Can friends make us miserable?

When we are with other people we act almost like transmitters when we relay our emotional state through numerous non-verbal signals, whether that is in our body language, facial expression, breathing or movement. However, at the same time as transmitting signals, we are also receiving signals from others. We feel good when we are with friends who are warm and appreciative and things feel harmonious.

The essential components of friendship are kindness and providing care, not necessarily making grand gestures. Like tends to attract like so happy and positive people tend to attract happy and positive people also.

Have you heard of the term ‘misery loves company’? Some people who are down feel compelled to share their misery with us. These are the people who seek what in transactional analysis is termed ‘complementary transactions’. When a bus or train is late they will say that buses or trains are always late. Or when we have a rainy day they will say that we haven’t had a sunny day all summer. When we agree with them, this creates a ‘complementary transaction’, as we collude in their negative outlook. If we were to say, however, that buses or trains are usually on time, or that we have had many sunny days this summer, this dialogue creates an ‘uncomplementary transaction’. The toxic person will not be fed what they feel they need and will inevitably move on and try to find someone more receptive to their misery.

It can be difficult when we realise that we are friends with someone who makes us feel miserable. We may feel disloyal to question our friendship with them or we may feel there will be repercussions if we get honest with them.

We can, of course, be there for our friends in their difficult times. However, the ones we don’t need in our lives are those who refuse to find a solution for their negative outlook and who would rather stay stuck in their misery and try to drag us down with them. 

Ask yourself the following questions about each of your friends and review how you feel about them over the time you have known them:

  • Do I feel better about myself and my life after I have spent time with them?
  • Does my friend increase my energy levels or do they drag me down? Are they an energy enhancer or an energy zapper?
  • Do we both feel happier and enriched by our friendship overall or is there an unequal power dynamic?
  • Do I feel it is mainly down to me to make arrangements to meet up?
  • Do I really feel listened to, or does my friend zone out when I am telling them something important?

If we are honest with ourselves we may conclude that a friend has over time made us feel negative about ourselves. Our job then is to establish healthy boundaries around them and to devise a strategy to create space before deciding what we want from them.

Feeling content with ourselves, and having healthy boundaries, is the best preparation for a stable long term relationship with others. If we are happy with ourselves then we are less likely to be looking to others to provide us with the inner resources we need to manifest in ourselves.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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London SE1 & SE26
Written by Noel Bell, MA, PG Dip Psych, UKCP
London SE1 & SE26

Noel Bell is a psychotherapist based in London with over 20 years experience of working with the 12 Steps of Recovery as a personal transformational tool.

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