Those are the findings of a new study, The State of Friendship in America 2013, by Lifeboat Friends at Their Best and Sea Change Strategies and Edge Research.
“Strong, trusting friendships are crucial to our sense of peace, happiness and well-being,” saidDawna Hetzler, a speaker, women’s mentor (and mentoree), and author of the new book, “Walls of a Warrior: Conquering the Fears of Our Hearts” (www.DawnaHetzler.com).
“But many of us, women in particular, build so many walls around our hearts to protect ourselves, we can never open ourselves to all the possible relationships we could have. Or, we do allow some people in, but we keep them at arm’s length.”
Strong friendships do make us happier, according to the new study. Forty-nine percent of people with seven or more close friends strongly agreed that they feel happy most of the time, while only 24 percent of people with just one good friend, and 19 percent with no friends, could say the same.
“You have to know and trust a person before you allow them into your heart, because when you open yourself up, you become vulnerable,” said Hetzler.
“We all build walls to protect ourselves from hurt, fear, rejection, disapproval and other painful emotions, and that’s natural. Some walls are healthy. But the invisible walls we’re often not even aware of prevent us from experiencing the honest, real relationships that can benefit us in so many ways.”
Hetzler shares some of what she learned working with Jericho Girls, the women’s group she founded that focuses on dismantling unhealthy walls:
n First, identify the walls you have.
We build walls in response to many things – real and perceived threats, fears, conditioning, rejection, Hetzler said.
Many of us put up walls to hide our weaknesses; if you have trouble asking for help, this may be you.
Jericho Girls members learned that acknowledging and being honest about their weaknesses allowed them to grow stronger. And that asking for help from friends offers those friends the gratification of giving.
Making a list of your walls and understanding why they’re there is a good place to start the process.
n If the wall is unhealthy, identify the steps necessary to dismantle it. Sometimes we erect walls to protect ourselves from ourselves, Hetzler notes.
“One of my walls revolved around being needed too much,” she said. “I tend to take on a lot, then exhaust myself getting it all done.”
She realized she built a wall to prevent people from seeing that she really cannot do it all, and she pushed away those she feared might demand too much of her time and energy. She dealt with that wall by setting limits with herself and others.
“I say no when I need to, which allows me to build friendships instead of pushing people away.”
n Arm yourself with words of inspiration. Powerful words help when we need positive reinforcement or reassurance when the way ahead looks scary. Hetzler has found that calling upon a quotation that she believes in provides both.
“Write down the quotes, Bible verses or other inspiration that have great meaning for you,” she said.
Each day, read one, reflect upon the meaning, pray or meditate, and contemplate the message it holds for you.
“These words will stick with you, and you’ll have them to call upon when you need them,” she said.
Creating deeper, honest friendships begins with opening our hearts to others, Hetzler said.
“When you begin taking down the walls, you’ll find you’re more at peace with yourself,” she said. “And that allows you to develop the wonderful relationships that come from trust and sharing.”
Dawna Hetzler owns a real estate firm and is an author and speaker focusing on women’s connection groups and retreats. She’s also a Bible study teacher and speaker for Stonecroft Ministries.
She wrote “Walls of Warriors” based on her experiences with Jericho Girls – a group of women who meets to discuss the walls they build around their hearts that inhibit relationships with others.