The Power In Our Friendships

I recently read in a magazine (Mantra Magazine, check it out) that we’re the sum of the five people we spend the most time with. In other words, the five people who are the most active in our lives will impact who we are, how we see ourselves, and how others see us. There’s a lot of research that backs up this statement, specifically research around self-efficacy.

Self-efficacy is a concept that describes how we view ourselves and our capabilities. We can have high self-efficacy in some areas and low self-efficacy in other areas. A lot of the research focuses on self-efficacy in the context of school and learning; however, we can also understand self-efficacy with regard to career, personal relationships, mental health, and just about any other realm of your life.

Self-efficacy develops and is impacted by four major experiences: mastery experiences, vicarious learning, persuasion, and emotional arousal. Let’s say you want to learn how to dance. You take classes and have several experiences of learning the dance moves and performing them gracefully in front of others. This is a mastery experience. While you’re taking classes, you watch others in the class progress and have a teacher who you can look to for direction. This is an example of vicarious learning. The teacher, and your fellow dancers, may also cheer you on, provide you with feedback and support, and encourage you to keep trying. They provide you with persuasion. Finally, you love dancing. You feel energized, joyful, free, and elated while dancing. This refers to your emotional arousal. Because of these experiences, it’s likely you start to believe you are capable of learning how to dance, and actually you’re quite good. You’ll probably continue with dance classes into the future.

People can also have high or low self-efficacy in areas, other than school or dancing. Actually, self-efficacy can be applied to learning anything new.

Many of the clients I see struggle in their relationships. It’s a very normal concern to come to counseling with. Clients are either having a hard time getting along with family or friends. Sometimes it’s not even necessarily an issue of “getting along” – things might not be “bad”, but the person is hoping to make their relationships better, understand their loved ones more, and understand how they show up in the relationship.

Some people, however, really struggle in their relationships and specifically, their friendships. They have a friend who they seem to be growing apart from. They have a friend who consistently contributes to them feeling bad about themselves. They worry they’re friends aren’t honest with them. They have different or conflicting beliefs than their friends. The list goes on and on. These people who are having a hard time in their relationships are also coping with some really difficult feelings as a result – sadness, grief, anger, frustration, jealousy, regret, powerlessness, or anxiety.

We’re the sum of the five people we spend the most time with. The way the significant people in our lives treat us will impact how we treat ourselves. Let’s circle back to self-efficacy. Imagine you have a friend who is adventurous, courageous, and optimistic. This friend also struggles with anxiety, self-image, and confidence. You know this, because you’re their friend, but these parts of them don’t always show. Despite their struggles, they take risks where they see opportunities. You watch them ask a stranger they find attractive out on a date. You watch them take a job that will be incredibly challenging. You watch them give a presentation in front of the class. You start to believe you can also do these things, take those chances, because if they can do it, so can you.

Not only are you able to witness them successfully navigate those challenges, but they are also incredibly supportive of you taking risks too. They encourage you. They tell you to go for it. They offer to support you however they can. They also make trying to take these risks enjoyable and fun for the both of you. So you start to take risks, despite your anxiety, your fear, your self-doubt, and you experience success. So you do it again. And every time it gets easier, and each time you feel more capable and confident in your abilities to conquer a new challenge, go on the interview, ask the person on a date, give a presentation in front of your class.

These friends can help us increase our self-efficacy. In the example above, you have a friend who provides you with opportunities for vicarious learning, they also use persuasion to encourage you to try something new, and they create positive emotional experiences associated with those challenges. As a result, you end up having several mastery experiences yourself.

On the other end of this, is the friend who isn’t always supportive. In fact, they put you down. If they aren’t putting you down, they contribute to your anxiety and self-doubt. They respond with “are you sure you want to do that?” Or if they try something new, they tell you “it’s not something you’d like”. This is a totally different experience than the one mentioned above, and likely not going to increase your self-efficacy. Now, I’m not saying you need to dump all these people and at the same time, it is important for friends to be aware of and respect your needs. Maybe this means having a conversation with them about how they can be more supportive, encouraging them to do their own work to increase their own self-efficacy, or setting up firmer boundaries.

This is something I’ve had to do, too – and not always gracefully. It was, however, necessary for my own mental health and personal growth. I remember at one point in this last year, I listed the five people I spent the most time with and I wasn’t pleased with the reaction I had when I looked at those names – not because I don’t care about those people, but because it was clear our beliefs, values, and goals were different and the way they treated me didn’t align with the personal work I was doing.

Your friendships, and really all your relationships, should compliment you or challenge you in some kind of way, not make your life more difficult. I also like to say that friends should help you find your balance and increase your belief that you can create balance in your life.

Below is a description of what I believe the five people I spend the most time with contribute to me.

1.     Adventure & Fun

2.     Peace & Intentionality

3.     Kindness & Generosity

4.     Ambition and positivity

5.     Self-compassion

You can create your own list, either with the names of those people, or list those people then create a description of what these people bring to your life. After you may be satisfied with your list, want to prioritize spending more time with certain people, or reach out to others you are not on the list.

Written by:

Bri Dixon