We’ve all heard the saying (and biblical quote): choose your friends wisely, but what does this really mean?
I recently read an older New York Times article, titled “Well – What are Friends For? A Longer Life,” and it listed various advantages to having healthy friendships. Our friends help us cope during traumatic events, they help us grow, and they can even help us fight illnesses and depression. But what happens when we surround ourselves with unhealthy friendships? Unhealthy friendships can directly correlate to depression, they can exacerbate feelings of hurt, and they can drag us into the ground. I’m sure I speak aloud for my readers, but I’ve been in unhealthy friendships before, and it is the most emotionally exhausting situation I think I’ve ever been through. It feels a lot like drowning in an endless sea of tears. However, we must learn to forgive. Hatred and resentment are curved blades, as Mitch Albom has stated before, and we only harm ourselves in the end. I’ll delve more deeply into the topic of forgiveness in my next post, but forgiveness is not something that just comes naturally because we are human–we must be willing to give it, and then allow ourselves time to heal. Our ability to give forgiveness and the actual feeling of forgiveness will catch up to each other in time. There is such a thing as loving someone from a distance. The key is to remove yourself from situations that cause hurt and anger. Refuse to hate, and refuse to stoop to anger and resentment. You’d be surprised at what time (and a lot of prayer) can do.
But anyways, back to unhealthy and healthy friendships. My parents were in the military so my family moved around enough to the point where I never really had a close group of friends that I grew up with. I love meeting new people, and I love befriending strangers, but it also leaves me wide open and vulnerable. In middle school, and my early years of high school I ended up in dangerous friendships. I was pressured daily to do drugs and to drink, and I had several people in my life who struggled immensely with self-identity and purpose. Most of the time, I felt like I was carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders. I cried a lot in high school. My readers will be happy to know that I never gave in to peer pressure–in fact, I earned some sort of respect in my group of friends at the time once it was clear I would not give in. Middle school, and my early high school years were such weird periods for me. I, too, struggled with self-identity, and I had to figure out who I was and what I wanted to be, but I was also strong-willed and stubborn. It really wasn’t until my sophomore year in high school when I started to develop a close group of friends, some of which are still very much in my life. College is where I really met some amazing people. They challenged me, supported me, and loved me through a lot of different events in my life. But, there were also parts in college that I wish I could erase. I suffered greatly in friendships that took a turn for the worse, but I did make amends, and time did heal my wounds.
I think the mark of a true, blue healthy friendship is to love unconditionally without selfishness, without negativity, and without jealousy. There is always that innate, subconscious feeling we get when we don’t feel like something is right. Listen to it. People will come in and out of our lives for reasons that don’t always seem clear right away. Honestly, maintaining friendships can be difficult sometimes especially if there is distance between you and them, but regardless, it is so important to be self-less in friendships and to let the other know that you are there if they ever need you. Selflessness comes in many forms, but in general, it is imperative to be cognizant of other people’s feelings, goals, aspirations, and general beliefs. I always strive to put myself second–this is important in marriage as well. Think of how other people feel, and you’ll have a good idea of how to proceed.
Healthy friendships are also important because as human beings we are definitely shaped by those we surround ourselves with. Life is incredibly hard without friendships, but what good is a friendship that continually hurts us or makes us feel like we are in a competition? I’m not saying that it is impossible to stand up to someone or refuse to give in to peer pressure–sometimes this is just a part of everyday life, but our friends help dictate our choices and our paths in life. I think it’s important to surround yourself with people who have similar beliefs, goals, and aspirations because they will help push you in the direction you want to go. But don’t be afraid to open up to someone—for to love is to be vulnerable.
“The glory of friendship is not the outstretched hand, not the kindly smile, nor the joy of companionship; it is the spiritual inspiration that comes to one when you discover that someone else believes in you and is willing to trust you with a friendship.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson