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How to Lean Into Female Friendship When You Have Trust Issues

Updated: Jan 27, 2023

How to Lean Into Female Friendship When You Have Trust Issues

Female friendship is a beautiful thing.

We often have friendship coaching sessions with women who confess that they have a deep desire for more female friendship.... but their trust issues are getting in the way. During the sessions, we learn that there are certain mindsets and behaviors that make entering into healthy friendships nearly impossible. We thought we'd invite Shena Tubbs, therapist and childhood trauma expert, to come on the Friend Forward podcast and illuminate this situation for us.

Trust issues in female friendship

Danielle: We often hear women talk about having trust issues with other women, worried that a person that they attach themselves to won't let them down, won't abandon them, won't disappoint them. Let's start with you kind of telling us where do these trust issues for most people, where do they come from? Is this something from childhood?

Shena: Yeah, so it absolutely does start in childhood. Our adult relationships are from templates that we learn from how to connect to people, whether or not we felt that people were trustworthy, whether or not they would show up for us. So it's a learned response to not trust, to be fearful, to be shut in.

Danielle: So when we get into friendships with new women, there's always a risk there. We don't know how they'll receive us. We don't know if what their intentions are, how long they'll be around. And so what is some advice you have to the woman who says, "Man, I really want more friends. I want more female friends, but I'm reluctant because I don't trust them..."What would your advice to that woman be?

Shena: First I would start with validation --I think it's awesome that you're being honest with yourself about wanting those types of friendships. I think typically when women come to that place, it's because they've gone through hurt and distrust and wounding from female friendships or female relationships before. And usually you go through this period where you swear them off and you're like, "Fine, I don't need that. I'll focus more on myself" or "I get along better with men..." Or whatever it is that you tell yourself. So coming back to a place where you're honest about what you want is really good, because that's gonna open you up to people who are also available. If you are meeting people who wanna be your friend, but you're shut down, then how are you actually gonna connect to them? Right? They're not gonna be able to get through that wall.

I would really encourage you to be clear about what it is that you want in a friendship. Are you looking for people who you want to get along with socially? Are you looking for people that you want to be able to share your emotions and feelings with? Are you looking for people who are mixture of both? That you can connect with you spiritually? And then from there, consider: "Am I open to being that type of friend myself?"

In our current culture, we can get really caught up into being transactional and we only wanna see people for what they can do for us. And we forget the fact that relationships are mutual, they're reciprocal. And if I want to have a friendship that is open and engaging, I have to be able to be open and engaging myself.

And that's gonna start with you initiating a lot of times. I know you talk about it often on your podcast. You know, you making the first move, you stepping out of that place of that fear of rejection. When it comes to being friends, remember that first you're a stranger. You have to get to know people. Yes, instant friendships happen. But a lot of times it takes time and it takes nurturance and it takes persistence. So really affirming yourself and loving yourself throughout that process is gonna be important for you because you don't want to personalize someone's busyness or someone's, um, needing to fill you out as them not liking you, which you are apt to do if you've had wounds before.

Danielle: I appreciate you speaking to how it also requires us to show up. Sometimes women I've worked with, I hear them say things about how they're reluctant to trust , but are simultaneously putting themselves in the role of a critic and a viewer and they're just waiting for it to happen. And don't spend as much time thinking about, "What's my role? What's my responsibility?" Consider the experience of the other woman on the other side: are you just a spectator waiting for her to, to screw you over? If so, does that experience look like for her? I wonder if we do continue to personalize things, if it'll almost be like a self-fulfilling prophecy, like if she accidentally forgets to call you back or something like that, it becomes, "See, I told you, see, you can't trust them..." , Do you often see with the women you work with?

Shena: Yeah, absolutely. We look for evidence to validate what we already believe. So if you go into situations believing and knowing that you can't trust people, you're gonna get exactly what you look for. And again, it's not because that's the only thing that's available for you, but it's gonna be hard for you to see the probably groups and crowds of people around you who are waiting for you to respond back to their texts, who wanna go to brunch with you that have the exact things in common that you want to do because you're holding out hope for someone who's usually not available for you, which is one of the things that I talk about a lot when it comes to trauma and how we recreate our patterns is that in a room of a hundred people, we're gonna bond and try to connect to the one person who's not available for us, instead of all the other people who could potentially be really great friends for us.

What we all describe as the ideal friendship, well there's work required to achieve that kind of relationship. Sometimes it's kind of like a situation of the chicken or the egg, which comes first because we're sometimes waiting for people to prove we can trust them before we're vulnerable and open up, but then how do we know unless we lean in a little bit to see if they have the capacity to be trusted.

Danielle: So for the woman who has had maybe some bad experiences, whether in childhood, or recently soured friendships, who's saying. "I want that kind of intimacy but I don't have much trust....for the friend who is willing to kind of work through it with her, are there things that we can do to support the friend who has trust issues?

Shena: Yeah. I think it is really important for us to be mindful of how we take care of ourselves. First. I think we as kindhearted and generous and open people who oftentimes are very empathic, especially for our friendships, our sisters, we may really want to help them so much that we can put ourselves in harm's way. And if you find that someone is, um, being hurtful in how their trauma is manifesting, you can still love them and you can still, um, hold space for them. But also say, "Okay, look, I love you so much. And I know you've been through some things, but if we're gonna be friends, I need you to give me the benefit of the doubt."

You're giving her opportunity and you're giving her skills to know this is how I communicate when I'm upset. This is how I express to you when I'm feeling untrustworthy. And at the same time, you're setting a boundary. Just because you see someone's going through pain doesn't mean you have to be the doormat and it doesn't mean that you have to be the punching bag. And I think that's what causes burnout in a lot of friendships. And I think that's also what makes people who may want friendships to be securely attached or be healthy. If you have too many friendships like that, that are draining and you're doing more of the emotional labor, then you start to internalize what they're going through.

Danielle: Oh, that's good. Because I know some of us are like, "Okay, I do love her, but how much do I stretch myself? Is it possible to even help her? Is she too far gone?" So that's really helpful, um, to know how to kind of navigate that situation with somebody we love. Is there anything else that you feel like is worth mentioning with regard to trust issues and attachments or things that you feel like we get wrong about trust and friendship?

Shena: Yes. Friendship is our chosen family and I think we always need to have the same amount of care and concern when it comes to our friendships as we do with other relationships. I think friendships sometimes get the wrap : It's supposed to be natural and organic. And so in our minds we don't have to work as hard at it as other relationships, but they're also relationships. And so for us to maintain and build trust, we have to nurture it. We have to stay in communication. We have to attend to it. We have to treat it with love. Um, so making sure that we're always doing that. Friendships also can go through seasons where you're closer and seasons where there's a little bit more distance and maybe even seasons where there's distance plus it's time for that friendship to end. And for us to be for us to be aware of that, because I think when we are not, um, looking at what that person's available for and what we're available to give it can cause a lot of heartbroken heartbreak, um, and miscommunication and wounds down the road. And so we don't want that to happen.

Danielle: Yeah. That's good. Such a necessary message. And I'm always so eager to hear your insight on different topics. So I'm, I'm very appreciative that you stopped by to lend your voice to this conversation.


Shena is a therapist and childhood trauma expert, host of Black Girls Heal podcast, and the founder of Black Girls Heal, an online community and coaching program dedicated to helping women break the cycles of unavailable partnerships, unhealthy relationships and feeling not enough via evidence based and real, actionable tools.

Danielle Bayard Jackson is the resident female friendship coach and educator at Friend Forward, and her podcast airs every Thursday anywhere you listen to podcasts. If you are seeking more support as you work to build meaningful platonic relationships with other women, join friendship expert Danielle Bayard Jackson in a private friendship coaching session.

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