two young women

I used to think that friends were the people who unconditionally comforted you when you felt wronged, showed up for you when you felt needy and insecure, joined you in righteous indignation when you felt angry, and validated you when life isn’t going your way. I thought friends would be unconditional cheerleaders, and you would always feel better after being with a friend. But lately, I’ve realized that my most valuable friends are the ones who stand for my soul, even when that means saying something my ego doesn’t want to hear.

When a friend stands for your soul, she holds you accountable to your highest potential and expects you to do the same for her. When a friend stands for your soul, she understands how your ego operates- and loves and accepts you in spite of- even because of- what she knows. But she doesn’t sit by complacently when she watches you create your own suffering. She calls you on it lovingly and pushes you in the direction of your highest self.

No “Story Fondling”

When a friend stands for your soul, she holds you and comforts you when you feel wronged, but she doesn’t engage in story fondling with you. She knows there’s no need to hash and rehash your sob story, because doing so only keeps you stuck.  As soon as you’ve grieved and lashed out and you feel strong enough, a friend who stands for your soul reminds you that it’s time to end your pity party and be in the solution. She even helps you find meaning in whatever left you feeling hurt or angry because she knows even tragedies aren’t random, that life is purposeful, even when it’s hard.

When a friend stands for your soul, he’s willing to say what others won’t, the things people might be whispering behind your back because they don’t love you enough to say it to your face. But he never intends to be critical, and he’s never, ever mean. He is wind beneath your wings, helping to lift you higher, and he trusts that you will give him the same gift.

A Soul Friend May Leave

I used to think a real friend would stick around forever and never ever abandon you, that if we were real friends, we’d still be together when we’re both 85 in our rocking chairs. But now I know this isn’t the case. When a friend stands for your soul, she might have to leave the relationship, because she has been patient as she watches you choose your small self over your larger self- again and again. At some point, she can’t be true to her own soul unless you share the same commitment to trying to live in alignment with yours. Standing for your soul might require tough love. But the invitation is always there. She will be steadfast in standing for your soul, even as you stray off your path. She will still be there for you when you’re finally ready to accept the invitation to come home to Who You Really Are.

Standing for the soul of a friend isn’t easy. It requires uncomfortable conversations. It would be easier to just say yes to your friend’s ego. But when a friend unconditionally loves you and stands for your soul, it takes courage. It can be disruptive. There might be tears and hurt feelings. But a friend stands for your soul with great love and gentleness, even as she says what you don’t want to hear. Real friends don’t judge. They elevate you while they illuminate the parts of you that you hoped they’d never discover.

Soul Friends Guide You Home

It’s all worth it though, because these soul friends help you grow, and they invite you to grow with them. They are your guiding lights during dark nights of the soul, taking you by the hand and returning you to yourself. They cheer with you when you make difficult choices while standing for your own soul. These relationships are dynamic, ever-changing, ever-upleveling, ever-celebrating the magnificence of who you are becoming on your spiritual path. These friends are the guideposts leading you to freedom, and they enjoy the journey with you. They laugh with you, dance with you, gaze at the heavens with you, and revel in sunsets with you. They get quiet with you. They listen to your vulnerable stories and tell you theirs. They keep the heart open with you, and in the communion of two open hearts, you find connection, belonging, vitality, and joy. If you’re lucky, they even bring chocolate.

Do You Stand For The Soul Of Your Friends?

Do you have friends brave enough to stand for your soul? Do you return to the gift to others? In the Medicine For The Soul program I just finished leading with Rachel Naomi Remen, we invited our students to make a list of friends who stand for your soul. Who are they? Are you cultivating these relationships? If nobody comes to mind, might you invite someone to show up for your in this way? Will you show up for someone else with this much love? Share your story in the comments.

Soulfully,

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16 Comments

  1. Michelle Cowell Roebuck

    This is so ripe right now as a group of my respected soul sisters tries to reach out to one member who seems to have lost her sense of self in a relationship that’s about as far from healthy as it is possible to stray. It’s so hard to keep a thick enough skin, to know that you will be lashed out at for standing for their soul, though you have nothing personal to gain, only a desire to see no further harm done.

    Reply
    • Ellie

      Just to present a little different perspective: Whereas I think this
      view on friendship is very important to consider, I think being totally
      honest and pointing out how your friend should change to meet her true
      soul’s self…well, the whole idea has to be taken with more than a
      grain of judiciousness. Sometimes a person isn’t ready to be prodded
      into change, much less have someone she loves tell her what she is doing wrong. This can backfire and engender a lot of guilt, which is just about the most crippling feeling in the world.
      Likely she already feels, at some level, “I know I am not meeting
      anyone’s expectations, ESPECIALLY my own. What a horrible and weak
      person I am.” Rather than confrontation, I would rather have and be a
      friend who makes subtle, small-scale suggestions and finds ways to come
      quietly in through a side door or a back door rather than slamming open
      the front door.

      Reply
      • KDfrAZ

        Ellie, that is a very comforting thought! I think you’ve nailed my situation, and I will give some thought to finding some back doors.

        Reply
      • Carole

        I have to agree with Ellie. Largely, I prefer Lissa’s original definition of a soul friend. I don’t think it helps to have the unvarnished truth of another person thrust upon one, no matter how nicely. Most people are fully aware that they are struggling and trapped, and having a friend point out where they are going “wrong” only adds to the burden. In my recent travails, the friends who have backed me, even if they didn’t internally agree, have been those whom I have treasured most, and who have helped me most by not judging or giving their version of what I should do, or feel. Perhaps a few small suggestions here and there are appreciated but I think the way to lose a friend is to tell them where they err. I do prefer “my friend, right or wrong”, all things considered.

        Reply
      • Iztherapist

        ” I think being totally honest and pointing out how your friend should change to meet her true soul’s self…well, the whole idea has to be taken with more than a grain of judiciousness. Sometimes a person isn’t ready to be prodded into change, much less have someone she loves tell her what she is doing wrong.”

        I think you’re misunderstanding what she’s saying. She’s not saying, ‘Tell them how they should change,’ she’s saying ‘Real friends don’t let friends feel sorry for themselves/blame other people when they’re creating their own situation/stay stuck.’ In other words, REAL friends say things like, ‘Wow, I’m so sorry this is happening for you – does it feel familiar, remind you of the situation with X? Why do you think you might end up in situations with people who belittle/betray you – what’s happening for you?’

        That’s not ‘pointing out how your friend should change’. That’s saying, ‘Hey, let’s really look at this. I’ll back your process, but I’m not going to let your process be about feeling sorry for yourself and my enabling you to hang around in the sewer.’ Then YOU get to make the choice. If a friend who does that threatens you, and you’d rather hear, ‘You poor thing,’ and need to be validated by friends agreeing with and never challenging you, then that’s something to explore. When they challenge you, if you KNOW you’re right, then their challenge helps you clarify and articulate your position. If they are right about you being in trouble, then they’ve helped you. You wouldn’t let a friend cross the road when a truck was speeding down it, would you? Why would anyone who loves you let you suffer abuse whilst they remain silent?

        A good friend will ask you the hard questions, hold the space whilst you find your answers and love you through it. A good friend is about unconditional love (which is sometimes tough), not unconditional agreement.

        xx

        Reply
  2. Kathleen Quartuccio

    This perfectly depicts true loving friendship, and actually brings tears of gratitude to my eyes. To know that I am blessed enough to have these kind of friends, though few in number, makes me conscious of the quality of friendship I am bestowing on others. My heart feels expanded as I understand this. Thank you for this gentle reminder.

    Reply
  3. Pat Ravasio

    My daughters and my husband are those who know and honor my soul the best. I also have a couple of very close friends who I know know me well enough to do the same. I do think it’s important to understand this about ourselves, so I am grateful to you for writing about it. But, I hope everyone use all their beautiful soul energy to focus outward on others and our precarious planet. There is a huge battle coming over climate change and how to end, once and for all, the reign of fossil fuels. I hope all of this inward focus will help us all have the power to get our heads into the game — for what scientists are calling an urgent and pressing challenge, the most important one humanity may ever face.

    Reply
  4. Lisa

    This really came at the right time. The section “soul friends may leave” really spoke to me. I just recently had to leave a friend and couldn’t explain it to my fiancee until now. “At some point, she can’t be true to her own soul unless you share the same commitment to trying to live in alignment with yours”sums it up beautifully. Thanks for giving me insight into my own actions while allowing me to simultaneously open up even more to my soul friends.

    Reply
  5. Carol

    Thank you. I’ve always wondered why I had so many friendly acquaintances and so few friends. Now I understand. It’s because I only use the term “friend” for someone who gives me this kind of love and respect, and values that I do the same for them.

    Reply
  6. JaniceELP

    I’m so glad that I read this article, because I have felt somewhat guilty after having left a friend behind. I had supported her emotionally for as long as I could while watching her destroy her own life and finances. She complained constantly about 2 young, able-bodied non-relatives, whom she invited to live with her and all of whose bills she paid, while they both refused to work or even help her out in the house, let out her dog (who pooped everywhere in the house), or help care for her wheelchair-bound mother when she was at work. She said she never had any money to buy anything, yet she spent huge amounts on those 2 every single month – all the while that she has been in bankruptcy! She earns over $50,000/yr., but owns absolutely NOTHING, even though she is about age 60. I finally laid it all on the line to her and told her that she is co-dependent and needs counseling, before she wrecks the last years of her life. These two people are not the first people she has allowed to repeatedly use her as a doormat. She sent me a very nasty e-mail in which she once again defended the 2 leaches in her home. I didn’t hear another word from her for many months, and I did not contact her any more. I decided that I simply could not deal with her self-destructive drama any longer. It was very painful for me to watch her throw away everything she earned on such trash and to leave her mother without any care during the day. That friend meant a great deal to me, because she came to the hospital when my mother was dying and comforted her. I am an only child with no other family, and that was priceless to me. That image will remain in my memory for a long time. I thought that, because of the kindness and attention she gave to my beloved mother, I owed her. I did, but, I realized, not to the point that I sacrificed my own peace of mind for it. When I realized that she was robbing me of my peace of mind, even as she was destroying her own life, I determined that I couldn’t be friends with her or have any contact with her any longer. Since then, her mother died (she had a stroke at home alone, at around the same day that the 2 leaches stole my friend’s bank book and cleaned out her bank account – money which was supposed to have gone to the bankruptcy judge – and left town. She sent me an e-mail shortly after that, saying that she was wondering if she had any reason to go on living. (She had recently been put out of her mother’s house, where she had been living rent-free for decades, because the state took that house to pay for her mother’s end-of-life care.) For the first time in many, many years, she is living on her own in an apartment, and she is wondering if she will have enough to live on when she retires. I can’t say that my heart doesn’t hurt for her, but I also know without question that, without counseling, she is toxic to me and to everyone else. Your article gave me the permission to leave that friend in the past with no feelings of guilt. THANK YOU hugely for that! I can now go forward and live the rest of my life with gratitude and serenity.

    Reply
  7. Wynnie

    As I read your blog article, I realized your “soul friends” are what I call “soul mates” or soul family. Through my learning, I know that I have made “soul contracts” with people in my life today to “teach me” certain difficult or happy lessons that I chose to learn in this lifetime. Much of my immediate family,siblings, parents, my husband and children have all played their parts well. Some of the lessons we do not always like, and think “they” (soul fam) is being “mean” or doesn’t understand us. But they are our mirrors who chose to come and teach us our lessons in this life time. Lately, I have been “thanking” my husband for all the many lessons he has taught me, even though he does not understand “spirituality” as I do. (He is on his own path.) Being on their own path,too is why some “soul friends/fam” have to leave us and even by leaving us continue to “teach” us lessons. Thank you for your insightful article.

    Reply
  8. KDfrAZ

    Oh, this one HURTS, Lissa! The problem is, my friend is a shut-in, crippled, and with no local friends where she lives. She has many problems, and a phone call with her exhausts me. My occasional visits (she lives an hour away) are becoming more sporadic, but I *can’t* in good conscience just cut her loose! The handful of friends she has left all live much farther away than I do, and she helped me through a fairly major crisis a decade ago. Suggestions?

    Reply
  9. Kay Star

    Healthy friends know – all of us can only achieve and maintain – health of the body – when we are living in harmony with the best of human behavior – compassion and kindness – not only for others – but also ourselves.

    Reply
  10. Kim

    Hmmm. These are
    interesting questions. I don’t think all
    friendships operate necessarily from a deep understanding of ego and soul. That said, based on taking the Medicine for
    the Soul Course and what’s here, I think soul friends are people who can recognize
    and are present to “spirit” or the “spark of the divine” in each other.

    Soul friends are the generous listeners who listen with
    compassion, not judgment/no agenda/no analysis/no need to say something next/no
    need to offer advice, but are uncannily present and allow you to access to your
    own truth by being able to share your own story. And yes, sometimes that same story needs to
    be told over and over again. But a soul
    friend with real talents will never make the story their own story and take it
    on personally…they will listen generously to any worries, anxieties but your
    worries/anxieties will not become their own.

    Soul friends understand what you are looking for and meet
    you where you are at. Are you looking
    for advice, possible solutions…connecting the dots so you can pursue your
    calling or do they just want you to listen?
    They know what their role is when listening.

    The one thing I don’t know about soul friends is when the
    other friend is in the depth and spiral of despair…addictions, toxic jobs,
    toxic relationships….they are living their Groundhog Day over and over and they
    can’t seem to access their truth or spirit…can you elevate your compassion and
    challenge without being critical? I don’t
    know…do interventions work? If a friend
    has lost their way and can’t even remember or access who they are – their goodness, their spark,
    their divine, that spot of grace? What do you?
    Can you stick with them and the repetition of the story? Do you let them hit rock bottom? Do you offer compassionate advice and then
    temporarily walk away? I don’t know.

    A therapist once said to me that working through a
    trauma/crisis will take as long as it takes…perhaps everyone is on their own
    path/timetable. If both friends have
    some knowledge or memory of their spirit/soul/spark of the divine, miraculous things
    can happen…perhaps things move fast, you stop repeating the same stories, the
    same patterns that get in the way of being your soul. You have a known soul contract between two
    friends and as a result, you can compassionately challenge the other to their
    true calling and spirit.

    But if you don’t have a mutual understanding of this soul
    contract, friendship…only glimpses of it.
    It will take as long it needs to take. There is a parable about a fig
    tree that takes up to a year to return to bearing fruit. The message of this parable, as taught to me,
    was that God has infinite patience with us in terms of seeking repentance
    and forgiveness; perhaps reminding ourselves who we are in the first place
    and once we know and remember we are beloved/we our back in touch with our sprit/soul/inner
    pilot light, we would act differently. And
    the fig tree is able to do this with the richness and being fed through God’s
    love through the friendship with others.
    But again, there is infinite patience…if we forget about our soul in the
    first place…it will take as long as it needs to take, to return to it.

    Reply
  11. Kay Kiley

    It is a journey. Above my father’s desk was a saying, “We meet upon the level and part upon the square.” As a long time member of Al-Anon, I learned to live life one day at a time, it became uncomfortable to hear the same person suffer the worst day of life, everyday, over and over again. I would sometimes have to say, as gently as possible, ‘is it happening now?’ As you say, Lissa, we must learn to reach for joy and stop wallowing in the suffering. If we could all learn that life is a journey and earth is our boat, wouldn’t it be nice if we could somehow learn to take each day as a moment in the journey, letting go of our precious opinions and love the mystery. If we could know ourselves as soul, understanding that we are visible now but will someday put on invisibility and wake up, knowing that we will always BE, life would become the most amazing experience we could hope to have. We live on a huge ball of dirt and water, wizzing through space at breathtaking speed. The Earth is hanging out there in the breath of God, no visible means of support and we don’t realize that we are in Heaven.

    Reply
  12. Grace

    Thanks, Lissa. I’ve learned that in order to be a true friend I had to do my own heart work first. It meant taking 100% responsibility for my life and actions. This means no blame can ever arise, ever. What comes from this is that there is a realization that I have the same humanity or flesh that everyone else has and there is great mercy and compassion that is gifted to me. I can see where others came from and how they got there. This compassion is is truth telling in love without condemnation or judgement. It is all, indeed, a very humbling experience.

    Reply

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