Am I a Good Friend?
By Shasta Nelson
Apparently Everything Can Be Blamed on Your Friends
It’s all the rage right now to be asking whether your friends are good enough to be friends with you. Blogger after blogger seems obsessed with encouraging you to do a spring cleaning of your friends as if it’s their fault for why you can’t lose weight, earn more money, or become more enlightened. “You don’t have the right friends!” they cry out from their self-help havens.
This whole concept that we are the sum of who we hang out with has been dumbed-down and grossly abused so much that we’re starting to believe that all we need to do is hang out with beautiful, skinny, wealthy, and successful people and we, too, will start to look and act like them. And so it’s one more lie out there encouraging already-disconnected and far-too-lonely-of-women to end relationships with hopes that if they could just find Ms. Perfect to befriend us, then we, too, can become more like her.
My dear, dear friends– I know it’s tempting to have someone to blame for the parts of your life that you don’t like, but let me gently suggest that while we are certainly impacted by our friends, they are not the reason you are not as happy as you want to be. And there is a better question to ask than: “Are my friends bad for me?”
How Our Friendships Do Impact Us
Our friendships do certainly influence us, and we know that behaviors, mindsets, and outlooks are “contagious” in a sense. We are more likely to be similar to our friends (i.e. smoke if they do, be fashion-conscious if they are, wear plus-sizes if they do, talk about spirituality if they do, work long hours if they do) than vastly different, but that’s not the same as saying you will become like them, against your will.
I’m all for joining a weight-loss community when that’s your goal, attending church with other like-minded people when you want to grow more aware, or participating in a mastermind group when you want to increase your business-savvy-mindedness. I cheer for you as you add friends into your life who can help you think bigger thoughts, expose you to new resources, and who can empathize with your experience.
But to seek more Common Friends to inspire one part of your life is a far-different invitation than to “get rid” of friends you’ve loved simply because they aren’t everything you want to become.
This isn’t about not ending painful relationships or not seeking out support in areas of our lives that we feel called to pay attention to… I’m all for both of those. But to suggest to you that you need to end relationships with people you love because they aren’t perfect or because you might not succeed if they have bad habits is just plain ol’ fear-mongering. Who among us doesn’t have a bad habit? Who among us has all-desirable traits without any un-desirable traits? And who says that they will pull us down… why can’t we lift them up? And can we focus on our growth rather than keep pointing a finger at everyone else?
Instead Evaluate What Kind of Friend You Are
So pause for a moment from fretting over whether your friends are lifting you up, and instead ask, “Am I the best and healthiest friend I can be?”
How would you rate yourself 1-5 on the following statements? Look for evidence in your relationships to see how you show up. (You might want to take this quiz a few times– thinking of a different specific friend each time if you feel like you show up differently in different relationships.)
Are the following statements never true (score a 1) or always true (score 5), or somewhere in between?
- _____ My friends leave time with me feeling better about themselves and their lives.
- _____ I listen attentively to my friends, showing deep interest by asking follow-up questions to their sharing before sharing my own stories.
- _____I especially make sure to ask them questions and show interest about the parts of their lives that we don’t have in common (marriage, kids, jobs) to make sure that they never feel like I don’t care about those areas.
- _____ I affirm my friends, validating them on a wide variety of things such as the decisions they make, the roles they play (i.e. wife/mother/daughter), and how they go about doing things.
- _____ I want my friends to be as supported as possible, surrounded by a strong circle of love so I support them making other friends and I speak highly of the people they love.
- _____ I make it a point to reflect back to my friends their own truth rather than put my preferences on them; I do this by repeating back to them what I hear them saying, and making a point to tell them when I hear their voice sound more peaceful, and when I see their eyes light up when they’re talking about something.
- _____ I am truly a cheerleader for my friends– they would say that I believe in them, encourage them, and find joy in their success.
- _____ I initiate with my friends… showing them how much I value them by setting aside precious time for them, thinking up ways to be with them, and reaching out.
- _____ I follow-up with my friends when they tell me about upcoming dates such as their father’s surgery, their kids first day of school, or a big speaking appointment they have– I text, call, or email to let them know I’m thinking of them.
- _____ I stay in touch with my friends… they receive texts, comments on their Facebook posts, or phone calls from me in between our quality time spent together. They feel like I know what’s going on in their lives.
- _____ I practice vulnerabilitywith my close friends, choosing to let them see me when I don’t have it all figured out, sharing with them my fears when I’m processing, and am willing to let them see me as I am, without trying to impress them.
- _____ I let my friends shine. I don’t respond with insecurity when my friends succeed or get something I want. I want them happy and successful so I never try to one-up with my own story, devalue what she has, or begrudge her for her joy.
- _____ I try to serve my friends sometimes whether it’s offering to help pack boxes, baking something to drop off, or offering to help her with a big event.
Add up your score. Anything over 50 and I’d say you’re doing pretty awesome at loving your friends with kindness, generosity, and attention. Anything less than that and it might behoove you to pick one or two of the lowest scores and see what you can do to possibly become a better friend; which really means becoming a better person, overall!
And instead of focusing so much on whether everyone else is good enough for us, let’s focus on making sure we’re good enough for them!
Trusting all along the way, that as we become healthier and more loving, that we’ll be the contagious ones in this world bringing others up, rather than living with fear that they could bring us down.
Which one of the 13 are you going to work on?
Shasta Nelson, M.Div., is the Founder of GirlFriendCircles.com, a women’s friendship matching site in 35 cities across the U.S. and Canada. Her spirited and soulful voice for strong female relationships can be found in her book Friendships Don’t Just Happen! The Guide to Creating a Meaningful Circle of GirlFriends. She also writes at ShastasFriendshipBlog.com and in the Huffington Post, speaks across the country, and is a friendship expert in the media appearing on such shows as Katie Couric and the Today Show. Twitter: @girlfrndcircles