The Dolce Vita Lifestyle

Raeleen D'Agostino Mautner, Ph.D.

Friendship is treasured in the Italian culture (chi trova un amico/a trova un tesoro), and while having friends is important for our well-being, surveys show, that for Italians, perhaps an even more powerful factor in overall happiness is the having a single confidant. A confidant is someone with whom we feel safe in sharing our deepest hopes and dreams, as well as our personal secrets.  This kind of relationship is a two-way street. Ideally, the trust, empathy and respect are reciprocal, unless we are talking about a client-therapist dynamic. 

            Humanist psychologist Carl Rogers developed the concept of unconditional positive regard, which implies a non-judgmental acceptance, empathy, and support of another human being. He based his person-centered therapy approach on the premise that when a person feels truly heard and understood, that person begins to thrive. Outside of the therapeutic setting this phenomenon resembles the makings of a confidant relationship.

            We don’t require a great number of confidants. In fact, having even just one person who empathizes with us on a deeper—not just surface—level, and supports our hopes and dreams, has been shown to increase our well-being.

Close relationships are associated with better overall health, less chronic medical problems such as heart disease, hypertension, and asthma, and less anxiety and depression. 

According to a table recently published by Statista Research Department, over 80% of Italians say they have someone they can count on. An article in Europe’s Journal of Psychology showed an even greater percentage of Italians who report having a special person in their life to confide in and to count on.

Most Italians report their confidant as being either their spouse/partner or a member of their nuclear family, as opposed to choosing someone outside the family. The data also show Italians tend to have frequent conversations with their person, usually live in close proximity, and females were only slightly more likely to have a confidant than males. Trust and honesty were shown to be qualities even more important than the actual depth of interpersonal sharing.

Oops, Wrong “Confidant”

Let’s face it–we all at one time or another have offered our trust and self-disclosure to someone whom we later discovered has betrayed our confidence. This person may have repeated our personal story to others. They may have suddenly ghosted us when we thought we were getting close to them. They may have been a bit too quick to believe negative gossip about us, or simply started that gossip about us behind our backs. This can happen when a relationship is still relatively new, as in the case of a developingromantic relationship, especially when the person you are involved with is what my beloved colleague, author Martin Kantor MD described as the “psychopath of everyday life” (the non-criminal kind). Such a person is often hard to detect, even for those familiar with the classic associated characteristics. They may have charmed their way into your life, gained your trust, then after getting what they could get from you, will suddenly flip the emotional switch of abandonment so quickly it will make your head spin. If this has happened to you just know it is not your fault for being loving and trusting. Consider that life continually presents us with lessons if we are willing to learn them. Do not trust too quickly or blindly. Trust is something that is earned, and a person earns your trust when you have had enough time to understand their values and experience their attitudes and behaviors across many situations. Give a new relationship the time it needs to grow. Exchanging confidences gradually will give you a sense of a potential confidant’s character, capacity for empathy, altruism, and conscience. 

How to Develop (or maintain) a True Confidant Relationship

In the Italian studies we note that most respondents pointed to their significant other as their confidant. But as we grow older, we may have lost our life partner. We may lose friends to death, relocation, an unresolved argument, or simply growing apart due to our life situations, the different paths or divergent interests we pursue.  If this resonates with you, here are some ways to develop the rewarding and life-affirming dynamic of a confidant relationship. It may be useful even to expand your “good friend” circle. 

  1. Take a Three-Column Inventory. On a sheet of paper, column 1 is a list of your closest relationships. This will probably be the shortest of the three lists and will likely include a spouse or partner if you have one, one or more close relatives, and your very closest friends. Column 2 will be your “good friends” column. This might include friends you have kept in contact with over years, friendships you have developed in the workplace and carried into your non-working life, etc. Column 3 will have non-close friends, new friendships and acquaintances you might like to get to know better.
  2. Proximity.  Of your lists, circle the people in your life that live within a short enough distance to enable you to get together with regular frequency.  While long -distance relationships can and often do work, there is a different level of closeness that comes with doing activities together, seeing each other face to face while having a heart-to-heart talk, and holding someone’s hand (or having them hold yours) when life’s challenges seem overwhelming.
  3. Maintain Regular Contact. Years ago, “Thinking of You” greeting cards were much more popular than they are today, yet we can’t deny that getting a reminder that someone cares enough to keep you in their thoughts gives life and energy to a reciprocal relationship.  While we typically don’t send paper cards anymore, we do have so many electronic tools at our disposal (text, email, phone apps, etc.) that communicating is easier than ever. The idea is to use these tools as a vehicle to make plans to get together in person.

References:

Statista (2023) Share of Italians having someone they can count on from 2018 to 2020 https://www.statista.com/statistics/1262695/share-of-italians-having-people-they-can-count-on/

Isaacs, J., Soglian, F., & Hoffman, E. (2015). Confidant Relations in Italy. Europe’s Journal of Psychology (1841-0413).

Kantor, Martin (2006). The Psychopathy of Everyday Life. Westport: Praeger.

2 thoughts on “Do You Have a Confidant?

  1. “A table and 2 chairs” might be the most important “place” for the human kind .
    This is were we trully connect and if this “set up” is in Italy, chances that this comes with some of the simplest and most genuine food are very high .
    And chances are also high that we, in Italy, have a special “treat”(food) for every confident.
    A lot of secrets are whispered around food and a glass of wine.

    Like

    1. Grazie del tuo commento–appunto! del buon cibo, un bel bicchiere di vino, e fare due chiacchiere con una persona speciale. Non vedo l’ora di tornarci! 🙂

      Like

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