How To Build Stronger Friendships

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Do Your Friendships Build You Up Or Wear You Down?

BY BRITTANY MCGILL

Are your friends a blessing or a burden?

Are your friends a blessing or a burden?

We know that social support is an important buffer against stress, and that meaningful relationships have a positive impact on our quality of life, but friendships can also sometimes be a cause of stress. It’s easy to lose sight of your values and needs and stay in an unhealthy friendship out of habit.

Friendship issues can be complicated and you may benefit from seeking the advice of a clinical psychologist, but here’s 5 tips to get you started in the right direction.

Tip #1: Identify Your Friendship Values

If you had to paint a picture of your friendships, what would you want it to look like?
What’s truly important to you in friendships? (Honesty? Fun? Laughter? Adventure?)
Do your current friendships make you feel safe, heard and supported?
What would you want others to say about you as a friend?

Asking yourself these types of questions will help you identify ‘toxic’ friendships – those friendships where you give more than you get or which encourage you to act against your values.

Tip #2: Don’t Be Afraid To Have Tough Conversations

Good communication is a crucial component of every friendship. If you’ve been hurt by a friend or if there’s an unhelpful dynamic going on that needs to be addressed, don’t sweep it under the rug as this can lead to resentment and further difficulties later down the track. Set aside a time to talk to your friend so that you’re not rushed or distracted. Use assertive but non-confrontational language (i.e. “I feel…” not “you always…”). Explain how you would like things to be different and indicate that you are committed to strengthening your friendship. Listen to your friend’s response openly, and without judgment.

Tip #3: Treat Yourself As You Would Want To Be Treated

Stand up for yourself, respect your rights, ask for what you need, and behave in line with your personal values (in a way that also respects others). Your friends will mirror this approach.

Tip #4: Celebrate + Nurture Friendships

Maintaining friendships takes effort, but it can be incredibly rewarding. Plan special activities and foster shared interests. Face-to-face time is important (talking over email or Facebook is not enough!) Tell your friend that you value them.

Tip #5: Think About What’s Getting In The Way

Sometimes, negative experiences with past relationships (e.g. broken trust, emotional manipulation, even abuse) can create difficulties in current relationships. If you answer yes to any of the following questions then you may benefit from working with an experienced clinical psychologist to explore these issues further:

Do your friendships cause you excessive anxiety?
Do you feel that you are unable to trust others?
Do you fear that others will reject you?
Do you put others needs and desires above your own?
Do you feel highly anxious in social situations?

Brittany McGill is a clinical psychologist who completed her postgraduate clinical training at the University of New South Wales. She is interested in anxiety and mood disorders across the lifespan and uses cognitive-behavioural and other evidence-based strategies to help people achieve positive change in their lives.


 

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