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.
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