Friends are a special gift and a very essential part of life. Friends have the potential to become the family we choose. They can be the people who are with us through thick and thin. They help us create some of our fondest memories and play different roles at different times in our lives.
It can be easy to fall into a friend rut, yet sometimes it’s hard to recognize it. All too often, we continue to hang out with the same people, in the same situations and at the same places. People change. So do friendships. As you work toward your most authentic self and focus on your own confidence and well-being, it’s important to recognize that you are who you’re with. Just like when you start to feel in your gut and in your heart that a romantic relationship you’re in may no longer be working, it’s important to listen when your gut tells you the same about your friendships.
Some friends will hurt us or hold us back from being the best people we could be. While it’s difficult to realize, you are the only one who has control over you. How healthy are your friendships at this time in your life? Are there friends with whom you dread spending time, friends who always seem to be in the middle of a crisis, friends who take more than they give? Are there friends who make you guilty by association, friends who are always on the defensive, friends surrounded in negativity?
Certainly, all of us have very different friends in our lives for very different reasons, and we hope that the friendships you keep are supportive, mutual, fun and based in respect. However, when a friendship turns toxic, it can drag you down, impact your self-esteem and even become detrimental to your health and well-being.
You are the company you keep. So, maybe it’s time to evaluate the friendships that are present in your life currently and ensure that they are healthy and positive. Consider asking yourself some of the following questions when thinking about how a friendship may be impacting your overall well-being:
- When spending time with this friend, how do they make you feel?
- Does this friend make comments about how you look, other friends you have or simply anything that feels like a “dig” about you?
- Do you have thoughts about yourself or others because this friend has them?
- Do you spend most of your time gossiping about others with your friend?
- Do you have shared activities?
- Have other relationships changed as a result of your friendship?
- As a result of spending time with this friend, are you more negative or stressed?
- Is the friendship based on mutual support and care?
- Do you give more of yourself than the friend?
- Do you feel like spending time with the friend is a burden or more of an obligation?
- What do you get out of the friendship? Are there more benefits than there are cons?
- Do you feel that you can be yourself around the friend?
- What costs are associated with the friend?
- Have you picked up any habits that are out of character for you as a result of the friendship?
- Do your values align or does the friendship encourage you to sacrifice certain aspects of yourself that are important to you?
- Do you ever feel guilty by association?
- Does this friend hold you responsible for giving her attention or validation and make you feel guilty if you don’t?
After considering some of your answers to these questions, here are some tips on actively paying attention to how you’re feeling when you’re with your friends:
- Be present in the moment. When you are spending time with friends, pay attention to how they make you feel. Pay attention to your attitude and mood while around them. Are you happy and relaxed or negative and stressed? Are your conversations rooted in positivity or gossip?
- Weigh the benefits. When you are questioning a friend or friendship, ask yourself what you get from the relationship? Make a list of how your life is benefited from the friend. Note any costs associated with the friendship. For example, are there other people you no longer spend time with as a result of this friendship? Ensure that you are getting what you need and want from the relationship.
- Determine the value. We will all have friends and relationships in our lives where we don’t agree with every decision those around us make. That’s ok. However, it is important to make sure our values align with those we choose to have deep connections with. Do your friends act differently on the weekend than you do? Do you feel pressure to act that way since you are around them so much? Do your values align with your romantic partner? It’s time to evaluate these things and create the deep connections with those that live the values you do.
- Look for meaning. Take your friends’ actions and behavior into deeper consideration. Ask yourself why they act the way they do, or why they treat you in this certain way. You may think you’re being a better friend to them by dismissing their negative behavior and justifying that “it’s just the way they are,” but you may be excusing them for being destructive to your well-being. They may not give you solid evidence that they mean you harm, but do your best to guard yourself against manipulation.
- Be selfish. This one may be the hardest. It’s difficult to make decisions for yourself and not feel guilty that you are letting someone down or hurting someone’s feelings. Here it is: true friends will understand when you need time to yourself, can’t make an event or have to cancel plans last minute to cram for a midterm. Don’t feel guilty when you have to say “no” once in a while.
- Trust yourself. It’s the cardinal rule. Listen to your gut and make sure to listen close. Your compass will guide you and warn you when something is wrong or off. Take action and keep relationships accordingly!
- Recognize contagious habits. As humans, we seek validation from others. However, some group dynamics you may naturally mesh with, while others may have you changing who you are to fit in. Don’t settle for a friend that has you jeopardizing who you are or what you believe in. Notice what habits you are picking up as a result of your association with others. Make sure they are habits that you can be proud of.
If you have identified a friendship that is no longer serving your life in a positive way it might be necessary to eliminate this relationship or to set boundaries with this person to limit their presence or impact on your like. Confronting these toxic relationships and “breaking up” with a friend is difficult, but possible. You have the right to do what is best for you, and you have the right to control how someone can make you feel when making such a decision. Consider some of the following when confronting a friend about a needed change in your current relationship.
- Stay calm, collected and avoid allowing hostility or anger to resurface.
- Be diplomatic and stand firm. Do not allow this person to manipulate your feelings or make you feel as though you have to justify your needs.
- Own your feelings with “I” statements and avoid deflecting responsibility for your feeling onto the other person.
- Listen to their viewpoint without becoming defensive. Remember that they are entitled to their own opinion too. Do not feel you need to either confirm or negate their opinion.
- Agree on a resolve, even if that means not speaking or spending as much time together until you have had more time to think.
- Respect the personal nature of the situation and leave other friends out of it. Do not put others in a position to choose sides and respect that mutual friends may not share your same feelings.
Overall, it’s important to remember that you are in control of yourself and your relationships. Make sure to continue to re-evaluate those relationships, ensuring that you surround yourself with the best people you can. You will be a better person because of it.