Those are the findings of a new study, “The State of Friendship in America 2013,” by Lifeboat Friends at Their Best and Sea Change Strategies and Edge Research.
Strong, trusting friendships are crucial to our sense of peace, happiness and well-being. But many of us, women in particular, build so many walls around our hearts to protect ourselves, we can never open ourselves to all the possible relationships we could have. Or, we do allow some people in, but we keep them at arm’s length.
Strong friendships do make us happier, according to the new study. Forty-nine percent of people with seven or more close friends strongly agreed that they feel happy most of the time, while only 24 percent of people with just one good friend and 19 percent with no friends, could say the same.
You have to know and trust a person before you allow them into your heart, because when you open yourself up, you become vulnerable. We all build walls to protect ourselves from hurt, fear, rejection, disapproval and other painful emotions, and that’s natural. Some walls are healthy. But the invisible walls we’re often not even aware of prevent us from experiencing the honest, real relationships that can benefit us in so many ways.
Here are some points I learned while working with Jericho’s Girls, the women’s group I founded that focuses on dismantling unhealthy walls:
1. First, identify the walls you have. We build walls in response to many things — real and perceived threats, fears, conditioning and rejection. Many of us put up walls to hide our weaknesses; if you have trouble asking for help, this may be you! Jericho’s Girls members learned that acknowledging and being honest about their weaknesses allowed them to grow stronger. And that asking for help from friends offers those friends the gratification of giving. Making a list of your walls and understanding why they’re there is a good place to start the process.
2. If the wall is unhealthy, identify the steps necessary to dismantle it. Sometimes we erect walls to protect ourselves from ourselves. One of my walls revolved around being needed too much. I tend to take on a lot, and then exhaust myself getting it all done. So I built a wall to prevent people from seeing that I really cannot do it all, and I pushed away those I feared might demand too much of my time and energy. I dealt with that wall by setting limits with myself and others. I now say “no” when I need to, which allows me to build friendships instead of pushing people away.
3. Arm yourself with words of inspiration. Powerful words help when we need positive reinforcement or reassurance when the way ahead looks scary. I have found that calling upon a quotation I believe in provides both. Write down the quotes, Bible verses or other inspiration that have great meaning for you. Each day, read one, reflect upon the meaning, pray or meditate, and contemplate the message it holds for you. These words will stick with you, and you’ll have them to call upon when you need them.
Creating deeper, honest friendships begins with opening our hearts to others.
When you begin taking down the walls, you’ll find you’re more at peace with yourself. And that allows you to develop the wonderful relationships that come from trust and sharing.
(About the writer: Dawna Hetzler owns a real estate firm, and is an author and speaker focusing on women’s connection groups and retreats. She’s also a Bible study teacher and speaker for Stonecroft Ministries. She wrote “Walls of Warriors” based on her experiences with Jericho Girls, a group of women who meet to discuss the walls they build around their hearts that inhibit relationships with others.)