Friendship is one of life's best blessings. Otherwise Bruno Mars, Dolly Parton, Lil Wayne and Ringo Starr wouldn't have all written songs extolling it. But low self-esteem can puncture friendships, just as it punctures other blessings.
Knowing at some level that Mom was right when she said we can't really like others if we can't like ourselves, we overcompensate—trying to be the world's best listeners, laughers and loaners. This turns friendships into perpetual auditions, as we offer our time and attention with the subtext: Judge me, please!
Ideally, friendship resembles a see-saw, with both "riders" freely passing praise and pressure back and forth. Low self-esteem unbalances the see-saw by forcing our friends to be extra-careful around us, silencing themselves in fear of hurting our fragile feelings. With our chronic trust issues, we silence ourseves.
Because low self-esteem makes us feel unworthy of affection, we suspect all friends and potential friends of harboring sinister motives, wondering: What does she really want? To date my brother? Use my pool?
The faith and trust we withhold from ourselves we often bestow bigtime on others, turning unsuspecting friends into omnipotent sovereigns, gurus and gods. Some of them enjoy this and use it against us. Others become uncomfortable, and tiptoe away.
Because low self-esteem makes us assume that we'll regret any choice we make, we let others do the choosing. This makes us seem easy to get along with. But when we're choosing not to choose, our passivity makes us resent others and blame ourselves. Plus it means eating thin-crusted pizza when we'd rather have thick.
To borrow a phrase from My Little Pony, friendship is magic. Just knowing that we have a good friend can make us feel better about ourselves. But tricked by self-loathing into believing that it is our friend, we cheat ourselves out of real friendships. The time has come to tell self-loathing: You're no friend of mine.
We can dismantle these booby traps by, first and foremost, becoming aware of them. Do any of the above dynamics sound familiar? Review your friendships and the roles you’ve played within them. What lessons can you draw when it comes to engaging with new and current friends?
Imagine friendship as an energy current flowing through and between you and each of your friends. Visualize and feel its concentrations, its patterns, its actions and reactions. Where and how does it flow evenly and strongly? Where does it get stuck? Where and how does it tend to pool and become stagnant? Where and how does it feel invigorating and pleasantly exciting? What can you do—now, and after time and practice—to increase its quality and flow?
We apply the old saying "I wouldn't want to belong to any club that would have me as a member" to friendships, assuming that whomever cultivates our company is either devious (see above) or downright ignorant. I've turned my back on many would-be friends in order to "save" them from the certain disappointment of actually getting to know me.
So let's try kindling, in some tiny corner of our hearts, the slow-burning belief that other people—who aren't stupid, and are perfectly capable of making good choices—might possibly and authentically find things to like about us. Just ponder this: Are you in any conceivable way okay to hang out with?
You hang out with yourself all the time. Sometimes you're not such bad company, right?
Well, your friends think so, too. It's time to start trusting them.