Amy

When I was pregnant with our first child, my husband and I took a Bradley birth class.  Of course I had NO IDEA when I signed up that it would be all about natural, squatting, searingly painful childbirth!  Word of advice, don’t just sign up for a class without doing the research just because a cool mom with a cute baby in a sling tells you to.  So, I didn’t love the class, and the people were just o-k-a-y.

Until… my daughter was three weeks old and I got an invitation from some nondescript mom from the class inviting me and some other class moms to a group gathering.  We all gave birth to baby girls within weeks of each other.  Most of my friends were single, childless actors, so I was like “Aim, we gotta show up and find our new people”.

Amy McLaughlin-Margolis is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Co-Founder/Director of Santa Monica Counseling in California. She specializes in treating eating disorders, addictions, anxiety, depression, codependency and adoption-related issues.

My Life Was Upside Down

I remember walking Caroline in her stroller across Central Park to the playdate.  I was raging at my husband in my head.  I just wanted him to take out the trash, do a few dishes, and notice that while he just got up and left the house – free as a bird – to go to work, I was on house arrest. I wanted him to recognize my whole life had turned upside down and I envied him.

Then there was my body.  I still had 15 extra pounds on me.  Would it ever go away?  I had a jelly belly… and my boobs!  I mean I was sort of okay with the size, but not the spontaneous leaking on the subway.  WTAF.  I was ruminating about all this, not feeling anything like my old “shit together, confident self,” when Caroline and I arrived to meet these new women and babies.  I was nervous.

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Get Real!

Everyone was kind and a little reticent with their babies, just like me.  And one baby would actually not shut up.  I mean for the love of God.  But it was nice, we were all finding our way.  Although I did have a secret shame spiral when they all started talking about their perfect nursing every three hours “like clockwork” whereas I walked around our tiny apartment topless most days, nursing every hour.

At some point we were all politely sharing our birth stories, when I had this inner scream that said, “get real!”  I said, “Guys I don’t know about you, but I feel fat, and I’m afraid I’ll never like my body again.  I feel angry at my husband a lot.  When he walks by and kisses my daughter and not me, I cry.  Oh and my boobs sprung a leak at an audition last week.”  I was met with wide staring eyes, silence, then an audible exhale.  Everyone smiled, began laughing, then chimed in about the real stuff.  It was amazing!  We spent the entire afternoon together, then did so every Wednesday thereafter.  When a couple of the moms went back to work, we would do monthly dinners.

That one decision to “get real or go home” forged lifelong friendships with these women.  It enabled true human connection.  And it gave them permission to get real too.   All these years later, living in different states, we still support each other, getting real about marriage, motherhood and our emptying nests!

RELATED: Seven Kickass Quotes from Brene Brown 

Why, when we change for the better and feel so good, do we get in our own way?  As if our brain is at war with itself.  Well, because in a way, it is. - Critter Brain

vulnerability 

According to Dictionary.com the first definition is: a willingness to show emotion or to allow one’s weakness to be seen or known and the last definition is the state of being likely to be classified as an endangered species in the near future if conditions do not improve… so maybe we should lean into being vulnerable a little more 🙂

Back when I had this experience, vulnerability wasn’t the buzz word it is now.

These days the word is almost synonymous with the name Brene Brown, a beloved researcher who has devoted her entire career to educating us all on the subject.  One of my favorite quotes by her is, “You either walk inside your story and own it, or you stand outside your story and hustle for your worthiness.”

With these new moms, I could have worn my push up bra, spanx, lipstick and a smile then gushed about my amazing life as a new mom.  But then what?  I would have chosen “looking good” and my silent fears of not being “good enough” over sharing my humanity and enabling true connection, which always leads to self esteem.

True Connection

Vulnerability is the willingness to reveal our emotions and tell the truth in order to genuinely connect, even at the risk of being rejected or hurt. For me, it’s the cornerstone of all healthy relationships.  If you can’t show up authentically and feel validation and reciprocity, what is the point?  Save the small talk for elevators and waiting rooms.  Better to share your truth and risk rejection than hide and feel alone, isolated and empty.  Why?  Because then at least you have been true to yourself, weeded out a person who cannot meet you there, and created space for someone who can.

Vulnerability is the key to health in all of our relationships and I think it’s so important for us as women to form these precious connections as we live in a culture where we are insidiously pitted against each other to “look good,” compete with, and judge one another.  How do we do this? We do this by daring to get vulnerable one friend at a time. 

6 Tips to Cultivate and Deepen your Friendships

Amy

1. Find your people  

If your dream is to be a writer, join a writer’s workshop. 

If it’s to act, take a class. 

If you are struggling with an addiction, find a support group. Shout out – Twelve Step Programs are a perfect example of every type of person coming together, leaving their professions, politics, sexual orientation, finances… at the door and  offering each other connection, support, love and acceptance.  The price of admission?  A few bucks in a basket, and the willingness to be vulnerable. 

2. Be discerning

Just because someone wants to be your friend, you do not have to oblige.  Trust your instincts.  Your body doesn’t lie. 

If someone makes you feel unsafe, drained or creeped out, even if they say and do “all the right things,” listen to yourself.  If you are just feeling drained but really like the person, you can say, “Hey, I notice we’ve  been talking about your ex for a year now.  Do you think it’s helping or just keeping you stuck?  I’m happy to keep listening, but I am out of ideas.”  I know it sounds harsh, but if you are getting annoyed and pulling away anyway, you are giving her a chance to stay in your life and maybe take a look at her own. 

You are also allowed to distance yourself from and even break up with friends.  It is better to feel guilty than resentful or worse.  

Amy

3. Court and be a Catalyst

Think of making friends the same way you think of dating.  Suss out who you think is cool and invite them out.  If you take a class, organize a happy hour. With moms at school, plan a mom’s night out.  It’s uncomfortable. I know I’ve done it, but 8 times out of 10 I had a great night or made a new friend.  And most times I was thanked for making the plan. Why?  Because other people are looking for a connection, too.  They just don’t always have the time or cojones to take that first step. 

4. Take up Space

Many of us women are good nurturers, listeners, caretakers, which are awesome qualities in friendship.  Just make sure they are getting reciprocated.  People love to matter, talk about themselves, sort out their challenges. 

But, do you have a friend that does this and doesn’t check in with you? 

Ask yourself… is this person really incapable of being there for me or am I not allowing them to? 

Am I waiting for them to read my mind? 

Then test it out before you rule them out.  Next time you are together they may blab on because that has been the set up, but find a pause and say, “hey, can I run something by you?” If your friend is receptive and great about it, she’s a keeper.  But if she seems distracted or keeps steering the conversation back to herself…time to re-evaluate! 

Change Old Ways of Thinking and Being with These Exercises to combat Critter Brain

5. Have the courage to walk through conflict

If you have a good friend and they said or did something that hurt you, ask yourself if this is a genuine character flaw in your friend?

If so, can you accept this and overlook it? 

Or can you set new boundaries for yourself going forward? 

Like if she forgets her wallet again, risk asking for her venmo handle. If you are finding you can’t be in acceptance, really consider what you get out of the friendship and how close you want to be. 

If this behavior was truly out of character for your friend, and you feel yourself avoiding, distancing or building walls, it’s time to speak up.  A friend of mine coined the term “sandwich method” for these conversations.  Start with a compliment, get to the meat of the matter, and end with a compliment.  For example, “I love and value you and I notice I have been pulling away since you made that comment three weeks ago.  When you said… {fill in the blank}… I felt… bla bla bla… and I wanted to tell you because I don’t want anything to mess up our friendship.” Then let the conversation flow. 

I know this is hard, but in doing this you are building a bridge to a deeper connection with your friend.  If it doesn’t go well, this will also inform the friendship going forward.  Either way this is esteemable because you’ve been true to YOU – the only friend you will spend your entire life with.  Wink.  And remember… Freedom always lies on the other side of difficult conversations.  

6. Take risks

If you have a friend who has potential, meaning you feel good energetically in her presence, take a risk and share something just a little deeper and see if she reciprocates. 

Three weeks after we moved from Los Angeles, my dad passed away back East.  After the funeral I had to rush back to LA  for my daughter to start kindergarten.  I picked her up after school that first week and she had made a friend named Sara.  Sara’s mom introduced herself to me and she seemed nice and cool.  I said “Hi,” then blurted out, “We just moved here from New York, my dad died, my husband travels. Oh sorry, how are you?”  Admittedly, I was running on adrenaline. 

I had no pause and when the words were tumbling out, I knew I am either going to have to avoid this chick all year or we are going to become close friends.  Happily, the latter happened.  She gave me a big hug and said, “I got you.  My dad died too,” and we walked the girls home from school chatting all the way.  I DO NOT RECOMMEND THIS EMOTIONAL BOMBING, but with a friend you trust, take a risk.   

Be Willing to Reach Out

I truly hope this article is helpful.  Having deep and enduring friendships can be the greatest blessing. 

No matter what you are feeling… sad, pissed, embarrassed, scared… If you have the willingness to reach out and share honestly, the relief can be priceless.  Sometimes, in sharing your most shameful thoughts that feel oh so serious and unique, you might even unexpectedly bust out laughing.  This comes from being met with “I get! Me too!” and just knowing “I am not alone anymore.”  It’s the best medicine. 

Your greatest challenge for making progress with self-improvement is your own Critter Brain. What it is and how you can combat it.

Why is Self-Improvement So Hard?

Why, when we change for the better and feel so good, do we get in our own way?  As if our brain is at war with itself.  Well, because in a way, it is…

LEARN WHY HERE

Amy McLaughlin-Margolis, LCSW - insidewink guest author

Amy McLaughlin-Margolis, LCSW

Amy is a wife and mom to three humans and two animals! Hailing from Boston and NYC, Amy is a SoCal transplant. And though she misses her big Irish family, she is incredibly grateful come January when she is taking long walks in the sunshine and her cousins are calling her about a wicked cold Nor’easta! Amy is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Co-Founder/Director of Santa Monica Counseling. She specializes in treating eating disorders, addictions, anxiety, depression, codependency and adoption-related issues. Amy is also a Meisner and Groundlings trained actor, who has spent the majority of her career doing Voice Over work for animation and commercials and recently optioned her first animated series. Amy is excited to be contributing to insidewink, a site she finds so inspiring. She hopes to be a worthy contribution!

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