Friendship and Mental Health: Choosing Your Tribe
How do you know which friendships help your mental health? I recently described the mental health benefits of surrounding yourself with a tribe of friends to help you out. However, how do we know who belongs in that tribe? Sometimes the people around us can create toxic relationships or perhaps just are not supportive. I’ve taken years to carefully craft my friendships for my mental health, so I wanted to share some of the criteria I use.
How to Recognize Friendships that Help Mental Health
Is Your Friendship Positive?
Not all friendships lead to good mental health. So, if you’re looking for a tribe to support you, positivity is the number one criterion to seek. Roughly once per year, I complete a “friends cleaning,” where I evaluate each of my friendships for my mental health. At that time, I determine whether our interactions are at least 50% positive or better. A positive interaction is one that leaves me feeling better for having connected with that person. I realize that’s a subjective measure, and that when you’re in a mental health downturn all things appear negative. However, you can easily suss out whether what you’re experiencing is a symptom of your mental illness or an actual concern by asking the following question: do all my friendships seem generally negative, or do only a few while the rest seem ok or good? If the answer is all negativity, your experience is likely being shaped by your illness.
A great way to take this evaluation is to look through text, email, and social media exchanges for the last month or so with that person. You’ll quickly be able to notice patterns--is the thread dramatic or encouraging? Upon reading it, do you feel stress or do you smile?
Is Your Friendship Honest?
Friendships help mental health when the relationship is honest. Do you feel like you can safely share your struggles honestly and candidly with the person in question? If not, that doesn’t mean your friendship is damaging; it may simply mean that person doesn’t belong in your most intimate circle. Perhaps she belongs in a more casual acquaintance ring instead.
You want people in your tribe to be able to actively assist you during your rough times. If you can’t be honest about those difficulties, that person won’t be able to support you. Don’t be ashamed of this lack of intimacy; not everyone is cut out to be in everyone else’s tribe. In other words, discomfort around sharing your negative moments is normal and doesn’t make you a bad friend. You don’t have to (and frankly shouldn’t) trust everyone with your innermost thoughts.
Of course, I use many other criteria to select those closest to me, but these two are a clear start. Especially if you’re just beginning to intentionally choose your inner circle, these friendship litmus tests can give you a good starting place when testing your friendships for their mental health value.
Meredith, M. (2018, June 10). Friendship and Mental Health: Choosing Your Tribe, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, September 20 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/livingablissfullife/2018/6/friendship-and-mental-health-choosing-your-tribe