Reality Check: Knowing who your friends are

How do you know who your friends are?

If you’re a well-seasoned adult, your response may be quite different from that of someone younger. Experience does bring wisdom. If you pay attention to it, that is.

I know that I’m not alone among people dismayed by stories of youngsters who have been manipulated into sharing personal information and pictures with their “friends” only to find themselves betrayed.

Coercion, threatening, bullying—those behaviours aren’t new to humankind. One change, however, is that opportunities for embarrassment are expanded. Practically everyone now has a phone (that is, a recording device) in their hands all the time, and there’s social media to easily spread whatever’s been recorded.

While technology brings both positives and negatives, it’s not the phones, computers, or cameras that cause harm. It’s choice of behaviour that’s still the most important factor. Fortunately, we control our choice of behaviour.

Choice theory identifies external control behaviours as efforts to force other people to do what we want them to do. Those efforts often involve what Dr. Glasser describes as deadly habits: threatening, nagging, and bribing among them.

But Glasser suggests that we don’t tend to use external control with our friends. You see, unlike our family members, bosses, coworkers, teachers and others that we pretty much are required to interact with, our friends could just walk away and be done with us if we get too controlling.

So it’s a surprise that “friends” who use external control behaviours have any success (or friends) at all. But it seems especially prevalent among youth, who may have not yet figured out how to distinguish between friends and those out to do them harm.

I vaguely remember old slogans along the lines of, Friends don’t let friends drive drunk, or do drugs, etc. There are more things that friends—real friends—don’t do.

Friends don’t threaten “Unless you do this, I’m not your friend anymore.” Friends don’t blackmail, bribe, or coerce.

What do friends do? I’d suggest that they generally use what choice theory refers to as the caring habits. They respect, encourage, and support. They may not always agree, but they listen.

If you are feeling uncertain when asked to do something by a “friend,” consider these questions.

If I do this…How will I feel about it next year? How happy will I be if my boss, teacher, parent, or child knew? Would I do this if I were feeling confident, successful, and loved? Would a person I admire do this? Does this feel like giving in, and is that the way I want to feel? Will I feel stronger or weaker if I do this? Will I have more respect for myself, or less respect? Is this likely to make my life better or worse?

When someone who is ostensibly a friend asks us to take an action that could potentially damage us, or asks us to “prove” our trust, love, or loyalty, it may be time to step back and ask, “How do I know this person is my friend?”

While anyone can say, “friends forever;” it’s in actions that you find the reality.

Having a thousand “friends” on facebook who support you to your face but make fun of you behind your back does not provide the same value in your life as having one friend whom you can count on.

How do you get a friend you can count on? Be that person. Be a friend yourself, and be a friend to yourself. When faced with dilemmas, choose behaviours that you would respect in someone else. Show your values by the behaviours you choose.

How do you know who your friends are?

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