Chapter 6: Friends Who Pain and Drain
Few things, if any, influence our quality of life, success or failure, more than the people with whom we choose to form relationships. They will make or break us. Sadly, many people maintain relationships that are “breaking” them, warping them, controlling them or holding them back in damaging and dangerous ways.
Even our very identity…who we are…hinges significantly on our choice of friends and associates….
Subsequent study after study has demonstrated that human personality is far more fluid and subject to social forces than most of us would like to admit. Our personalities are formed, at least in a significant measure, by how we think others think of us. No one can truly say, “What other people think of me does not affect me in any way.” Such a statement is mostly self-deceptive fiction. We are all, at various levels of awareness, shaped by how we think others see us. Awareness of the power of this process is the first step in a proactive plan to take control of it. And the first order of business is often the rational and cool-headed (but sometimes wrenchingly difficult) decision to “cut away” from relationships that drain us and pain us.
We will resist evidence from others that they regard us as anything different from the image that we hold of ourselves. We will behave in ways to create a match between how we view ourselves and how others view us. This is true even if it means we must work to diminish the view that others have of us in order to match the view we have of ourselves. Swann found that when people with a low self-concept are unable to bring others’ higher views of them in line with their own low self-concept, they will often withdraw emotionally, even physically, from the relationship. We would rather be thought less of by others than have our low self-concept challenged or changed, even if the change is for the better!
It comes down to self-concept. Self-esteem. And this brings us face-to-face with a terrible catch-22. If we have low self-esteem, we have sought out social connections that will verify our low self-concept. This is a self-sustaining condition that will create resistance to seeking other relationships in which a more positive view of us is reflected. The only way to change it is to “cut away” from the relationships that perpetuate our low self-esteem, but our low self-esteem makes it difficult to break away from those toxic relationships that keep our self-esteem low.
Is it possible for a person to break this cycle by their own effort? Yes. But it is not easy. It is not quick, and it is not necessarily permanent in all cases. There is no magic formula or words of self-affirmation that we can say over and over to ourselves in a mirror “until our unconscious is convinced.” The point at which it is possible to break the cycle is in the friendships we maintain. But it takes experiencing our relationships consciously……and gut-wrenching courage.