What are friends for? A Psychological approach

What are friends for?

Are our friendships less disinterested than they appear? With the help of several experts, we have identified five main friendly “functions”. The better to find our way in the thick of our friendships.


Five true friends

They are few in number but oh so generous, they feel things from a distance., They would give their lives without asking questions…Who are these extraordinary beings, endowed with a fabulous sixth sense, an admirable spirit of sacrifice? Quite simply, friends. Friends as they are or as we dream them. Because when it comes to friendship, we like to use violins and superlatives. Are our friends that perfect? Why are we full of praise for them? No doubt because they are essential to our construction. From childhood, they allow us to grow by finding love objects outside our families. When we are adults, these elective affinities help us strengthen our narcissism without betting everything on our romantic relationships.


"I need friends to hear that I am not alone in my thoughts, my ideas, my feelings, that I am not out of the world, but very welcome," says Emmanuel, 34. We don't choose our family but we choose our friends… and they choose us. "The friendly bond provides self-confirmation: I exist and I count for someone, I can be of use to him," says social psychologist Jean Maisonneuve, author of Psychology of Friendship (PUF). So often we claim that true friendship cannot be interested, consciously or not, we expect some benefit from every relationship. "I have friends with whom I can go party, others with whom I talk about deeper aspects of my life, others who mother me," lists Geraldine, 27.


We would have an average of five real friends, who do not all have the same "skills". With the help of several specialists, we established their typology. These five "functions" can of course be found in just one of our close friends, but what we love about friendship is the diversity of the people we meet. Through them, we seek both comfort and risk, the known and the unknown ... If we love our friends so much, it is because they allow us to meet these contradictory needs, to be ourselves in all our complexity by being different with each one.


The symbiotic friend

"Sonia is more than a friend, she is a soul mate. We think about the same things at the same time, our unconscious must be linked. I don't know if my marriage will last a lifetime, but we will always be friends, that’s obvious, not a bit of sentimentality,” says Stephanie, 31 years old.


In close union with another being, but outside the torments of love, we seek a bulwark against our existential loneliness. "My friendship with Marthe has profoundly changed my life, we have also made a book (" Intimacy or How to be true with oneself and others "by Geneviève Lefebvre and Marthe Marandola), testifies the psychotherapist Geneviève Lefebvre. She gives me internal security that my family cannot give me. "


Neither quite myself nor quite another, the symbiotic friend is my double, my mirror, the one with whom I am united by bonds that seem to me as unwavering as they are inexplicable. "Because it was him, because it was me,". “In a symbiotic relationship, we seek to be reassured. It's a friendship with an exclusive tendency, I reduce the world to my relationship to you, "summarizes psychologist Patrick Estrade. The world seems less dangerous if there are two of us to face it. But that sometimes stifling "amorous" friendship we don't all need, preferring the tranquility of a less passionate, more solid, long-term bond.

The confidant friend

 “The nice thing about friends is that they love you despite your faults. You can be yourself while often, in the family, you tend to play a role: the obedient daughter, the loving woman, the perfect mother…” says Violette, 36 years old.


Friendship offers the precious possibility of not being irreproachable, of being able to show oneself without make-up, with its doubts and shortcomings. "The true friend is the one in front of whom one can show oneself naked", assures the therapist Marthe Marandola. "Being able to confide and be truly understood are the first criteria for an intimate friendship," confirms Jean Maisonneuve. Especially since surveys show that today you are more tolerant of your friends. We went from a demanding friendship to a knowing friendship. "

"This dress does not suit you"; "Maybe you should leave him" ... From a friend, we accept remarks that we would not tolerate from anyone else. "Friends can be trusted interlocutors because the stakes are less important than in the couple or in the family," explains psychiatrist Bernard Geberowicz. They give a more disinterested opinion. "The confidant friend is the one who does not judge me, who speaks to me without language ... but whose frankness can sometimes hurt me.


The tradition friend

The tradition friend is often a childhood friend. With him, we can rehash memories, become a little bit like the child that we were. "Keeping your childhood friends is to keep a certain closeness with your parents, something of the past, of the home. This is a way of saying, "Mom and dad, you were good parents to me." Because if we had a horrible childhood, we rarely keep friends from this period,” analyzes Patrick Estrade.


The traditional friend is also the one with whom one has challenged family values, distanced himself from his parents. "We always found the other's parents a little better than his own," comments psychoanalyst Danièle Brun. If the parents are dead today, the friend also connects us to a period in life when they were still alive, attackable. "Even though our lives have taken different paths, I need this witness to the past who reminds me of my roots, allows me to measure how far we have come. At the risk of cultivating a certain nostalgia.




Compensation friend

"If I am the oldest in a large family, where I took care of my siblings a lot, I will often keep a leadership role by looking for friends who are good subordinates, who need me", adds Patrick Estrade.


Compensation Friend allows me to replay scenarios from childhood, but alleviated from the jealousy that is often part of sibling relationships. He is also the one who gives me what I miss, who allows me to mend the wounds of childhood. “For me, Yannick is a bit like a big brother, explains Henri, 45 years old. He gives me advice for work, he coaches me. In a way, he replaces this father whom I knew very little. "Compensation friend allows me to sort out my family neuroses, but I also risk making him pay for suffering for which he is not responsible.

The opening friend

 The openness friend can be an intellectual friend. A friend with whom to awaken your intelligence, remake the world, explore new continents. Like the writers Jean-Paul Sartre and Paul Nizan ", so evident was their intellectual osmosis. The openness friend opens windows to the world for me. It can also be through his lifestyle, his network of friends, his travels  He brings me an open mind, an offbeat look. He chose a direction of life that is not mine but resonates with me.


Embodying things that have remained latent in me, the Opening Friend represents the person I could have become if life had been different. A scratchy friend, he also makes me question myself. Initiatory friend, he shows me another way. As long as our differences remain a source of enrichment, not of incomprehension.

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