Being a Phenomenal Friend

We women have a phenomenal power that many of us don’t realise. It’s the power to lift each other to full flight,  or to strip each other back to bone. Either way, it’s powerful.

Both men and women have hurt me from time time but there is something about being being betrayed by one of my tribe – by another woman – that has the potential to ruin me a little more than any other. As women we are all different but we all know what it’s like to feel vulnerable, strong, insecure, capable or scared. There’s a wisdom we have about being a woman and when someone uses that wisdom against us, it feels like the ultimate betrayal.

I’ve also seen how women can use their strength, wisdom and love to make each other soar. There is something about being lifted and valued by one of the sisterhood – by another who ‘gets it’ and knows what it takes to reach full wingspan. By someone who wants to see us soar. There’s a raw honesty and validation in there that can see mountains moved by the feminine hand. 

When there is a phenomenal circle of women around you, it’s harder for the nastiness and put-down of the world to find it’s way in. This is why we need to cherish our girlfriends – put them at the top of the list, or at least very close to the top, and be an incredible girlfriend ourselves.

We women have incredible power to lift every woman in our lives and help her to soar. We can’t help but take flight ourselves in the process.

Girlfriends are an important place to start, by being one of these women or many. All are extraordinary and chances are you’re already at least one:

  1. The Getaway Girl (aka The Travel Agent). 

    She’s the one who is always working on the next girls’ trip. We need this woman! Science has proven that girls’ getaways are a way to do the important things we need to do to at each life stage. Girls’ trips will have a positive impact on health and well-being for different reasons, depending on the stage of life you’re in.  Here’s why:

    .  In adolescence, all-girl getaways feed the desire for independence and provide girls with a way to break away (nicely now!) from their family. It also offers the chance to ‘express their rebellion’. Nobody is suggesting that anybody push the limits to the point of ending up sharing a prison cell, but pushing the boundaries and finding the edge of yourself is important and the stuff of all things wonderful.

    .  In early adulthood, girls’ breaks make way for adventure and experimentation. They form a ‘rite of passage’ to the next phase of life – away from education and training and towards a family and career.  

    .  Middle adulthood can be two things – a break from family commitment or the transition through traumatic life events such as death or divorce. Either way, those women in your life who are beside you will see you through.

    .  Late adulthood is a time when women are able to own their independence in a way they might not have been able to earlier in their life, when travelling without a husband wasn’t as acceptable. Girls’ getaways in this stage might also be a way to cope with widowhood and to solidify friendships, which become particularly important again at this stage of life.

  2. The Go-To.

    This is the woman we reach for when there’s trouble. Women have a way of dealing with stress that heals and according to a UCLA study, we can thank evolution for that. Shelley E. Taylor, the lead author of the study has been researching in the area for 25 years and has analysed more than 1000 studies. She has found that women have a ‘tend and befriend‘ response to stress – they tend to their young and want to be with their friends. Being with others in times of stress is hardwired into our genes. Those of us who have social support and are connected with friends are healthier and have ‘younger’ stress systems and more resilience against chronic disease. 

  3. The Listener.

    She reminds us – without saying anything at all – that we don’t need fixing, even if the world around us sometimes does. She gets it, and we know she gets it. In a crisis, she’ll sit and listen and tuck our hair behind our ears when it sticks to our tears. She’ll be with us when we’re a red hot mess or when we’re on the edge of being fabulous. When we’re bursting with a brilliant idea she’ll nod with a ‘go get ’em’ smile. When we’re falling apart she’ll keep her advice to herself, knowing if she could think of the answer that easily, you would have thought of it and done it by now. She’s the strength when you have nothing left.

  4.  The Cheerleader.

    She believes in you enough for both of you. These are the women who make you soar a little higher because they make you believe you can. 

  5.  The Nurturer.

    She’s the one who is there when you’re struggling to be anywhere at all. The nurturing side of womanhood is so powerful that it can help women survive a chronic illness. Science has proven that too. Researchers looked at 2,264 women who had been diagnosed with early stage breast cancer and found that women who had more supportive social networks were over twice as likely to survive their diagnosis. It wasn’t the size of the support network but the quality that mattered. Women with lower levels of social support were 61% more likely to die from breast cancer or another cause than women with higher levels of support – regardless of the size of the network. We can literally save lives by looking after each other. So let’s do that.

  6. The Reality-Checker.

    She’s honest but never judgemental. She’s wise and loving and usually right, and she will never criticise. Ever. Sometimes we need to hear when we’re doing something dumb. And sometimes we need the world to hush so we can learn the lesson ourselves. The reality-checker will do both. She’ll point out that taking him back four times in six months is maybe three times too many – but if you still decide that this time will be different, fine – she’ll drive you there herself. And if turns out she’s right, she’ll be there to listen and help pick up the pieces, without saying ‘I told you so.’  

  7. The Fearless Warrior.

    She’s the one who helps us find the edge of our limits and pushes us just beyond. Before we can say, ‘Um. That’s not really me’ she’ll have us learning Russian, bungee jumping, trying a round of speed dating, or heading to the outback for a pumpkin festival ‘because it’s something we haven’t done before’. She’ll try anything and get you excited about trying it too. Just check that your chord is tight before you jump. And check hers too while you’re at it.

  8. The One Who Believes You. (Even When She Shouldn’t)

    She’s the one who believes what you say – whether it’s your new business plan or that you’re done with your job or your relationship or any other big changes you want to announce. She believes you, whatever your emotional state when you announce it and starts to devise the plan to help you do it. And she’s excellent at it. She won’t push you either way but she’ll be there with a huge fluffy net to catch you – just in case – when you make your move. She’ll reassure you that you’ll be fine – because you always will be – and she’ll walk beside you every step of the way. If you change you’re mind, there’ll be no argument from her. We love her because she takes us to the edge of our dreaming and shows us how it looks. Then lets us decide whether to go there or not.

  9. The Do-er.

    She figures out what you need before you’ve figured it out yourself. She the one you want in a crisis because she might not be able to be with you, but she will know what needs to be done – and she’ll do it. She’ll have your dinners sorted and your kids collected from school. And as soon as she’s free, she’ll be there talking, laughing and throwing a load of washing on before she walks out the door.

  10. The One Who Knows Everything About Us.

    This is the woman who knows everything about us – the good, the bad, the ugly, and the things that make the ugly turn away. She doesn’t judge – ever – and reminds us that we’re so much more than our dim dirty secrets. You’ll never have to worry about hearing your story from a third party over lunch – these women know how to keep a secret.

  11. The One Who Takes it to a Deeper Level.

    There are some friends who are great for a laugh, and some who are good to let your mind run away with. This woman will talk and talk with you and will have you wondering where the time went. She makes you think and she helps you discover. She’s full of wisdom and puts you well within reach of yours.

And something all phenomenal women do, no matter their special type:

  1. She shares your joy, not just your sorrow.

    For some people, it’s easier to be there when you’re firmly (face)planted on the ground than when you’re soaring. We need to celebrate each other’s success and cheer as loud as anybody when one of us flies a bit higher than the flock for a while – because we all know what it takes to soar. 

  2. She never judges you – or any other woman.

    Phenomenal women don’t necessarily like all women but they never judge them. Instead, they look for what that woman knows that they don’t. They know that every woman has a story and that you can learn something from most of them – even if it’s how not to be.

Phenomenal women are many things but one of the things they do without fail is lift other women.

How do you do this? Probably you do it differently for different people. Is there any you would add to the list? 

2 Comments

Rebecca

This is wonderful and so true in so many ways.
I don’t have very many close women friends and do feel that I need them!

I have a younger sister, who until about 8 months ago was nearly my worst enemy most of the time. Not through choice I might add. Neither of us had ever been able to ‘get’ the other.

We lost our mother suddenly about two years ago and when it happened of course, we both dealt with it very differently.
I, as a parent, went into practical mode and as well as all the obvious things to do I threw myself into renovating our late mother’s house which we inherited.

Of course, this was my way of coping and along with the support of a wonderful man in my life and my beautiful little girl, I was able to somehow navigate through the fog of loss I was feeling.

My sister dealt with the loss of our mother very differently and to me it seemed as though she simply shut herself away, becoming more and more dependant on her then boyfriend. She was angry and unpleasant much of the time, understandably of course! I knew that this was her way of coping and left her to it most of the time. I must say that I too had my fair share of behaving irrationally and being a bit if a b****.of course I did!

Once the major work on the house was completed we made the decision to move into the house together. My daughter and I, and my sister and her boyfriend. My sister and I coped with living together by talking to anyone but each other most of the time. Eventually my sister and her boyfriend broke up and I was left worrying about the idea of living with her without the adult buffer between us that her boyfriend had become.

After a while though, my sister and I started to find ourselves in long conversations, often about our mother and childhood. It became a bit of a cleansing process for both of us. Our mother, though an incredible woman, had often made situations worse between my sister and I. We talked and talked and eventually she started to confide in me and tell me how she was feeling about having lost our mother and her boyfriend etc, and I too started to confide in her.

She’s a very bright, bubbly person who always seems to be the life of the party but can be mentally falling apart, but since she has had to rely on no one but herself she has grown incredibly.

She now has a new group of women friends who she spends time with, I’m almost jealous!

We are very good friends these days. Its amazing, if you had asked me about my sister a couple years ago I would have probably just said that I love her but I don’t like her very much. Now I can say that I not only like her but she fits many of the headings in this article for me and I for her.

We need other women! they just get ‘it’ more than men.

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Hey Sigmund

This is wonderful. Thank you so much for sharing your story. When our relationships with women work, they really work and there’s just nothing like them. The relationship between you and your sister sounds like an amazing one – worth every second of the work you both put into it!

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The temptation to fix their big feelings can be seismic. Often this is connected to needing to ease our own discomfort at their discomfort, which is so very normal.

Big feelings in them are meant to raise (sometimes big) feelings in us. This is all a healthy part of the attachment system. It happens to mobilise us to respond to their distress, or to protect them if their distress is in response to danger.

Emotion is energy in motion. We don’t want to bury it, stop it, smother it, and we don’t need to fix it. What we need to do is make a safe passage for it to move through them. 

Think of emotion like a river. Our job is to hold the ground strong and steady at the banks so the river can move safely, without bursting the banks.

However hard that river is racing, they need to know we can be with the river (the emotion), be with them, and handle it. This might feel or look like you aren’t doing anything, but actually it’s everything.

The safety that comes from you being the strong, steady presence that can lovingly contain their big feelings will let the emotional energy move through them and bring the brain back to calm.

Eventually, when they have lots of experience of us doing this with them, they will learn to do it for themselves, but that will take time and experience. The experience happens every time you hold them steady through their feelings. 

This doesn’t mean ignoring big behaviour. For them, this can feel too much like bursting through the banks, which won’t feel safe. Sometimes you might need to recall the boundary and let them know where the edges are, while at the same time letting them see that you can handle the big of the feeling. Its about loving and leading all at once. ‘It’s okay to be angry. It’s not okay to use those words at me.’

Ultimately, big feelings are a call for support. Sometimes support looks like breathing and being with. Sometimes it looks like showing them you can hold the boundary, even when they feel like they’re about to burst through it. And if they’re using spicy words to get us to back off, it might look like respecting their need for space but staying in reaching distance, ‘Ok, I’m right here whenever you need.’♥️
We all need certain things to feel safe enough to put ourselves into the world. Kids with anxiety have magic in them, every one of them, but until they have a felt sense of safety, it will often stay hidden.

‘Safety’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, but about what they feel. At school, they might have the safest, most loving teacher in the safest, most loving school. This doesn’t mean they will feel enough relational safety straight away that will make it easier for them to do hard things. They can still do those hard things, but those things are going to feel bigger for a while. This is where they’ll need us and their other anchor adult to be patient, gentle, and persistent.

Children aren’t meant to feel safe with and take the lead from every adult. It’s not the adult’s role that makes the difference, but their relationship with the child.

Children are no different to us. Just because an adult tells them they’ll be okay, it doesn’t mean they’ll feel it or believe it. What they need is to be given time to actually experience the person as being safe, supportive and ready to catch them.

Relationship is key. The need for safety through relationship isn’t an ‘anxiety thing’. It’s a ‘human thing’. When we feel closer to the people around us, we can rise above the mountains in our way. When we feel someone really caring about us, we’re more likely to open up to their influence
and learn from them.

But we have to be patient. Even for teachers with big hearts and who undertand the importance of attachment relationships, it can take time.

Any adult at school can play an important part in helping a child feel safe – as long as that adult is loving, warm, and willing to do the work to connect with that child. It might be the librarian, the counsellor, the office person, a teacher aide. It doesn’t matter who, as long as it is someone who can be available for that child at dropoff or when feelings get big during the day and do little check-ins along the way.

A teacher, or any important adult can make a lasting difference by asking, ‘How do I build my relationship with this child so s/he trusts me when I say, ‘I’ve got you, and I know you can do this.’♥️
There is a beautiful ‘everythingness’ in all of us. The key to living well is being able to live flexibly and more deliberately between our edges.

So often though, the ‘shoulds’ and ‘should nots’ we inhale in childhood and as we grow, lead us to abandon some of those precious, needed parts of us. ‘Don’t be angry/ selfish/ shy/ rude. She’s not a maths person.’ ‘Don’t argue.’ Ugh.

Let’s make sure our children don’t cancel parts of themselves. They are everything, but not always all at once. They can be anxious and brave. Strong and soft. Angry and calm. Big and small. Generous and self-ish. Some things they will find hard, and they can do hard things. None of these are wrong ways to be. What trips us up is rigidity, and only ever responding from one side of who we can be.

We all have extremes or parts we favour. This is what makes up the beautiful, complex, individuality of us. We don’t need to change this, but the more we can open our children to the possibility in them, the more options they will have in responding to challenges, the everyday, people, and the world. 

We can do this by validating their ‘is’ without needing them to be different for a while in the moment, and also speaking to the other parts of them when we can. 

‘Yes maths is hard, and I know you can do hard things. How can I help?’

‘I can see how anxious you feel. That’s so okay. I also know you have brave in you.’

‘I love your ‘big’ and the way you make us laugh. You light up the room.’ And then at other times: ‘It can be hard being in a room with new people can’t it. It’s okay to be quiet. I could see you taking it all in.’

‘It’s okay to want space from people. Sometimes you just want your things and yourself for yourself, hey. I feel like that sometimes too. I love the way you know when you need this.’ And then at other times, ‘You looked like you loved being with your friends today. I loved watching you share.’

The are everything, but not all at once. Our job is to help them live flexibly and more deliberately between the full range of who they are and who they can be: anxious/brave; kind/self-ish; focussed inward/outward; angry/calm. This will take time, and there is no hurry.♥️
For our kids and teens, the new year will bring new adults into their orbit. With this, comes new opportunities to be brave and grow their courage - but it will also bring anxiety. For some kiddos, this anxiety will feel so big, but we can help them feel bigger.

The antidote to a felt sense of threat is a felt sense of safety. As long as they are actually safe, we can facilitate this by nurturing their relationship with the important adults who will be caring for them, whether that’s a co-parent, a stepparent, a teacher, a coach. 

There are a number of ways we can facilitate this:

- Use the name of their other adult (such as a teacher) regularly, and let it sound loving and playful on your voice.
- Let them see that you have an open, willing heart in relation to the other adult.
- Show them you trust the other adult to care for them (‘I know Mrs Smith is going to take such good care of you.’)
- Facilitate familiarity. As much as you can, hand your child to the same person when you drop them off.

It’s about helping expand their village of loving adults. The wider this village, the bigger their world in which they can feel brave enough. 

For centuries before us, it was the village that raised children. Parenting was never meant to be done by one or two adults on their own, yet our modern world means that this is how it is for so many of us. 

We can bring the village back though - and we must - by helping our kiddos feel safe, known, and held by the adults around them. We need this for each other too.

The need for safety through relationship isn’t an ‘anxiety thing’. It’s a ‘human thing’. When we feel closer to the people around us, we can rise above the mountains that block our way.♥️

That power of felt safety matters for all relationships - parent and child; other adult and child; parent and other adult. It all matters. 

A teacher, or any important adult in the life of a child, can make a lasting difference by asking, ‘How do I build my relationship with this child (and their parent) so s/he trusts me when I say, ‘I’ve got you, I care about you, and I know you can do this.’♥️
Approval, independence, autonomy, are valid needs for all of us. When a need is hungry enough we will be driven to meet it however we can. For our children, this might look like turning away from us and towards others who might be more ready to meet the need, or just taking.

If they don’t feel they can rest in our love, leadership, approval, they will seek this more from peers. There is no problem with this, but we don’t want them solely reliant on peers for these. It can make them vulnerable to making bad decisions, so as not to lose the approval or ‘everythingness’ of those peers.

If we don’t give enough freedom, they might take that freedom through defiance, secrecy, the forbidden. If we control them, they might seek more to control others, or to let others make the decisions that should be theirs.

All kids will mess up, take risks, keep secrets, and do things that baffle us sometimes. What’s important is, ‘Do they turn to us when they need to, enough?’ The ‘turning to’ starts with trusting that we are interested in supporting all their needs, not just the ones that suit us. Of course this doesn’t mean we will meet every need. It means we’ve shown them that their needs are important to us too, even though sometimes ours will be bigger (such as our need to keep them safe).

They will learn safe and healthy ways to meet their needs, by first having them met by us. This doesn’t mean granting full independence, full freedom, and full approval. What it means is holding them safely while also letting them feel enough of our approval, our willingness to support their independence, freedom, autonomy, and be heard on things that matter to them.

There’s no clear line with this. Some days they’ll want independence. Some days they won’t. Some days they’ll seek our approval. Some days they won’t care for it at all, especially if it means compromising the approval of peers. The challenge for us is knowing when to hold them closer and when to give space, when to hold the boundary and when to release it a little, when to collide and when to step out of the way. If we watch and listen, they will show us. And just like them, we won’t need to get it right all the time.♥️

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