, told her how much I missed her and asked if we could schedule a weekly standing phone call to live life together a bit more.

But maybe that's not enough.  Maybe you still need new friends?

But either way, don’t confuse who used to be your best friend with the fact that you might need additional ones (or rekindled ones?) in that place now.