Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Are Your Friends Making You More Miserable?

By Christine Thackeray

Last night I was talking with a group of teenagers. Although they were focused on a single activity, there were three who refused to participate. They sat in the corner and then in the hall and eventually ended up outside. I went out to talk to them and asked why they didn't want to play. They felt that they weren't accepted and no one liked them. I know these girls well and each comes from a very difficult home, wrought with substance abuse issues, neglect and instability. After bribing them, the girls agreed to come in for five minutes. We entered the gym and the game stopped for them. Teams were changed up so they could be included and for those five crazy minutes it was great. But when the time was up, they hurried out the door to listen to a new CD in another leader's car- that was the bribe.

What really got me is that my daughter was sort of upset on the way home because she felt these three girls had pushed her and her friends away. She had asked them to play earlier and their reply was something like, "fat chance!" She thought they considered themselves too good for her.

Often when we have been hurt we become more cautious of new relationships and build up barriers to protect ourselves. We sometimes surround ourselves with people who understand us because they are equally broken. A recent study was done of 170 pairs of roommates and 153 dating couples over a three month period. The conclusion was interesting. Emotional contagion is is real. When someone has a severely depressed roommate, their mood is more likely to decline. Luckily, it is short-lived. When they change their situation, their feelings often lift. So our associations can greatly affect the way we approach life.

The scary part of the study was to find out that long-term relationships mirror each other. Often people that are negative are with another person that is negative or positive people are with someone else positive. Chris Segrin said, "I was surprised by how similar the partners' moods remained over time. I thought there'd be much more fluctuation." It would seem when a group of people living with negatives stay together, they do not change but weigh each other down.

Although it is important to have people in our life who we feel can understand our perspective, if our goal is to heal and improve, each of us must look carefully at our associations. Do we have friends that we consider healthy, who are lifting us emotionally? If not, we need to reach out or we could get stuck in our rut for a long time.
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