Friends? They’re the family we choose. What do we look for when we make friends?
A sunny disposition is a requisite for Katie Shawe, a Dubai-based public relations manager. “Warmth. I am instantly attracted to people who radiate warmth, smiles in their behaviour and manners,” she says. For Abu Dhabi-based Natalie Brian, it’s compassion and care. “It’s the feeling of knowing someone is present for you,” she says. A friendship should be a safe space, says Dubai-based Alieha Ali.
Honesty, without fearing to tell the truth, says Josh Simmons, from Abu Dhabi. “They need to have the courage to tell me I’m wrong when I’m wrong,” he says. “I’ve had friends who watched me make terrible financial decisions quietly, because they didn’t want to tell me otherwise. Later, they said that they didn’t know ‘how to phrase’ it to me. Those are not good friends,” he adds emphatically.
The list goes on. As the saying goes, your vibe attracts your tribe. So how can you be a safe space for others?
Build a sense of self-awareness
Well, start making a safe space for yourself, first.
If you want to be a good friend, you need to first have self-awareness about yourself, explains Dubai-based life coach Manisha Timothy. “Identify your own traumas and learn from your mistakes, and work through them.” Otherwise, it becomes a recipe for disaster as it results in you giving off toxic vibes, or using your friend as a crutch and projecting your problems on to them.
Identify your own traumas, learn from your mistakes and work through them. Stop looking externally for validation but seek it from within..
Many friendships become frayed when we rely on them exclusively for validation, rather than our sense of self. Look for validation within yourself, rather than constantly seeking it from others, explains Timothy. Only, when you are comfortable and safe in your own mind and space, can you offer the same to others, she says.
It’s also how you approach your lifestyle. People who know how to look after themselves physically and mentally, have a healthy and positive vibe, surrounding them, explains Tania Roy, a UAE-based wellness coach and psychologist. “They engage in physical activity, and try to learn new things, which keeps their mind active. This gives off a vibrant energy, which is infectious. It fills others with positivity and hope too,” she says.
These kind of people also make the effort to work on themselves, adds Roy. “No one is perfect. And people who work towards improving their imperfections with dedication, make for good friends,” she says. Working on yourself in a structured and determined manner boosts your own self-esteem and your friendships too.
Listening, without being distracted
Listen to people; don’t just hear them.
“It turns me off when you know someone isn’t listening, but they’re pretending to do so,” says Bhavika Malhotra, an Abu Dhabi-based fitness enthusiast and entrepreneur. “It gives off the idea that you aren’t important at all, or can be dismissed. The other day, I was trying to talk to an old friend about a serious problem, and they kept saying ‘mmhmm’, while getting distracted and interrupting continuously about the weather and food. Finally I just changed the subject and stayed quiet,” she says.
“You need to listen to your friends with full attention and focus,” explains Roy. “Put aside your distractions; keep your phone away, … participate in the conversation fully. Be involved; don’t interrupt them. People will not open up to you, if they realise that you are too busy or distracted. Only when people know that you care enough to listen about the small things, will they trust you enough to share deeper troubles and let you into their lives.”
Assess your emotional bandwidth
Dubai-based Alieha Ali, who works at a sustainability firm, recalls that she did have a colleague who kept venting to her daily about the problems in her life, without attempting to solve anything herself. “I pulled myself out of that rut, because I was starting to vent to her too, and it was just this toxic exchange. We were just stewing in rage and negativity and it was exhausting. It’s my other friends who helped me focus on the good things in my life, and helped me find solutions. I think we need friends who remind you of the good things in our life.”
Your friends are not therapists and neither are you, says Roy.
Draw your boundaries clearly about how much you can tolerate. “Being a friend doesn’t mean you have to be available for someone else all the time and compromise on your own mental health in the process. Don’t drain out someone else and don’t get drained out too,” says Roy. If your friend is going through a particularly hard time, be there for them, but without exceeding your emotional capacity. Provide them with necessary advice, point them in the direction of solutions.
If you really want to make your friend feel better, a little laughter goes a long way, Roy continues. Sometimes just making a person laugh by telling them a funny story about your day, or reminding them of inside jokes, is the best balm. “This gets them to focus on the good things in their life. By making them laugh, there is a definite shift in the mood and they feel better about their problems and how to approach it,” she says. Everyone likes a friend who can make them laugh.
Boundaries and space
Boundaries are always a tricky business, but they need to be observed and maintained in every friendship. If your friend is busy at work and can’t answer your call, give them space, rather than getting offended, explains Timothy. “Relationships need space and time. Give them that space, and don’t interfere in their lives,” she advises. Give them advice if they ask, but don’t be aggressive and take steps on their behalf. “Respect for your own boundaries and others is important, otherwise it leads to an unhealthy co-dependency,” says Roy.