MAKING IT BETTER: Who Are Your Friends?
We may pride ourselves on our independence and on being self-sufficient, but we still depend on a network friends. The people we have around us if they are the right people, help us to grow and develop, and live life to the full. They may be challenging, supportive, even demanding, but they keep us engaged and on track.
Our friends play different roles in our lives – mentor, confidante, and partner in crime – but with the people we need around us, we can know ourselves better, and bring out the best in us. So how do you go about finding them or keeping the ones you already have, or determining if you have the right friends in your life?
It’s entirely possible to have a long list of friends and still feel we don’t have a strong support network. There may be essential roles missing from the cast of friends in our lives: a friend who can inspire and motivate us, someone who can deliver unvarnished truth with tact and kindness, the friend who can help us to laugh at ourselves. Even our best friends can’t be everything to us, and they shouldn’t have to be.
Most of us may have had times in our lives when we didn’t have friends who could really empathise, motivate or inspire us. The circle of friends who might have offered us a solid web of support in our younger years isn’t necessarily right for us as we grow older. As your needs change, you can fail to recognise that in some friendships these needs are not being met.
You could do a quick friendship audit to assess how supportive your network is. Draw a line down the middle of a piece of paper, for each of the major friends in your life, on the left hand side write down what you really value and appreciate about them. It’s important to reinforce all the positive things we tend to overlook first. Then on the right hand side of the sheet, list all the things that are not so great about the friendship.
Once you have finished hopefully you will have quite a detailed analysis of your friendships – of what you have and crucially, what’s missing. Then think through different situations in your life. You may have people there to listen to you when things are difficult, but you might not feel that you have people who can really celebrate your successes with you. Or you may be missing the spontaneous, social friend who can take a mundane day and inject it with novelty and a bit of fun. Now having completed your audit and spotted the gaps in your circle of friends that was the easy bit. Now take a good look at you own behaviour patterns. Are you the kind of person that you would choose to be friends with.
Mutuality is key in every friendship. It’s instinctive to us to reciprocate the nature of friendship that is offered to us. Having looked at your own patterns of behaviour with new and existing friends, review your list of things missing in your friendships, bearing in mind that many of the people already in your life may have some of the qualities you’re looking for. You may need to take a risk by adjusting your behaviour in order to shift the relationship onto a new footing. You need to be discerning about this and not force the issue. But with a little thought and planning, you can deepen some friendships to a new level. Carefully observing your existing friends can help you to bring new people into your life. This applies to both men and women at any age. You may not be able to manufacture friendships, but you can make a conscious effort to spend more time with people who could enrich your life.
As a therapist I have many clients both men and women who have brought the issue of difficult, ailing or absent friendships into therapy. This may sound silly or trivial to a lot of people but it can have profound effects on many people’s lives. Friendship can often be an action replay of sibling rivalry. In other words the way we interact with our friends often mirrors how we learned implicitly to get attention and approval as children.
It’s essential to allow your friends to change, which means having the willingness and generosity to adapt if they grow or evolve. The thing about dealing with change is first to decide if what’s going on is an event or a process. Most major life events are processes, which everyone gets used to over time. When a friend changes, it makes us confront our own choices. It can feel threatening and uncomfortable, and sometimes we may feel we are losing them.
Before raising the issue of a friend’s behaviour, be clear about what your motive is. The key is not to try to change someone else’s core personality. If you find yourself trying to fix someone so that they become more like you, this a recipe for disaster.
Acceptance is an important part of friendship. A good friend is always on your side. They overlook your quirks of character and you can do the same for them. Whatever you achieve, they’ll be proud. A true friend accepts your choices and lets go when its necessary.
Equally, being tough minded about letting go of a friendship that has reached its sell by date is vital for the sake of your own emotional health. In order to cultivate supportive, good friends, sometimes you have to recognise when its time to let go of those friendships that are longer good for you.
Think of the friends you have that no matter what the situation, when you are in contact with them you always come away feeling good about yourself or they make you think of your glass half full rather than half empty. It might only be that one or at most two people. Those are the ones you truly nurture and look after because they will be the last ones standing when others desert you!
Remember those expressions…’show me your friends and I will tell you who you are’. ‘Birds of a feather flock together’? Choose wisely!
Gloria Ogunbadejo writes a weekly column for Punch Newspaper. She is a Psychotherapist, a life coach, a holistic counsellor and an ordained Minister
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