When to Change Your Friends

A reader asked what to do about harmful friends?

The question itself is almost an oxymoron  (opposite terms). You usually do not think of calling someone a “friend” who is harmful to you. However, depending on one’s personality, some people tend to repeatedly choose relationships with people who are harmful to them — emotionally or physically. Other times, it may not be that the person is harmful, but that there is an idiosyncrasy in the friend’s personality that, if discussed and dealt with, would heal the relationship .

Let’s take a look at how to determine if the relationship is harmful, why you chose the relationship, and when to change friends.

A few simple questions can help you determine if the friendship is healthy for you or not.

Answer each of the following questions either (1) most of the time, (2) about half the time, or (3) rarely.

1. Does the relationship with your friend lessen your self-esteem?

2. Does the relationship hinder you from achieving short and/or long term goals?

3. Does the relationship create various stress-related physical health problems, such as headaches, stomachaches, nervousness, or lack of sleep?

4. Does the relationship cause emotional health issues, such as fear, worry, or intimidation?

If your answers were in the 1 or 2 range, the friendship is showing signs of harmful behavior which is negatively affecting the well-being of your life in significant amounts.

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If the friendship is affecting your life mainly in negative ways, ask yourself why you became involved in that relationship.

If you repeatedly choose to be in relationships with people who are not good for you and your life, you need to ask yourself why? There is most likely a harmful situation in your past, either childhood or early adulthood, which drastically reduced your self-esteem. Sometimes such an experience causes a subconscious response in which you choose people that are not good for you because you do not place enough value on yourself; you subconsciously feel that you do not deserve a wonderful friend. Identify the past situation, and then focus on changing your self worth.

If choosing poor friendships is not a common pattern in your life, why is this relationship different? Usually, it would then have begun for a reason that is not near as important as your well-being, such as status, the person’s appearance, pressure from other friends or family, etc. If the relationship was begun by such a poor quality decision, why continue it? It is doubtful that good will come from it.

Next, change the focus to your self-worth.

Your value is limitless and unending. It is based on the value God sees in you as a unique individual who was given the gift of life to live out with purpose and accomplishment. When you change your focus to that of the unending value God sees in you, people’s responses will not change your feeling of value. That does not mean that you still choose poor friendships — just the opposite. Because you realize your value, you choose friendships that affirm or acknowledge that value and your emotions are less deeply affected by the passing person who does not show proper appreciation for your value.

So when is it time to change the friendship versus just making some adjustments?

If your answers at the beginning of this post were that the relationship is harmful more than half of the time, it is unlikely that the person values you enough to make major changes to his/her behavior or personality. You can try to discuss the situation, but you should do so with a trusted third party, such as a counselor or pastor, especially if you feel there is a chance of an extremely harmful response. Realize also that, if you feel there is a chance of an extreme response, that relationship is probably very unlikely to change. Discussing the possibility of saving the relationship with the help of a third party would be more for the purpose of helping you release the relationship, knowing you gave the person an honest, final chance to change.

If you now feel that your friend’s harmful behavior is more of a personality peculiarity, discussing the needed change can bring the benifical, desired changes. It should be done in a non-confrontational way in a pleasant setting. Let the friend know that you realize the hurt was probably not intentional; then explain how the behavior brings harm to you, whether emotionally, physically, or to your goals. Realize that a good person who cares for you may feel slightly hurt or embarrassed at having to discuss the situation, but a person who values you will always be willing the make changes to behavior that is harming your life and the friendship.

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