Can you imagine a world where you were the last person alive? Where you would never again hear a voice other than your own, never again look into eyes other than the ones that look back at you from the mirror? It might be a welcome relief for a little while, with no one making demands on your time, energy, or resources, but how long would it be before you longed for other people to share the world with you? When we think about this scenario, it’s easy to see how important other people are to us, even though we often take them for granted.
Not all the people we meet on our life’s journey are kind, accepting, and easy to get along with, of course. Some care about us, and some are careless, knowingly or unknowingly causing us harm. This is the way it has always been. The person who has never been hurt by another, just as the person who has never hurt another, has yet to be born.
If we are fortunate, we know genuine friendship. If we are very fortunate, we know genuine love. These things make life worthwhile, giving it warmth and depth. Friendship and love sustain us and contribute so much to life’s meaning. As social animals, we are meant to mix with others, to cultivate friendships based on trust and respect. Genuine friendship helps us to develop as people, adding a degree of objectivity to our subjectivity, aiding clarity and balance, and offering support and feedback unavailable elsewhere. With friendship we can join forces with others, sharing the joy and the difficulties, celebrating the seasons of plenty and better enduring the times when hardship comes calling. As the French palaeontologist and philosopher Teilhard de Chardin wrote,
‘The world is made round so that friendship can encircle it.’
And when friendship encircles our world, it’s a better, nicer place to be.
How many friends does a person need? Well, thoughts differ, and there is really no scientific answer to this question. It depends on what works best for us as individuals. Some people believe two close friends are enough and others believe five or six is the right number. The average number of close friends most people have appears to be around five, but there is a limit to the number of really close friends a person can have before friendship becomes diluted. Our closest friends form the nucleus of our ‘friendship network’, with others, perhaps ten or so, forming an additional layer. Some of these are family members, and others are people we like and with whom we share common values or interests. Then there are additional layers that include people we talk with on the telephone occasionally or meet up with from time to time and who add to our social world.
While the closest and most enduring friendships may have their roots in a platonic love, friendship is not what we generally think of when we say ‘love’. Love can come in so many different forms. It can be the familial love between parent and child, for example, or the platonic love that builds real and lasting friendship. It can be romantic love, or the love involving Eros, the sexual principle that feeds physical desire, and it can also be something higher, something called agape, a kind of spiritual love that is completely unconditional and selfless.
Many of us take the love between parent and child for granted. This love seems built into our genes. It is profound and unique, and no one will ever be able to replicate it. We ourselves may have experienced such love, but not every person has been so fortunate. We are born helpless and dependent into this world, relying on the love and kindness of our parents or those who care for us in order to survive, grow, and become independent. This early love, or the lack of it, stays with us in one form or another throughout our lives.
Later in life, we may become the parent to our parent as age takes its toll, perhaps reversing the role of dependence. The slow decline of an aging parent can be one of the hardest things to witness and go through. To see the person who means so much to us, who has been there from the beginning, diminish and fade before our eyes can be absolutely heart breaking. Not only this, but it can make us angry.
At such times—and such times may last for years—it is important to remember the lessons life has taught us. We and those for whom we must now care are passing through a process that inconveniences, annoys, and upsets both them and us. Now is the time for perspective and above all, a time for patience. It is not our mother or father we really are angry at, although they may be the target of such emotion, but rather it is the apparent unfairness of the aging process, the fragility of human life itself.
If we feel anger, it is because life is taking away someone who matters to us, who has always been there and who now is leaving. Though the journey may be long and grueling, wearing down even the strongest, patience and still more patience must be found if we are to do what needs to be done as we are called upon to do it. It is at such times that our love and our spirit are tested.
So many people who consult with me arrive carrying the burden of remorse, an enormous sense of guilt about a parent or loved one they believe they have failed at the very end. All too often they feel they acted selfishly, impatiently, irresponsibly, or childishly—the way they acted so many times in their lives when with Mom or Dad. The sad language of regret falls from the tongue: ‘If only I’d had more patience …,’ ‘I could have been kinder …,’ ‘I should have done so much more …,’ ‘I just wish I’d told her I love her …,’ ‘I wish I’d been there for him at the end …’ Though therapy can greatly help with these feelings, it is so much better to have mustered the courage and found the patience necessary to help the person when they were alive—the person who has helped us so much (or who has hurt us); the person without whom we would not be here. No matter what our relationship with our parents has been, it is we who must live with ourselves after they are gone. To know we have done all we could to help them when they needed us frees us from regret. That is truly priceless.
Peter Field is a registered psychotherapist, qualified counselor, Board Certified hypnotherapist, and an internationally recognised authority on hypnosis and health. For more than 30 years he has helped people from all over the world to deal with life’s difficulties, and to live a more balanced, meaningful way. In 2006 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Health. He lives in Birmingham, UK. http://www.peterfieldhypnotherapy.co.uk
The Chi of Change – How hypnotherapy can help you heal and turn your life around – regardless of your past by Peter Field is published by Psyche Books, May 2014. Paperback 978-1-78279-351-9 | $29.95 | £17.99 | 393PP eBook
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