Our friends often double up as mirrors to ourselves. They reflect who we are, who we used to be, and who we hoped to become. Our friendships add many benefits to our well-being – socially, emotionally, intellectually, to name some. This is why we hold friendships so close to our hearts.
In a 2023 research study, researcher Christos Pezirkianidis and other researchers from Panteion University of Social and Political Sciences, Athens, Greece, sought to study adult friendships and well-being. They found that the quality of friendship and the company of friends were indicators of levels of well-being. The number of friends, their reactions to positive events in one’s own life, understanding that you or the friend can also have other friends, and the other one’s efforts in sustaining this friendship were positively correlated with well-being.
While some friendships may offer us joy, comfort and fulfilment, some may do the exact opposite. Sometimes we find ourselves stuck in situations that are emotionally draining, lack trust, and keeping up the relationships may be a burden.
Happiest Health explores the signs of emotionally draining relationships, how to recognise them, and how to cope.
Recognising the signs
Absy Sam, a Mumbai-based counselling psychologist, says, “In any relationship, it is worth examining if you are the one who’s giving more than what you’re getting.”
Sam adds that it is also important to examine whether you are able to have fun with those persons, whether there is mutual trust, and whether the time you spend with them is making you dislike yourself.
“If you do not like how you’re acting, how you are being when you’re with them, then you really need to sit down and think about this,” she says.
Getting put down
Dhani Afrid, 21, a student from Mallapuram, shares his experience of one such friendship. “I had a friend who used to keep putting me down. Spending time with him made me feel like I wasn’t cool enough or smart enough,” he says.
Afrid adds that the `friend’, whenever confronted about his behaviour, would turn around and twist the conversation in a way that Afrid would be apologising for even bringing up the issue.
Questions to ask ourselves
According to Sam, these are some useful questions for introspecting whether a friendship is worth keeping.
- Does this person contribute to my emotional well-being?
- Am I being heard in this friendship?
- Do I feel respected and validated?
- Do I feel safe with this person?
- Is this person judgemental or has been giving me constructive feedback?
- Are we both communicating with each other and equally enough to keep the friendship alive?
- Am I comfortable being myself with them, i.e. being honest and without pretences?
- Do I have to do something extra to earn the person’s friendship or love?
- Is the effort that is being put in the relationship mutual or one-sided?
Sam adds, “While it is all right to be supportive of someone who is struggling, it’s also important to understand [this point]: are you the one who’s constantly providing support or are you getting any [from the other]?”
After reflecting on these questions, if one realises that a friendship is no longer serving them, the question then arises – what to do next?
According to Sam of Mumbai, the first step is acknowledgement.
“If you are in such a friendship, even if you are the one who is being the red flag here, it is important to acknowledge that. Because sometimes we unsee how we can be very unhealthy for the other person,” she says.
The second step is to give yourself and the other person a chance to openly talk about it, and set your boundaries.
Sam adds that sometimes, the other person might not be ready for this communication, and it cannot be forced on them. However, the priority is one’s own well-being.
Afrid adds that whenever he initiated conversations and set boundaries, his friend would often just disregard him and dismiss him. “So many times, when I tried to tell him how he hurt me, he would say I was overreacting. He would also fully ignore my concerns,” he said.
Eventually, Afrid said, he realised that it was time to let go of the friendship because there was no change in his friend’s patterns of behaviour.
Sam also adds that ending a friendship can often be as painful as, if not more, than breaking a romantic relationship. “It is important to take time to understand if you’re feeling hurt, feeling sorry, and sit with these emotions. And also, it is important to not [shut] yourself from having good people as your friends.”