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As an only child, friends were my lifeline to fun, connection and learning about myself. I can’t imagine my life without not only individual friends but belonging to a group of like-minded people. Granted that I’m an extrovert, but I know introverts who also enjoy the benefits of belonging to a band of friends.
Not every group of friends is right for you. Peers can lead you astray, down paths you might not have chosen without their influence and would likely not have traveled alone. If they’re doing unhealthy things and you hang with them long enough, you’ll end up doing them too. Like going out to eat with friends who all binge and overeat. If you’re not anchored to being a “normal” eater—especially if you’re trying to become one—you’re probably dooming yourself. Also, in a group you could become the scapegoat, the one that gets teased and blamed for all that goes wrong among you. If that happens to you a lot, take a look at your history in your family of origin where this pattern likely began.
But when a group meshes and is in sync, there’s nothing quite like it. I’m talking about people you are yourself with and who love you no matter what. They’re what psychology calls your holding environment which gives you validation, understanding, recognition and support. The family is the first holding environment. If all goes well enough in it, you’re likely to go on to pick similarly healthy ones. If not, you’ll likely find yourself ensnared in unhealthy groups that make you think people can’t be trusted or valued.
No group necessarily lasts forever. In each phase of life—as it changes or you do—you need to evaluate your needs for intimates and find a group of companions who are appropriate, healthy and gel together. My first group of friends was in elementary school, the kids on my block. I looked forward every day to hanging out with them: roller skating, riding bikes, playing fantasy games. My second was in junior high and high school, a time in which peer support is so important to adolescent growth toward physical and mental health. My third was in college, my fourth when I started work as an elementary school teacher, my fifth when I moved from NJ to Boston and was single, then married. My sixth was when I moved to Sarasota. My seventh awaits me.
Many dysregulated eaters don’t belong to a group of friends or belong to a group which does them proud. Particularly after we leave the nest, we need a family substitute which is all a group really is. A healthy group of friends is crucial to offsetting dysfunctional families so that we can separate and individuate from them. If you have a few friends but are still lonely, think about how to pull together a group to make your own.
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