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  • Writer's pictureDeric Hollings

That's Knot Friendship

As a child, I enjoyed untangling yarn. Looking back, I was a strange little kid. Maybe the hyperactivity and lack of focus I routinely experienced was ameliorated by hyper-fixation on menial tasks which required fine motor skills and mindless escapism.

Occasionally, I’d encounter a stubborn knot in the yarn that required more concentration than usual in order to resolve. Although I could’ve gone outdoors to play with other children, I enjoyed staying inside and detangling knots.

It was around that time in my life when rap group Whodini released the song “Friends.” The hook is as follows:

Friends ‎– how many of us have them?

Friends ‎– ones we can depend on

Friends ‎– how many of us have them?

Friends ‎– before we go any further, let’s be friends

To a secluded knot-resolving child, the lyrics didn’t resonate though I enjoyed the beat of the song. As I grew older, I better understood the meaning of the track. Particularly, the first verse has served as my lifelong soundtrack to various types of friendships:

[Friends] Is a word we use everyday

Most the time, we use it in the wrong way

Now you can look the word up, again and again

But the dictionary doesn’t know the meaning of friends

And if you ask me, you know, I couldn’t be much help

Because a friend’s somebody you judge for yourself

Some are ok, and they treat you real cool

But some mistake your kindness for bein’ a fool

We like to be with some, because they’re funny

Others come around when they need some money

Some you grew up with, around the way

And you’re still real close to this very day

Homeboys through the summer, winter, spring and fall

And then there’s some we wish we never knew at all

And this list goes on, again and again

But these are the people that we call friends

Perhaps you, too, personally identify with Whodini’s lyrics. Given the vast array of friendships experienced throughout my lifetime, I’m unsurprised to learn that other people also experience friend-related matters for which they specifically seek psychotherapy.

Over the years, a number of clients have sought counseling with me for problems related to loneliness, dissatisfaction with social environment complications, inadequate social support, and other issues correlated with friendships. It’s a common predicament.

Recently, my friend since the ‘90s, “GZ,” notified me of something her son said when asked about how his first week of kindergarten was going. I was amazed at his reply.

GZ said that when she asked her son about friendships, he said something to the effect of, “In order to make friends, you have to be a friend.” Instantly, I recognized the unusual wisdom expressed by young GZ, as it relates to Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT).

I frequently write about prescriptions placed on the world, typically in the form of should, must, and ought-type demands. A derivative of these moralizing edicts is the phrase “have to.”

Not all prescriptions are unhealthy or unhelpful. As an illustrative example, in the case of young GZ, I suspect his decree is a productive one. If he wants to make new friends, young GZ has determined that he should, must, or ought to first be a friend upon which other children can rely.

I presume he isn’t forcing his proclamation upon the world, as it appears as though young GZ has configured a default setting for personal use. I can appreciate his standard.

Be that as it may, I wonder about the self-disturbing prescriptions for friendship some people maintain. Why not use an example from yours truly?

Years ago, I heard a quote attributed to Will Smith and applied it as a rigid prescription to my own life. The rapper reportedly stated, “If you’re not making someone else’s life better, then you’re wasting your time. Your life will become better by making other lives better.”

Those within my close circle of friends have likely heard me express this sentiment, because I’ve sought to announce my intentions for friendship to others. Where I’ve perhaps erred was by inflexibly demanding that others should also add value to my life.

Using young GZ and Smith’s approaches, it’s reasonable to hold oneself to a particular standard of behavior. However, expecting others to edify a relationship, whether by announcing the prospect or not, is a form of irrational belief—personal perspective which isn’t grounded in reality.

Imagine I have a skein of yarn with which I wish to knit a comfortable friendship blanket. Expressing hopes or desires is a productive method for designing the type of covering one intends to make.

Hopes and desires are flexible. Suppose the prospective friend doesn’t share interest in my proposed pattern for a blanket, then what? At that point, I could inflexibly walk away from the relationship with no muss, no fuss.

Still, steps may also be taken towards compromise (i.e., I get a little of what I want, you get a little of what you want, neither of us gets everything we want, though we both benefit by getting some of what we want). This requires flexibility.

On the other hand, a person could use an unproductive style of friendship knitting that may result in many knots. With my version of Smith’s attributed quote, I rigidly required others to take steps towards improving my life in a similar manner that I took in regards to their lives.

When fallible people inevitably fell short of the irrational demands I placed upon them, knots formed in the yarn and it became unnecessarily difficult to construct and maintain friendships using my unreasonable standard. That’s knot friendship.

More perplexing still was when I neglected to communicate my rigid demands though nonetheless held people accountable for violating rules they never knew existed. This speaks to the process of common knowledge in game theory. As an example, consider the following:

I know my rules to friendship. I assume you know my rules to friendship. I know you know it. You know that I know it. I know that you know that I know that you know it, and this plays on without end.

This self-disturbing process unfolds when it is believed that we both know something but we’re not convinced that one another know that we know it. Though it may sound absurd, this sort of imagined clairvoyance is how the mind plays tricks on itself.

I’ve walked around with a belief that others could somehow intuit what I expect in a friendship, charging them with infractions of social crimes for laws they never even knew existed. What tangled webs I wove with yarn meant to comfort all involved parties!

Entanglement of this sort can be resolved. Just as I once took time as a child to carefully detangle yarn, the knots of friendship may be addressed through flexible beliefs rather than rigid ones.

Currently, I still value Smith’s perspective and I try to be a friend who adds value to the lives of my friends. If a child such as young GZ can comprehend this lesson, I suspect the reader can understand it, as well.

All the same, I maintain healthy boundaries in regards to friendships. For instance, people close to me have likely heard me say, “I don’t collect people,” because I don’t make it a practice to keep people in my life simply because they exist.

The concept of “followers” and “subscribers” on social media isn’t something I value in actual life. Because of this, I have no interest in perceivably winning in the game of life by dying with the most friends. I leave that sort of behavior to others.

In my approach to REBT, I practice unconditional acceptance of the self, others, and life. In specific, I practice unconditional other-acceptance (UOA).

With this technique, I admit my lack of control and influence over others while also acknowledging their fallibility. If I needlessly choose to place knots within the yarn of friendship, it isn’t without awareness of my unhelpful actions.

Nevertheless, I will add, as I stated in a blogpost entitled Acceptance, “I think it’s worth stating that a person can practice UOA while simultaneously not accepting others in the individual’s life.” Therefore, I don’t retain people when we aren’t a proper fit in one another’s lives.

This is also how I operate my psychotherapeutic business. Not always will my personality, preferences, or peculiarities mesh well with others. Sometimes, it’s knot an acceptable fit and that’s okay.

As I now think back to Whodini’s hook, I wonder about how many of us have friends—ones we can depend on. Moreover, I contemplate whether or not other people have made similar mistakes as mine by using rigid demands towards friendship—expressed or not.

How about you, dear reader? Do you use unreasonable expectations with others? Do you perhaps collect people, even to your detriment? Maybe you cycle through friendly relationships without ever stopping to think about why they keep failing. If so, I may be able to help.

If you’re looking for a provider who works to help you understand how thinking impacts physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral elements of your life, I invite you to reach out today by using the contact widget on my website.

As the world’s foremost old school hip hop REBT psychotherapist, I’m pleased to help people with an assortment of issues from anger (hostility, rage, and aggression) to relational issues, adjustment matters, trauma experience, justice involvement, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, and other mood or personality-related matters.

At Hollings Therapy, LLC, serving all of Texas, I aim to treat clients with dignity and respect while offering a multi-lensed approach to the practice of psychotherapy and life coaching. My mission includes: Prioritizing the cognitive and emotive needs of clients, an overall reduction in client suffering, and supporting sustainable growth for the clients I serve. Rather than simply helping you to feel better, I want to help you get better!

Deric Hollings, LPC, LCSW


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