Trust

Friendships, Stress, and Hormones

This is a blog post I have been so looking forward to writing for the last two months!  Women lean in every time I share pieces of this content around a dinner table, in a workshop on friendship, or at a mastermind group.  It's not only crucial information for our lives, but it speaks so directly to the power of friendship that, even though I heard it first in a business context, I knew I had to share it with my blog community. Simon Sinek's Explanation of 4 Hormones You Need to Understand

I was happy to buy Simon Sinek's first book, but it's his second one that covers the content in this blog that I'm eagerly anticipating!!  :)

In early May, I attended Rock the World 2013-- a women's business conference in NYC--where Simon Sinek was one of the keynote speakers.  Simon is the author of Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action (2009) and a motivational speaker whose TED talk is in the top 10 most-viewed ever!  But what he shared with us in May was some of the content of his next book coming out later this year.

Sinek relied on human biology to illustrate what motivates behavior, saying basically that our actions boil down to the good feelings we get from four key chemicals in our body: dopamine, endorphins, oxytocin, and serotonin.  When we trigger any of these chemicals in our bodies, we get a shot of something euphoric whether it's extra energy, joy, calm, or pride.   Here's how we receive those good feelings:

  1. Dopamine is the result of accomplishing goals, it's designed to help us find what we're looking for. Every time we see a finish line, cross something off our to-do list, or see movement toward our goals-- we get that shot of dopamine!
  2. Endorphins mask our physical pain and help us keep pushing ourselves to where we need to be. For most of us who live more sedentary and safe lives, our most common form of endorphins come from exercise. If you've ever had a "runner's high"-- you know this feeling.
  3. Oxytocin is one I talk about a lot in connection with our friendships as it reinforces bonds, builds trust, and relieves stress.  We get this from touch, meaningful conversation, breast-feeding, and when we see/experience acts of human generosity.
  4. Serotonin happens in moments of pride, recognition, and status. When we receive our diploma on stage, say "I do" in front of friends and family, or are the recipients of a meaningful award-- we get that shot of serotonin that boosts our joy.

Now, what I thought was super fascinating is that the first two chemicals you can get all by yourself.  You need no one else present to get your dopamine from crossing something off your to-do list or to exercise and feel the endorphins.  Sinek called these "selfish" hormones.

The latter two--oxytocin and serotonin-- are "unselfish" chemicals since we need someone else present in order to receive the rewards that our body wants to give us.  He gave the example of someone who could just receive an email telling them that enough credits had been accomplished and the bill paid so therefore they earned their diploma-- and that person would have most certainly received a shot of dopamine for reaching their goal.  But it's when that person dons their cap and gown and walks in front of everyone that the serotonin is released.  We need an "audience"-- someone to cheer for us or witness our success-- to give us that sense of pride and recognition.  And the best part of these unselfish chemicals?  BOTH people get the shot.  Not just the graduate on stage, but also the teachers who taught that student, the family that supported them, and their friends who did it with them.  Oxytocin and serotonin need others present to initiate them, but they also benefit all parties.

Warning: We're Not Getting Enough...

He connected these four chemicals to how leaders and businesses can better understand how we're wired to help create more healthy workplaces; I heard the whole thing through the lens of friendship. While all four chemicals have their "addictive" qualities to them, Sinek warned that they are only dangerous when they are out of balance. And I agree with him that we live in a culture that is focusing way more on the selfish chemicals than the unselfish chemicals.  We think it's easier to become workaholics to get more dopamine than it is to go hang out with friends to feel the oxytocin.  (And how much more so when we don't yet have the close friends we find meaningful!)

Furthermore, two other chemicals-- testosterone and cortisol-- are INHIBITORS of oxytocin.  In other words, when we feel stress or anxiety which results in cortisol shooting through our bodies, it prevents us from receiving the benefits of oxytocin which includes feelings of trust, safety, and empathy. We cannot build relationships of trust when we are in survival mode!  That has far-reaching implications, to say the least. So the more stress you have in your life, the harder it is for you to experience the rewards of trust, generosity, love, and bonding with others.  One short-circuits the other.

So here's my plea to the 22,000 women who subscribe to my blog-- please, please, please make sure you're intentionally adding oxytocin moments to your life!  Make sure you're not on an unbalanced chemical loop where you just go after accomplishment and exercise to boost you.  It's the selfless chemicals of oxytocin and serotonin that decrease your anxiety, turn your immune system on, facilitate feelings of trust, and basically make this world a better place where we can show generosity and love to one another!

I find it awesome that our bodies reward us to take care of each other!!!  And who better to be shining givers and recipients of this than all of us who are committed to growing healthy and meaningful relationships in this world!

Virtual hugs!

 

 

Healthy Friendship: How to Be the Best Friend Possible

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 hosting two posts: one from a therapist highlighting four qualities of emotionally safe friendships, and the other from someone who has never written a blog but was willing to share how she's learned this in her own life. Thanks to both Lisa Brookes Kift and Kelly Cape! _____________________________

What is Emotional Safety?

by Lisa Brookes Kift

Emotional safety is the level of comfort two people feel between each other – and though I’ve written much about how couples can benefit from this, let’s take a look at how this translates to friendship and ways you can be the best friend possible.

Because emotional and relationship health are so intertwined it’s important to take stock of not only how you behave with your friends but how you feel around them.  Do you support and lift each other up?

Not everyone is clear in their understanding of what qualities make up a healthy, nurturing, supportive friendship.  This lack of clarity may be the result of never being modeled this type of relationship.  Whatever the case, it’s never too late to take stock of the people in your life – and how they experience you as well.

Emotionally safe friendships have some things in common.  These friends typically:

  • Listen well and attempt to understand where the other is coming from – rather than dismiss, appear disinterested or shift the topic back to them.
  • Offer validation and empathy when appropriate – rather than behave without compassion when sensitivity is required.
  • Respect each other and are supportive - rather than be competitive and undermining.
  • Trust each other and feel safe – rather than be unsure of whether the other is there only when it suits them.

Human beings are relational.  We are born seeking secure attachment with our primary caregivers and we continue to seek emotional safety through-out our lives, with our partners and friends.

I am very grateful to have a group of girlfriends who I feel totally at home with.  Some go back as far as kindergarten and a few I’ve made in the last five years or so.  The friendships I put the most energy into are the ones where there is a mutual felt sense of being able to truly relax, be ourselves and know that neither of us would do anything to harm the other.  It just feels safe.

It’s like being wrapped in a fuzzy, warm blanket on a cold, winter’s day.

This is a little of what emotionally safe friendships feel like to me.  Just like intimate relationships require effort to maintain, the same goes for friendships.  You get what you give.

Lisa Brookes Kift, MFT is the author of The Premarital Counseling Workbook for Couples and The Marriage Refresher Course Workbook for Couples.  She’s also the creator of The Toolbox at LisaKiftTherapy.com with tools for marriage, relationship and emotional health.  Lisa has a private practice working with individuals and couples in Larkspur, California. Twitter:@LisaKiftTherapy

------------------------------------------

What I've Learned About Becoming Emotionally Safe

by Kelly Cape

When one friendship door closes, another opens.  But, unfortunately it has to hit you on the ass first.

I didn’t truly realize this until recently.  I’ve always hated goodbyes. And I cherish having lots of friends, especially close friends.  You know what I mean: the ones who know you in-and-out, and vice versa.

So naturally I felt reluctant to end a friendship even if I wasn’t getting anything out of it.  But because I never wanted to say goodbye, I confused myself into thinking that was because it was feeding me, even if it wasn't!  Hmm... a curious ego-driven, self-fulfilling cycle indeed. Sometimes, even as the friendships were in full swing, the connections I felt seemed forced or awkward.  Meaning that for me, I wasn’t getting exactly what I wanted in the way of a reciprocal friendship but I ignored my gut and just forged ahead making more plans for the next dinner or movie.  If these gals were spending time with me then I was getting something rewarding in return, right?

Well, it wasn’t until a fall-out with two separate friends in overlapping periods of time in my life that made me rethink what friendship meant to me and forced me to have my aha moment of discovery.  This experience took me down the necessary path of self-introspection, ultimately leading me to new enlightenment and more fulfilling friendships.  And most importantly, this included the most significant friendship of all—the one with myself.

I realized that I consciously contributed in the friendships’ demise because I felt needy (hence forcing myself even with internal alarms going off—danger, danger!) and desperate to keep these friendships at almost any cost.  In turn that fear gave off negative vibes.  Additionally, I was also unwilling to listen to my heart that told me I was putting in way more than what I was getting.

And it wasn’t just about ego.  I was keeping these friendships alive at the expense of my self-esteem and value as a person and as a friend. Which wasn’t doing service to them either because when I spent time with them, I wasn’t being fully honest or authentic.  I discovered that felt more awful than pretending I was their BFF.

After a lot of journaling, grieving and healing, I have since become not only a more grounded person, but also a more genuine and present friend, which naturally brings about positive and joyful reciprocity.  I listen to me more now and let go of forcing or acting like someone I’m not just to have friends, or to be invited to a party.

And as the Universe does so profoundly, I “coincidentally” and effortlessly have forged a wonderful new friendship that is both light-hearted and meaningful at the same time.  We are our genuine, honest selves with each other and we laugh a lot together.  My friendships of the past are gone... but never forgotten.  The lessons they taught me will live on and be carried in me with each new budding friendship.

Kelly Cape, 41-years old, lives in Campbell, CA where she consistently strives for an expansive life, including learning to follow her bliss—personally and professionally.  This is her first blog.