WebMD BlogsRelationships

Why You Need to Choose Your Friends Wisely

friends hugging
Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD - Blogs
By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhDPsychologistApril 03, 2019

Our interactions with other people can have a strong influence on us – even the interactions that seem insignificant in the moment. Something as simple as a kind word from a stranger can prompt you to smile and feel a sense of warmth; it may even cause a shift in your attitude, changing the way you go about the rest of your day.

Of course, you are most deeply and powerfully influenced by the people closest to your heart. Four ways that family and friends commonly affect your life are:

The presence of loved ones affects your mood. Emotions are often contagious, in part, because people have “mirror” neurons in their brains that “mirror” what those around you are experiencing, allowing you feel empathy for them. So, when someone is generally upbeat, you are frequently more likely to feel more positive in their presence. Similarly, people who seem to travel with a raincloud above their head can leave you in a dark, foreboding mood.

This does not mean you should steer clear of someone just because they are unhappy. You may choose to support a friend who is struggling emotionally – just as you would want them to support you during difficult times. However, there is a problem when someone else’s distress becomes your predominant way of feeling.

How loved ones see you affects how you see yourself. When people see you in a positive or negative light, they treat you accordingly – and this influences your self-perceptions. In 1999, a group of researchers found that people become more like their ideal selves when they have a partner who sees them as they’d like to be. This “Michelangelo effect” was named after the legendary artist who created stone sculptures based on the images he saw in the raw material, just as partners help to shape their companion into the ideal self that they carry within. Of course, when partners or close friends see you in a less favorable light, that perception will affect you negatively. So, keep this in mind as you choose your partner and friends.

Loved ones influence your personal preferences and your lifestyle. This can be as simple as a friend encouraging you to listen to a new kind of music or wear a particular brand of shoes. But it can also significantly impact your lifestyle – such as when Samuel L. Jackson’s character in the movie Pulp Fiction notes, “My girlfriend’s a vegetarian, which pretty much makes me a vegetarian.”

Having a strong social network is associated with having a healthier, happier, and longer life. People who have close friends and social supports to turn to during difficult times tend to feel less stressed. Research has even shown that people with such social networks are often physically and emotionally healthier.

Given that your relationships shape the person you are and the person you are becoming, it is important to choose your friends and loved ones wisely. While you cannot choose family, you can choose the ways in which – and how much – you interact with them.

So, ask yourself what qualities you value in yourself. Also consider how a loved one might influence your life over the next one, five, or even ten years. Then when you are making plans to get together with people or looking for someone to connect with, choose those who will support and encourage you to have the future that you want.

WebMD Blog
© 2019 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.
Blog Topics:
About the Author
Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD

Dr. Becker-Phelps is a well-respected psychologist, who is dedicated to helping people understand themselves and what they need to do to become emotionally and psychologically healthy. She accomplishes this through her work as a psychotherapist, speaker and writer. She is the author of the book Insecure in Love.

More from the Relationships Blog

  • woman in therapy

    6 Situations Where Therapy Can Be Helpful

    Have you ever wondered whether psychotherapy might help you? Though most people are aware of what therapy is in a general sense, many ...

  • unhappy couple

    7 Signs of an Abusive Relationship

    Abusive relationships aren’t just about physical violence. Abuse comes in many forms – emotional, psychological, sexual. And, though ...

View all posts on Relationships

Latest Blog Posts on WebMD

View all blog posts

Important: The opinions expressed in WebMD Blogs are solely those of the User, who may or may not have medical or scientific training. These opinions do not represent the opinions of WebMD. Blogs are not reviewed by a WebMD physician or any member of the WebMD editorial staff for accuracy, balance, objectivity, or any other reason except for compliance with our Terms and Conditions. Some of these opinions may contain information about treatments or uses of drug products that have not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. WebMD does not endorse any specific product, service or treatment.

Do not consider WebMD Blogs as medical advice. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your doctor or other qualified healthcare provider because of something you have read on WebMD. You should always speak with your doctor before you start, stop, or change any prescribed part of your care plan or treatment. WebMD understands that reading individual, real-life experiences can be a helpful resource, but it is never a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from a qualified health care provider. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or dial 911 immediately.

Read More