Having a strong support network is crucial for our mental health.
As humans we are social creatures and it can be difficult, if not impossible, to get through life without some other humans by our side cheering us on. But what happens when the humans that are supposed be by our side aren’t?
We can sometimes feel like our friends aren’t being supportive, and if we’ve been friends with them for a long time, recognizing this can be even more difficult.
‘Toxic’ relationships are named as such because they are negative and can permeate every part of our lives. When we have someone who is constantly negative or putting us down, those negative feelings don’t stop once the person is no longer in our presence; we take those thoughts and feelings with us, and sometimes we start to feel like they’re true.
Don’t get me wrong; friends shouldn’t just constantly be praising you either (that would be sort of weird); we also need an element of honesty and, frankly, someone to call us out on our BS sometimes. These close friendships, which we will likely have only a few of, consist of a level of respect that allows you to have a conversation about something you’re doing wrong, while also lifting you up and supporting you.
So how can you make sure you have a great support network, and that you can be a great support for others? Here are some true signs of a great friendship:
1.You feel good about yourself when you’re around them
We often meet our first friends in school, and a lot of time spent with them is engaging in leisure activities, so it makes sense that you’d feel good when you’re with your friends. But even more than that, your friends should make you feel good about yourself as a person. If you have a friend who is constantly putting you down, pointing out your faults, or telling you that you’re not good enough, they may not be acting as supportive as they could be. No one is perfect, but if you have someone around you who constantly talks about your downfalls and never praises you or brings up how great you are, they may need to go. Another red flag here is when someone is constantly gossiping about others and seems to have nothing positive to say about anyone else.
2. They support you in your goals and aspirations
Picture this: you’ve never been athletic in your life, always been a book worm and don’t have a lot of experience with exercise. But you go to a soccer match one day and decide that you’d love to try it, so you excitedly message your best friend about how you’ve signed up for house league soccer. She replies with “LOL, good luck with that”, and says nothing more. How do you feel?
I’m guessing not great. You’ve decided to do something for yourself and get healthy and be active, and you’re excited about it, and you feel like your friend just deflated you like a balloon. You try to talk to them more about it and they just shrug it off, insisting you’ll never stick to it so why bother. You start to think about that, and wonder if it’s true. You’ve tried things in the past that have failed, so maybe she’s right.
This type of friend can quickly become a ‘toxic’ friend, because the act of them putting you down can easily permeate your own mind and lead to lowered self-esteem. Likely, the next time you see them, you’re not going to be excited to see them, and you may even believe that they think less of you, upsetting the balance in the friendship. A good friend should support you, even if it’s something difficult. A response such as “Wow that’s exciting! Good for you! If you need extra motivation, I’m here to help”, would have been much more supportive and uplifting.
3. You can be yourself around them
Personally, for me, this one is extremely important. If you feel like you have to put a mask on every time you’re with your friends, then you may have to ask yourself if they’re friends with you, or someone you’re pretending to be. This is especially true if, when you try to be yourself, your friends make fun of you, put you down, or seem uninterested. We want to have authentic and true friends that we can relax with and be ourselves around, not people that we have to hide from who make us feel ashamed of who we are.
4. They’re honest with you
No one is perfect, and relationships aren’t perfect. They take effort and compromise and sometimes we get hurt by the people we love and care about. We can’t know what everyone wants all the time, so it’s important in relationships that we express what it is that we need and want, and when we’re not getting it.
A good friend will let you know when you’re being a jerk to them – or someone else, and help you correct it without being rude or mean. Being able to call you out when you’re being unreasonable is an important trait to have, and it takes both sides to make this happen. We have to be approachable and open to criticism (not taking it personally), and our friends have to be willing and able to be in a bit of an uncomfortable situation. At the end of the day, it leaves everyone in a better spot if we can be honest about how we feel. Which brings me to my next point…
5. They argue with you – nicely
Similar to number four is arguing. If you think about your closest relationships and think to yourself “oh my friend and I never argue or disagree”, you may want to look a little deeper there. As I mentioned, relationships can be difficult and no two people are going to agree on everything – that’s okay! A true sign of friendship is being able to argue or disagree about something, and to work it out together without the friendship dissolving. So when you’ve accidentally hurt a friend’s feelings and they bring it up to you, you may not agree with what they have to say. The important thing is to be honest and talk it out, because it’s likely going to boil down to a misunderstanding.
If you’re reading these and thinking that maybe your friends really aren’t great friends after all, don’t worry. If someone doesn’t fit this list, it doesn’t mean the relationship is doomed.
Sometimes you just need to have a discussion about your expectations and theirs, and work to improve things over time. If not, it may be time to move on and look for new, more fulfilling relationships. It can seem scary but over time our needs can change and that’s okay. You deserve to have a good support network.
I would also encourage you to do some self-reflection when you read this list and see if you’re doing everything you can do to be a good friend. We can all benefit from making some changes and improving how we interact with people, that’s nothing to be ashamed of. Having a great group of friends and surrounding yourself with support and positivity can make a world of difference in your life.
RP, MACP, CPT
P.S. Happy birthday to my best friend, Ali!