Friendship. Real Connectedness.

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Isolation. Loneliness.

Friendship

Friendship. Connect.

If you think back at some of the worst times in your life, you may realize that along with whatever problems you were having at the time, the worst part was the feeling of being isolated, of being alone with no support group to turn to. The feeling of isolation may very well be one of the worst things a person can experience.

We are learning today that isolation not only affects people emotionally, but physical symptoms are also part of the experience. In fact, numerous studies link long-term isolation and loneliness to disease.

BMJ (formerly the British Medical Journal), one of the oldest medical journals in the world, recently released the findings of a study linking social isolation and loneliness to stroke and heart disease. The findings showed that social isolation increased the risk of stroke and heart disease by 30 percent.

They summed up their study saying:

“Our work suggests that addressing loneliness and social isolation may have an important role in the prevention of two of the leading causes of morbidity in high income countries.”

Social isolation and loneliness have also been linked to Alzheimer’s, cancer, and susceptibility to viral infections due to a weakened immune system. Studies have shown that the immune systems of people who are lonely and isolated seem to be in “fight or flight” mode, meaning an increase of white blood cells, which typically respond to physical wounds. Living in this fight or flight mode, as people who suffer from chronic loneliness do, increases the secretion of potentially harmful hormones such as cortisol, as well as increasing inflammation throughout the body.

Human Nature.

In an article posted on Fortune.com titled “Chronic Loneliness Is a Modern-Day Epidemic,” John Cacioppo, director of the University of Chicago’s Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience and author of Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection (W. W. Norton & Co., 2009) describes human beings as tribal animals who need connection to others to fully thrive.

Asked why he believes loneliness is on the rise, he answered:

“We aren’t as closely bound. We no longer live in the same village for generations, which means we don’t have the same generational connections. That releases social constraints — relationships are formed and replaced more easily today. We have Tinder, Match, eHarmony and all these kinds of places you can dial up and find friendships, connections and opportunities that didn’t exist. In the last 15 years or so, many of those face-to-face connections have been replaced with social networking. We’ve found that if you use social networking as a way to promote face-to-face conversation, it lowers loneliness. But if you use a destination, as a replacement for the face-to-face, it increases loneliness.”

So what can be done about this unfortunate and rapidly growing phenomenon?

As is most often the case, we as individuals can’t save the world – but we can make a difference to those in our inner circle, our community. We can make it a point to keep strong, and even strengthen, our personal relationships. This means face-to-face time, not Facebook time. This means doing our best to stay in touch with our friends and family and having a sincere interest in what is happening in their lives. This is especially true concerning the older people in our lives, particularly if they are widowed.

Life can be difficult enough for many of us, but feeling isolated only makes it that much more harder. The science now confirms what many of us always knew in our gut – that isolation has profound affects on our minds and bodies. So why not give the gift of your company and attention to those in your life. Ask that new coworker who seems shy and disconnected to join you for lunch. Set up a play date with your kid and his classmate who seems to have no friends. And don’t allow technology to become a substitute for real connectedness.

Treasure Your Friends

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Two happy teenage girl friends playing with hair as mustache

Treat Friends Like Treasured Items

Our connection was immediate on our first day of law school. We now have a soulful bond that has spanned over 20 years. Who would have thought the two of us, from such different worlds, 11 years apart in age, could come together as lifelong friends? Yet we have. She loves animals; so do I. I root for the underdog; so does she. She is an old spirit, wise beyond her years. And when I met her, I had lived a life far beyond my years. Her heart is bristling with the love of all things living, and her spirit is quite courageous.

That first day of class when Lorene challenged our contracts Professor, I knew we would be friends. Career changes, relocations, marriages, disagreements, aging, failed Bar exams, two law school reunions, we are still friends.

What is friendship?

It’s a voluntary connection, a bond between two or more people that transcends race, religion, gender, or political persuasion. It’s showing we can count on someone to be there when we need him or her.

It’s unconditionally being loved, no matter what. It’s having someone to laugh with, dance with, and celebrate with. It’s having the courage to tell the truth and having the courage to be told the truth.

Friendship is trusting someone enough to reveal that side of us that we dare not reveal too often. It’s knowing a friend will deliver on the promise. It’s offering of whatever we have to give to make our friends road just a little easier: an ear to listen, a shoulder to cry on, a sofa to crash on, our heart, our attention.

Friends are like a warm, cozy fire on a cold, damp night. True friendship is a gift from God that we are required to take care of.

How do we get friends?

I heard years ago that to have a friend, you must be a friend. For years, my mentor Louise reminded me that if I found it necessary to sleep with other woman’s husband’s I wouldn’t have any girlfriends. What a novel concept. Yet the truth is, that at that time in my life I didn’t think I needed women in my life.  “Women are too competitive,” I’d say. “They can’t be trusted. They back stab you.” Of course, I knew that was true because I helped to perpetuate this by my own behavior. Today I know the value and ultimate unity of same-sex friendships.

Where do we find friends?

Everywhere we are: the hallway in our apartment building, our job, the elevator, the gym, the Opera, and church, and a community meeting, at PTA.

Wherever we show up, there are opportunities to make friends. Some friends pass through our lives on a temporary mission. Other stay for a while, perhaps months or even years. Their charge is to assist us along the journey in a way that only they can do. Their expertise is needed at the moment in time. But then there are those who come in for the long-haul. They share our journey in a special way, and a slice of history is created.

What gets in the way of friendship? Hurt feelings, ego, family, other friends, work, communities, changing values, change and goals, and distance. And some relationships, seemingly through nobody’s fault, just fade away. Yet I believe that no relationship just dies.

Like anything else, where we place our attention is what gets fed and grows. If a relationship has reached its expiration, it’s because we have allowed that to happen for some reason.

I want you to think about the people who you have at some in time or another call friends. We will explore what you appreciate about them and ways you can let them know, and if appropriate, how to reconnect with them. Here is your starting point:

  • In your own words, define friendship. To help you, bring to mind someone you consider – or have ever considered to be a friend. List the characteristics that make him or her a good friend.
  • Today make a list of your closest friends. It doesn’t matter whether they live in your neighborhood, your state, or across the globe. When you think of your real friends, who comes to mind?
  • Now, think of someone you listed and bring to mind an experience you had with your friend that made you know he or she was on your team. Really allow yourself to reflect on that time in your life. What happened? How did you feel?
  • Contact the people on your list. Make a call, send a thank you note, or send a card saying “just thinking of you.” This is your day to appreciate people who have been there as friends. In some cases, it simply might be an opportunity to reconnect.
  • Identify two people who are currently out of your life who at one time were important. What happened? Reflect on times past, when there was love between you. Even though much time may have passed, if appropriate, make a call, send an email, or write a note saying “hi, I’m thinking of you.”

After you have done all of this, take time to rest, recharge, and regroup. What observations can you make about your behavior? What worked? What didn’t work? What seemed extra hard? Why?

Join my conversation on FacebookFacebook Esteemableacts Fan Page, or my Facebook Law Page, you can also interact with me on my Twitter Esteemable Acts page, Twitter Law Page, or on LinkedIn. Feel free to subscribe to my newsletter.

 

 

Loving Others Starts with Self-Love

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Self-Love. Self-Care.

Illustration depicting a green chalkboard with a self worth concept written on it.

Self-Love.

For many people the idea of self-love generates negative thoughts and feelings about narcissistic, ego-driven people. We think of those who care little about others unless they can further their personal or professional goals. But if you genuinely love yourself, you engage in behavior that includes both honest and continual self-care, and kind and generous treatment of others.

There’s an age-old theory that you can’t love someone else until you truly love yourself. This point has been debated by countless experts and the popular answer is, indeed, you cannot love someone else until you truly love yourself. And I agree. How can you care for, honor, or cherish another person if you don’t honor or cherish yourself? How can you give away something you don’t have? How do you even know what it looks like or feels like if you’ve never really experienced it?

There’s a wonderful old saying that is applicable here: Charity begins at home. First love yourself, and then you can love someone else, without judgment and attachment.

For so many of us, men and women alike, our self-esteem is dependent on something outside ourselves, such as our spouse or the man or woman we are dating, the neighborhood or house we live in, the job or career we’ve chosen or the amount of money in our bank account or stock portfolio. Without those things, we perceive ourselves as nothing, unless we’re taught otherwise or have role models who show a different example of how to see ourselves.

Our Choice.

Make no mistake about it, we are taught how to view ourselves. We learn to value or devalue ourselves as men and women by the examples we see in the movies, on television, in magazines, and at home. And the music we readily listen to reinforces the message of self-care or self-loathing. Sometimes the message is subtle and sometimes it’s flagrant. It’s always our choice what we do with it.

Learning how to love oneself is a lifetime process. Self-esteem is contingent on what you are willing to do to nurture it. How are you demonstrating self-love in your life? What are you doing differently today?

Until next time, I’m Attorney Francine Ward helping you protect what’s yours. Join my conversation on FacebookTwitter, or in one of my LinkedIn groupsGoogle+ Circles.

Friends. Friendship.

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Friends. Friendship.

Friends. Friendship.

Friends. Friendship.

I just enjoyed another great week with my gal pals. Shared experiences with women I really like, as well as those I want to get to know. And I have more of these outings planned. Actions speak louder than words and if want to continue to preach and write about the importance of friendships, then I must nurture my own.

So how much do you value your relationships – I mean really value them?

There’s no doubt that social media has created many opportunities for people to interact with one another.  But regardless, social media is not a substitute for face-to-face engagement. You may have hundreds (or thousands) of Facebook friends, Twitter followers, and Google+ circle members, but does that really fulfill your deep need for authentic alliances?  I would venture to say, “it does not”.

So what is friendship? I define it as a voluntary connection, a bond between two or more people that transcends race, religion, gender, economics, or political persuasion. It’s knowing you can count on someone to be there when things are going well and when things are not.  It’s having someone to laugh with, cry with, dance with, and celebrate with. It’s trusting someone enough to reveal that side of yourself, a side that you would not often share.

The wonderful thing is that friendships are not only good for the soul, but good for the body as well. There are numerous studies showing the correlation between physical isolation and various diseases, including cancer and heart disease.

Busy People.

Yes, I know people are busy with their careers, the needs of their children, and countless other things that demand time and attention. But that being said, like anything else that’s worthwhile, maintaining your friendships takes effort and action.

So what can you do?

You can make regular lunch or dinner dates with your inner circle of friends. You can try new activities together, such as hiking, canoeing, running, walking, or even volunteer together at your favorite charity or not-for-profit. If you can’t do these things on a regular basis, then call your friends instead of texting, or send a handwritten note or card instead of an email. If your friends are scattered around the country, see if you can meet for a reunion at least once a year at a different location. One of my besties and I go to Miraval Spa every year for a girl’s weekend. Whatever you do, try and keep the meeting, at least, partially focused on personal stuff, it just business related matters.

It Takes Work.

Meet-ups with friends don’t just happen, they need to be planned. So one thing that works for me and my pals is to plan our next meeting before we part. For example, if we are having lunch, before we are finished, we schedule our next lunch.

Of course, all of this is not to say that you can’t or shouldn’t make new friends. Adding new folks to your coterie of alliances make life interesting. So if you have a new co-worker or neighbor who you have a good vibe about, go for it and invite them to coffee. You never know what can come of it, maybe just a pleasant acquaintance, or maybe a close lifelong friend who will be there for you. My friends come from my spiritual community, my business community, my recovery community, my volunteer community, and my neighborhood.

Again, this all requires action and commitment. But you can’t put a price on good friendships because they are truly invaluable!

Feel free to join my conversation on FacebookFacebook Esteemableacts Fan Page, or my Facebook Law Page, you can also interact with me on my Twitter Esteemable Acts pageTwitter Law Page, or on LinkedIn.

The Forgiveness Factor

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Key to Forgiveness. Willingness to Forgive.

Forgive. Keys to Forgiveness.

The key to forgiveness is a willingness to forgive.  Just saying “I forgive you” doesn’t rid you of the anger. Think about it: How often have you seen someone who says he’s forgiven someone else and yet is still riddled with anger and resentment at the mention of that person’s name? Someone who at every chance he gets makes hurtful comments aimed at the very person he claims to have forgiven, despite being quick to tell you he’s forgiven the person? In these cases, saying “I forgive you” is like making an empty promise, or saying “I love you” when you don’t really mean it. If solid action doesn’t accompany the words, the words mean nothing.

So how do you begin to forgive?

Following is a step-by-step list of suggestions to help you truly forgive:

Step 1: Pray for an open heart – Even a tiny opening can let forgiveness in. Praying to be willing to forgive often creates a space to allow forgiveness to step in.

Step 2: Read inspirational materials – If prayer is too far out for your reach, or even if it’s not, read material that will soften your heart. Sometimes just letting in positive information will create a change of thinking.

Step 3: Attempt to understand – Understanding is the foundation of love and love is the basis for gratitude. Grasping why people behave as they do can sometimes help us forgive them. Sometimes, because of someone else’s enlightened self-interest, we get hurt. Unfortunately, when people are hurt, they lash out and hurt others. But the truth is that rarely does anyone start out wanting to hurt us. It’s not personal; it’s just the way it is. This by no means justifies their behavior, it simply explains it.

Step 4: See your part – Be open to seeing the part you played in the situation. This is equally as difficult as Step #3, because more often than not, we don’t recognize our part. In our minds, we are always the good guy being tormented and abused by the big bad guy. But interpersonal problems almost always involve two or more people. Once you’re able to see past your hurt and anger to how you might have contributed to what happened, you’re better able to understand that they, like you, are human and make mistakes.

Step 5: What you put out is what you get back – Understand that as long as you are unwilling to forgive others, you limit the possibility that others will forgive you. The Universal Law of Karma is alive and well.

Step 6: Be grateful – Write a gratitude list of the things you like about the person or that she or he did well. This might take some effort, but try. By writing this list you create a space for humanity to step in. It is hard to hold on to anger when you see the other person as having done something right.

 

Lastly write a letter to the person expressing your feelings. Write about what hurt you, how they betrayed your trust, how they didn’t care for you. Don’t worry you won’t be sending it, and no one but you will see it, so write exactly how you feel. Thereafter in your journal write the payoffs for making peace with this person.

Feel free to join my conversation on FacebookFacebook Esteemableacts Fan Page, or my Facebook Law Page, you can also interact with me on my Twitter Esteemable Acts pageTwitter Law Page, or on LinkedIn.