How many friends do we really need? Isn’t it quality, rather than quantity, that counts? Is it better to focus on a handful of key friendships? Or should you try to make friends wherever you go?
We are a tribal species and often – not always – more likely to thrive when we actively connect. We tend to feel safer and gain a sense of belonging and greater self-acceptance, more resilience, even a stronger immune system. A good social support network can help us through tough times, whether the washing machine has flooded or we’ve had a year filled with loss or chronic illness. It can prevent excess stress, depression and anxiety or speed up recovery from these.
“Besties” are great, but a significant number of the more psychologically flexible and resilient people I see in my clinics and in my own social life tend to have a variety of friends of different ages as well as from different eras and areas of their lives. For example, the squash buddies, cycling club chums, three best friends from school, good mates acquired in past jobs, their partner’s friends. But how to juggle all of these without getting stressed by so many potential demands on your time?
1) Make an inventory. Jot down on paper, who are my friends or circles of friends? How satisfied am I with the quality and quantity of my interactions with them? How often would I like to talk to/see specific existing pals of mine? Which of my values and interests are perhaps underrepresented in my current friendships?
2) Tweak your behaviour as desired. It’s good to have friendships where the focus is on physical or mental activity. Try a new hobby for meeting new people. Don’t wait to be “chosen”, do the choosing yourself by starting chats, and do initiate get-togethers with dormant friends. If you have a tendency to get exhausted with too many obligations to people, learn to say no, and make sure you are heard when you need talk time, or support. Also remember, you don’t have to stay friends with people you don’t want to stay friends with!
3) Seek help if social anxiety, lack of assertiveness or other psychological factors act as obstacles to reaching your ideal friendship balance. Don’t be held back by uncomfortable feelings such as fear of rejection or misplaced guilt. You can learn to hold these lightly in the pursuit of your valued actions. A few sessions with a CBT or ACT therapist can make a big difference if you are a bit stuck on this. Or a heart to heart with a really good friend.
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