Designing a Social Life Based on Growth: Part 2

In our previous post, we talked about the benefits of healthy friendships. 

But most of us understand that they’re beneficial already, even if only anecdotally. Venting to a good friend feels good. Spending an evening with people who know and love you, laughing and reminiscing, feels good. Puzzling out a tough problem with a pal feels good.

The other side of the coin that has taken on added weight in the last twenty years or so of psychological study is that of toxic friendships, friendships that take more energy than they provide.

We looked critically at the negative effect that an unhealthy friendship can have on us, body and soul.

But that leaves us with the curse of knowledge – how much good does it do to know you’re involved in a toxic friendship without knowing what to do about it?

In the new year, everyone has an opportunity to take inventory of their lives.

And because friendships have such a major impact on our ability to commune with humanity, to build up our self-esteem, to make better decisions, and to find fulfilling support when it’s needed…

It should be a very important area to analyze.

Let’s take a look at the first step in designing a mutually beneficial friendship…

Identify Problem Areas

If you suspect a friendship of yours may be toxic, (use the checklist in our first post as a guideline), you may not need to throw the whole thing away.

First, decide which part of the friendship isn’t satisfying. 

Do you find yourself lending an ear more often than you’re being asked about yourself? Do you dread social engagements with a friend because they may be overly critical, dishonest, inflammatory, or unsupportive? Do you feel pressure to behave in a way that’s incongruent with your growth or goals?

Start with the most prevalent issue.

And although it may seem like a fruitless endeavor, open up a dialogue.

Use “I” statements as much as possible to avoid blaming.

“I feel like my life isn’t very important to you when you don’t make the time to ask me about it.”

“I feel tolerated rather than celebrated when you react to these aspects of my personality.”

“I have a harder time sticking to my new goals around you when you express disdain or disinterest in them.”

Of course, you should modify those statements to fit your situation. But creating the space to have a healing conversation rather than an argument can repair a friendship rather than disposing of it.

What if that Doesn’t Work?

This is it – the worst case scenario that can often hold people back from difficult conversations. There are, generally, three possible responses:

  1. The conversation goes well, but the behavior doesn’t change?
  2. The conversation doesn’t go well, and results in an argument?
  3. The conversation has already happened more than once, and you’re not thrilled at the prospect of improvement.

In scenario 1, you have a few choices. Give them more time and then have the conversation again. Or…

Tell your friend that you don’t feel like your feelings have been respected, and you’d like to give the friendship some space. 

In scenario 2, you have a few choices. If you’re willing to continue the friendship despite the conversation’s negative direction, demote the importance of that friend and assign them less of your time and energy. Or…

Tell your friend that you don’t feel like your feelings have been respected, and you’d like to give the friendship some space.

In scenario 3, when you’ve tried already to confront a friend about an issue within your friendship, and you’d rather not expend more energy into it…

Tell your friend that you don’t feel like your feelings have been respected, and you’d like to give the friendship some space.

Are you noticing a pattern here?

It’s critical when designing a social life based on growth to intentionally delegate less energy to friendships that don’t help you.

This will leave you with more energy to juice the powerful and healthy friendships you already have, or to donate more of your time to building new friendships that serve the current you better than old friendships, which sometimes serve a past you.

Friends can be vital sources of strength, support, analysis, laughter, and joy. 

They can help you develop new hobbies, see the world from new perspectives, and encourage you to improve your own life with healthy habits. 

But ultimately, the company you keep, and what they mean to you, is up to you to decide.

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