A little help from our friends

Some days the best cure for anything is friendship. It can show up in all sorts of forms. A text. A phone call. An invitation to dinner. It can be fleeting, light-hearted or thoughtful. It can help with a huge problem, or never even get close to it. But friendship is always healing—it is one of the wonderful strands that connects us safely to this spinning planet and keeps you from falling off the edge.

And the amazing part is that it doesn’t have to be a big thing for it to really get in deep and help you out. We humans are pack animals and almost anything that helps us feel part of the pack—that reminds us of our very ‘pack-ness’ can be enough to bring us back in balance—bring back our spring or resilience.

I had the great good fortune of working at the Stone Center at Wellesley College as a graduate student job. I worked the mail order business. It’s true. I am one of the few psychologists who can say that they worked their way up from the mail room. My job was to take in the orders for the Stone Center’s Working Papers and mail them out. It was a good job because I also got read them all. But it was a great job because I got to occasionally talk with Jean Baker Miller, a psychiatrist who championed the notion that relationships make us more whole—they make both people in the relationship more whole—and relationships are a source of healing.

Jean Baker Miller said that healthy relationships bring a sense of zest or energy to our lives. I loved that phrase—partly because it said so much and completely dispensed with the psychobabble. But I also loved it because I could completely identify the feeling. I could feel that zest. And I am continually struck how contact, relationship, makes us more than who we are—helps us be our best self.

And as much as we decry social media as ‘less than’ contact, or complain about the falsenessof FaceBook, I actually believe that there are opportunities for contact, for healing, for zest in small wonderful doses. I can shift my mood just by seeing someone’s pictures of their kid’s dance recital or school play. I can feel their joy and smile for them. Social media is about small doses of zest, but they can add up. They can be a huge help on a bad day.

I think that sometimes we put too much pressure on relationships and communication to ‘get something done’ or ‘to be helpful’ when some of the biggest healing of all is so much more mundane. It mostly comes down to being there—somewhere holding the other end of the rope. That’s what you need. Most of us grown ups know we have to climb our own mountains. But we just want to know that when it feels steep or lonely or tiring, that there is someone holding the rope. That someone has also climbed the mountain. That even if we stumble, fall, make dumb decisions, that we are still part of the team, part of the climbing party, part of the pack.

Sometimes when you have been hurt badly, you stop noticing small things because you are waiting for the one big thing that will help, will make up for the wrongs. And I think that this is one of those things that can really get in the way of healing. The little things get in and heal better. The little things are a relational dosage we were meant to absorb and tolerate. The little things help us build muscles of care and trust and belief that relationships are safe.

Some days you can give your efforts to the pack and some days you need the care of the pack. That’s just the way the pack works, the way friendship works. The only thing you will never know, is how much impact you really have. You have to just give and create more zest out there for your pack—and it will come back to you. Maybe not directly, but it will because love regenerates, zest and energy multiplies.

So what can you do? Keep reaching out to share your life. Share your joy. Share your struggles. Because both help everyone feel like they are part of the pack. Even on days, or especially on days, when you least feel like it. When you feel like you are the worst person in the world. Reach out. And on days when you are full of energy, reach out. Let it be simple. Let it be small. One text. One call. One silly photo of your daughter singing into to a wooden spoon. Those moments are some of the best medicine of all. 

© Gretchen L. Schmelzer, PhD 2016

The Stone Center became part of the Wellesley Centers for Women you can read more about them with the link.

Toward a New Psychology of Women
By Jean Baker Miller