Friends and Mental Health (1)
By: Beth McHugh 2006
It goes without saying that having good, stable friendships is important to your mental health. So how do you know which of your friends are contributing to your health and which are subtly, or not so subtly, undermining it? Most times we know instinctively which people are “good” for us. But sometimes it can be very hard to tell.
We all know people who are cheery, positive, and fun to be with. We feel better when we are in their company. These people can increase our happiness levels on good days, and on the not-so-good days their presence can literally take us out of ourselves and away from our worries, and we feel better for having spoken to them.
Then there are other people who we know intuitively are not helpful to our overall wellbeing. These are the people who see nothing good in any thing, who whine about every aspect of their lives, and who cast a pall over a room simply by entering it.
But what about those people in between? The no-so-obvious ones who subtly undermine our self esteem, perhaps without either partner really realizing it. Let’s take a look at some examples.
Katie’s friend Bree was fun to be with and they shared many a laugh over a good movie and loved to read the latest Hollywood gossip together and laugh at the antics of the stars. When Katie was with Bree she felt good. Yet the problem for Katie was that the relationship was very much on Bree’s terms. Bree saw Katie only when she wanted to. If it didn’t suit Bree, then Bree wouldn’t come. She didn’t put herself out, even at times when Katie really needed a friend. Bree would often organize a day out only to ring on the morning to cancel it because “she didn’t feel like going anymore”. Katie was left dangling on the end of a terminated phone call.
Even when the women talked on the phone, it was still all Bree’s way. If Bree was upset, she would ring Katie immediately and dump her problems on her, often for hours at a time. Sometimes these calls would last well into the night, as Katie would try to cheer up her friend. There was usually a payoff for Katie: she would see Bree the next day and they would have a great time together. But if Katie ever wanted to get off the phone during a conversion, Bree virtually ignored her and just went on talking. Often Katie would have to lie and say she needed to go to go to the toilet desperately just to get off the phone. Yet when Bree wanted to get off the phone, she just ended the conversation with a statement to that effect and hung up. Despite the many, many good times they had together, over the years Katie increasingly came away from an encounter with Bree feeling less good about herself than she should. Why was that?
We’ll have a look why in the next blog.