The Impact of Friendships on a Woman’s Mental Health

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Abstract

Friendships are one of the most valuable relationships we have on this planet. I would almost say that we need it as much as we need food and water. Because God created us as relational creatures, we crave relationships with each other (Matthew 22:36-40 New International Version). We cannot survive without closeness to one another. In her article Roberto stated that “friendships are an important part of the informal social network of most older adults” (Roberto, 1997 p.1). There have been many attempts to paint a picture of female friendships in its true state. Sitcoms such as The Golden Girls (Waterson, 2006), Sex and The City (Starr, 1998) and let’s not forget Desperate Housewives (Cherry, 2004). These shows have all explored women’s friendships in all stages. They have shown the good the bad and the ugly beginning with establishing friendships, the maintenance of these friendships and even the ending of them..

Depending on who you ask to define a friend you would receive many different answers to what a friend is. “While there are many definitions of what a friend is, there is an understanding of the word “friend” that appears to be universal and the criteria that is used to determine what makes a person a friend varies among individuals” (Roberto, 1997 p.1). In my reflection of a friend I would be inclined to say that a friend is someone that you are able to confide in and place your trust in. Friends are people who keep us grounded when we feel like the world has been ripped from under us. They are also the people who help us to cope with the issues in our lives that seem unbearable. Roberto goes on to say that “friends provide companionship, assistance, emotional support, and contribute to one’s overall sense of well-being” (Roberto, 1997 p.1).

Then there is the other side to friendships that is difficult. Because we are imperfect beings (Romans 3:23 New International Version). Many times we may disagree or hurt each other’s feelings either intentional or on purpose. Often times we have been damaged by other women that we choose a path that excludes friendships in hopes to never experience hurt again. In their book Eichenbaum and Orbach shared that “the importance of woman’s relationships in the last decade has come to the discovery that these relationships are not free of trouble as one would wish and that behind these friendships lies a myriad of emotional tangles that can wreak havoc in woman’s relationships with each other” (p. xvi). They go on to say that connectedness, attachment, affiliation, selfishness are all the foundations of a woman’s experience with one another. No one understands a woman better than another woman that is why having girlfriends in close proximity would be beneficial to our mental and emotional health. With these two view about friendships, one could assume that friendships play an intrical part in a woman’s life. Whether it’s good or bad, friendships impact your life in some form or fashion.

I have always wondered my mother would make the statement “you don’t have friends, you have associates”. I never really understood what she meant by that other than no one was really my friend or at the time I did not really care to ask what it meant. I took on this notion throughout my life. I saw friendships with other women as something that I could not put a lot of time and energy into. I spent time with girls growing up but never considered them as friends. I guess I didn’t know the true definition of friends. We had classes together, we played sports together, ate lunch together. We never really hung out outside of school because I wasn’t allowed to go many places. Maybe in my view of defining friendships, friends did all of these things together but also spent time outside of school together as well. Because I never really spent time with them outside of school I guess that’s why I never connected them as friends to me. I thought all of these thing have to happen at the same time in order to be friends with someone.

I have always been independent not having to rely on anyone. People usually came to me to help them with their problems. I went through college and would meet other females but never really felt the need to develop a relationship with them, because after all in my mind they were only associates. We saw each other on campus and in our classes but never spent time outside of school. As other girls would become a part of sororities on campus I did not feel a need to participate. I filled my time with working two or three jobs to take care of myself. Here I am at 38 years old with an 11 year old daughter. Watching her grow has taken me back to my 11 year old self. When she talks about her challenges in her friendships I begin to think if I am hindering her from experiencing true friendships. I don’t want her to grow up like me friendless or at least not claiming true friendships. I have people that I talk to and attend a few gatherings with but most of the time I will attend an event by myself or rather spend time with my family. When I see other women on social media spending a lot of time with their girlfriends, or talk about establishing their friendships in their early years. I often would wonder what was wrong with me. Why do I not have those types of friendships? I crave them, but it seems as if it is something that I will never have with other women. So I set out to find out what research says about women who have the same experiences in friendships as I do.

Purpose

In their book Eichenbaum and Orbach stated that “it wasn’t until the seventies that the significance of woman’s relationships was recognized.” (p. xvi). I believe that the women in those days were more defined by their families and the services they provided to others. They didn’t have the same rights as modern day women although they experienced the same conflicts as we do today. There wasn’t Facebook, Instagram or twitter to share these experiences with other women, or to let other women know that they are not alone in their conflicts with friendships. With the feminist movement and modern day technology, women have now become more visible and are able to extend their views outside of the home to establishing friendships that will help them maneuver through life’s courses. Friendships are created to serve different purposes and meet the individual needs of those who seek it. The purpose of this study is to investigate whether having female friendships impacts a woman’s mental and emotional health or if the lack of female friendships in a woman’s life causes mental and emotional health problems. I am conducting this study because I believe there are many women out there like me who struggle with establishing female friendships. With mental health issues on the rise I believe it is important to give women the verbiage to identify how they are feeling and to validate those feelings and emotions as well as giving them the tools to obtain the help that they may need. I will include other research that has been concluded on this topic as well as conduct personal interviews with several women and survey for women to answer questions about their friendships and their mental health.

Significance

“For many people, friendship is a major source of assistance, comfort, emotional sharing and just plain fun” (Caldwell & Peplau, 1982 p.721). Because research on this topic is still fairly new and society is more accepting to individual rights. The female relationships are also changing. There are more that women are faced with today than the women back in the sixties and seventies could ever imagine. With the internet movement everything is posted good or bad which makes competition and comparison even more dangerous. More women tend to feel left out of friendships or portray an identity that is “fake” in order to meet their social audience. The significance of this study is to help women decipher if there is a need for relationships with other women. If their poor mental health state is linked to the lack of female friendships in their lives or if establishing friendships with other women has no impact on their mental health at all. Often time women shy away from establishing friendships with other women due to negative experiences. These experiences shape our idea of friendships and can lead a woman to be friendless which in turn can be detrimental to their mental health if they are not careful. Roberts-Griffin asserts that “friendships can be psychologically adaptive, fostering high well-being and a state of good mental health” (p.2). Whether it’s one friend or a girl squad women need friendships to help them be the best that they can be.

Keywords

Keywords: Girl squad: a group of girls who are very strong and powerful and doesn’t matter what color or race you are you all connect.

Friends: a person whom one knows and with whom one has a bond of mutual affection, typically exclusive of sexual or family relations

Literature Review

In this chapter I will attempt to review the literatures related to the impact of female friendships and how a woman’s mental health is affected positively or negatively through those friendships. There are several levels of this investigation. First I will attempt to solidify the definition of friendships and trace it to early history of female friendships. Then, the unique characteristics of same sex female friendships are going to be explored. Lastly same sex female friendships and its impact on mental health will be examined.

Research of the literature will began with multiple searches from Ebsco, ProQuest Psychology and Penn McNair Research Journal using the keywords: women, friendships, social networks, mental health, and same sex female friendships. Other literature research tools used in my search include: The books Friendships Between Women A Critical Review, Women and Friendships, google.com, and input from various women in my network. In this chapter I will attempt to gather various research conducted on female friendships and its benefits or lack of benefit on a woman’s mental health. The literature review will now begin with exploring early history of female friendships and defining what a friend is.

History of Female Friendships/Defining Friendships

The development of female friendships began as early as the bible days. All throughout the Bible we see how female friendships were established. Beginning with the story of Ruth and Naomi where we see the act of loyalty and commitment in their friendship even though they were not related. Then there is Mary and Elizabeth who are related but have established a friendship bond beyond a normal kinship relationship. While female friendships have played an important role in the lives of women, there has not been a lot of attention given to this topic. It wasn’t until around the mid- seventies that attention has been drawn to the importance of female relationships (O’Connor, 1992 p. 9). Smith-Rosenberg noted that:

The female friendship of the nineteenth century, the long-lived, intimate,
loving friendship between two women, is an excellent example of the type
of historical phenomena which most historians know something about, which
few have thought much about, and which virtually no one has written about.
(Smith-Rosenberg, 1975:1)

The development of female friendships in those days were established by women meeting each other at local markets to purchase food, washing clothes at the streams or meeting at each other’s homes due to their husbands being associated with each other. It is through these engagements that a common bond would be established between the women. Because women in general all share the same experiences regardless of what area of the globe you reside in. Wellman (1990) attempts to share the view of female friendships through first, second and third world countries. He added that First World friendships were used to meet sociable and emotional needs, Second World viewed friendships as a short-circuit bureaucracy and lastly Third World’s establishment of friendships were used for basic survival. Modern day women meet thorough various social clubs such as PTA, Little leagues, extracurricular activities, etc. in order to socialize with one another. The ties that bind women friendships are more crucial today, with the divorce rates at an all-time high and more women working outside of the home. Female friendships may be more of a necessity than a luxury. We can no longer stay isolated and make it in today’s society. While the notion of it takes a village is slowly dwindling, it really does take a village to be successful today. Whether it’s through their church group, Bunko club, Work friends, women need to be connected in order to survive.

Friendship is universal no matter what part of the world you live in each person defines friendship through their worldview. It is through these relationships that we will attempt to define friendships. Google defines a friend as: a person whom one knows and with whom one has a bond of mutual affection, typically exclusive of sexual or family relations. In their book Women and Friendships, Block and Greenberg 2002 asserted that “Women offer support for each other during their worst times as well as their best; they will admit their weakness and faults and share their victories and defeats. Women dare to be vulnerable with each other and it is this vulnerability that brings with it joy and pain of intimacy” (p.3). There are so many levels to establishing friendships. Roberto asserts that “Most friendships are formed on the basis of high degree of similarity. Shared interests, values, behaviors, and experiences are consistently related to the development and maintenance of friendships between adults. When values are similar, opposite, or complementary, personal characteristics also can contribute to the development and maintenance of friendships (p. 2).

Characteristics of female friendships

Friendships are the training grounds for living in a social world. While we have defined friends, the characteristics of female friendships tends to be a little more complex. Solano identifies three functions of friendships. Material, cognitive and social–emotional needs (O, Connor p. 6). Block and Greenberg 2002 grouped the needs of friendships into 5 different friendship categories with the understanding that each category can overlap. (Special- interest friends, convenience friends, business friends, crisis friends, and intimate friends. (p.39- 43). For many women developing close friendships has been cited as a nearly impossible achievement and this view is accepted by most women (Caldwell & Peplau, 1982 p.722). Women oftentimes do not trust each other and are in competition with one another. These are all negative characteristics of women friendships. In the search for positive characters, Caldwell and Peplau also shared that women’s friendships are richer and are more likely to have intimate confidants. Studies have found that friendships between women are deeper, more enduring, and more plentiful (Block & Greenberg 2002).

Impact of female friendships on mental health

“Because of the key role that family dynamics play in an individual’s adult experience, clinicians often focus on the family’s history in order to understand and explain to the client how they view the world” (Barth, 2018). In his experiment Harry Harlow concluded that baby monkeys who are deprived of adequate mothering and contact with peers for about six months will become socially isolated. This is the same for the human relationships. With this being said we can acknowledge the need for physical contact with one another. “Friendships are an ongoing source of wellbeing, support and encouragement but within this friendship lies conflict and pain” (Barth, 2018).

Rangell (1963) writes that friendships function “as the psychological sea or air around us. They… fill the very interstices of psychic life, as a result of which they tend to become invisible and elusive (p.3)

Mental health professionals have discovered that “women who suffer from wide range of dangerous symptoms ranging from low self-esteem and a sense of missing something in their lives to clinical depression and suicidal tendencies are linked to their lack of a support system at the core of their problems. Once they understand the barriers they have set against friendships and the possibility of its importance in their lives they are often able to be helped. Once they make a leap of self-discovery and start to make friends they feel more satisfied and happier” (Block & Greenberg p. 50). Self-discovery is a key ingredient in obtaining help dealing with friendships. I believe that many women like myself have often thought there is a problem with their friendships or the lack of friendships but could not identify what the issue was. As more research is conducted, it gives us the verbiage to identify what we are feeling and are then able to seek help to deal with the issues specifically. Many “women silently suffer from feelings of inadequacy because she does not have the kind of friendships she imagines women are supposed to have” (Barth, 2018). On the other hand a woman that does have a close network of friends may not feel as if she can share her innermost thoughts and feelings with the group of friends that she has. Going back to the types of friendships that was explored earlier in this chapter this would be seen as a meeting the social needs of this person.

Baggio et al. added that mental health is associated with social isolation and loosing or not having friends tends to increase the probability of depression. They go on to say that depressed people have a more marginalized network (p.6), where as it is believed that people with larger friendship groups tend to not experience the same type of issues. Eichenbaum and Orbach (2014) in their study shared that complexities and conflicts can develop in a woman’s friendships due to emotions such as anger, envy and competition. They also assert that “if these emotions are unprocessed once they emerge can be destructive, disorganizing potentially destroying the friendship and damaging self-esteem”. Block and Greenberg would then add their findings of issues concerning a woman’s mental health as it pertains to the female friendships by adding that with the loss of female friendship one may experience fear, depression, mental breakdown, insomnia, and suicidal (p.22). Also in their work on women friendships Rubin & Bowker (2017) wrote an extensive review of ways in which friendships enhance the physical health as well as the psychological development of a woman. Bringing together what Rangell calls the psychological sea or air of friendship into the foreground of a therapeutic exploration allows for unexplored and sometimes unarticulated beliefs about the self in relation to others to come into a therapeutic conversation” (.p163). Allowing women to know that there are other women who share the same concerns about establishing friendships opens a door to deeper conversations about female friendships and its existence.

References

  1. Block, J. D., & Greebberg, D. (2002). Women and Friendship.
  2. Eichenbaum, L., & Orbach, S. (2014). Between women: Love, envy, and competition in woman’s friendships. Seattle: Amazon Digital Services LLC.
  3. Malikiosi-Loizos, M., & Anderson, L.R. (1999). Accessible Friendships, Inclusive Friendships As Related to Social and Emotional Loneliness in Greece and the USA
    European Psychologist, 4 (3), 165-178
  4. O’Connor, P. (1992). Friendships between women: A critical review. New York: The Guilford Press.
  5. Rangell, L. (1963). On friendship. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 11, 3–54.
  6. Roberts-Griffin, C.P. (2014). What is a Good Friend: A Qualitative Analysis of Desired Friendship Qualities
  7. Roberto, K. A. (1997). Qualities of Older Women’s Friendships: Stable or Volatile? The International Journal of Aging and Human Development, 44(1), 1–14. https://doi.org/10.2190/EJNQ-A781-G2LF-C9XV
  8. Taylor SE and Gonzanga GC (in press). Evolution, Relationships, and Health: The Social Shaping Hypothesis. In M Schaller, JA Simpson, and DT Kendrick, eds. Evolution and Social Psychology. Psychology. Press, New York.
  9. [Def. 1]. (n.d.). Urban Dictionary Online. In Urban Dictionary. Retrieved April 20, 2019, from https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=girl%20squad&utm_source=search-action
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The Impact of Friendships on A Woman’s Mental Health. (2021, May 10). Retrieved from https://papersowl.com/examples/the-impact-of-friendships-on-a-womans-mental-health/

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