Human beings are social animals. From the moment you were born, you had a basic need for companionship. The ability to determine who is a friend or foe is critical to protecting yourself physically and emotionally. But for trauma survivors who have experienced abuse, telling the difference can be challenging. Let’s explore the different types of relationships (specifically friendships) you may experience as you recover from trauma and how you can determine which people fit into which category. But first let’s take a look at family.
The first relationship human beings have is with their family. For people in a stable family, this first relationship can become a measuring stick for other connections they make in life. People in stable/healthy families come to understand that those who love you don’t do things to purposely harm you. They also learn to feel safe and secure depending on others. However, for trauma survivors who have experienced abuse in their family relationships, they may learn to trust no one or they may learn the unhealthy lesson that love hurts. This lesson may create a situation where they allow abuse in other relationships—friends, romantic partners, employers, and even strangers. As a trauma survivor you must begin to understand that no matter how abusive your family is/was, this is not what family is about. Also, you are not required to tolerate abuse just because it’s coming from a relative. The definition of love and caring does not change simply because relatives have decided to violate your trust.
Friendships come in a wide variety. You have friends who are close and those who are distant, and in many cases, your friends may become your “chosen family.” But as your recover from trauma, it’s important to understand the basic definition of friendship and the different types of friends you may have in your life.
- Acquaintance—This is someone you see in passing, at social events, or at your job. These individuals are people you may have surface relationships with—going to dinner or events in groups, or sharing work related responsibilities. You may be fond of these people, but this does not make the relationship “deep.” For trauma survivors still struggling to establish and maintain emotional boundaries, it’s important to realize that you should not share sensitive personal information with acquaintances. Remember, you don’t know enough about acquaintances to give them your trust.
- Friend—This is someone you spend individual time with—talking on the phone and sharing personal face-to-face time. A friend is someone who is concerned about your personal well-being because they have spent time with you, gotten to know you, and grown to care for you. In short, you have bonded. As a trauma survivor, you should still be careful and watch new friends for signs that they may be toxic. You should never feel obligated to discuss painful experiences with someone just because they’re a friend.
- Close Friend—This is a person who has proven that they have your corner and that they can be trusted. A close friend is willing to talk to you when you’re down or help your out when you’re in trouble. As a trauma survivor, having a few close friends can give you the foundation of relationships needed to heal and move past traumatic experiences. But remember, close friends aren’t made overnight, they are earned. If you want to build close friendships, you’ll need to learn how to be a good friend to others.
- Best Friend—This person is someone you feel extremely close with and who has been through a lot with you. No best friend is made overnight. Just like all the other levels of friendship, this position is earned through trust and experience. As a trauma survivor, having a best friend can offer you the support you need, but it’s important to remember to be cautious of new friends or acquaintances trying to force themselves into best friend status.
Trauma survivors who want to build and/or repair their friendship network should remember that there are different types of friends and that friendships can change. Friends may move away or take their life in a direction no longer in your best interests. So, it’s important to always make meeting new friends a priority so that you always have the support network you need.