It’s Friendship Month.  Friendships have been so important to me as a Mum, and in fact, it was becoming a Mum that helped me to make friends in my local community.  Having friends who share the ups and downs of parenting has sustained me for 25 years and I’m looking forward to a reunion of my oldest “Mum friends” next month.

Did you know that having friends will help to prolong your life?  Adults with strong support networks have a reduced risk of high blood pressure, unhealthy BMI and depression.  Friends also help the brain: older adults with friends had better cognitive abilities than those who were solitary.

However, when people suffer from low self-esteem, friendships can be challenging and anxiety inducing:

  • It can be difficult to form deep, sustaining relationships when we don’t like ourselves. We think that if other people really know us, they’re going to find us unlikable too.
  • We can sabotage our friendships because we find it hard to trust people.
  • It is hard to open up and allow others to see us, because we fear they will not like what they see.
  • When we don’t value ourselves, we don’t realise when other people are treating us badly.
  • We think we have to please people in order to make them like us and that makes us less able to say “no”.
  • If we have a background where we’ve been bullied or experienced abuse, it is difficult sometimes to identify relationships that are not good for us.

Sometimes in counselling I will speak to clients who realise in hindsight that there were alarm bells ringing about certain relationships.  The problem for them is trusting in their gut feeling enough to listen.

In this blog, I’m reviewing some of the signs of an unhealthy friendship:

  1. Put downs. Good natured teasing and banter can be part of a friendship.  However constant criticisms, especially in front of others and at your expense, are not.
  2. Unreliability. A friend who constantly lets you down is not respecting and valuing you.
  3. Untrustworthiness. Friends respect each other’s confidence.  They do not gossip or talk behind each other’s backs.
  4. Inequality. An example of this is one sided conversations.  If you are a good listener, you may be taken advantage of.  If you find that all the support goes in one direction, the relationship is unbalanced and it is not meeting your needs. There should be give and take in any relationship.
  5. Jealousy. Someone who is jealous of your other relationships is not interested in your welfare, but their own.  A true friend will be pleased that you have supportive friendships.
  6. Control. Someone who exerts control so that you do what they want is using you. If they really care about you they will want you to enjoy your life as much as possible.
  7. They are not good for you. It is possible to outgrow friends.  You may not want to engage in unhealthy behaviour – for example, binge drinking - and sometimes friends are not well enough in themselves to be able to respect that.  They need you to join them in order to condone their own unhealthy habits.
  8. Something just doesn’t feel right. If you experience negative feelings around a friend – if for example you feel drained, exhausted, guilty or depressed – this may be a sign there is something wrong.

Meaningful friendships bring joy, relief, satisfaction and mutual support.  If this is not your experience, it may be time to question the value of the friendship.  It is hard to accept that a friendship is not working but there is no need to apportion blame either to yourself or the other person.  Friendships end for all sorts of reasons and you can use this experience to help you make better friendships in future.

Next week I will identify the signs of a healthy, supportive friendship.  In the meantime, if you'd like to work on improving your self-esteem and your friendships, please get in touch.

Photo by Vince Fleming on Unsplash

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