Friendship is Magic - Signs of a Healthy & Unhealthy Relationship

February 02, 2013

What does it mean to be someone's friend? What does it mean to be their best friend? I adore my friends; they are some of the most important people to me. Then I started to really think about why I am friends with them; I lived on the same dorm floor as some of them... but I also lived with lots of other people and I did not befriend all of them. I did a little research and found a few explanations for why we are friends with certain people:

  1. Regularity: Crossing paths with someone increases your chances of friendship. For me there's always a point where it is too awkward not to be friends any longer.
  2. Self-disclosure: This is a pretty big one. I trust my friends with a lot of my more personal feelings and thoughts, and I hope that they trust me as well. In fact it is more than hoping; I expect it. It is hard to feel close to someone if you share a lot of your life and they do not reciprocate.
  3. Identity Affirmation: Karbo pointed out that we become best friends with people who boost our self-esteem by affirming our identities as members of certain groups, and it's the same for both genders" (Karbo). This was a little disturbing at first; my friends are part of my identity so it is difficult to think of them as an affirmation of some kind of social status. But then I thought about it more, and "groups" are actually pretty roughly defined. I have several friends who I like because we bond over very particular things: graphic novels, obscure English television shows, even certain books. As Karbo pointed out, my discomfort is common: "most of us would prefer to think that we love our friends because of who they are, not because of the ways in which they support who we are. It sounds vaguely narcissistic, and yet the studies bear it out."
  4. Positiveness: This is a big one. Friends are there to support you, of course. But that "doesn't mean an unrestricted license to vent" (Karbo). No one likes a whiner, and it is definitely something I try to keep in check when I am with my friends. At the end of the day, support is crucial but fun is not negotiable in a friendship.

So when is a friendship no longer helpful? Obviously these requirements are not quite a neat checklist to tick off when you first become friends with someone; but how do we know when to cut ties with someone we are close to? As ever, I asked Charlotte Chapman for her thoughts: SIGNS OF AN UNHEALTHY FRIENDSHIP: Friendships are relationships of choice which should feel mutual - in other words, we both get our needs met throughout the life of the friendship.Friendships also change over time and should grow, just as we grow as individuals. So given this, here are some red flags that a friendship may not be healthy:

  1. You feel obligated to do things with your friend.  "I have to invite Laura to dinner" This is not the same feeling as loyalty. This means you no longer feel that being with this friend is a choice.
  2. You feel emotionally drained whenever you have been with your friend. This means her needs are getting met to the exclusion of yours. Of course, this happens on occasion in relationships when one person has had something upsetting happen, but it should not happen consistently.
  3. You feel worse about yourself whenever you have been with your friend. Never a good sign in any relationship!
  4. Other friends are questioning why you are in this friendship and expressing concerns. Feedback from other people can be helpful especially when you have been friends for a long time. If the two of you met in high school and your friend still acts the way she did then, this could be a problem.
  5. You find out the friend has betrayed your trust. Then the question is can you forgive her and repair the friendship.

Sometimes you do not need to cut ties but you do need to communicate if any of these red flags appear. If the friend is not willing to talk about it or make changes, then that would be the reason to consider cutting ties.

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