Take a quick minute, before you start reading this blog post, to think of a few words you would use to describe yourself. Don’t worry, I won’t make you share these words in the comments section or anything, so be as honest as possible.
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One combination might be: competent and put-together.
Another might be: scattered and confused.
Another might be: happy and the life-of-the-party
Another could be: a failure at everything I do.
Again, be as honest as possible. How would you really describe yourself? Once you have the few words in your head, ask yourself:
Where do those words come from?
In other words, how do I know these things about myself? Even further, how have they come into being? If I’m thoughtful and caring, how I have become that way? If I’m unhealthy and destructive… why?
Have you ever wondered about that—about where our sense of identity comes from? Obviously, this is a question that has been explored by philosophers for centuries. So I certainly can’t answer it (or really even skim it) in a short blog post.
But I have been considering lately about how much of our identity comes from outside of us—from what people say about us, or to us, or even just around us. I couldn’t help but share this brief thought.
The words others speak in our presence are not just benign.
They become something important.
They become a part of us.
Chances are, when you think carefully about the words you use to describe yourself, you’ll find you did not invent these words. They were spoken to you and over you and become a part of your being.
I don’t know about you, but I haven’t traditionally thought about identity this way.
I have thought a great deal about how my thoughts and actions create my identity, about how my past experiences have shaped who I have become. I’ve tried to organize and order new experiences (school, travel, career, etc) as a way to help a positive identity continue to grow.
But I haven’t really spent much time thinking about how the people in my immediate circle actually begins to shape how I see myself.
The words they say about me…
The words they say to me…
The words they utter about the world, and about others…
All of these words are continually shaping and shifting how I perceive the world, and how I perceive my place in it. This helps to create my identity.
And for this reason, the friends I choose couldn’t be more important.
If I’m friends with people who gossip about others, who focus on my weaknesses, and who think the world is out to get them—no wonder I feel fearful and incompetent. If I’m friends with people who affirm me often, who speak highly of others, and believe anything is possible, no wonder I believe the same things, too.
Our friends are busy shaping our souls and the world around us. That’s a big deal.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I think we can be kind to everyone.
We can be gracious with everyone. We can reach out, even to those who are gossiping and negative, and be the catalyst for change in our communities. But at some point you have to decide that those you let in close, those you share your secrets with, those you invite into your inner circle, will be safe people.
People who speak good things into existence.
There is an incredible danger in choosing the wrong friends.
The stakes are too high. The cost is too steep. It may be the difference between feeling like a failure, and knowing you have what it takes. It may mean the difference between becoming a failure and becoming a success. It may be the difference between becoming the best or worst version of yourself.
You become like the people you hang around. You become who they say you are.
So choose carefully. Speak carefully.
Who you become may depend on it.
33 thoughts on “The Danger of Choosing The Wrong Friends”
Allison, I love this post and I couldn’t agree with you more. I’ve just been realizing that I have been neglected by those I have chosen to spend time around over the past several years and it has adversely affected me in my current mental state, enhancing my PTSD even further. I have also been affected by circumstances of criminal activity permeating my neighborhood and have been afraid to leave my apartment, even to attend church. Those ‘friends’ from church still left me hanging and I fell into a complete “shut down” emotionally and mentally [selective amnesia somewhat]. God has taken me on a journey during this time and has placed me among people I did not know well, yet have known 45 years ago at church when my family first arrived in this area and where I have been blessed greatly. They are very loving and I have been drawn into their circle with open arms and now attend this different church regularly and I’m involved with their new ministry to help the Homeless in our community. Those other friends have finally attempted to reach me and want to get me to return to church and want to spend time with me [yet can’t adjust their schedules other than AT church]. I have found that I don’t even remember them well.
As humans, we are meant to be loved and to love and our self esteem is built up or torn down by how we interact with others. Yes, as you may have guessed, my PTSD is the result of years of childhood sexual and emotional abuse and more of the same abuses as an adult. Praise God that we aren’t given more than we can handle and that when it gets overwhelming we have been given a way to overcome and to replace the bad for good.
I am so blessed that a dear friend introduced me to your blogs and to your book on Traveling Light. I deal as well with the tendency to ‘hoard’ stuff and I’m currently in counseling to help with this and to loosen the bondage ties of this in my environment and mind.
Thank you for all that you do to help others.
Thanks once again for a very thought-provoking post Allison! I look at some of the friends I’ve had in the past who only seemed to have a ‘take’ mentality. For someone who is generally shy and doesn’t make friends easily, it has been easy for me to fall into the trap of being used. I now have relatively few friends, but at least I know that they are the kind of people worth spending my time with. Another thing I have noticed, is that it’s not just friends who shape your life experience, but the work colleagues you have too. In the last couple of years I left a job where two of my colleagues did nothing useful but gossip about all our other colleagues. I used to feel sick to my stomach about what I would overhear. It’s another reason why I find making friends at work a little difficult too. And you shouldn’t have to be friends with people just because you work with them – it’s ok to be choosy!
Great post, Allison. I’ve been reading your blog for a while now and well, here is my first comment. This one stuck a note with me. Many of your posts do but this one REALLY did.
Sometimes it not just friends. I have an extended family member who did such damage with words that it really made me focus on my own words. For quite a long time I had a note on the fridge on which I had hand-written Proverbs 10:19 – “When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.” Being the recipient of some pretty awful words made me really focus on my own speech at home and at work and that of my kids amongst themselves. The fact that this is an extended family member has made it more difficult but I had to create a distance to keep from being affected and infected.
With our words we can bless others or curse others. I choose to align myself with those whose words bless others.
I really appreciate your thoughts and your ability to express them in writing.
Very well said. A group of committed artists and I have put together an assembly for public schools called, Stones. It addresses the very theme you have written about in this blog post. We’ve seen hundreds of girls come to a revelation of how the words spoken over them shape how they view themselves and live their lives. This short film shows the power of a word to do just that. When shown at schools I talk the girls through it explaining that the young girl is not only emotionally crushed by the stone thrown at her, but then makes it a part of her identity. She places it in her box of secret treasures (the keepsakes of her childhood) and it becomes a part of who she is. If you have time, please view the short film (be sure to push pause on the website soundtrack before viewing). I think you will be blessed by the message and the knowlege that many of us are on your team, doing what we can to bring a message of hope to the next generation. Here is the link: http://ragamuffintheatre.com/#/our-short-films/
Thankyou very much . It helped me alot to move on .
I really love this post. I’ve been thinking a lot about this, how my friends and the people I surround myself with have shaped who I am. I have always been a naturally shy person and it’s hard for me to make friends easily. I have realised that growing up, I had a lot of friends that I would do anything for, but wouldn’t do the same for me. I am definitely very cautious about who I let into my life and truly trust, because I’ve been disappointed a lot before.
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