Often times women feel that being a good friend means always making someone feel good. We always seem to default to not hurting someone’s feelings, keeping the peace and always agreeing as if that is what defines a friendship. Why do we frequently dull ourselves down so as not to outshine our friends?
While not all friendships are like this, however a many times, women find themselves in friendships that are more fragile and energy-zapping than they are fulfilling and life-building. Many women ask themselves, “Why don’t I have better friends?” or “Is my friendship with this person unhealthy?” without understanding our roles in arriving at this point in relationships.
It all starts when we are little girls. We are praised for being sweet, and kind and nice. When we are quiet and take care of others, the world notices and tells us we are doing things right. Because we are human, we keep doing these things that get us the head pats. We put our friends first, do things we don’t want to just to make others happy and suffer through relationships we maybe aren’t meant to be a part of.
So what about when taking care of other means putting yourself on a shelf? What about when friendships are one-sided and high-maintenance? Are we supposed to endure these relationships and focus on keeping our friends happy at the expense of ourselves?
But it’s going to take a really strong sense of self to even make these realizations in the first place.
The people-pleasing behavior women are addicted to is groomed into us from a young age and it has many implications later in life. One area it effects greatly is friendship and idea of what a woman needs to do to be a “good friend.”
Growing up, I didn’t really have a clue what it meant to be a good friend. I knew sharing was good and that I should always try to be nice. But I had no clue what a true friendship looked like, so I just ran with the “be really nice and make everyone happy” mentality. It worked and people really like me a lot, but it was stifling…and I didn’t like myself.
This outlook on friendship gained me many friendships in my life, but looking back, I can see how one-sided many of them were. I can see exactly where I went wrong and what I did to enable the self-shut-down these relationships landed me in. I allowed myself to be commanded. I always let the other person have their way. I went along on nights out when I wanted to stay in. I never spoke up for myself…I didn’t even know myself. It was easier to let this type of friend make me into someone than it was for me to create that someone myself. It takes clarity and the willingness to really REALLY look at yourself to figure out just why and how these unhealthy friendships come about.
…because it is totally your fault.
Personally, I suffered from a huge lack of identity. I lacked confidence in knowing myself or what I wanted in life. So when I found people who wanted to be friends with me, it was easy for me to completely morphed into whatever it took to be -what I thought was- a great friend to them. And, because I was so insecure and unsure of myself, these friends that I was dawn to were usually domineering, controlling and persuasive.
For example, I found myself going on dates with men I wasn’t even interested in, simply to appease a friend who wanted to double date. I wore clothes and ate food that these friends did. If I said I didn’t feel like going to a party or event, the friend would say “Oh suck it up. You’re coming out with me. And this is what you should wear” and I would. I gossiped about the people these friends did. I was never the idea person, making plans or even the one getting attention. I didn’t hang out with anyone else for fear of rejection from this type of friend. I was a glorified and certified side-kick. And I was really good at my role.
I wish I could go back in time and shake myself and scream “THIS IS NOT HEALTHY!!!” But, honestly, I don’t think I would have listened to myself. It would have been to scary to face the fact that I was responsible for myself and my own identity.
When these friendship ran their course (meaning, I finally couldn’t ignore my need to be an individual any more) the transition was hard. I had wrapped my identity up in these friendships and moving on meant feeling the distance between the old friend and I grow much larger than just physical space. I didn’t understand it at the time, but I realize now that once I couldn’t serve these friendships full-time anymore, I was not needed.
And here’s the deal with all of this….the whole time, it was 100% my fault. It was my fault that I didn’t know what I wanted. It was my fault that I glommed onto someone “cool” and let them make me into whoever they needed me to be. It was my fault that I was always nice, never disagreed or differed. It was my fault that I never spoke up. So that means, when relationships change, as they do, it was my fault that my old friend didn’t know how to (or care to) follow along with my growth.
When my kids were really little that I fell into the same friendship trap with a different person. At this point in my life, I was suffering from that “new mother” loss of identity. The old me was gone (it seemed) and I was trying to figure out my way in this new roll. With this friendship, I found myself in charge of her commiseration. I supported her complaining, her insecurities and her judgement of others. She pitied women who felt the need to grow and change and I fed into that. I thought I was being a good friend and by not arguing with her. She was possessive and when I spent time with other women, her pull-back and negativity were palpable.
However this friendship, I was more aware of myself and didn’t let her actions dictate mine. When I felt the need to grow, change and do more, I experienced a lot of push back from this friend. Comments like “Why would you want to do that? That sounds awful. I could never do that. Are you sure you want to do that? Aren’t you afraid you’re going to become one of those people?” and so on, cut deep and I felt as if I was in the wrong for trying to do things outside the parameters of what she needed from me as a friend (which was way too much!). I for a period of time, I didn’t understand that I didn’t HAVE to stay in that friendship.
Again, I was wrong in the beginning of my friendship with this person for dulling myself down. I was wrong for letting her think I had no desire to live an awesome, abundant life in the first place. The more I grew, learned and experienced in life the more she pulled away from me, and I knew I had to let her. She was so uncomfortable with my choices that she eventually completely backed out of my life (with some hurtful accusations to boot).
These patterns of one-sided, possessive friendships were rooted in my need to people please, to make other’s happy all the time matched with my deep desire to avoid the responsibility of recognizing my own identity. And I thought that just because we had been friends for a short period of time, it was my responsibility to maintain and feed into that relationship at all costs.
Friendships are not like children. You do not have to carry them around and pour your heart in soul into all of them for the rest of your life. Some of them (most of them) need to be set gently down, thanked for the good times and then left.
Several years ago, I was given the gift of many great friends in the form of business partners when I started my business. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was handed the most beautiful bouquet of truly amazing women who accepted me for who I was. They not only wanted to know about me and what made me different, but they celebrated my drive and spirit (no matter how completely different from their own). They listened when I needed an ear and they push me to grow, learn and get uncomfortable. They were never possessive of my time or emotion. They didn’t need anything from me in order to be the best version of themselves…which allowed me to be the best version of myself. THAT is what true friendship is.
True friends don’t always understand you because they don’t need to. Real, lasting friendship involves honesty from the heart. A great friend will get excited for you to challenge yourself and grow. A loving friend understands that they are not the only person in your life (even if it is your best friend). Healthy friendships aren’t run on gossip, judgement and insecurity but rather openness, abundance and honesty. There is no possessiveness, bossiness or snarky commenting.
To give you a metaphor, an unhealthy friendship feels like you are walking around with a leaded jacket on and concrete shoes. It’s hard to move, depressing and you feel stuck. It’s not killing you, but you just feel heavy. A healthy friendship feels like wearing the greatest pair of workout leggings, a cute top and some fantastic running shoes…just putting them on makes you want to leap up and get moving!
So what about you? What are your friendships like today? Do they fill you up and push you to become a better person? Or do they drain you and dictate your choices? Do they feel heavy or exciting?
One last note: If you’re reading this and nodding your head ‘yes’ then I have a book you need to read. It’s called “Necessary Endings” by John Pearson. It brings to light the fact that no relationships are made forever. Whether it be time, distance or death, at some point, it is necessary for all relationships to end. And most relationships are not made to last throughout your life. This book will help you understand why and also just how you are supposed to go about moving on. Even if you think your friendship game is strong…this book is still a “necessary” read (get it?)!
So what can you do now? How can you tell if your friendships are healthy or bad habits? Well…that remains up to you! But I do have a worksheet available on the Plowing Forward Facebook page to help you identify unhealthy qualities in your friendships and to do some digging around about just why you are in them at all. Simply ask to join the group and once you’re in you will find the worksheet in the Files section.
Want more of my thoughts on this topic? Here is my Facebook Live video on it. Follow me for new weekly LIVE episodes!
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