The Art of True Friendship

I have been a coach and spiritual advisor to many people for many years and one of the most common dilemmas has to do with friendship. As wonderful and necessary as friendship is, it can also deliver some of the most devastating emotional blows imaginable. When a friendship goes sour someone is left asking questions like “What happened?!” … “How could this person do this to me?!” … “What did I do to deserve this kind of treatment?!” … and so on. Then there are bewildered comments like “I thought this person was my friend!” or “I feel so betrayed!” or “I thought I could trust this person.”

When we find ourselves asking these and other questions, the next one usually has to do with whether or not the friendship can be restored. During this period of processing emotional pain and grappling with forgiveness and who’s to blame, the typical topics come up: friendship isn’t always perfect; friendship is accepting the good and not so good in each other; it’s about being a good listener; true friends never betray a confidence.

At this point I would like to propose a perspective on friendship that many of you may not have considered. It has been said that all relationships involve a teaching-learning dynamic. In other words, our personal role in every relationship – especially close friendships – is to be either the teacher or the student. This means that when a friendship is loving, understanding and filled with peace, we are teaching each other and learning from each other about love, understanding and peace. When a friendship goes haywire – same thing; we get to teach each other and learn from each other about love, understanding and peace. Often the roles keep shifting back and forth.

Every relationship is a temple of learning. The other person is always mirroring back to us something about ourselves. This is the hardest part to “get” when we feel hurt or betrayed. It always seems like the other person’s fault. But if we consider that the other person may be consciously or unconsciously pointing out something about us that we must change, mature, honor or discard, our heart can soften and we can begin to see the other person as our teacher. This is the first step in true forgiveness. When we can see the other person as our teacher rather than our adversary, the healing process of forgiveness can begin … and not before. As long as we project blame on to another person for making us so angry or hurt, we will carry an emotional “charge” that won’t stop shocking us until we unplug. In fact, a negative emotional charge always indicates a lesson to be learned. We can start the process of “unplugging” by answering the question, “How is this person serving me?” or “What is this person teaching me?”

Now don’t react with indignation to this question. If you sit with it, you may begin to see who is teaching and who is learning. You may begin to see what must change inside you if you want the friendship to reflect something different back to you. If you think you have been playing the role as the teacher, then you might ask yourself if you still want to play.

If you think you have restored the friendship and the same thing happens again, then go inside and evaluate your self worth. Is this person treating you the way you think you deserve to be treated even though you resent it and it makes you feel miserable? Or maybe you’re addicted to feeling miserable and the other person is simply dishing it out to help you feel miserable. Either way, when you do what is necessary to believe in yourself and boost your self worth, the quality of your friendships will change. This could mean that your current friendship is restored, or it could mean moving on to a new friend.

Friendship is the most amazing tool for spiritual growth on the planet. Honor it no matter how it turns out. Bless it as your best teacher. Welcome it as a reflection of you as a loving, caring person. Open yourself to it as an invitation to share, to grow, to connect and to soar with other persons who present themselves on the front steps of your temple of learning.