Do Your Friendships Pass the Test?

By Sean Grover, LCSW

Do your friendships energize and inspire you, or burden and drain you?

Recently, I met up with one of my best pals. Like many old friends, we share a secret language, referring to events and situations with a single word or glance. A raised eyebrow, a sideways look, the phrase, “Tell me, are your bananas fresh?” and we erupt in fits of laughter as others look on perplexed.

I feel invigorated whenever we meet; communication is effortless and enlivening. Which got me thinking: Why can’t all my friendships be like this?

The Friends We Choose

It’s a long held belief by psychotherapists that the friends you choose reflect your inner most feelings about yourself. For example, if you don’t value yourself, your friends won’t either. They won’t think twice about standing you up, phoning in last minute cancellations or forgetting you entirely. They don’t consider your feelings or needs. Don’t blame them; they just mirror your low opinion of yourself.

Additionally, if you’re self-critical or disparaging, expect unsolicited advice, criticisms and discouraging comments from your friends. When it comes to friendships, you get what you believe you’re worth.

Why You Put Up with Lame Friends

As long as personal insecurities dominate you, so will unhealthy friendships. The more insecure you feel about yourself, the more you’ll resign yourself to unsatisfying relationships.

Three reasons you may tolerate substandard friendships are:

  • Low Self-Esteem: you rationalize your friends’ lackluster behavior because you don’t know that you deserve better.
  • Fear of Loneliness: you harbor fears of abandonment and isolation, so you accept your friends’ shoddy conduct.
  • Being a Caretaker: you tend to service others and neglect your own needs; caring for others is the only way you feel valued.

The Friendship Test

If you repeatedly leave an encounter with a friend feeling negative and discouraged, it’s time to ask, “Why do I stay in such an uninspired relationship?”

Try this simple test: after you meet with a friend, take a quick emotionally inventory. Ask yourself:

-Do I feel lighter?

-Am I encouraged?

-Do I feel valued?

If you answered yes to all three questions, that friend is a keeper. But before you go and fire about your friends, keep in mind that even good friends have bad days or make mistakes; it’s okay to give them a pass now and then. But if a friend consistently leaves you feeling disheartened, bogged down with disappointments, dashed expectations, or score keeping favors, it may be time to move on.

Friends that Grow Together, Stay Together

No one likes the idea of a jettisoned friendship, particularly if it’s an old friend. Yet, the sad reality is sometimes friendships expire. Priorities transform as you mature. A friend may be associated with a different time in your life, or you may have changed in ways that make you incompatible. For instance, a new dad may quickly find that he has little in common with his high school drinking buddies.

Only when friends evolve and grow together do friendships withstand the test of time. A true friend is a constant source of inspiration, someone that you can always turn to for support, someone who will champion you in a heartbeat.

So if your friends too often leave you feeling unappreciated and neglected, put them to the test. Challenging your friends is not a crime, but staying in an unhealthy relationship certainly should be.