Under a Friendly Spell

How friends influence us, for better and for worse, throughout life.

Are Your Friends a Bad Influence On You?

Maybe you need some new friends this year.

Remember when Mom became unhinged after you befriended that rebel kid, the one who smoked and sassed back to her parents?

Well, friends who are bad influences is not just an adolescent cliche. Your grown-up friends can lead you astray. Here are two key questions to ask yourself if you suspect you are still running with the wrong crowd:

1. Do you feel energized and full of good ideas after being with your friends? If a friend doesn't support your identity--meaning she doesn't quite see you for the "real you" or for who you are striving to become--then the two of you aren't connecting in an authentic way. She might be deflating your confidence as a result and leaving you feeling unsettled rather than recharged.

2. Are you your "best self" with your friends--your kindest and healthiest? Or do you find that your worst impulses run wild in their company? For instance, friends who drink too much, eat junk food constantly, talk negatively about other people in excess, or overemphasize wealth and status will have you engaging in the same behaviors or adopting the same mindsets over time. We all do these kinds of things, but friends who fight such tendencies will nurture your better angels.

If answering these questions convinces you that your friends are indeed a bad influence, should you dump them? Unless they're really bad, probably not--such a dramatic act might harm your mental health even more than they are harming it. What you can do is shift how you spend your time. Get together less frequently with them, and work on finding new friends who really "get" who you are and what you value.

Oh--and remember how you were the one who taught that supposedly rebellious kid to smoke in the first place? Don't forget that you still have the power to be bad influence on others, and behave accordingly! Be a better friend in 2013.

See the book Friendfluence

Carlinflora.com

Carlin Flora is a journalist in New York City. She was a member of PT's staff from 2004-2011, most recently as Features Editor.

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