Perhaps junk friends are as bad for your health as junk food.They can cause emotional distress and blockages, which are just as dangerous to your health as artery blocking cholesterol and fatty foods. Yet they carry no Government health warning.
There has been a lot written about emotional resilience, and its ability to help you recover from traumatic and difficult life events. It seems that the higher you score on a resilience measure the greater your ability to survive and recover from potentially shattering life-events. One of the key ways to promote emotional resilience is said to be having and using a good social network of friends.
What is not often talked about is the potentially destructive and hurtful effects of attempting to rely on friends, who subsequently let you down. I hear everyday about the hurt caused when friends who you thought would always be there for you, are unable to rise to the challenge when something very frightening happens to you. Most of the people I talk to have cancer, or have a close relative with cancer, and often it seems to bring out the worst in some of the friends who were expected to be diamonds. Their own fear gets in the way of them being able and willing to offer support at such times.
What often happens following this is a deep reevaluation of friends, and what those relationships were about. It maybe that the friendship was always lopsided, and that the roles of helper and supported have never been reciprocal. Or it may be the fear that if this can happen to you, there is no reason why it might not happen to them, and this overwhelms the friend with terror. Whatever the causes what I hear everyday is that there is a relief in the end when a friendship, which was rubbish at its core, ends.
However wouldn’t it be less traumatic and painful if these friends could have been weeded out at a less vulnerable time in your life. It seems an extra layer of pain and distress which might be avoided if we were all a bit more honest about the quality of our friendships. The number is not whats important, it’s the quality that counts. We can spend a lifetime gathering many friends whose touch is skin deep, or a select few who nourish us to our core.
Sure its frightening to think about letting go of friendships, loneliness and less friends seem like a bad choice. Yet how many of us hang onto friends who we don’t even really enjoy being around. If you find yourself saying ‘I really must call so and so’, then it sounds more like a duty than a pleasure looked forward to, and it may be a good sign that the friendship is less healthy than you might have thought.
We applaud people for making and keeping friends from back in our childhood, and that can be a beautiful thing, but only if the friendship has allowed for growth and change. There can be lots of pain held hidden in old friendships, where the roles of each friend are held rigid and unchanging. After all who among us is the same person we were 10 years ago, never mind 20 years ago? So why would our roles within a friendship remain unchanged? Old friendships are often the ones most heavily laced with expectations, and it is these very expectations which can lay us open to the toxic side of friendship. To the heart-crushing let down of an unmet expectation.
We all know people who leave us feeling flat and drained, or those who leave us feeling unhappy with ourselves or our lives after we have met. These feelings are clear warning signs about the potential toxicity of that relationship. If it doesn’t feel good to hang out with someone why do it? The effect it might have on your mental health is a clear sign that weeding out junk friends might leave you feeling happier and healthier. The weeding doesn’t have to be violent or cruel, it can be gentle and kind, where you gently let go and stop fighting to hold onto something which is passing anyway. Like breathing out, and letting go…..knowing that on the next in breath, fresh new friendships might have space to flourish. Friendship more in tune with where your present life is heading.
Endings are hard, but so is holding onto something which is changing and passing with time. Nothing stands still, so why should our friendships, and we may be doing ourselves more harm than good. Epictetus a Greek Gnostic Philosopher from the 1st Century AD tells us in a timeless manner,
‘The key is to keep company only with people who uplift you, whose presence calls forth your best.’
And it holds just as true today, 2000 years later. Fill your life with uplifting warm friends who leave you feeling good about yourself and about life. Breath out and let the rest go gently on their way.