The Psychology of Friendship

At the start of this series, I suggested the new year was a good time to re-evaluate your friendships for their value. This next post, the psychology of friendship –and the previous posts recapped below, can help you understand some of the barriers that men face in making friendships. These recent posts also set the tone for upcoming ones with examples of good friends in sports, literature, and entertainment.

My hope is this series helps you see why friendships are important –especially for men, but also why GodBuddy friendships are the most-preferable type. 

Series to-Date

Let’s briefly recap where we are so far in the series. 

The initial post titled New Year; New Types of Friends stated many people start the year resolving to change their bad habits or develop better ones. One I suggest is evaluating your relationship with family and friends. I described four types of friendships most people have and the friendships during their lifespan. I also suggested the current pandemic has exasperated the loneliness epidemic, which is shown by the increase in depression, suicidal thoughts, and sometimes tragic outcomes. To help your evaluation process, I also included a free download to a Relationship Self-Assessment.

In The Philosophy of Friendship, I explained the four Greeks words for love: philia love (brotherly love), storge (love shown to family members), eros (sensual or passionate love), or agape (unconditional love of God). Aristotle thought that philia love added emotional depth to a man’s friendships which made them a “friendship for the good.” This theory most resembles mine since GodBuddies become more like Christ. 

My last post, The History of Friendship, explained that friendship ranged from utilitarian, companionist, erotic, and spiritual. Friendships have moved from situational to lifelong devotion that adds value to each other. Knowing these differences can help you determine the value of having a variety of friends. I also advised that our current age with mobile technology and social media makes it easier to stay in touch, but has actually distanced us from people. This is why I believe men need a small group of deeper, more authentic friends called GodBuddies. 

Let’s now move on to the next topic: the psychology of friendship. 

Differences Between Psychology and Physiology 

First, it’s important to understand the differences between two very similar words. These words are nearly the same in both spelling and meaning but refer to something completely different.

In short, psychology studies the mind whereas physiology studies the body.

Psychology is the study of what kind of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are learned by a person and how they are implemented by actions. It is understanding the different kinds of inputs into the mind of a person. It’s how that person understands how to use these inputs. It’s making sense of human behavior.

Physiology, on the other hand, is all about the physical aspects of how the body works and what makes it work. It covers the metabolic functions, digestion, respiration, blood circulation, movement, as well as muscle and bone structure. It looks at different animals and compares the structural layout of humans with various animals to see how certain physical functions stack up. 

I’ll write about the physical effects of friendships in my next post but let’s start with the impacts on how we think and believe about friendship. 

The Psychology of Friendship 

Over the years, many studies on the science of friendships and health suggest good friends produce happy, mentally well-adjusted, people. In fact, an entire issue of the journal Health Psychology in 2014 provided evidence that a healthy social network helps your emotional well-being, along with the health of your heart, immune system, and response to stress

The American Psychological Association defines friendship this way: 

friendship

n. a voluntary relationship between two or more people that is relatively long-lasting and in which those involved tend to be concerned with meeting the others’ needs and interests as well as satisfying their own desires. Friendships frequently develop through shared experiences in which the people involved learn that their association with one another is mutually gratifying.

Basically, friendship is an emotional attachment that shows we care about, like, —and in many cases, profoundly love a friend. 

Good friendships have proven to have a positive effect on our psychological and physical health. 

Conversely, bad or “toxic” friends can have a negative effect. They can cause your body and mind severe stress that can result in problematic or addictive health patterns. An unhealthy relationship or friendship can result from emotional manipulation, guilt-tripping, or constant criticism. It can affect your sense of self and identity, damaging your self-esteem. You can be left feeling inadequate, or somehow flawed. It can lead to feelings of depression and/or anxiety. You may also become exhausted, always trying to rescue the other person, or neglecting your own emotional needs. 

Friendship is Hard for Men

The physiology of friendship for men is an interesting topic. According to the American Perspective Survey conducted in May 2021, men have suffered a steep decline in friendships than women, with young men faring the worst. 

Most people agree that the quality, not the quantity, of your friendships, is the single most important thing for your psychological well-being. Friends help keep us grounded. Friends help us keep things in perspective. They help us manage the problems that life throws at us. 

So why is friendship so hard for men? 

An article on PsyPost, a psychology and neuroscience news website, explains that male and female friendships maintain different psychological dynamics. Researchers have found that men have larger social circles that tend to include a collection of casual friendships, whereas women tend to have smaller social circles that include one or two more intimate relationships. They also found that men are more likely to have no best friend compared to women. 

In my opinion, there are a few psychological factors that explain why there’s a lack of close friendships and intimacy in male-to-male friendships: 

  • Men are reluctant to open up emotionally 
  • Some men have homophobia
  • How boys are raised affects their friendships

Let me break down each.

A Fear of Sharing Emotions

In an article titled Why Are Men So Bad at Friendships?, Dr. Frank Sileo explains his research on the dismal state of men’s platonic relationships. Sileo explains “Men aren’t really great about expressing how they feel. And when they do, they feel that they [seem] weak. So men, who are more restrictive in their emotional expression, tend to have less intimate and close friendships.”  

My earlier post, Men and Their Emotions describes man’s major emotions as Anger, Fear (especially fear of failure), Sadness, Happiness, Pridefulness (Ego), Guilt (Shame), Anxiety, and Boredom (Aloneness). For most guys, one or more of these emotions get in the way of making and keeping close friendships. I also suggested we need to know the “Why”, the “How”, and the “What” to do with our emotions, we can become the men God designed us to be. 

These questions help us become more emotionally intimate with our closest friends.

Homophobia

Another factor for some men is homophobia, the prejudice against or dislike of gay people. 

In Why Are Men So Bad at Friendships?, Dr. Sileo indicates that homophobia is “a strong deterrence to intimacy and closeness and friendship.” He continues, “So men who scored higher on homophobia in the scale had less intimate, less close friendships.”

A man’s views on the cultural influence of homosexuality also impact his views on intimacy with other men. But understanding the value of relationships with people of other sexual orientations, ethnicity, and economic backgrounds can help break this pattern. 

A Boy’s Upbringing

Another psychological factor that impacts a man’s friendships is his relationship with his father and mother. 

From a young age, many men were often discouraged from sharing their feelings. Instead, they were told that male friendships were solely built on shared activities, such as playing sports or video games together, going out for a beer, working together on a project. 

Dr. Gail Saltz, MD, clinical associate professor of psychiatry at the New York-Presbyterian Hospital, explains in the article Bromance: The Truth About Male Friendships Right Now, When children are little, they experience intense emotions. But at some point in grade school, males are told that they shouldn’t express these emotions. It’s a cultural driven phenomenon that men shouldn’t appear vulnerable and that sharing their feelings with other men isn’t a manly thing to do.” 

In Addressing Your “Wounds”, I described the impact of having an absent father or being overly-bonded with mother.  Much of this is based on how his own father or mother was also raised since views of manhood and paternal roles pass from generation to generation. It also comes from how he experienced love from his parents.

A man’s position in adulthood also comes into play. His perspective on competition shapes his friendships. His role in family and career responsibilities –especially how he handles stress, also impacts the priority he puts on relationships. More on this in an upcoming post.  

The Times are Changing

There has been a cultural shift over the last few years in how comfortable men are sharing feelings with their male friends.

According to Dr. Saltz, society has started to slowly move away from this type of old-school thinking. “It’s become more acceptable for men to be affectionate, vulnerable, and intimate with one another,” She continues, “Men can have loving feelings toward one another and that doesn’t mean these are sexual feelings.”

In my opinion, how a man understands how to express the various types of love (philia, storge, eros, and agape) enables him emotionally, which impacts his relationships with family and with friends. 

Understanding all of the factors helps men develop close friendships which lead to having a more meaningful life. 

Small GB logo

God Buddy Focus

Since the time of Aristotle, friendship has been recognized as essential to a well-lived life. But their purpose has also changed. Today’s research shows that close friendships lead to greater happiness, increased self-esteem, and a sense of purpose, all of which help our emotional and social well-being. 

This week, consider these personal reflection questions:

  • In your opinion, why is friendship so hard for men? 
  • How did your upbringing influence your views of close, intimate male friendships? 
  • Are there any other barriers to friendship that you have or know of? 
  • Do you have a friendship you would define as a “bromance”?

Friendships also impact our physical well-being, which is the topic of my next post. 

Feel free to make any comments below. 

Other Sources: The Psychology of Friendship by Oxford University Press 2017; Friends by Psychology Today Staff

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