When we care for someone, we like to assume that the feelings are reciprocated — but that’s not always the case. Even though we might surround ourselves with people we believe to be our friends, we can often find out that these assumptions are misguided and we’re more alone than we thought. Some people just can’t reciprocate the thing we call friendship, and that’s okay. What’s important is that we learn to spot the difference between a fake friend and a real friend, in order to protect our hearts and our wellbeing.
What is friendship and why is it important?
Friendship is associated with everything from how we see ourselves to how we feel, affecting our lives in a number of ways that are both surprising and subtle. Our friendships are the bonds we share with the people who support us willingly, but it’s more than that too. Adults with strong social circles have even been shown to have a reduced risk of many health problems, such as depression, high blood pressure and even high BMI’s. Friendship is great for us — but only true and genuine friendship.
Friendship is an important cornerstone of the human experience, and it’s one that can all-too-frequently get left behind or confused in this social media age. On the surface, friendship is simply a platonic relationship between two people who care about one another, but it’s far more than that. Our friendships are good for our health and increase our sense of belonging and purpose.
When we have vibrant and active circles of friends, we get a natural boost to our happiness and a natural reduction to our stress; which helps us to improve our self-confidence and cope with the traumas and stressors of everyday life. Our friends inspire us and motivate us to do and be better than we are. They can encourage us to avoid unhealthy lifestyle habits and help us make difficult decisions when our perspective isn’t enough to come to a resolution.
5 signs they’re not really your friend.
Just as important as spotting the signs of a good friendship is spotting the signs of a bad friendship. Toxic pseudo-friendships are everywhere, and they can seriously undermine our wellbeing when we commit too much time and energy to them. Learn how to spot the signs of a bad friend and save yourself future heartaches.
Inability to show support
A part of friendship is being there for one another when things get tough. If your friend disappears any time the tough gets going, then they’re not really your friend — they’re a hanger-on and someone who doesn’t value you or your needs. People who use you for company are people who will use you for anything and everything else they want. Their love and care is fleeting. Run, don’t walk, the other way.
When we care about people, we tend to look for the best and rationalize poor behavior. If someone you consider a “friend” takes the time to spread rumors or talk about you poorly when you’re not around, they’re not your friend at all, and you need to clear them from your circle as soon as possible. Caring about someone means keeping their confidences and believing in them, even when they’re experiencing a shift in circumstances or prolonged difficulties. You don’t talk about a friend behind their back when they’re struggling; you sing their praises and lift them up so that they can become encouraged to lift themselves up.
Smothered in conditions
Perhaps one of the biggest signs that you’re dealing with a fake friend is realizing that their friendship is extremely conditional or one-sided. We all have boundaries, and it’s important to stick to those boundaries, but it’s not fair to expect your friends to scale Mt. Everest just to get close. Conditions aren’t standards, but it’s easy to get them mixed up in this “empowerment” culture. If a friend expects you to give them things or meet certain criteria before gaining access to their attention — cut them out. They’re only there for them, not for you.
Egocentric people make poor friends and that’s because everything is about them 24/7/365. When one half of the friend equation is spending all their time and energy snapping selfies or talking about their latest achievements (to the exclusion of the other party), it’s impossible to cultivate any kind of meaningful or resonating emotion toward one another. Real friends listen, while self-centered people care to talk about and focus only on themselves. You shouldn’t have to fight to be heard. Your friend should be interested in what you have to say because they’re interested in you. Tread carefully when it comes to these one-sided “friendships”; if you’re not careful, they can have you believing your needs aren’t as valuable as theirs.
Zero real acceptance
If you’ve found yourself in a relationship with someone who is constantly trying to change or undermine you — surprise! You don’t have a friend; you have a manipulator. Real friends stick beside us no matter who we are, and they have no desire to change us in order to fit some standard condition or preconceived notion. They don’t care if we end up as doctors or mothers, husbands or sea captains. To the true friend, they’re happy as long as you’re happy, and there’s little else that needs to be said.
The best ways to cultivate healthy friendships.
If you’re despairing — don’t. There are a number of ways we can cultivate the relationships around us to foster healthy and transformative friendships that add, rather than detract from our experiences here on Earth. If you want to nurture your friendships, take some time and institute these practices into your day-to-day experiences together. They’ll help you bond and connect on a deeper and more meaningful level.
1. Learn to open up
You can build intimacy with your friends by opening up about yourself and being honest about how you feel or what you’re thinking. Being open is scary, though, and can be a hard ask. Without this openness, we fail to connect on deep and meaningful levels. We also fail to build trust in one another and shared goals and ambitions.
When we are willing to disclose our personal experiences or thoughts, it allows others to do the same, and through that we form mutual bonds of understanding and respect. If you want better friends, open up to them so they can open up to you. Let someone know if they hold a special place in your life and don’t just assume they know that.
Being open doesn’t make you look weak. It doesn’t necessarily make you more vulnerable or somehow less than. This openness is precisely what brings us together, and it’s precisely what helps you to overcome hardship and mutual adversity. Want healthier and happier friendships? Be open and pursue connections with those who return that openness.
2. Engage in active listening
We live in a society that tells us to focus on our own thoughts, rather than the thoughts and ideas of others. There’s a big “me-me-me” narrative that’s pushed these days, but that doesn’t bring with it healthy interpersonal connection. If you want to cultivate meaningful friendships, listen when other people speak, and stop just listening for your next chance to speak.
Invest in developing your active listening muscle. Learn how to be a better listener, and through that learn how to grow your emotional awareness and your ability to connect with your loved ones on a deeper and more authentic level.
Pay close attention and indicate that you’re listening through your expressions, body language and responses like, “that sounds fun.” Our silence can often mean more than our words, so take the time to listen and only respond when the other party has had the space they need to express themselves. When they’ve had plenty of time to express themselves, ask them questions which prove your engagement and desire to listen.
3. Be kind and compassionate
Kindness is a trait that can often be overlooked, even though it’s one of the first behaviors we learn as children. The facet of kindness remains the core of all successful adult relationships, and it remains the emotional bank account by which we pay out of friends for their tender attentions to our needs and happiness.
Being kind is the fastest way to turn an acquaintance into a friend but you have to stay aware of both their needs and yours. Be kind, but don’t compromise yourself. Everything is a give and take, and friendship is no different.
Tap into your deeper sense of compassion. As humans, we’re all struggling with something and we all want the same core things. We want to be heard, seen, and valued for exactly who we are and what we need. Give that to the people who matter, and you will find beautiful friendships blossoming all around you. It costs us nothing to be kind, but it can bring true transformation into our lives.
4. Increase your trustworthiness
Strong friendships require the parties involved to prove — each and every day — that they are responsible, reliable, and dependable. Real friendships develop with people we know we can trust. We want to be open and we want to be candid, but our human nature drives us to secure that trust before we build something truly real.
You can do this by keeping to your promises and showing up to engagements on time. Follow through on the commitments that you’ve made and be there even when you haven’t been asked.
Half of being a good friend is stepping up to the plate. Prove that you’re someone who can be trusted and you’ll prove that you’re someone worth befriending. Don’t talk behind their back. Don’t tell their secrets or interfere in their interpersonal relationship. Good friends are supportive, they’re not destructive and interfering.
5. Ensure you’re available
Relationships (especially friendships) take time to cultivate. We have to spend time together in order to trust one another and really see how compatible we are. While we may think that someone is a certain way, that changes as we go through different experiences together. We have to see each other in our best and worst moments to know who we truly are.
Pull your head out of the sand. Healthy friendships require that all involved parties put in the same amount of effort. We all have to come to the table ready to work and ready to help one another. Make yourself available. Be open and willing to spend a few moments with your friends when they need you most.
Make an effort to see your friends regularly and check in with them between meet-ups. Extending yourself in this way might feel awkward at first, but someone has to be the first to put themselves out on a limb. The feeling will pass the more you engage, so reach out and make yourself available to the people who matter most.
Putting it all together…
Friendships are complex relationships with a lot of moving pieces and different dynamics. While there is no one hard-and-fast test that proves whether someone has your best interests at heart, there are some concrete signs and techniques we can use to distinguish friend from foe. Learning how to spot the signs takes time, however, and it takes a lot of radical honest and self-acceptance.
Positive friendships are built around the 3 foundations of investing time, seeing the positive, and being helpful when things get tough. Ask yourself the tough questions and identify the other party’s intentions before you invest too much of your time in a friendship that’s going nowhere. If you see red flags, run the other way, and never compromise yourself or what you believe in just to meet someone else’s conditions for friendship. Our friendships are beautiful and precious things that can encourage us to grow in transformative ways, but it takes knowing how to differentiate between a fake friend and a real friend. There’s a big difference, and one that can make all the difference in the world for our peace of mind and wellbeing.
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