The Importance of Friendship

I had the pleasure of attending one of my last sessions with Dr. Paul Herscu, founder of the New England School of Homeopathy. Not only I have learned so much about homeopathic remedies but I have also learned great life lessons that I think is important for all my patients to know. As doctors, we try to present the most innovative and new research around science to help our patients but sometimes we forget some basic yet vital pearls around what creates happiness in life. When you ask someone, what gives meaning to their life, the answer usually is relationships and love. With intriguing accuracy, sociologists and psychologists have delineated the forces that attract and bind friends to each other, beginning with the transition from acquaintanceship to friendship. This bond creates chemical and energetic changes in the body’s physiology and when those interactions are positive, it helps to shift the body into balance. These interactions can feel minute in the moment but can have a lasting, profound effect on health and vitality.  


Different levels of friendship

Dr. Herscu explained to me that there are many different levels of friendship and relationships in life and being able to maintain these relationships is vital for healing. This concept is not new and has been extensively studied, but often forgotten when we help people with various ailments. The three different groups are as follows: 

  • Group 1: These are people you tend to share school notes, talk basketball, trash talk, go to occasional brunch, but they don’t know your birthday or they might forget to call you on a regular basis. You have interactions with these people on a semi-regular basis but do not intimately connect.
     
  • Group 2: These are people who know minor intimate details about your life. For example, they know your birthday and will go out of the way to call you and celebrate it. These are people you can vent to or can count on to show up at a special celebration. You might see these people on a frequent basis.
     
  • Group 3: This group is usually only populated by 1-4 people. These are people who really know you deep down. They know your secrets and your life story. These people have seen you on your knees and have seen you shine. These are the people you call first when something traumatic or a big life event happens. Both parties divulge personal details about life and usually, there are many deep conversations that occur when interactions happen.

Emotional Expressiveness, Unconditional Support, Acceptance, Loyalty, and Trust...

Given the above groups, it is important to note that one group is not more important than the other. Each group is just different and all are vital to the different levels of our psyche. Sometimes a person just wants to blow off steam and needs a break from life and asks friends from group 1 to hang out. During this time, you do not need anyone to micro-analyze your life or situation. Other times, you need your absolute best friend to help you think through tough situations. Thus, a healthy psychological state is to establish friendships in each group. This helps with psychological safety because in the friendship process there is emotional expressiveness, unconditional support, acceptance, loyalty, and trust. Once a friendship is established through relating and reciprocity, the intimacy that is created binds the individuals like glue. According to Beverly Fehr's research, people in successful friendships seem to possess a well-developed, intuitive understanding of the give and take of intimacy. If this intimacy and closeness is positive, emotions of love are felt which then helps to calm the nervous system. When the nervous system is calm or in a parasympathetic state, the body starts to heal. It is important to note that the connections made with another individual should elicit a positive feeling within you. This is our internal radar on building a community around us that makes our lives more abundant. Dr. Laura Carstensen, director of Stanford University’s Center on Longevity, has stated that new information is leading us to believe loneliness itself is bad for you and that emotions can cause physiological processes to activate that have a negative impact on health.

Relationships can also reflect who we are inside

Relationships can also reflect who we are inside, which is why bonding can have different levels. Through these interactions, we can find a sense of self. Creating intimate relationships with the people around us allows for a sense of self in society or in a group. This social identity is important when thinking about how we relate to the environment around us. One can think about this in terms of our immune system. New studies are taking the benefits of stress management a step farther, linking friendship and diverse social networks to increasing the ability to fight disease. In fact, the American Psychological Association (APA) reports that strong social connections have been linked to such benefits as lowered risk of depression and early death, greater pain tolerance and a stronger immune system. So here is to, another way to help strengthen the immune system by connecting with people and ending the day with a smile.

Written By: Radha Sinha ND, EAMP/LAc