BFF: Best Friends For…?

I’ve been thinking about the relationships we develop over our lifetime, through school, work, communities, shared interests as well as through our more extended networks. They play an important part in our mental, physical, emotional and social wellbeing.

Do they affect or are they affected by the subconscious? We’ll take a friendly look at how they impact our minds as well as our lives.

That’s what friends are for…

What are friends for, anyway? Asking people this question and looking online reveals a wide variety of advantages to creating friendship bonds. In addition to situation-based scenarios like “she’s my shopping buddy” or “he’s the guy I get along with at work”, friends provide some general and long-lasting impacts.

Early on in life friends can help us develop learning and skills by giving feedback (approval and disapproval), sharing experiences, having and being role models, and learn social skills that will last into adulthood.

As we grow, our peers and friends influence our interests and priorities and set some additional expectations for romantic interests as well. They may band together for change or help us in honing our skills. They also tend to set our ‘norm’ for us.

Whether male or female, we can influence and be influenced in our lives – supporting our relationships, giving us a ‘reality check’ on our choices (Are you really going out in that outfit?), and erase loneliness. That said, when we’re around others we may feel lonely, so there’s a big difference between ‘friends’ and ‘people’ – friends tend to create connections with and for us that have meaning in our lives.

As you’re reading this, you may have flashes of childhood friends, or adolescent ‘gangs’ or love interests, or those who were connected to you from your first job, your high points and your lowest lows too. Whether we are consciously aware of it, our subconscious collects all the information from our interactions and weighs those that are meaningful, via friendship, more heavily.

The friends we have made and lost are part of the underlying chronicling of our lives.

Like me?

They say that opposites attract and birds of a feather stick together – which is it? Well, the research reveals that there are studies that support both.

Even from the early days there is a tendency for little ones to prefer others with similar tastes in food and toys.

As we are exposed to certain types of sensory inputs – those we see, hear, taste etc. – they become our ‘familiar’ within the subconscious. The patterns we are presented with tend to come ‘naturally’ to us and we think of them as conventional. In fact, those who appear like us, especially physically, may historically have been attractive to us for the ‘safety’ of kinship.

Others who have unfamiliar or different ways of doing, looking or being require more learning, exposure and effort to enter into the automatic, subconscious mind.

At the same time, our subconscious mind works by association, so it is often in ‘connection-making’ mode when we meet others. We often aim to find similarities between us – common friends, interests, education, experiences…

And once we do, we often make more connections even if this isn’t the case. Our minds tend to run a familiar course once we have found some commonalities with another – which is why our friends can still surprise is when they don’t like something we assume they like, simply because we do.

So there are advantages to having friends who like to hike, play chess, or skydive if we do – we have a companion. Similarly held beliefs (political and otherwise) tend to create calmer conversations. So what would the advantage be of collecting friends that don’t think, look, feel or act as you do?

While there may be a certain discomfort in dissimilarity, groups that were not homogeneous who worked on group projects tended to discover more options or stronger solutions than ‘like’ groups. It may be group-think, or a natural desire to not rock the boat within a group that seems to be gelling, but groups with similar viewpoints and biases seem to look at a problem with limited perspectives (because they are all the ‘same’).

Other advantages to dissimilar friends are a dynamism that tends to come from having someone who has a different comfort zone from yourself, complementary skills with different strengths and weaknesses, and an ability to have a different perspective during problem solving. The subconscious mind is also curious about or attracted to the unique and fascinating.

So a perfect selection of friends (according to the subconscious) would be some safe and similar buddies, as well as some different yet complementary chums.

Like me!

But what about ‘friends’ on social media? In a world where people move from place to place, country to country, social media has been a great maintainer of connections. We can keep in touch with our wide circle of friends more easily than ever before. Many old relationships have been discovered and revived by our ability to network online.

Yet there is a dark side to our online presence that has showed up in therapy practices around the world. It has been discovered that many of those who have created a heavy ‘habit’ of facebooking or other social sites (to combat boredom, worry or loneliness) have actually felt greater social isolation and lowered feelings of self-worth over time.

While the boost of a ‘like’ can immediately indicate to our mind that we’re relevant, approved of or connected, it can be as ineffective to change boredom, worry or loneliness as a cigarette, ice cream or other ‘bad habit’ over the long term.

Additionally, while we intellectually know that people tend to post their ‘highlight reel’ online, curating their posts to show the happiest and most successful, the mind often compares others best days to our worst and finds our own ‘un-curated’ life wanting. This has led to increased envy or despair in this sphere.

Especially with younger people, a greater opportunity for bullying, predators and other socially challenging behaviours emerges. When we have thousands of ‘friends’ that we may never have met or had much connection with, it provides a tenuous link that can make us less cognizant of our impact to others (or their impact on us).

We don’t have facial or other cues that may react when we type something hurtful (which tends to happen immediately with face-to-face contact), so it’s harder to learn to be sensitive to others. But these unedited comment still hurt, nonetheless. Emotional aftereffects have become more and more of an issue in the mental health and helping professions.

And this doesn’t even include unknown ‘friends’ who might be dangerous. The perils of the schoolyard cliques, bullies and ‘bad seeds’ are multiplied online in extensive and complex ways.

I love my online connections. But I usually check myself before I post to see if I’d actually say something similar to someone I was talking to in person (and as you know from my GreyMatterNetwork facebook page, I often share both my high points as well as my low points as lessons from the subconscious).

Many or Few? Loud or Quiet? 

The way we construct friendships may also be affected by our ‘vertedness’. Extroverts tend to have a greater number of friends, while introverts may have fewer. Does it mean that the latter are less friendly than the former?

It seems that many of the friendships made by those who have introverted traits tend to make deeper connections over a longer period of time, allowing their comfort zone to expand slowly but with greater commitment in the long run. While introverts may mistakenly be seen as aloof or antisocial, their ‘re-energizers’ simply tend not to be outwardly social but quieter and more reflective.

Can introverts and extroverts be friends? As mentioned before, our differences can be helpful in a lot of different ways. Yet, just like others with different conditioning and upbringing, extroverts need to be respectful of an introvert’s lower tolerance to noise, contact and stimulation, while an introvert needs to be aware that an extrovert’s shifting from person to person or interrupting a pause or deeper conversation is not meant as disrespectful, but a tendency of their need for greater action and talk-time.

As long as both are open to the other’s differences, this combination of friends can unlock some interesting and ‘out-of-the-norm’ experiences.

Ripple Effect

I recently had breakfast with a friend in Singapore whom I hadn’t seen in several years. As we spoke about all types of subjects, I realized that she had been the first one to interest me in the topic of hypnosis.

That little suggestion had inspired me to discover my passion and work for the past 15 years. When I told her about it, she hardly remembered it. However, she was quick to mention how my suggestion of meeting a colleague of mine had set her on a different course in her career. Both of us had unknowingly impacted the other’s life.

It was an enlightening moment.

While we may not be aware of it, we can be a force in the lives of the people who connect with us, respect us, or have a relationship with us. I often think about, yet rarely share the positive impact so many of my friends have had on me over the years.

This often unacknowledged power has a dark side as well. Early ‘frenemies’ or bad experiences can affect the way we socialize in the future.

The subconscious mind tends to absorb suggestions from those nearest and dearest to us, so a negative comment can sear into this deeper part of mind very quickly and reorganize our internal sense of self. Often these deep cuts are done when we (or others) are feeling vulnerable, hurt or emotional (hijacking our ability to be compassionate or socially sensitive).

Whether we have hurt others or been hurt – actually or through a misunderstanding – our ability to learn the lessons from our experiences and let go/forgive can assist us in developing a more nuanced ability to create even more meaningful connections in the future.

As they say – with great power comes great responsibility. So armed with these reminders, I encourage you to reach out to a friend or friends to share their positive impact on you, extend compassion to their foibles, and reap the rewards.

Oh yeah, having a strong social structure can improve your overall health and maybe extend your life (with good friends, it certainly improves your quality of life).

Friends matter – handle with care.

If you need a friendly hand with any challenges in your life, or want a boost to be even better where you excel, contact us and we’d love to support you! Jennifer

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