Friendship can be one of the most rewarding things in life. Good mates can help to boost your spirits, work through your problems, and make you laugh. These are some of the reasons why so many people seek out and keep friends.
Sometimes, however, the desire to hang on to friends can affect other aspects of life. For example, it might make you reluctant to do or say something you feel is important because you’re concerned about what others might think. On other occasions you might join your friendship group at the local café when deep down you’d rather be at home reading a book. You might even find yourself agreeing to help a friend with a project even though it means you won’t have enough time for your own homework.
This is because the social urge to be a good friend and to get on with people can be very strong. But it can also make you lose touch with who you really are and what you want to do or be. And if this happens, your own happiness and wellbeing can be affected. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way. It’s possible to have rewarding friendships and stay true to your own values and desires, even when you don’t always have the approval of everyone in your group.
It isn’t always easy, and it might take practice, so we’ve put together a few tips to get you started…
TIP 1: FIND YOUR IDEAL SELF
What is this person like? Think about what they do, their core values, their characteristics, their dreams and goals. Consider the music they listen to, the films they watch, the books they read and the sports or pastimes they enjoy.
Now write down all the key aspects of this ideal self. Try not to think about it too much and don’t worry about spelling, neat writing, or grammar.
Writing fast can turn off your inner ‘editor’ – the bit of your brain that wants to criticise and censor what you have to say. It can also encourage dreams and desires to bubble up from your unconscious mind – your true self – which might find it hard to be heard in everyday life.
After about 15 minutes, when you’ve come to a comfortable place to stop, take a look over your words. Now, think about your life and if there are any areas where the need for approval might be holding you back. Are there areas where you’re striving to be this ideal self, but you’re nervous about what others might think? Are any friends hindering your goals?
It could be that you have an ambition to become a vet and would like to study hard, but you’re worried about missing chats with friends, either online or in person. Similarly, your ideal self might want to stand up to bullies but you’re aware that if you do so, you run the risk of losing some friends, who can sometimes be unkind.
TIP 2: ASK YOURSELF: ‘WOULD IT BE THAT BAD … REALLY?‘
What’s the worst thing that could happen if you said ‘no’ more often; if you spent your time doing something different; if you said what you really thought? Write down the worst-case scenarios. Sometimes reading your fears on a page can allow you to see that things might not be as bad as they seem. After writing what might happen, follow it up with: ‘But it might actually be okay.’
TIP 3: VISUALISE BECOMING THAT PERSON
Think big. What positive results might come from being who you really want to be? Use your imagination and dream up some great scenarios. These could include:
- You spend your evenings studying and make a new friend who also loves going over schoolwork.
- You publicly support a friend who’s having to endure unkind comments and other students admire you for having the courage to do what they couldn’t.
- You explain to a friend that you’ll happily help them with their project after you’ve done your own work. This exercise can help you to let go of fears, encourage you to embrace your ideal self and realise that a positive outcome is possible!
TIP 4: LOVE YOURSELF
People often look for approval from others when what they need is to offer themselves more love. The mind has a tendency to be self-critical and people often blame themselves when things go wrong, regardless of whether or not it’s their fault.
As you go about your life, notice the chatter inside your head. Ask yourself if these words are really true or if they’re overly harsh. Stop, take a deep breath, and let the critical thoughts pass without becoming attached to them. This can help you to stand in your own strength, rather than needing to have others tell you you’re OK. Being liberated from the need for approval and the desire to be liked isn’t always easy. Everyone can lose their way and their confidence from time to time, and become overly focused on what other people think.
But if you can hold your own dreams, goals, values, and qualities in your consciousness, a bit like points on a compass, then your true self can lead the way to a happy, fulfilling life that’s also full of authentic friendships.