Healthy friendships are a vital component of a healthy life. Studies show that people who have at least a few meaningful and mutually supportive friendships live longer, experience fewer illnesses, and report increased happiness and overall quality of life than people who do not.
But not all friendships are supportive and healthy. Some people lift us up, inspiring our greatness and holding us through our challenges. But other people do not contribute to our wellbeing, because of selfishness, unconsciousness, negativity, or other subversive ways of being. As we deepen our relationships and explore the truth of our connections, how can we tell if our friendships are actually good for us?
A Real Champion
One way to determine if your friend is a true friend is to observe if and how that person supports you:
- Is he or she excited when you experience success and consoling when you are down or have a failure? A true friend is available for the emotional support that is fitting to the moment.
- Does that person volunteer to help you accomplish your goals when necessary and appropriate? Friends help each other whenever it is feasible to do so.
- o you refrain from gossiping about each other, or saying things that you told each other in confidence to other people? Real friends keep each other’s secrets, and do not speak untruths or potentially hurtful things about their friends to other people.
- Do you feel like your friend “has your back,” no matter what, and that you are also that person’s champion?
All Kinds of Weather
One clear way to determine if a person is your friend is to see how they show up (or don’t) in times of uncertainty and challenge. And how they react when you have a large success or major positive life shift. When someone is not really your friend, that person is more likely to “ghost” when times get tough, or give in to jealousy and bitterness when times go really well. A true friend is authentically happy for your happiness and sad for your sadness.
Another hallmark of true friendship is the sense that, in the friendship at least, you and your friend are equal. There are no status games, no belittling or putting on a pedestal, and no sense that one has to do what the other says.
Maintaining equality can be a little tricky if your friend is also a superior or subordinate at work, but even then when you should be able to have an easy, mutual camaraderie when you are not working. You should never feel like you have to follow your friend’s orders, or like you are telling that person what to do. The same goes for friendships that span different ages, school years, socioeconomic statuses, or racial demographics. Whatever the difference in external status markers, in the context of the friendship you should feel like equals.
A Foundation of Integrity
All friends have is the truth. As relationships are built on trust, integrity, and accountability, a friend’s word is his or her bond. If a friend says that he or she will do something for you, follow through is of utmost importance. And true friends do not lie to each other, or withhold the truth.
This applies to manipulation, as well. At no point should it feel like your friend is trying to get you to do something for him or her. True friends ask each other for assistance and provide physical and emotional support whenever possible. But they do not force or manipulate their friends into doing things for them.
Let’s Work It Out
This is the most challenging guideline, but ultimately may be the most revealing. True friendships, like any relationships, have their ups and downs. All friends have their differences, and the more you get to know someone, the more apparent that person’s differences will be to you.
With anyone we care deeply about there is a strong possibility of being triggered, challenged, and pushed to our growth edges. A sign of a healthy friendship is that the two people are close, not because they hide their differences, but because they build a bridge to each other across the things that could separate them.
When disagreements arise, true friends are willing to work it out with each other, using compassionate communication tools to express their needs, and listening fairly and fully to the other person. In those instances, a friendship with someone who is different from you can actually help you grow. But both you and your friend have to be willing to do that work together, and the foundation of your connection must be stronger than your differences.
True friends are more precious than gold. Having people in your life that love you unconditionally and support you whole-heartedly is a key element of health and happiness. It can be challenging to discern when a person is actually your friend. But these guidelines can help. And ultimately, if you are practicing honesty, accountability, open-heartedness, and giving, you will inspire those expressions of friendship in others.