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Monday, April 8, 2013

Motivational Mondays: What is "Friendship Deprivation" & How Does It Impact on Mental Health?

Motivational Mondays: What Is "Friend Deprivation" & How Does It Impact Our Mental Health?
     Thought for the Day:  When I start to work with new clients, I assess their support systems and how well they help my clients cope with their issues. Through my work with them, I’ve come to believe that most people have friends. Some have hundreds, some have a handful, and some have one best friend. Even when familial connections falter, we have friends to rely on. But it’s remarkably rare to find someone with no friends at all. These past two months, I’ve worked with a client named Joan who had no friends. My work with her inclined me to rethink my theories of the psychological importance of friendship. I pored over friendship-related articles, I reached out to colleagues on LinkedIn, I scanned my brain for past clients to assess friendship’s impacts on mental health. As I share my colleague’s and my thoughts about friendships over these next two weeks, I encourage you to ask yourself: How do you think your friends have impacted your mental health? Are friends necessary to life? Maybe Joan’s story will help you answer these questions.

   On the surface, Joan is an upbeat, spiritual person who avoids negative people. She holds a Master’s Degree from a prestigious business school, works as a solo-preneur, and has many business associates. She looks ten years younger than her 40-something years, is happily married, and has never had children. She has never been depressed. However, Joan has never felt truly understood, wanted, or supported by her family. Although she communicates with her parents by phone, they’ve never set foot in her home and rarely make efforts to see her. Every accomplishment was greeted with a negative comment from them. When her father paid attention to her, her mother aborted father-daughter time because she viewed it as a threat to her marriage. As it was, Joan grew up lacking a strong support system—the only exception to this is her husband, John, who supports her decision to get help.

     I wondered if she’d suffered physical or sexual trauma as a child. Joan reported no experiences of the sort, but admitted that she’d endured abusive relationships before marrying John. Besides this information, Joan couldn’t recall any other childhood details. To get a clearer picture of Joan’s life, I suggested hypnosis. Of course, she was initially terrified—what if she lost control? After I thoroughly explained hypnosis and its tendency to grant people greater self-control, she agreed to try. To ease her into the process, I first taught her hypnosis for relaxation. When our next session arrived, we began to use hypnosis to understand a repressed subject: why she was afraid of summer camp when she was nine. What we discovered was not what she had expected.

     In trance, Joan recalled being petrified and frozen on her first day at camp. As the other children ran around, she refused to participate in any activities. After enduring a week of this, she visited home over the weekend and told her parents she didn’t want to go back. What should have been met with concern was met with anger—her parents retorted that they’d already paid and that they had to work. Not only was she instructed never to come home again during camp, but they even threatened to never let her come home if she continued to complain. In the face of such harsh punishment, she had no choice but to stop complaining and suck up ten weeks of camp.

     The more she probed in trance, the more her initial fears seemed to multiply. She began to recall childhood memories of her parents discouraging her from forging friendships. Every time Joan began to make a friend, her parents told her: “They aren’t really your friend.” As I learned more about Joan’s parents, their behavior began to make more sense. Her parents, as it turns out, both grew up with alcoholic parents and had no friends. Since her parents didn’t value friendships, they instilled that perspective in Joan. Because of her parents, Joan has become conditioned to view friendship as a strange concept, not unlike foreign language. The importance of friendships made logical sense to her, but she could never envision herself making friends. From hearing about her experiences, I was curious whether about studies of friendship deprivation. We’ve all heard of sleep deprivation, but could it be that friendship deprivation is a true phenomenon?

     Does this kind of deprivation handicap someone? If so, what impact does it have on children? What role do friendships play in our mental health? In subsequent posts this week and perhaps next as well, I will be looking at Joan's therapy and other research on friendship to answer these questions. How have friends helped you overcome challenges in life? Have you experienced "friendship deprivation" in your family? If so, how has it impacted on you? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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