My Circle of Support Workbook on a computer

Marble Jar Friends – How to Build a Circle of Supportive People

business self-help Jan 28, 2021

Who are your marble jar friends? I ask my coaching clients that question, for these “Trust Friends” are the ones in your life that move your forward – help to get you unstuck.

I am a huge Brené Brown fan. Her consistent honesty and compassion for others reaches deep into my soul and is so relatable to me. I first heard the term Marble Jar Friends from her book Daring Greatly (she also talks about it in her Netflix special), where she shares a story about her daughter Ellen and a relationship trust issue she had in school. Ellen shared a secret with a group of friends at recess whom she felt she had a trusting relationship with, only to have them pass that secret along to the rest of the class resulting in soul-crushing ridicule from her classmates. Ellen vowed to never trust anyone again.

Has this ever happened to you? Have you ever shared something with someone only to hear it brought up in conversation with someone else? I have. And I have to admit, when it happens, your first reaction is similar to Ellen’s. I will never trust anyone ever again, how could that person do that to me! It stings! But for some of us, we keep sharing and the cycle repeats creating a negative, toxic and often unproductive environment.

Every person in your life has a different role or impact on you. Earlier in 2020, I wrote a blog about toxic people and how to identify and remove them from your life. But what about the good ones? You want to identify those people as well and keep them in your life because those are the people that will support you and help you to grow.

Brené was able to connect for her daughter, a concept that was familiar to her, one that her teacher was already using in the classroom to highlight good and bad behavior. The system in the classroom was simple – marbles were put into a jar when students made great choices, and marbles were removed when they didn’t. Brené relates this concept to friendships: “Trust is like a marble jar. You share those hard stories and those hard things that are happening to you with friends, who over time you have filled up their marble jar.”

Trust is not something that is built overnight, or something that automatically happens with each close relationship (even one with a partner, a parent or a sibling). The marble jar metaphor explains that trust takes time to arrive (one marble at a time) and can be breached at any time (sometimes a nick or a handful) when betrayed. When you have arrived at an unconditional level of trust with another person however, the results are amazing!

You might have specific “work” marble jar friends and “personal”. But be careful, mixing the two might not always be the best choice, as someone who listens to your work-related stressors might not be the right person to share your personal life details with.

This happened to me years ago when I had a work marble jar client/friend that I was able to talk about work-related issues. She was extremely helpful in helping me to navigate personalities within her organization and was a trustworthy and insightful buffer. One day when we were out for lunch, feeling particularly vulnerable I shared that I was very overwhelmed in my personal life juggling owning a business and raising kids. She was a mother too so I thought I could tap into her knowledge and assumed that the trust we had built up in business overlapped into our personal relationship. Sadly however, she interpreted that due to my personal overwhelm, I was no longer capable to handle their account and she hired someone else when the account came up for renewal, citing that she was helping me out by easing my load. I was devastated, and felt that our relationship was forever changed, but was it? Upon reflection years later, I realized that I was the one who had misinterpreted our relationship. I thought that trust in one area meant equal trust in another, but that’s not always the case. She was a business marble jar friend, which I was blessed to have, but personally, we had not built up that same level of mutual trust where I was able to share unconditional personal information with.

How do you know someone is a marble jar friend? Here are just some characteristics these wonderful people all have in common: 

A Marble Jar friend;

  • Builds you up
  • Listens without judgement
  • Holds your vulnerability with care
  • Keeps your confidentiality
  • Takes time for you; shows up
  • Helps you grow as a person
  • Sees the best in you
  • Can be a long-time or a new friend - maybe it just took you a bit of time to cross paths
  • Supports your happiness (without the urge to ‘one up’ you)
  • Encourages you to be brave and supports you when you can’t
  • Enrich your life

Marble Jar friends aren’t;

  • Judgemental
  • Dictators – telling you what you should or shouldn’t do
  • Smothering
  • Demanding
  • Loose lipped
  • ‘One up’s your stories with ones of their own

Each of the people in your life have the ability to be a marble jar friend, but sadly not everyone has the capability to be. You can have both in your life, ones that are and ones that aren’t – they each serve a purpose. Maybe the friend that is your go-to person for a great night out, is also the one that tells everyone they know that you and your partner are having trouble – a “fun and kind” friend, but not a marble jar friend. Enjoy their company socially but leave it at that. Know that anything you say to that friend could be just as viral as an entertaining social media post.

Building a network of solid and supportive people is so important to self-discovery and growth. You are never too old to make a new friend. Today's the day to remove the toxic people from your life and put aside those that deserve those marble jars – maybe a new marble jar friend is out there for you, just waiting to support you unconditionally!

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