I’ve been struck recently by how many of my clients are ashamed to go to their friends for help: both material or financial help, and emotional support, the love in time of distress which might be thought of as one of the key purposes of friendship. I’ve written before about my own struggle with the temptation to keep my troubles to myself and not seek help because I don’t want to burden others, so I totally sympathize with this dilemma. But as I’m trying to teach myself, love in a time of need is what you have friends for. St. Aelred’s emphasis on transparent honesty with one’s friends may be considered an antidote to the shame we feel at exposing our own needs and weaknesses.
One of the biggest tasks at the center, at least for someone with my style of counseling, is to help the woman find the sources of love and support already available to her in her own life and community. I try to help her identify and strengthen those connections. And I’ve been startled by how often people will identify a friend as a possible source of desperately-needed strength, and then admit that they’re ashamed to rely on that friend. “Well, if she were in need, wouldn’t you want to know?” I ask, and that helps a bit. But the tight old relationships—not only friendship but the fictive kinship relations of godparenthood and godsisterhood, and maybe even the extended-family relationships of cousinhood—seem to be weakening. A renewal of friendship would be good for everybody, but maybe especially good for the poor.