6 Lessons Of Friendship & Loneliness From The Classic Film ‘Stand By Me’

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lessons of friendship and loneliness from stand by me
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We all need friends like Gordie and Chris in Rob Reiner's 1986 classic film Stand By Me, especially in recent times when loneliness seems to prevail.

When fears of COVID-19 layer on top of old traumas, worries, and sadness, they can prey upon you like the gang of teenage bullies in the film. They won’t leave you alone until you find a way to safely feel and face them.

In a world that seems like an unending place of sorrow where it’s hard to see a way out, having a strong friendship helps.

RELATED: 10 Signs You Have A Truly Genuine Friendship

A good friend reminds you that there's someone who stands by you, emotionally, because at this time, most of us have to say, "Don't stand by me! At least, not closer than six feet."

And that's lonely.

The Stand By Me movie opens in Castle Rock, Oregon in the summer of 1959. Four middle school-aged friends budding into adolescence are on a mission — they are searching for a body of dead boy their age that's missing somewhere in the woods.

Each boy — Gordie Lachance (Wil Wheaton), Chris Chambers (River Phoenix), Teddy Duchamp (Corey Feldman), and Vern Tessio (Jerry O’Connell) — has their own reason for going on this search — complicated reasons, which unfold on their two-day journey.

Among them, it's Gordie and Chris’s friendship — with raw homelife traumas and their rare love and compassion for each other — that partly heals them.

Both boys live with different forms of childhood grief, pain, and scars that make it hard to get free.

Here are 6 lessons on friendship and loneliness you can learn from Stand By Me.

1. Friends share in your loneliness.

Four months earlier, Gordie's brother Denny was killed in a Jeep accident. His mother, numbed and staring into the space that Denny left, doesn't hear him. His dad, who never appreciated him, is angry all the time.

And, Gordie hasn’t cried yet. He can’t. He loved Denny, who was the only one who saw and cared about him. He just can’t let himself feel how lonely it is without him. He’s got his friends, but it’s not the same.

Meanwhile, Chris hides his sensitivity just like Gordie hides his grief. He doesn't think anyone would get it, and the bullies call him weak for it.

This is where friendship with someone who truly understands is a welcome respite.

Even though they’re different boys from different backgrounds, neither Gordie nor Chris have parents that care. Chris’s older brother is his arch-enemy and bully. Gordie’s brother is gone.

Neither boy believes he’s any good at all, which is not a good place to live. Those kinds of feelings can take you down.

Gordie and Chris need to see a dead body to awaken feelings they try to keep dead. They know it, in some ways. And if they don’t face their grief, they’ll continue to suffer its effects.

2. Friends can stand up to the bullies everywhere and in your head.

Bullies are real. They exist in your family, your neighborhood, and in your own head.

We see it in both Gordie and Chris. Gordie is a kid whose dad and mom doted on Denny and his football. They didn’t care about Gordie’s stories and writing talent.

Denny did, but he's gone. Chris takes Denny’s place and encourages Gordie’s storytelling at the campfire.

But, when you think you don’t deserve to live, it’s hard to take it in. That’s Gordie’s nightmare: That he should’ve been the one to die. In his dream, that’s what his dad yells.

How do you live with that? It turns into a voice in your head that won’t leave you alone.

Yes, there are bullies everywhere — bullies to be conquered.

You can take a gun along that helps when there’s a knife pointed at you. A gun gives you power when you’re not supposed to be scared, so you can fight against the feeling that there’s no way of getting out.

But the truth is that there’s more power in a friend, someone who will stand by you, be there for all your feelings, and share your grief. They will help you stand up to that bully in your head.

Yes, Gordie and Chris do that for each other. They see what others can’t see.

Chris sees the bully in Gordie’s head, but not so much the one on his own. The problem is that Chris believes it and is quite sure his bullies are right. Those voices say that he’s not smart enough to find a way out.

Gordie doesn’t think so at all. He’s the kind of friend to Chris that Chris is to him. And, later, Gordie helps save Chris from Ace’s knife, backing him up with a .45.

Both Chris and Gordie need each other’s help more than anything. Otherwise, life would be so much harder and so much sadder.

3. Friends' love helps.

Being alone is the worst. It feels like a prison cell of isolation. Sadness closes in like an oncoming train. You can try to run from it, but you can’t get off its track.

Not easily, that is. There’s always something to remind you.

That’s what happens to Gordie. He keeps flashing back to memories of life with Denny before Denny was suddenly gone.

The journey to find the dead body is the journey to waking up from his numbness. But first, he trudges along, with his head hung down as dead as that dead kid, heavy with shame he can’t easily shrug off.

Those bullies who stole his brother’s hat? They’re inside his mind, making him feel as small as his dad does.

This journey is to give him the courage to stand up to them, to know that he has a friend to back him up, and that’s it’s really OK to cry.

And that night out in the woods, while they try to find the dead body before anyone else does, they hear howling. They take turns standing watch with the gun, thinking that the howling is a ghost.

But is it, really?

No. What’s out there, howling, are the ghosts of grief — old grief (having no dad), new grief (the loss of a brother), and those voices in your head that you have to live with every day.

What do you do with all that grief? You can’t fight it off with a gun.

RELATED: The 10 Types Of Friends You Need In Your Life

4. Friends grieve with you.

A friend is better than a gun, because we all need someone to know what we feel. Grief eats away at you if you hold it inside, with no one to hear and no one asking how you are.

So, you bury it, as Gordie does. You have to go numb because the feelings are too much when you don’t have a mom or a dad to help.

Sometimes, it’s hard even to know what you feel. But, just maybe, there’s someone who sees and knows before you do and offers you a hand.

That’s the way it is with Gordie and Chris. That’s what a friend is for. Friendship matters. Otherwise, you’re lost. And, your feelings stay shut down.

Gordie and Chris feel, on that night of the ghosts, howling. Gordie has the nightmare of his brother’s funeral, his dad putting a hand on his shoulder, saying, "It should’ve been you, Gordon."

While he's moaning and thrashing in his sleep, Chris sits beside him and wakes him.

5. Friends cry with you.

No one sees Chris. He has to be tough and cover up the sensitive boy he’s afraid to be. Gordie sees what his friend is capable of when no one else does, not even Chris himself.

But, right there beside him, while Chris sobs, is Gordie. It’s not weak to cry.

When Gordie finally sees the dead body, it’s a shock, as he's reminded of Denny's death. He sobs, just like Chris sobbed.

And, now, Chris is there, holding him — a rare friend who gets it. He knows Gordie’s sad loneliness as his own. They both reach out and reach in — listening, caring, and seeing the truth.

They know each other well.

A friend that really sees you matters, and there’s nothing better. A friend is what you need to stand up to the bullies who tell you that you can't do anything. But, you can.

6. Friends reach out.

Chris was Chris. He cared and stood up for people, even strangers. Stand By Me is Chris’s story and Gordie writes it, remembering Chris.

Gordie became the writer that Chris told him he would be. They both got away — from those bullies in their heads and not being good enough.

And, even though they hadn’t seen each other in 10 years, Gordie ends the film by saying, "I know I’ll miss him forever. I never had any friends later like I had when I was 12. Jesus, does anyone?"

Chris and Gordie were special friends. They were unusual kids because they had empathy.

They didn’t let each other go numb. They knew loneliness. And, because they cared, they were able to reach each other’s tears and make them OK.

Crying helps, as much as a friend could, especially if that friend has his arm around you.

Social distancing due to COVID-19 may mean no hugging for a while. But, virtual hugs and a voice on the phone are really good, too. In fact, they make all the difference.

They say, "I hear your loneliness. How are you? Let’s talk. Cry if you need to, I’m here."

It’s a reminder that someone is there to stand by you, that loneliness and fear will end.

RELATED: How To Be A Good Friend & Create Friendships With An Unbreakable Bond

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Dr. Sandra Cohen is a Los Angeles-based psychologist and psychoanalyst, who specializes in treating persistent depressive states and childhood trauma. Contact her if you have any questions about finding the right therapist for you.

This article was originally published at Sandra E. Cohen, Ph.D.'s blog, Characters On The Couch. Reprinted with permission from the author.