How Friends Can Stop You From Reaching Your Potential


Day 68 :: touch

Friends are one of those simple joys in life. Some of my fondest memories are when I’ve put together a large group of friends and did nothing but hang out. And when times are rough, it’s great to know they’ll be there for you.

But what about those times when everything is going right for you? Nothing bad is happening and life, in general, is actually getting better. Those same friends who are always there for you when things are bad can actually be a hindrance when things are getting better.

Good for Bad Times, Bad for Good Times

You have to take into consideration the fact that your friends are, at their core, human beings just like everyone else. Friends can often be jealous types who hate to see your success. This is especially true if their life isn’t exactly the way they want it to be. It’s just human nature to compare what you have to others.

Indeed, the longer you’ve been friends with someone, the longer they have had time to develop an image of what you are like. Once an image of who you are has been established, they know what to expect from you.

Any change to that image can be hard to adjust to. It’s easier for them if you stay the same person so they don’t have to accommodate the new, better person you’re becoming.

One way to better understand this is to imagine how difficult it is for some people to make positive changes in their own life. Now imagine how difficult it would be if someone close to that person started to improve and surpass them. This would be unsettling to them.

Sabotaging Plans

Some friends can take your self-improvement as a challenge to their worldview. For example, if your friend sees you applying to a prestigious grad school they think is impossible to get into, their worldview will feel threatened if they think you “do the impossible” and get in.

So instead of helping you out through encouragement, they’ll endlessly parade the difficulties you’d face by applying. It’s not that they don’t want to see you succeed, it’s just that they don’t want to feel bad about themselves.

Negative Social Influences

Another way friends can prevent you from reaching your greatest potential is through social influence. There is a natural trend for large groups of friends to mimic each others mannerisms, ideology and behaviors. This is all fine and good if your friends all happen to be upstanding, intelligent, amazing people. But what if they are none of these?

One way to understand how social influence works is through obesity. Unhealthy eating habits can be socially learned. One study concluded that if you have just four obese friends, your chance of obesity is double that of a person who has no obese friends. The same could be said about most other negative habits your friends exhibit.

And it’s not as if people choose friends based on similar habits. How people choose friends is based on a number of factors. Having things in common is just one of them. After all, nobody is completely similar to another person in every way. So some key areas are going to be different. This includes bad habits.

What to Do About Friends Holding You Back

For the most part, you probably don’t need to make any radical changes to who you hang out with. As long as you understand your friends might have jealousies about your self-improvement goals, you’ll be able to recognize them and deal with them.

Just remember that if your friends tell you something is “impossible” for you to do or you “can’t” do it, they might just be trying to save themselves from feeling hurt. Once you accomplish your goal they’ll eventually adjust. Plus, you might give them the inspiration to break down their own assumptions and set “impossible” goals of their own.

In some extremes, you’ll have to move away from old friendships or even groups of friends. This is especially hard if you’re a shy person. But you need to realize that sometimes the best growth happens when you’re away from people who know you best. This way you can “reinvent” yourself to a whole new group of people. And these people will be more accepting of this version of yourself.

Hopefully it won’t come to this though. I’ve known many people who’ve had lifelong friendships with people who’ve accepted their accomplishments and growth.

Any of you have great supporting friendships? Any of you notice when your friends become jealous and sabotaging?
photo credit: Meredith_Farmer

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  1. This is spot on. I hate to admit it, and I hate even more to it see it.

    It’s good to be aware of this though. It is a snake in the grass! Thanks for sharing :)

  2. Totally true. I try to stay away from the downers. It doesn’t help me at all. I end up getting defensive. I have to remember they are probably jealous.
    That being said, I am human too and sometimes I am jealous! I just have to remember that no one is perfect and that I should be happy for my dearest friends who I trust and know would do anything for me.

    • I try to stay away from the downers too. If I have to deal with someone who’s acting badly, I just remind myself of a time that I felt jealous. It helps when interacting with them so that I don’t get defensive.

  3. Hey Steve,
    I’m an eternal optimist and encourager. I have certain long term friends who are negative in general. My solution is to limit my exposure to them. I will encourage them when I talk to them, but not talk to them too often. Some people are happy being miserable. Not much can be done unless someone says, “Hey, this isn’t working. Let’s try something else.” I have a shut off button built in so that if someone is speaking out of jealous motives, I shut them off mentally. Life is too short to spend amongst negativity. Steve, you are powerful in your writings my friend. Good work.
    Live it LOUD!

    • I agree that life is too short to spend amongst negativity. And some people just seem to be fine with being miserable. Unfortunately misery likes company so you need to guard yourself against it. In some cases limiting your exposure to them is the best solution. It’s good that you have that shut off button built in for negative people. It took me awhile to get one too, but it made things so much easier when I finally did.

  4. Gotta be careful who we spend our times with. If we’re around enough anchors they will keep bringing us down. Need to spend time with more engines who will energize and motivate us.

    If we want success, that’s what we have to do.

    • I think energy is contagious. So if you spend more time with negative people than positive people, you’ll become more negative yourself. It’s best to limit time with those anchors bringing you down.

  5. I’ve talked about this a few times; I have friends that think my pursuits are strange or crazy but mostly I have just written them off as not truly my friends. For the most part they were friends from High School or College I had grown apart from anyway.

    • It’s the same for me. I had friends who told me some of the things I want to do are too strange or crazy. I grew apart from them too.

  6. This post struck a chord with me. I have frequently had to weed through my friends and “get rid of the duds.” The “duds” being those that bring me down, that are a negative influence on me, etc.

    Although it may be hard for me initially, I have learned that freeing myself from negative influences only benefits me later down the road.
    On Friday night I had to cut ties with someone who was very close with me because I could not be continue to stand by and allow what was happening to continue. Again, doing this was a tough choice but in the end, I had to do what was right for me.

    Venting over.

    • It is a hard, but sometimes necessary thing to weed out the negative influences. If your friends bring you down or are a really bad influence though, sometimes you don’t have any other options. I’ve had to do it before too. In the end though, it is a good decision.

  7. Love this post Steve! I was just listening to a concert bootleg from Pearl Jam in my car today and Eddie Vedder had a similar story and it just seemed so kismet that I saw it on your blog today that I just have to share. He was talking about how when he lived in Chicago he had a group of friends, but when he started to make changes in his life they weren’t supportive and the only way he knew how to change was to move away to escape that influence.

    • I haven’t heard that song before. I tried to look the song you mentioned up, but couldn’t find it. But it makes sense though that he would go through that. I’ve heard stories of actors or musicians who start hitting it big and one of the first things that falls apart for them is their old friendships.

  8. oh wow man… this is a very sensitive topic to discuss… im lucky i have a few very supportive friends… i have observed others though that does “sabotage” their other friends sometimes… ive met quite a few too… and realized that its not worth hanging out with those kinds of people…

    a friend.. a real friend would be the first one to cheer you up when your down and would be one of the happiest person in the world if you reach your success… :-)

    • It often isn’t worth hanging out with people who sabotage you. Especially if they do it on purpose. It would be a great world if everyone were supportive and happy of your success. I’m glad that you have some good supportive friends though. Make sure to be good to them since good true friends don’t always come easily.

  9. The important thing here when your ‘friends’ give you advices or tips is just to take it like a grain of salt. In the end, it’s still you who should decide how to live. Because most of the time, they will never see things the way you see them and asking for advice from people who don’t share your sentiments would be useless because they can’t relate.

    • You’re very right. Taking advice from friends can be useful, but it is ultimately up to you to figure out how you want to live your life. At the same time, they might just have a point of view that you never thought about before.

  10. Steve,

    This is so true. I have had to cut a lot of people loss because they were constantly bringing me down. It got to the point where I told someone if you don’t have something other to say than random complaints then stop talking. I haven’t spoken to them in years. People if you let them will just dump their issues and drama all over you. You could have a clean canvas blank for creating and then after they leave you have a huge mess on your hands that you are trying to put back together. It is important to control who is in your life at all levels because it matters and it matters a lot. Great article!

    • It definitely matters who you let in your life. I’ve had people dump their issues and drama on me before too. It’s not something I want to go through again. Sometimes you just have to cut them off and hope that they work through their issues so you can become friends later on in life.

  11. My personal approach to this has been to understand that friends come and go very naturally as life moves along it’s course. If I look at the friends that my parents have I find that there are only one or two who are from their college age (or childhood for that matter). The majority of their friends are people they met along their path be it through my brother and I, or work, or through some other means through life.

    I do think that because of social media and other technologies it will be more likely that we will be in better touch with our childhood/college friends throughout life; however I still think that their closeness to us will still drift throughout life. I’ve seen this already with my high school and college friends. There are plenty I still talk to but few I am actually close with still.

    I take the approach of continuously making an effort of being social through every stage of life. At the same time I think it is vital to evaluate who you allow to be close to you and make a conscious decision as to who they will be. Too many of us are accidental with our closest friends and end up surrounding ourselves with incongruencies in our dreams, beliefs, and values.

  12. This is good and so true in my life right now. I moved overseas 2.5 years ago. And, overall I’m happy. Our (my huband and I) financial situation is much improved. I have a very good friend who has been a little weird lately. As if she’s trying to pick a fight. Even though I moved, I’m still in the states 3 – 4 times a year for long periods (at least 4 weeks) at a time. And, this last visit I had, I could feel as if something was “different” about are interaction. Almost as if she’s guarded. I think she’s mad at me for moving. IDK So, what I’ve decided to do is give her some breathing room. I’m sad about this because I considered this person to be my best friend.

  13. I have lived wth my brother in my folks home for five years…. (mistake! I know, but following my leaving my wife, I had to find somewhere… quick!)

    I didn’t realise he was harbouring intense jealousy, and as he’s a physically violent and emotional person, I asked him to return a painting of mine so I could sell it to my client, and move away……

    No dice…. and that was three years ago. Later, I had an offer for the SAME painting (£4000) but found it impossible to get him to recover it from his house (where his ex lives), despite outlining the situation objectively….. He promised to bring it back, but it never happened (that was a couple of years back!)

    If I go out, upon my return, all cables are diconnected from this computer, there is no communication, and he seems to think that offering to buy me a drink will make up for things!! (?) (Yeah…. RIGHT)

    The dilemma I face (and I’m in the UK), is simply that I have no interest in this disturbed person, and that I can only see that taking him to the small claims court will resolve this matter.

    NB: He earns a lot of money (in the building trade) but it seems he wants to ‘keep me here’ (or at least to have some passive control over me!)

    With all his tension and physical aggravation, it’s ‘;hard’ for me to take him to court to resolve the matter – after all, he drinks a lot, and loves to create scenes ‘behind closed doors’ ((IE – no witnesses, which is why his ex chucked him out in the first place….)

    Any advice welcomed! Although I see this as an incredible ‘catch-22’ situation 😉


    • I hate to say this – and maybe it’ll make it easier because your brother really brought this upon himself – but you may have to “fake” a crisis to get into his home and retrieve your painting. One thing you could do is tell him you’re feeling very ill and need to “come home”. This will be difficult if you’re not a very good actor. Be sure to have a taxi bring you – so it looks like you can’t even drive yourself. Another crisis you could fake is that you’re completely broke, homeless and starving. Dress in clothes that are shabby and look too big for you (don’t go too big, however, arousing suspicion). Act very hungry and hard up. Act very, very thankful that he would let you come home. Whatever you do, don’t bring up the subject of the painting. Don’t avoid looking at it if it’s out, but don’t stare at it either. When you’ve completely gained the trust of your brother to the point he leaves you alone in the house, get your painting and run! However – there’s a warning to this too. Let him leave the house for a long period of time for two or three times first, because the first time he leaves he may be “testing” you to see if you’re on the level. So it’s a cat-and-mouse game that you need to be careful playing. Let me know if it works!

  14. I spent almost my entire life being the lesser wingman to friends so they could feel better about themselves yet when something good happened to me, their envy was so intense. I boosted their egos, downplayed myself because of my quiet demeanor and low self esteem. Took me almost into my 40’s to finally get a backbone but now have regrets that I wasted so much time. Great to have these blogs to open our eyes to issues and wish I had this available when I was younger. Friendships come and go through our lives and the key is to realize that you cannot beat yourself up over past relationships. I know I was always a genuine friend and it is their loss and their guilt over treating me badly. It is sad that our society is so competitive and does not seem to value the kinder, gentler personalities and there are so many gems that are left single and alone. Advice for others: guard your heart and remember that you are number one!

    • Well said, Ali. When you’re younger, you always think that your friends are looking out for your best interests. Well, that’s true to a certain point. But when things start going really well for you, they get envious.

      I’ve been around people who have friends who use them to make themselves feel better. That’s such a destructive relationship to be in.

  15. This past September, after graduating college I told a friend I wasn’t coming back to visit and moving to a city I’ve dreamed of being in for years, and she snapped. I told her I was doing this for my own personal growth, and that I had no desire to go back to school. (It ended kind of badly for me.) She had treated me like I was stupid and a child a lot of the time, and I don’t think she actually liked the real me, so she started saying that we needed to talk, and pushing me to call her and “make things right.” I told her I was happy she was having a good year and wanted to remain friends, but it wasn’t enough. I never called her back to talk about “my problems,” and she stopped talking to me. Sometimes its better to walk away from the negative people. I walked away. It was difficult because I’m a naturally friendly person and I don’t like making other people suffer, but it had to be done. I was suffering because of her lack of understanding and empathy. And, in the end, I’m glad I did it.

  16. You hit the nail on the head Steve – love this article – it conveys what I frequently feel very well! I have had to cut ties with a number of negative friends and doubters wanting to hold me back – it clears out the clutter and as you evolve and move forward you make way for new friends. I’m glad it’s not just me who feels like this and that it’s actually a reflection of how human beings are – it’s something I need to be less naive about.


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  2. […] And guess what?  Once you’ve got this one tiny thing under control, it’s the key to figuring out the bigger stuff.  When I’m working out regularly, my confidence is higher, I’m happier, I’m more energetic, more productive, my belief that I’ll make it to Broadway is stronger.  It’s about working backwards and addressing your foundation, making it solid.  From there, anything else can build on top of it. So, go all via negativa on me for a minute.  Go backwards and think about what your own core of existence is.  Then honor it.  You owe it to yourself to incorporate it into your life every day.  I’ve even gone so far as lying to friends about what time I start work in order to make sure I’m honoring my appointment with myself at the gym.  If people find out the appointment you have is with yourself, for some reason, they don’t think it’s as important as it really is (they don’t mean any harm; they’re just being human). […]

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