The people closest to our hearts have the most strategic position of hurting us and quite possibly destroying our lives.
It’s easy to keep our wits about our enemies – we know for a fact that they are out to get us. But with people close to us, any damage inflicted is most probably unintentional. That’s the worst thing because we don’t see it coming, making it difficult to guard against it. By the time they’re done, we are already emotionally wrecked.
Family can hurt us a lot and that is a topic to discuss on another day. Today, we will talk about the family we can choose – friends.
I believe friendship should be a mutually beneficial thing. Both parties must have something to give. If one party continuously takes while the other selflessly gives, I call it a parasitical relationship where one is evil and the other is stupid.
Between evil and stupid, I think stupid people are worse. Evil people inflict damage on people they hate. Stupid people inflict damage on everyone, even the ones they love.
In the interest of emotional health, here are seven thoughts I have about choosing the right friends, distancing yourself from problematic ones and cutting off the bad ones when necessary.
1. Friendships are meant to come and go and shift and change throughout your lives
People change all the time. Their priorities, beliefs and outlook in life will shift according to their personal experiences. Heck, we change all the time, and I’m grateful for that. If I were still the same person I was 15 years ago, I would lose all my friends now. Even I don’t want to be friends with myself.
Knowing this, we mustn’t grudge people for choosing to leave us because sometimes, it just means the friendship has run its course and matured. We have to be graceful enough to accept that like people, friendships can die.
Friendships don’t always die because one party is a backstabbing snake. Most of the time, friendships die because two people outgrew each other and they’re simply not heading the same way anymore. Why spend precious emotional energy and time hooking up a dying friendship to life support when you can let it go with grace and pursue more beneficial relationships?
That friend who outgrew you never stopped being a ‘true friend’. He or she was a wonderful friend while the friendship lasted and leaving does not negate that. Now let them go so they can be a true friend to someone else. You cannot force people to always belong to you. The beauty of friendship is mutual willingness.
2. When the time comes, even you must choose to end certain friendships
I am now 30 years old, and I notice that making new friends is no longer as easy as it used to be. The closest friends I have now were from school and university. I do have close friends from work, but the numbers are small compared to the ones I made as a student. These are the people I would happily spend the limited time I have to keep.
Despite this increasing difficulty to make friends, I have had to let go of several people I considered very close to me. Given the choice, I of course prefer to let mature friendships die off in that quiet, unassuming way they always do. By not taking it personally when communication becomes less frequent and accepting that right now, maybe someone else can serve a much better purpose for my old friend than I can.
Unfortunately there have been instances when I had to personally say to a friend, “We cannot be friends anymore.” It broke my heart, but when push comes to shove, we have to protect ourselves first.
These are the friends whose very presence can hurt you. They might have erratic temper and switch between loving you and hating you at the drop of a hat. They could be jealous of you. They could be malicious when angry. They could be people drowning in their own problems and in an attempt to keep afloat, they drag you down with them.
Whichever it is, there is a time to endure and there is a time to run for the hills. I understand it’s a thin line and everyone have different places where they draw the line.
3. Where to draw the line
Generally speaking, I value kindness and intelligence as the criteria for being my friends. If I perceive someone to have unsavoury thoughts and words about me and other people, that’s a red flag and I will quietly distance myself. For this reason, I never understood the concept of ‘frenemy’. If someone cannot be happy for the good things that happen in my life, that someone is not a friend, period. If you still stay friends with someone who has malicious intent towards you, then I don’t think you’re being very smart. This brings us to the second criterion.
If I perceive a person to act in a less than intelligent way, I will also distance myself to observe from afar.
There is a huge difference between someone who doesn’t know how to solve a problem and a person who does, but does not actually want to solve it. In the first case scenario, I don’t mind enduring because that is one of the things that friendships are for – to figure out a problem together and help each other rise above it. For instance, my friend was depressed for a while because he couldn’t find a job. There was this huge air of misery hanging over him every time I saw him. But it’s not like he wasn’t trying. We worked on his CV. He applied for jobs and went for interviews and got rejected. He tried some more even when he was alone and when no one was helping him. And eventually he lifted himself out joblessness.
In the second case, when someone is unwilling to take necessary steps to lift themselves out of a problem, there is nothing anyone in the world can do. If you’re friends with this kind of person, you will only succeed in trapping yourself in a limbo of listening to constant complaints with plenty of excuses on why solving the problem is not a possibility. The person feels miserable and sharing this misery with you will make them feel a little less lonely, at the expense of your time and emotions. This type will drain your energy like how an old, broken fridge drains electricity.
As a friend, I would step in and say to the person, “You are being stupid.” Obviously in a less crass way, but if they’re being obstinate and I love this person enough, I have no qualms telling someone ‘stupid’ to their faces. The reaction is almost always anger, but in true friendships, that is the sacrifice you have to make when you love someone. You have to be the bad person so they can see how they are hurting themselves. Imagine a friend who is in an abusive relationship or a friend who makes unwise financial decisions.
After I’ve said my piece, I will then give him space to cool off. After that, any of the following scenarios might take place.
- He is so pissed off with my intervention he decides to break it off with me. His loss, I say.
- He cools off and comes back to me and say, “You have a point.” This friendship, I will monitor and keep provided he cleans up his act for real.
- He cools off and comes back to me like nothing happened, and continues to complain about his problems. This friendship, I suspend in a ring of 10 red, blazing flags around it and I will distance myself until he comes to his senses.
I won’t immediately end it because sometimes, even intelligent people can behave stupidly, usually when emotions are involved. Sometimes, people who make the stupidest mistakes emerge smarter than anyone else because they’ve lived through their mistakes. They just needed the time and space to make their own mistakes. As a friend, I will afford him his right to this space and just wait it out. But as a friend, I also have the right to watch from a safe distance. If this person wants to reconcile eventually, I will accept with open arms.
If you have trouble defining the boundaries, consider the physical, emotional and financial state you need to be in to be a fully functional human being. If anyone jeopardises this equilibrium, you need to reconsider this friendship. Friends should strengthen your position in life, not weaken it. If a friend is in trouble, it is only worth expending your resources if you believe your involvement can make a difference. If the end of trouble is nowhere in sight, hold back. Do something properly or do nothing. There’s nothing worse than expending a considerable chunk of your efforts on a problem you have no control over.
If you see a black hole, you wouldn’t throw yourself into it (unless you have a death wish). If you see a friend drowning himself in a problem he refuses to solve, it does not make sense to throw yourself into this black hole. A black hole sucks everything in until there’s nothing left and at the end of it, it is still a black hole. You cannot cover up such an all-consuming need, no matter how big a heart you have or how rich in money and emotional energy you think you are.
Friends can make or break you. Just because you have been friends with someone since childhood doesn’t automatically give that person a ‘friends forever badge’. People should only stay friends for as long as the relationship is mutually beneficial. Once the relationship becomes detrimental with no solution in sight, leave. Draw your boundaries and stick to it.
4. You absorb the qualities of and become the people you surround yourself with
It’s a chicken and egg question. Do we absorb the qualities of our friends and become like them? Or are we already a certain way and therefore we attract the people most like us?
Whichever comes first doesn’t matter as much as the path you choose to set yourself on. If you befriend good people, their goodness will rub off on you, making you a better person. When you are a better person, you keep attracting better friends who will in turn influence you with more good qualities. The effect works in an endless spiral.
The same thing happens when associating with bad people. You will find yourself in an endless spiral of getting worse every day.
When we choose to admit friends into our inner social circle, we are actually choosing to shape our personality and attitude to life and eventually our future. Sounds serious right? That’s because it is.
Each person have a good side and bad side. Unfortunately this also means that friends cannot be clearly segregated between good and bad. What we can do however is determine how susceptible we are to the bad side of our friends and if we ourselves possess this quality we dislike.
Take a moment to think of the people you allow into your inner social circle. The people you spend time with frequently. Do you like all of them? Do you feel lucky to have them as close friends? Or is there someone causing you a lot of grief as you read this?
If you think you have horrible close friends, you need to ask yourself two questions.
The first question is: Do you have terrible judgment when it comes to making friends? You let people step all over you, take up your time without reciprocation, bully you into saying yes and talk down to you. If so, then you have no one to blame but yourself. People will treat you the way you let people treat you. They are not evil per se, it’s just that humans have strong self-interest. If you take no bullshit, you will eventually find people who will not give you bullshit.
The second question is: Are you a terrible person yourself? Birds of a feather flock together. If your daily bitching routine consists of how backstabbey your friends are, perhaps you do a lot of backstabbing yourself. If you think your friends like to blow things out of proportion, you have to consider the possibility that you like a bit of drama yourself, and sometimes even go looking for it. If you don’t like these things, how could you have tolerated all these things all this while?
For instance, I absolutely hate cigarette smoke. If someone smokes in front of me, I will get up and leave. It is not possible for a friendship to spring between us when I am physically and mentally unable to accept cigarettes. Similarly, I dislike pussyfooting. If a friend complains about a cheating boyfriend but refuses to leave, I won’t even bother trying to comprehend the situation, let alone be the third party to mediate their arguments. I would just stop befriending her because her logic does not make sense to me. Therefore, no friendship, no headache.
No one likes to admit their shortcomings. But if you want to end bad friendships and get better ones, you need to start by questioning yourself. The clearest indication that you’re a horrible person is when you see someone you would like to be friends with because this person is kind, generous, intelligent, doesn’t play games and loyal, but this person does not want to be friends with you. These beings of higher order could probably smell your horribleness a mile away.
I’ll tell you of my own experience. When I was younger, I kept making friends with people who loved to complain. I never looked for them, but they seemed to be able to sniff me out. One particular example that stuck in my head was this girl who suffered from unrequited love. She would drag her chair to sit next to me in class and blab on and on and on about how this guy barely even knew she existed. And then when I got home, she would call my house phone and continue whining until evening, so much so that I couldn’t get any homework done and my grades suffered.
It took me a while to realise that I was letting myself be treated like a doormat. I didn’t know how to stand up for myself and I didn’t know how to say no. Once I realised this, I chose to cut off our friendship and simply stopped befriending people who loved to complain.
When I stopped wasting time on complainers and whiners, a whole new world opened up to me. I saw people who spent most of their time reading books and writing, people who spent all day drawing and talking about how to improve their craft, people who loved playing sports and people who loved saying nice things about other people among others. In fact, only after leaving my whiny friend did I manage to make friends with these wonderful people who later on led me to start writing. All of them had their own blogs and I started one because I wanted to feel like a part of the group. Because of them, my writing improved since I was writing every single day.
The best thing about both questions is the fact that the flaw lies within you. Anything you possess, you have power over it. Acknowledge your flaws, then fix it.
5. Choose friends who hurt you for the right reasons
Everyone’s been hurt before. And in life, we will get hurt again and again and again. If we play our cards right, we can choose to be hurt for the right reasons.
If you surround yourself with kind, sensible, loyal people, they are more likely to see it if you are doing something that might get you into trouble.
You don’t expect a smoker to tell his friend to stop smoking. But it is much easier to imagine a healthy person asking his friend to stop smoking. And while he’s at it, why not go for a morning walk together tomorrow, followed with some healthy fruit smoothie breakfast?
The point I’m trying to make is, as humans, we say and do stupid things all the time. If you surround yourself with the right people who love you enough, they will be the ones standing up to you to tell you you’re being stupid.
There was this one time in college when my friends and I were sitting in a group talking about something I can’t even remember anymore. At the end of the discussion, after everyone had left, this girl stayed back and quietly said to me, “Lisa, when you make your point, you always force it on other people. Maybe you don’t mean to, but it sounds like you think you’re always right and everyone is wrong.”
I was taken aback. Never in my life of 18 years had I ever considered that I was a forceful person until she brought it up. It was one of my biggest blind spots. I can’t remember what I said to her. Maybe I thanked her, but inside I was deeply hurt. That night, I went home and told my father all about it.
He said to me, “You have a very good friend. Keep her. Not everyone loves you enough to tell you your flaws.”
The best kind of friends you can ever ask for are those who stand up to you when it has to be done, even though it breaks their hearts to be against you. It’s understandable to be angry and hurt in the moment, but once you come to your senses, you need to understand that these people are rare and need to be cherished.
Until today, I am still trying to improve the way I speak to people. I am not perfect, but thanks to my friend, I am aware of it. Had it not been for her, I would have continued being an obnoxious, forceful person and I would have lost the opportunity to make so many good friends.
6. You don’t have to befriend everyone
Sometimes, people just dislike someone for no apparent reason. I’m sure most people know I’m talking about. You cannot explain it but you just can’t seem to get along. No matter how kind, funny or generous this person is, I don’t feel like being close to him or her.
The same goes the other way. I’ve met people I would love to be friends with, but it never really worked out. It’s possible that the person found something repulsive about me. Or it could be that she couldn’t explain it herself.
Whatever it is, if you find yourself in this situation, do not take it personally. Not everyone is made to be friends. Sometimes it’s just nothing. Let it be and don’t force it. There are so many other people out there waiting to be great friends with you. All you have to do is keep working on yourself to be a better person every day. It’s difficult to go wrong when you think this way.
7. You must bring something to be table
In order to have good friends, you must have something to give. Do not look at friends as people who can solve your problems. You should view friends as a multi-faceted mirror of yourself. Every single thing you value or tolerate in your friendships reflects something within yourself.
If you dislike your friends, it’s not as easy as getting rid of them and getting better ones. You need to put in the work to find out how you managed to be stuck with this lot in the first place. Remember, everything starts with you. If you got yourself into a situation you dislike, you also have the ability to pull yourself out of it.
Once you’re free of the clutches of bad friendships, look at people you want to be friends with and try to cultivate the qualities that they have. The thing is, you don’t have to be perfect at it. You just need to exhibit a genuine need for self-betterment.
I believe that people are generally quite generous and obliging to requests for help, provided they believe you really want to help yourself.
I remember being approached by an old friend who asked for some advice on how to manage his money. I spoke to him for close to an hour, discussing the pros and cons of one strategy over the other, talking about will power and goals and delayed gratification. He sounded pretty serious about it all, but at the end of it, he said, “Sounds nice, but I’m thinking of buying this new iPhone.”
I ended the conversation with, “Do whatever you want.”
For him to say that meant that he wasn’t listening to a word I said. He was probably looking for an easy way to shift some money here and there and get a loan to buy whatever the hell he wanted. I was angry with him, then I was angry with myself for wasting one hour on an idiot.
The next time someone asks for my help in any area, I will wait for them to display a certain level of earnestness before I even lift a finger. I have my ‘friend’ to thank for that.
Friendships are like mirrors to your personality and what you value in life. Your interaction with them tells you more about yourself than about them. When I look at one group of my friends, I see people who are kind, sensible, loyal, intelligent , trustworthy with close to zero propensity for drama. I like to think that their friendships with me suggest that I am that kind of person too.
When we spend time together, we are not concerned with impressing one another. We don’t always talk about intelligent things but in their presence, I feel safe and happy and most of all, grateful to have them as friends.
Nothing can knock the wind out of you quite like an emotional blow. Physical injuries will heal with time, but when it comes to matters of the heart, some people never manage to crawl out of it.
Some people think it’s wrong to be choosy about friends.
I think it is a matter of absolute necessity. Friends who enter your inner circle have access to your heart. And contrary to popular belief, the heart is not a spacious place. Only let the most sensible friends the privilege of gaining access into your heart.
They will be the ones who run to you when you need help and vice versa. They are the ones who grow better with you and they are the ones you can afford to listen to seriously and expend emotional energy on.
The rest can stay outside and be normal friends.