Psychiatric Views on the Daily News - Episode 161

That’s What Friends Are Psychologically For!

You’ve got a friend in me…

PSYCHIATRIC VIEWS ON THE DAILY NEWS

International Friends Day is July 30th, but I am celebrating a few days early, as my 2 best friends have the same birthday of July 25th, which is today! Though there is a wide range of intensity of friendship, we probably most all know how important a good friend can be. Among the psychological benefits are:

- celebration for the good times and support in the difficult times

- increased sense of belonging

- improved self-confidence and realistic self-worth

- constructive and loving criticism

- a continuity of life meaning over time

There are also major health benefits, including a reduced risk of hypertension and longer life span.

Friend is such an important concept that it is also applied beyond the usual 1-on-1 friendships. No wonder that the popular TV show was called “Friends.” Usually marriages work best when the couple are also friends besides lovers and partners. Some critics of long-term psychotherapy say that it is bought friendships, but perhaps friendship actually helps the therapeutic alliance as it does in a marriage. Clergy often call congregants friends. Sometimes colleagues become friends. Even Marc Anthony used it disarmingly in his Shakespearean funeral oration of Julius Caesar: “Friends, Romans, and countrymen, lend me your ears…” In fact, it is also applied in an extension to countries that are friendly with one another.

Enemy is the opposite, and because friendships can be so emotionally laden and can cause deep narcissistic wounds, friends can become enemies and seek revenge. That risk is 1 of the reasons why it is so important to pick the right friends. Clues that you have a reliable friend are:

- they are as interested in your life as you are in theirs

- they stick with you in hard times

- competition is secondary

- they have proven trustworthy

- there are shared interests and values over time and place

There are questions of what qualifies as a friend online. To be meaningful, it cannot just be clicking on social media. It needs to have some of the same depth of meaning as many of the traditional live ones. Perhaps pen pals were able to do that at times pre-internet. This is an extension of real life offline rather than a surrogate one.

Real in-depth friendship is so important to humans that it may be the social psychological glue that connects the living spaces between family, other groups, and psychotherapy.

Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who has specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry. A prolific writer and speaker, he received the one-time designation of Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Assembly of the American Psychiatric Association in 2002. He is an advocate for mental health issues related to climate instability, burnout, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism for a better world. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric Times™.