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What Makes for Mentally Healthy Friends?


It’s easy to understand why we’d have problems with parents whom we didn’t pick and bosses or colleagues about whom we had limited choice, as they usually come with the job. But ongoing problems with friends, people we freely elect to have in our lives? It’s not even one-offs that clients complain about. Rather they vent about the same one or two “buddies” who drive them crazy or why they can’t seem to find the kinds of friends they want. Here are some patterns I’ve observed from my caseload over the decades.

  • Picking friends who are victims and complain constantly about being treated unfairly, taken advantage of and how they’re put upon. Clients tending toward victim-think feel right at home. Surrounded by a Woe Is Me Club that does little actual problem solving and are poor role models for empowerment, clients avoid being accountable. They only ditch this mentality when they realize they have the power to change.
  • Picking friends who are narcissists. Most clients are compassionate, caring, kind, and try not to burden others or ask too much of life. Their narcissistic friends are just the opposite, always grabbing the spotlight which only reinforces clients’ feeling unimportant and unheard. When I try to point out how someone seems awfully self-centered, clients might even offer a slew of positive traits to defend a friend’s drama. The way out is to back off from the relationship because a narcissist will never be much of a true friend.
  • Picking friends who are bossy. Many clients are insecure and have self-trust issues, so they seek friends who will gladly tell them what to do. Although clients resent this, it’s also reassuring and a familiar way to relate to others, as they often did in childhood. To grow and heal, they need to make their own decisions and experience consequences. 
  • Picking friends who are rebels and are reactive rather than proactive. The chips on their shoulders left over from growing up generate ongoing battles with rules and people in charge. Clients who also have similar issues stunt their emotional growth with anger and unbridled entitlement and need to make peace with their rage in order to outgrow it.
  • Picking friends who have poor self-care. For clients who don’t have great self-esteem, hanging with others who obviously don’t often feels comfortable: If others don’t treat themselves well, it normalizes unhealthy behaviors. But group think and action only reinforce unhealthy habits. To break out of these friendships, clients must make better decisions even if this makes “friends” feel less good about themselves.

Do you have any friends like the above? How does being with them affect you?