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Reviewed by Christina Hamlett for Readers' Favorite
Author/therapist Deborah Olson’s new book, The Healing Power of Girlfriends, addresses a reality that females have probably known since the beginning of time; specifically, gal pals rule! From one chapter to the next, she emphasizes the connectivity, communication, and compassion that not only differentiate female friendships from those pursued by men but also illustrates how these friendships are paramount to our mental health, physical well-being, and emotional outlook. Each section concludes with a list of discussion questions to reinforce the chapter content and also serve as invaluable relationship guidelines which can be used at any stage of our journey through life and in any one-on-one dynamic we may encounter. Her inclusion of personal stories combined with expert research makes for an empowering read that is as relevant to the hearts of teenagers as it is to senior citizens.
There are many takeaways to Deborah Olson’s The Healing Power of Girlfriends but the one which resonates the most deeply with me is her concentric circles diagram which effectively allows readers to not only figure out how close or casual a friendship is but also to identify whether our expectations of any given friendship are realistic. Throughout high school, for instance (and even into adulthood), I was reminded of all the times I had labeled someone as my best friend and yet subsequently came to realize that such a designation wasn’t reciprocated. The female friendships we embrace out of choice vs. obligation from marriage or family are a test of our trust and vulnerability. How freely we open our respective chests of secrets to someone new, Olson explains, derives from a frame of reference involving anyone who came before. Likewise, inherent expectations of trust, support, and empathy are influenced by whether the circumstances and mindsets we share can create a permanent foundation or are transitory in nature.
Another salient and well-grounded point in this book is to make our female friendships a priority rather than allowing them to get sabotaged by husbands, boyfriends, children, work schedules, etc. Through examples, she shows how women who have prioritized their friendships are more likely to make those relationships happily last over the course of time, physical distance, and emotional transitions. On a final note, I enjoyed how Olson offers tips for avoiding toxic friendships (i.e., drama queens, clingers, and flakes) as well as mourning the loss of an attachment you had assumed would last forever. At the end of the day, feeling angry, bitter, or blaming another is not as productive as accepting that the friendship had run its natural course and, in the process, imparted lessons that might not otherwise have been learned.