When I was in high school, my best friend’s mom made no secret of her worries about us driving, going to parties, meeting new teens she didn’t know, and staying out late. But she felt confident in our ability to navigate the temptations of risky teenage behavior because, in her words, “You have good friends.”
She was right to assert that our solid, trusting relationships with each other were protective, certainly for our physical safety. But as a therapist, I can see now that another aspect of our bonds played a significant and lifelong role in our emotional safety as well. We encouraged one another to take some risks and scale our actions back when necessary; we showed up for one another when we were needed and supported each other when we were down.
The life lessons of those years, and in many cases the friendships, have withstood the trials of distance, careers, children, marriages, and, yes, other friendships. Whether you have enjoyed positive friendships in your life or not, it is never too late to examine if and in what way your friendships, or your friendship, are lacking and could use attention. While it may seem glaringly obvious that we need trustworthy and reliable friends in order to thrive, here are six common types of friendships that can undermine your efforts to enjoy those friendly bonds and negatively impact your emotional well-being:
1. The Toxic Friendship
Friendships go through ups and downs, as any relationship does in life. Sometimes we find ourselves in situations where we feel a certain tension or friction in a friendship. That is normal, and through time and solid communication you can often work through those uncomfortable periods.
But that’s different from a friendship that consistently leaves you in a negative state. If you regularly hang out with a friend or group of friends and notice you do not feel energized either in their presence or once you leave them, that is a sign you may need to examine the friendship and your role in the dynamic.
2. The Slippery Friendship
We have all had these friends, and maybe you have even been that person sometimes. It’s natural to suggest to someone you like, “Hey, let’s get together sometime!” But the slippery friend is tough to pin down for an actual date. You may have a plan for Friday night, but on Friday afternoon they bail on you because something more interesting came up.
If you make a plan with someone and they repeatedly cancel at the last minute or make no effort to reschedule, that may be revealing about the nature and quality of the friendship.
3. The Ghost Friendship
Some friends may be good day-to-day buddies, some are terrific in a crisis, and some you don’t see often because of time or distance but know you can count on them to show up for you if and when you need them. Unfortunately, we don’t often know in which camp our friends belong until that moment arises.
It can be hurtful when you reach out to someone expecting them to respond and they are silent. It doesn’t necessarily mean they can’t be a good friend, but it may mean you need to either have a talk with them or consider reevaluating to what extent you can rely on them.
4. The Self-Loathing Friendship
As inherently social beings, we can’t help but be influenced by those around us. So if you surround yourself with the company of people with positive outlooks, you may be more likely to regard yourself positively.
The same holds true of the opposite. If you are spending your time and energy with people who don’t like themselves—or, just as bad, who don’t like other people—you may tend to like yourself less. If you are frequently around someone who talks negatively about others, leaving you feeling less happy with yourself, you may be caught up in a self-loathing friendship loop.
5. The Wet-Blanket Friendship
When you are hedging on a risky move in life that could pay off but also may have a disappointing result, such as considering a career change or taking a big step for your health or finances that feels scary but exciting, sometimes our unconscious defense to protect ourselves from that risk is to reach for our nearest wet-blanket friend.
This is the person who will tell you all the things that could go wrong and why you shouldn’t bother, leaving you feeling deflated and your parade drenched in rain. You don’t need to shun your wet-blanket friend, but you should be aware that your friend is stuck, and would rather have your company in Stuckville than see you move forward without them.
6. The Placating Friendship
On the flip side of the wet-blanket friendship is the placating one. While you don’t want your friendships to constantly kill your life buzz and shoot down your ideas, you also need people in your life who are going to tell you the truth as they see it.
While you don’t want your friendships to constantly kill your life buzz and shoot down your ideas, you also need people in your life who are going to tell you the truth as they see it.
As long as the feedback is kind, sensitive, and truly in your best interest, you can still come away feeling good about your decisions or the options ahead of you. If you sense that your friend would not meet you with nothing-but-the-truth sincerity, it’s good to ask yourself what role that friendship is playing in your life, and adjust how much sway that person’s feedback has on you accordingly.
Healthy friendship seems like a simple transaction, but the reality can be complicated, especially as we grow and our emotional needs change over the course of our lives. There will be times when we cannot be the best friends we could or should have been to those we care about. But it is important to keep in mind what is most important about friendships, especially if you are feeling like the “friend” area of your life is lacking. Friends should be reliable, trusting, caring, and honest.
And when you do click with a good friend, remember the wise words of William Shakespeare: “Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried, Grapple them unto thy soul with hoops of steel.”
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