We make lots of new acquaintances throughout life – from summer camp allies to college buddies and professional colleagues. A single human being can maintain active social contacts with up to 200 people simultaneously, but only a few of them can be considered confidants.
Some friendships pass over time, sometimes without even noticing that the connection between you has changed, and some may end unexpectedly, leaving you thinking, “Why do I push people away?”. You do not necessarily need to be the problem yourself (if it’s not you who always leaves), as, with the passage of time, people tend to change, and your interpersonal relationships may fade naturally.
But as for those you decide to stick with, you need to be extremely careful and choose the people you surround yourself with wisely. Here are some scientific explanations why:
One way or another, your surroundings will have an impact on you. There is no need to mention that both positive and negative actions of people will affect you, no matter whether it be eating chocolate or their spending habits. So why not surround yourself with role models rather than bad examples?
Studies show that people with low self-control and frequent temptations appreciate and benefit more from befriending those with high self-discipline. Researchers suggest that individuals with a lack of willpower may compensate for the absence of motivation and self-discipline resources, maintaining interpersonal relationships with partners and friends with a positive and active attitude.
Having them around will not ensure success, but surely will impact an individual’s self-confidence and urge them to pursue their personal goals.
Suppose you think that such an approach of “selecting” friends is too pragmatic. In that case, you should understand that there is nothing selfish in wishing what is best for you. Creating a supportive and comforting surrounding should be one of your primary goals at the very beginning of self-development and personal growth.
Emotional Contagion (Empathy)
You know that feeling when you meet someone new, whom you actually like, and then start catching yourself using their favorite words or phrases while talking, or repeating postures and even facial expressions after them?
Research from the University of Hawaii explains that phenomenon and how empathy works. It involves three mechanisms that enable mirroring other people’s emotions – mimicry, feedback, and contagion. This study’s central conflict is that by now, researchers cannot determine who is susceptible or resistant to (and under what conditions) emotional contagion.
And here is why it is crucial: mimicking people’s emotions that surround you does not always mean being happy for others as for yourself. It also entails being infected with emotional expressions and behaviors of those with a negative emotional background. Indeed, one of the core fundamentals of friendship is being supportive and helpful in tough times, but it is crucial to differentiate them from damaging interactions with other people.
As the study shows, what we think and what we feel does not always overlap, so being mindful of other people’s actions and non-verbal cues and your self-control will be a key for you for setting personal boundaries. This process needs to remain ongoing and applicable to both your friends, co-workers, and people you know from social media.
A controversial Facebook experiment confirms that your awareness should expand beyond in-personal communication too. It shows that emotional contagion can occur even in the absence of nonverbal cues and direct interaction between people – through the use of social media. This work’s results indicate that emotions that are “posted” by other people, both positive and negative ones, influence our own feelings.
Thus, online posts that appear on your News Feed can affect your experience of emotions and, therefore, your offline behavior – the connection between emotions and physical well-being has already been studied and proved. Your stress level can increase depending on which posts the algorithm chooses to show you, so there is no need for online interpersonal interaction such as private messages.
Another research shows that the excessive number of social media contacts can lead to anxiety increase due to the willingness to please everybody with the content you post and not offend anybody. To prevent yourself from getting overwhelmed and influenced by your mutual online friendships, you should pay attention to whom you are befriending and choose friends on platforms with the same thoughtfulness as in real life.
Undoubtedly, your surroundings say a lot about you, but the only thing you need to focus on when you choose friends is how they affect you. Creating a positive support group of a few members will be more advantageous for you in the long run than tiring yourself on many short-term, low-quality acquaintances. There are even health benefits stemming from a conscious choice of friends and surroundings.
Psychological knowledge allows you to be mindful and aware of the contacts you make and observe how they influence your choices, point of view, and overall well-being. Sometimes it will require willpower to end relationships that are not balanced for you and protect your boundaries. Still, in most cases, you will succeed at meeting new people with positive opinions.
It is time to be responsible and conscious about whom you befriend, and, as Oprah said, “surround yourself with only people who are going to lift you higher.”