I am not a fan of Robert Heinlein. There are many reasons for this but one of them is about the traits of his novels’ heroes. They are often ‘The self-sufficient man’. The fellows could do everything themselves thus never needing help from others. Mr. Heinlein extols his readers (mostly boys) to be likewise and he castigates thems who do not. […]
On quite a regular basis I come across advice to cut out the negative people in my life, whether in an illustrated quote on social media, in a book or article, or on a podcast. The gist of the advice is that negative people will drag you down and ruin your attempts at living a ‘positive life’. There is some truth and logic in all this: depression can be a bit catching and presumably there are people out there who enjoy putting others down or making fun of them, and people who anger easily and say mean things. It’s undeniably important to look out for our wellbeing and reflect on how spending time with our current friends and family makes us feel. And I would never suggest anyone stay with an abusive partner/family member, who is violent, controlling, constantly critical, not understanding or manipulative. There probably are some people who you might need to cut out. But today I’m going to talk about why this advice doesn’t seem like great blanket advice, my experiences of it, and what I think a better approach could be.
1. Friendship is really important for people with mental health issues
Friendship can be hugely important for mental health, and depressed or anxious people needs friends too.
Here’s what some sites have to say:
- “Friendship can play a key role in helping someone live with or recover from a mental health problem and overcome the isolation that often comes with it.” (https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/a-to-z/f/friendship-and-mental-health)
- “Social isolation has long been known as a key trigger for mental illness, while supportive relationships with friends, family and neighbours are beneficial to the mental health of individuals and the population… Adults with no friends are the worst off psychologically. There are significant health cost implications from the impact of this social isolation.” (https://esrc.ukri.org/news-events-and-publications/evidence-briefings/mental-health-and-social-relationships/)
- “It’s well-documented that loneliness can cause depression and have negative effects on health and lifespans, equal to that of smoking.” (http://www.open.edu/openlearn/health-sports-psychology/health/health-studies/mental-health/why-friendships-are-vital-your-wellbeing)
There is a tendency to say that depressed people don’t need friends, they need a therapist. But, in reality, therapists can’t do everything and there can be long waits to see one and between sessions. And therapists tend to encourage depressed people to do more things socially. But that’s going to be difficult if their friends have cut them off because they are not positive enough!
2. Losing friends is extra painful when you’re depressed or have anxiety
I can definitely testify to this. And depressed people often have an exaggerated view of their bad qualities, with many thinking they are worthless, so losing friends is only going to enhance this. Also, depressed people often avoid socialising even though it is known to help, and if they keep losing friends, that’s going to make them more likely to avoid seeking new ones for fear of yet more rejection and disappointment. Similarly, for those with social anxiety, rejection will feel very significant and will increase the barriers to making social connections.
3. One day it will probably be you who is the negative person
Depressed people can be a bit mopey to be around, they may not have a lot of optimism or jokes, they may be quiet or talk about themselves and their problems a lot. So, yeah, they might not be the people most likely to boost your positivity, but your friendship could mean a great deal to them at this difficult time. Many people experience depression at some point in their lives – one in five according to the Royal College of Psychiatrists – and it’s quite likely that one day you’ll be having a hard time and you’ll want your friends to be there for you even if you’re not all smiles.
4. A small sacrifice on your part could mean a great deal to someone having a hard time
I’ve very rarely turned away someone who wanted to be my friend. This has often been surprising to other people, who wanted nothing to do with the person who was a bit abrupt or talked too much. But I’ve always felt that meeting someone for lunch or a coffee was a small thing to me, and perhaps important to this person who had no other friends. Everyone needs friends.
5. You can feel good about being there for the person
If you really want to see everything in terms of the benefit it brings to you, well, you can feel good about doing something for another person. There is a deeper value in looking out for and caring for other people than in trying to make everything in your life ‘positive’, which, in fact, is an impossible and potentially quite a frustrating aim.
Also, showing a bit of kindness to a person having a tough time could help that person get better, saving the NHS some money, maybe also the benefits system, and reducing the likelihood of very sad, disruptive events such as suicides and drug addiction. Individuality actually often backfires because, ultimately, we all live and work in proximity with others.
6. You might regret cutting people out
I’ve cut out a couple of people. It’s easy to do it hastily in an argument or after they’ve said something you find really offensive, and quite hard to backtrack on. I’d suggest waiting a couple of days before cutting anyone out. You often don’t really miss something until it’s gone, and that can be true of friends. And waiting a couple of days gives you both time to cool off.
I’ve also found that friends with depression or anxiety are often the most loyal and appreciative. The most entertaining, fun friends are often those who won’t stay in touch if you move and may be more prone to dropping you if they get in a relationship or find more convenient or more fun friends elsewhere. And, hopefully, those friends with depression and anxiety won’t always be so anxious or depressed, and will remember how you stuck by them and be there for you when you need it.
7. Learn to develop boundaries and care for yourself
If spending time with someone is leaving you feeling drained, worried or low, this could be a great opportunity to work on your assertiveness and self-care. Figure out how long you can spend with that person without it having much of an adverse effect on you, and then implement it, if you can. If necessary, tell them you need a bit more time apart and feel free to only take calls or look at their messages when convenient to you, if that’s an issue.
In the UK, we’re not great at assertiveness and we’re quite prone to avoiding situations that might feel a bit awkward. I’ve come to think that’s not a good thing and I’ve been working on not being so avoidant. Once you learn how to look after your needs and ask others to respect them, you won’t need to ghost people, block people or completely cut people out of your life (except in extreme cases perhaps). And those are great skills to have in the workplace and as a parent, when you simply can’t avoid everyone who causes you irritation or upset.
If someone often gets angry with you, or says things you find offensive, or says a lot of pessimistic things that make you feel demoralised – try bringing it up and explaining how it’s affecting you. I’ve done this and found it has worked. If someone values your friendship, they will make the effort. If they don’t then, fair enough, cut them out. Likewise, if you know for sure that talking to them about the issue won’t help, or if even minimal contact is going to be too upsetting to you, then that is probably a sign you should cut them out. I’ve actually never met anyone like that, or anyone really manipulative who tries to make me feel bad but I assume they are out there and sure, avoid them.
In summary, here are a few reasons not to automatically cut out the negative people:
- A small sacrifice on your part could mean a great deal to someone having a hard time
- Friendship is really important for people with mental health issues
- One day it will probably be you
- Losing friends is extra painful when you’re depressed or have anxiety
- You might regret it later: consider all the good times you’ve had with this person and their good qualities
- Rationing time with such people can be better than cutting them out completely
- You can feel good about being there for the person
- Use it as an opportunity to learn how to develop appropriate boundaries and assertiveness
What are your thoughts? Share below!
https://www.theodysseyonline.com/the-other-side-of-cutting-out-the-negative-people A description of how it can feel to be cut out
In my experience, and considering the usual newspaper articles about ‘benefit cheats’ and ‘scroungers’, most people think that the UK benefit system is pretty lax and a lot of people are exploiting it in some way. This post presents a starkly different reality, and shocking statistics even for those accustomed to hearing about how painful experiences of the benefit system can be for disabled people.
When was the last time you said “well, that’s men for you!” or “oh, you know, women!!!”? Or something like “well, it’s a girl/guy thing…” I’m guessing probably not that long ago. Me too! It’s actually really difficult to avoid, even if you want to. Why? Well, it’s great for bonding with fellow men or women. It’s also an easy way to explain a difference between you and your partner without getting personal (“oh, you know, it’s a guy thing I think.”). It’s also habit, and often used humorously (“honestly, men and their toys!” etc.). Common gender assumptions include: men are stronger than women; women are more empathetic than men; men are better at maths and women are more interested in relationships than casual sex. Now, I’m not saying that none of these hold some truth, even a great deal of truth in the first case. But what I’ve been wondering more and more in recent years is:
Are gender assumptions serving us well?
I think my trigger for considering this was a guy I dated who constantly challenged any gender assumptions I made: both literally in conversation and simply by being who he was. Gradually, I began to realise how unhelpful some of my gender assumptions had been. The main negatives are:
Harm to the men and women who don’t fit the assumption
This is a major one I think. It’s hard to find a gender assumption that will be true in 100% of cases (I challenge you! Comment below if you think you have one!). And for those who don’t fit the assumption, it can be tough: for the women who are great at IT but have to battle to be taken seriously, for the men with lower sex drives than their wives, for the women with no urge to have kids and for the men who love knitting. Being seen as the odd-one-out can be crushing, leaving people feeling ashamed of who they are and unable to talk freely with others about how they truly feel for fear of seeming abnormal. This has been discussed in a sexual context in the guest post on libido, where the common (but wrong) assumption remains that men are all highly sexualised and certainly more so than their girlfriends or wives . A similarly crushing (and very common) assumption is that women all get broody and men generally don’t.
And, as the current climate also demonstrates, life is particularly tough for women trying to prove themselves in male-dominated fields such as science, the film industry, politics and business leadership. At every step they come up against assumptions that they are less worthy than men to be there and thus have to fight twice as hard. And yet there is no evidence that these particular women are not every bit as good as the men they are competing with (and trying to be paid as much as) – indeed, they may even be better.
Even if you believe that more men than women are better at maths, for example, that doesn’t mean that the female accountant doing your tax return is any less skilled than her male colleagues. And even if you believe that more women than men are interested in having children, that doesn’t mean that the woman you’re dating is necessarily going to be keen on the idea (nearly all of my boyfriends have assumed this and not thought to ask!). So, just how are those assumptions serving us when we can never know which men and women will actually fit with the assumption?
I guess at times gender assumptions can be helpful though. They might help English teachers pick a range of books that are likely to interest pupils of both genders more equally than if they’d given the matter no thought, for example. But for most of us, in everyday life, I don’t see that they’re very useful.
Disagree? Comment below!
Every time we make a comment in the form of a gender assumption, we contribute to its continuation. If you’re a man and you hear all the time that men enjoy porn, you’re likely to watch it and think you should enjoy it. If you’re a woman and you hear all the time that women are bad at parking, you may put down your errors to your gender instead of the potentially real cause of inexperience, lack of confidence or a stressful day. You may just let your husband park for you, whereas were the situation reversed, you can bet your bottom dollar your husband would be practising parking until he had it mastered! (Note to self: practice parallel parking!).
Self-confidence plays a large part in mastering most skills, and studies show that girls who were given (false) information about girls being less good at maths than boys actually performed less well in a maths test than the girls who hadn’t been shown that information! 
Pressure to conform stifles individuality and limits options
What most people want in life is to be accepted for who they truly are. What if we welcomed into our world, without even raising our eyebrows, the deeply empathetic men, the highly ambitious women, the men who love to sew, the women who love to code, the broody men, the sex-mad women, the boys who dress as princesses, the girls who love to play-fight, the men who aren’t strong, the women who are, the female welders, the male secretaries, the women with an interest in war memorabilia and the men who love romcoms… Just imagine how liberating life would be for all these people (and I guarantee they are out there!) if they didn’t have to worry about being judged or laughed at but instead if people just saw them and thought “well, everyone is different”. Because that, after all, is one undeniable fact.
Without these assumptions, none of us would risk feeling like a cliché or a failed “gender rebel” either. It would be fine, as a woman, indeed a liberated, 21st-century woman, to be a stay-at-home mum, spending your free time making scented candles and having nights in with friends watching Dirty Dancing and drinking Prosecco, if you so wished.
Lately I’ve been trying to say what I like and don’t like, what I’m good at and not good at and what I want and don’t want from life, and not throw myself in with the vast group that is “women”. I’ve seen this trend growing in some of the podcasts I listen to as well, such as the Guilty Feminist podcast. To be honest, it feels much more truthful. Time and experience have revealed to me that women don’t all like the same books, films, clothes, partners and sexual practices. They aren’t all good at reading people or subtlety or being caring. They don’t all want children or rich husbands or non-stressful jobs. And men are equally diverse, even if they don’t necessarily reveal it to their male acquaintances. They don’t all like porn, action movies, fancy cars, no-fuss clothing and technology. They aren’t all good at parking, fixing things or being direct. And they don’t all want big houses, beautiful wives, lots of sex and a fridge full of beer (really!).
And if you go through life basing your decisions on these assumptions, you may well end up with pretty unhappy partners/children/employees/friends. Maybe now is the time to let go of our assumptions and just let people be who they are!
And you know what, we could all have more fun too. I’d like to know more about cars and football. Maybe if I did, I’d have new passions! Men also often tend to rule out a whole range of books and films that they might actually love. You could be missing out on discovering your ideal job because it’s not one you would feel respected, as a man/woman, doing. Why are we limiting ourselves in these ways?
I’m really happy that I grew up in a household where it was ok to like toy cars as well as dolls, to play at being a firefighter as well as a mum and to choose to study whatever I wanted. I’ve felt gloriously free to bend gender norms by playing rugby and darts, wearing men’s clothes and aftershave (occasionally) and owning a toolbox, which I use from time to time (thanks mum!). I want everyone to feel this liberated!
I still don’t quite feel free of gender expectations when it comes to sex and relationships, and talking about them with other people, but I’m getting there. And I’m still catching myself bolstering gender assumptions I don’t even believe in for the sake of group bonding, not disagreeing with someone or making things seem less personal but my challenge for 2018 is to do this much less. Anyone care to join me?
Share your thoughts below!
 e.g. see http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/sex-confessions-women-want-sex-more-than-men_n_3203879
See also Related Links
The Guilty Feminist Podcast: Assumptions https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ThjQ-sG3dlE
Why I’m done trying to be ‘man enough’: YouTube TED talk by actor Justin Baldoni
This post is a kind of short follow-on from my first post on the law of attraction, which examines what it is and whether or not it is plausible. You can find that post here. This post addresses the argument that goes along the lines of “well, even if it’s not that scientifically plausible, isn’t it a good thing to believe in?”
Apparently “Creative visualization is a cornerstone of using the Law of Attraction” . Psychologists seem to vary on whether visualisation boards are a good thing or not . They are commonly suggested by self-help books and even at school or college courses though the Law of Attraction site goes further by suggesting spending 10-15 minutes on this every day. While it can be a good thing to visualise where you want to get to, most psychologists seem to suggest that you do need to then plan concrete steps to get you to your goal such as enrolling on courses, joining a dating site, money management etc. .
Affirmations: not always a good thing
Affirmations (another major part of the Law of attraction) can also be a double-edged sword, as research has shown that uttering affirmations that we don’t truly believe can actually reduce our self-esteem . As an aside, I will add that personally I’m a fan of affirmations but it does make sense to stick to things that either are true or that we can easily believe are true.
Being in full control of life: a good thing?
The Law of attraction suggests that “your entire future is yours to create”  . Well, how lovely. But being told life is entirely in our control can be crushing if things go wrong and we feel that it is all our fault; and even minor failings to achieve our ‘dream life’ are likely to weigh on us if we feel everything is in our control, as Alain de Botton points out here .
And how realistic is it that everything is in our control? What about earthquakes and wars, trains going off the rails and terrorist attacks?
The law of attraction tells us “Be happy, for the universe is always on our side!” Maintaining law of attraction beliefs in the face of rape, loss of your home etc. is going to require quite some mental gymnastics. And is it going to encourage us to speak up in the face of injustice or to try to reduce famine, war and abuse? Probably not, if we think that these things are happening “for a reason” or because of people thinking negatively.
“Treat The Universe Like Your Personal Supermarket”
This is one of the principles stated on the law of attraction website. Hmm. Even if it were plausible that a somewhat demented Santa figure is in charge of granting our wishes if we order them correctly, how beneficial is such a belief? Isn’t it rather self-centred? And why hasn’t anyone wished for world peace? Numerous psychologists and philosophers have pointed out that actually we are often at our happiest when serving others and when we lose the heavy sense of our personal weighty existence, be it when ‘in flow’ during a hobby, immersed in a vast landscape, star-gazing or volunteering and immersed in helping others .
What do you think? Comment below.
 e.g. Oettingen and Mayer; J Pers & Soc Psych, 2002. and https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-science-success/201107/how-positive-thinking-and-vision-boards-set-you-fail
 http://www.pursuit-of-happiness.org/science-of-happiness/getting-in-the-flow/; http://www.pursuit-of-happiness.org/science-of-happiness/caring/; http://www.bbc.co.uk/earth/story/20160420-how-nature-is-good-for-our-health-and-happiness; http://dilja.co.uk/the-benefits-of-feeling-small/ http://www.pursuit-of-happiness.org/science-of-happiness/strengths-and-virtues
After graduating from university, Lauren embarked on a long and difficult journey to find a job. In support of our new campaign, Work With Me, she spoke to us about the barriers she faced and gives some advice to disabled people who are still searching for a job. When I graduated with a good degree and […]
This is not another of those articles urging you to take up a ‘digital detox’. But nor is it a biased post with a commercial ulterior motive. These are my reflections on the social media age that we woke up to one morning. At least, that’s how it seems to me. I’m old enough to remember the pre-digital era, but only just. Like most of us, I slipped into using Facebook without a second thought. It went from a niche network of university friends to an online network with an astounding 1.94 billion active monthly users, according to Statista . Rarely has anything so suddenly infiltrated so many parts of our lives, with Facebook messaging often replacing email or text, with photos often being shared in the network, political viewpoints announced to the world, objects bought and sold, jobs advertised, groups formed… the list goes on. But how many of us have really stopped to think about how we use it and how well it serves us? It took me a while to do so, but I’m mighty glad I did. Here are some of the things I thought about social media use (especially Facebook, but also other network.
Something that often comes up when you talk to people about Facebook is the green-eyed-monster that rises up in us as we scroll down the news feed. Instagram feeds can provoke similar issues. For many, the feed is composed of people showing what a great time they’re having, and, in many cases, how many friends they supposedly have (in the form of likes). No matter how much we tell ourselves we know it’s just a facade and that the number of likes is pretty meaningless, do we believe it? According to new research by disability charity Scope, 62% of Facebook and Twitter users felt their own achievements were inadequate when compared to the posts of others, and 60% said that the sites had made them jealous of other users . The test, I think, is to observe how you feel as you scroll down. Do you feel happy for the people there? Bored? Envious? Competitive? Depressed? Then let your feelings dictate what you do next, be it continuing as you are, limiting how long you spend on Facebook, stopping viewing the news feed or leaving Facebook altogether. For me, this reflection led me to stop viewing the news feed and I chose a photography page I like to be listed first so that generally when I log in I see its latest post. I find that now I more often message friends directly to see what they’re doing, which leads me on to the next point…
Another issue I’ve heard discussed is the unsatisfying nature of relationships that don’t exist beyond Facebook. Much as it’s nice when someone likes something you post, it’s not a conversation. I do sometimes wonder if actual one-to-one communication has diminished because people spend idle moments scrolling through the news feed rather than sending a text or giving someone a call. Ever since I stopped using the news feed, I’ve definitely been interacting more with people one-to-one, which I find so much more satisfying.
Of course, it is possible to get into discussions on Facebook, but it’s not something I see a lot of. WordPress is much better for in-depth discussion I find, while Twitter is rather worse, due to the character limits.
That said, apparently finding out you’ve received a ‘like’ literally gives you a mini high , so on one level it is quite satisfying.
Good for groups
In my experience, Facebook is quite good for groups. It’s easy to set one up and people don’t need to log in twice. It’s easy to share photos and videos and comment on them. Facebook groups are the reason I’m still using the network. Of course, face-to-face groups are great too, probably more so, but Facebook groups have the upper hand when it comes to convenience and reaching people from all over the world. Again, it’s no doubt well worth checking in with how you actually feel when you use online groups; if you’re just getting into arguments or using it as a distraction, it might be time to leave.
Facebook: the graveyard of friendships, if you don’t have regular ‘clear outs’
A friend once described Facebook in this way as we chatted about its negative side. It struck a chord right away. I’ve never found the time or the heart to do a ‘friend cull’ and about 80% of my Facebook ‘friends’ are people I knew long ago. Needless to say, the Facebook algorithms love to let me know that some person I once vaguely knew is happily married, or has had a baby. Facebook also likes to remind me of people I was once friends with via it’s ‘what you were doing x years ago’ feature.
Facebook can be great when you are at school or university with a big network of real-life connections, and you’re meeting new people all the time, but when it begins to look and feel like a dismal graveyard it’s time to either do that cull (hopefully if there’s been no contact for several years no-one will take offence), stop looking at the news feed or leave.
If you keep your network fairly small, maybe the news feed items will provide a genuine encouragement to stay in touch with more distant friends rather than simply informing you about people you’ve ceased to care about.
Political tools, but use with care
I have mixed feelings about politics and social media. Certainly we now have the opportunity to find likeminded people from all over the world and co-ordinate political action. But we also have the opportunity to rant and say the first thing that comes into our head. To anonymously intimidate and threaten. To be highly reactive, not reflective. And to sound off in an (often rather depressing/angry) echo chamber of people who share our views, or bombard those who will simply ‘mute’ us as soon as they see a view they don’t agree with. I’d much rather read a considered blog post, or listen to a vlog, and get into a discussion around that. And I think face-to-face discussion with people we know is probably more likely to impact on their views than a ranty post.
As for getting informed about politics and news on social media, it’s certainly more fun than newspapers but of course there is the risk of fake news when there’s no-one vetting the accuracy of the posts. Social media is also a convenient soapbox for populist characters to make all sorts of claims (you know who I mean, I’m sure…).
Social media use can make us too focused on ourselves and on selfish goals
On the whole, people are happier when they see the bigger picture in life. The more I focus on MY popularity, my likes, my photos and so on, the more self-absorbed I am. We all know someone who is constantly uploading pictures of themselves, and this intense focus on appearance can’t be good for us. Not everyone is comfortable with the idea of having a ‘brand’ either. I want my friends to be my friends on good and bad days, through boredom and adventure, regardless of my popularity or attractiveness. For me, that means having real-world friends and not investing too much time in the airbrushed version of myself that social media so strongly encourages.
I’m also not really a fan of the fact that Facebook posts are so often about marriage and kids. I’m not sure if it’s their algorithms doing this or purely what gets the most likes, but, while I have nothing against marriage or starting a family, I’d rather see posts about people making the world a better place more generally. And I’d rather see creativity than the consumerism encouraged by checking in and constantly posting about restaurants etc.
I even read that the more photogenic dogs are the most popular ones to be taken from dog rescue centres. No doubt some people even get a pet purely to get more likes – pretty silly.
Thinking about these aspects has reinforced my decision to avoid the news feed, which is even easier if you have the messenger app so don’t need to log into Facebook to see your messages. I only post about myself from time to time and always try to remind myself that I’m not on a quest for likes. Another thing that’s interesting to do is to ask yourself why you are thinking of posting something, and if it’s a very shallow reason, decide not to do it.
Facebook is good for appreciation, but is it creating an environment of forced positivity?
The comments that tend to get most likes are positive ones, and I’d certainly agree that it’s wise to appreciate the good things in our lives. However, I do wonder if the fact that most comments are of the ‘I’m so happy’ type might be making it more difficult for people to talk about their struggles. Prior to the introduction of the sad face, angry face and amazed face, negative posts usually received little reaction, and maybe the introduction of those other options came too late to change the fact that most posts are of the gloating kind. In my experience, it’s only worth airing your troubles on Facebook within the context of a support group.
A few other thoughts:
– encouragement of procrastination
– distraction from work/family/relationship/social life/crossing the street safely!
– there are a lot of bots and prostitutes on some networks
– Twitter is extremely commercial: it can be hard to use it for social ends when so many users have commercial aims
– social networks are great for sharing information, and indeed I use them to share bits of ‘unconventional wisdom’ and these posts
– easy to connect with people around the world
– sometimes an enjoyable distraction during a tea break etc.
What are your thoughts? How do you use social media? Would you like to change how you use it? Share your thoughts below.
Related links: (some of many!)
We are obsessed with romantic relationships
As a society, we seem to be obsessed with romance. The majority of songs seem to be about romantic relationships or sex. A whole genre of books, Chick Lit, is devoted to romance, and romance often features as a life-enhancing situation in many other novels. And then there’s the Romcoms. Dating sites abound. And if all that weren’t enough, there’s that much-dreaded day for many singletons: Valentine’s day. No friends’ day, at least not here in the UK.
Where’s the celebration of friendship?
Where are all the homages to friendship? There’s a saying that lovers come and go, while friends remain, but there’s really little celebration of friendship in popular media. Everyone knows that friends are the ones you go when you have a broken heart; no matter how sure you are that your relationship will last forever, 42% of marriages end in divorce . Who will be there for you then? Unless you’ve made the effort to nourish friendships even while juggling work and family responsibilities, the answer could be that no-one will. Even for those fortunate couples whose relationship remains strong, one day one of them will die and the other will be in certain need of supportive friends. I remember being very struck by that common regret of the dying (observed by a palliative nurse): I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends .
The best friendships are not based on selfishness
And I don’t think we should just stay in touch with our friends for selfish reasons alone. Friendship should be about a mutual bond and the willingness to go out of our way to support the other person when they need it. I worry that we are coming to view friendship in quite a selfish light; many popular internet memes encourage us to ditch our ‘negative friends’. And yet, approximately one in four of us will experience a mental health problem at some point in our lives . Are we expected to be constantly positive, encouraging and in agreement with our friends? Surely the occasional argument, or grumpy mood, or patch of depression is natural and part of being a good friend is to be able to resolve conflicts, not over-react to less-than-perfect behaviour and to support our friend through a difficult time. (That said, it’s another matter if your friend is routinely putting you down or acting aggressively etc. I would not suggest anyone risk their own mental or physical health for the sake of a friendship.)
Loneliness is rife
I often come across people online who have no friends, and indeed felt like I had none at various points in my life. Some might say that these are difficult or selfish people, but I think that’s unlikely. Many are people who come across great online. Many attribute the ‘disappearance’ of their friends to a decline in health, which they assume made their friends feel uncomfortable or view them as too inconvenient. Others have moved away from their university friends and are finding it impossible to make friends in their new town, and yet others attribute their lack of friends to a disability or depression. The emergence of friend-making sites such as Girlfriend Social and Together Friends is a response to the large numbers of people struggling to make new friends.
Perhaps we should not be so quick to write off old friends
I admit I now regret writing off a couple of former friendships. I’m quite slow to do… I generally cherish every friendship and don’t turn anyone away. But after two of my best friends said hurtful things, I considered our friendships over, and wonder now if I was a little hasty to do so. I’m sure I’ve also been a bit neglectful of some friendships during very busy patches of my life. I’ve also been on the receiving end of friendship neglect, and I find it very sad that people I’d gone out of my way to support in difficult times don’t value our friendship enough to maintain contact.
Friendship is a great gift, and need not be a burden
I have always thought that the gift of friendship is an easy one to bestow. A kind word and a bit of genuine listening costs nothing and need to take up much time. Grabbing lunch with someone, or dropping someone a text or email is not a momentous task, but can do a great deal to relieve someone of loneliness, provide sympathy or advice, and make them feel cared for. I think often it’s a matter of finding what works for both people, be it periodic phone calls, Whatsapp messages, Facebook etc. Even parents busy with young children can find a way to check in with old friends from time to time. When you look out for people in this way, not only do you store up people who will support you when you need it, you also help reduce mental health problems and even suicide.
I think parents should also not assume that friends will want to see them without their kids or partners. Often friends will accept that it’s not easy for them to continue as they did before marriage and parenthood, and will be ready to accept – or even appreciate – different types of get-togethers.
And how about some more books, music and films celebrating great friendships? Heroic, impressive, beautiful friendships. I don’t know about you, but I’m quite bored of it all being about romance.
What do you think? Is friendship undervalued? What have your experiences of friendship been? How do you stay in touch with friends? Comment below!
This is something that’s really been on my mind lately. Having many choices is very much a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it’s good to have options, but, on the other hand, it’s easy to become overwhelmed and over-stretched, never feeling like you have enough time for anything. I think some people are more prone to this than others.
It is often assumed that a benefit of the free market is having lots of choice. I’m sure it’s better than having no choice, but at times I do wish there was a bit less choice. I’ve often spent hours trying to find the best price or the best product, and it was tedious and exhausting. I felt, somehow, obliged to do it. If you enjoy shopping around, or, alternatively, don’t feel obliged to do it, I envy you!
A writer in the Economist seems to agree with me, saying “The explosion of available goods has only made time feel more crunched”. 
A gender thing?
Women seem to be more prone to this than men, as we find ourselves traipsing round all the shops to be sure we’re getting the absolute best deal on something, whereas men seem to find it a lot easier to just buy the first suitable item. I remember a journalist once saying the same difference applies to holiday booking. Of course, browsing and getting the best deal can be really enjoyable, if you like that kind of thing… But, if you don’t, how do you drop the habit?
Never enough time, and FOMO
And it’s not just shopping that can be plagued by choice overload. Our leisure time can often feel fraught as we struggle to juggle invites, events we want to attend, chores that need doing and hobbies we’re struggling to keep up with, not to mention exercise and spending time with friends and family. When did having lots of wonderful options turn into feeling like we never have enough time and always feeling like we’re missing out?
The vast, messy, ever-present internet
Obviously, the internet has a lot to do with choice overload. It offers almost infinite resources including blogs, vlogs, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and news websites. I was wondering the other day whether teenagers are allowed to have their phones at school lunchtimes. Our hour-long lunchtimes seemed to last forever and were usually very boring; I feel like I could’ve had a better time online. Most often though, I reminisce about an era when people didn’t check their phones during our lunch date, an era when I seemed to spend a great deal of time enjoying the outdoors… It comes as no surprise that 60% (or more) of British 16−24-year-olds visit a social media site several times a day.  Ultimately, I think the internet is a good thing, but how can someone who used to read magazines from cover to cover get the most out of a great resource without feeling overwhelmed?
Netflix and such
The same issue can arise with things like Netflix: in the olden days, we had a choice of 4 channels and recording something to watch later was a bit of a pain. You went to a shop to hire videos. Now, we are faced with a huge choice of material, on demand. But we simply don’t have time to watch it all so, how to choose?
The pain of prioritising
The obvious answer to the ‘too much choice’ problem is clear: prioritise. For years I somehow didn’t realise this was necessary, accepting invites in a first-come-first-served manner, planning my life with a scattergun approach, lacking any ‘white space’ to reflect on life or make decisions. At one point, I actually had to pencil in my diary a slot to make a decision on some big issue, because otherwise the time didn’t arise! Looking back on that time, I’m so glad that my life is now so much more spacious.
Prioritising has a big place in my life now: in my work and professional development, in my personal admin time and in my leisure time. I’m the kind of person who finds many things interesting, so prioritising is, frankly, often quite painful, especially when it means saying ‘no’ to something. Ultimately though, time is finite and I don’t want to be one of those people who is completely over-stretched, never really listening to anyone or having time to reflect on their relationships and lifestyle. So, I’ve chosen my key hobbies (three of them), I’ve narrowed down my areas of work, and I prioritise friends based on how much they seem to care about our friendship.
Other strategies to manage choice overload and overwhelm
I’m thinking aloud here. Feel free to help me in the comments section below! This is very much a work in progress for me.
- Think about how you fill your time. Rank the activities, from ‘favourite’ to ‘not that keen on’. Can you cut anything out? I realised I don’t really enjoy eating out: now I only do it for special occasions like birthdays or when a friend suggests it. Can you increase your favourite things? Maybe you just need to suggest them more, and people will be as keen as you are.
- Narrow down the apps and social media. Do you really need to be on them all? Decide which ones are of most benefit to you and your network, and bin off the rest.
One study shows that young adults use their smartphones roughly twice as much as they estimate that they do (an average of five hours a day).  Photo by Daria Nepriakhina (Unsplash)
- See the bigger picture: It’s not all about you. When you prioritise, factor in the feelings of relevant people. And give yourself enough time to help a stranger on your way somewhere, or do something for a friend at the weekend. Life isn’t a hedonistic pleasure spree, even if advertisers want us to think it is.
- Narrow down your hobbies to the two or three most important ones. Combine them with socialising if appropriate e.g. in art clubs, book groups, dance groups, Meetups etc.
- Learn mindfulness and slow down. Give up the frantic pace and really get the most out of what you’re doing right now.
- Accept that life is full of obstacles and other people’s inefficiencies. Sometimes there’s nothing you can do, so take a deep breath and let go. Don’t resent the ‘wasted time’ − it would only make you angry.
- At the risk of losing email subscribers to this blog, I’m still going to say it: subscribe to only a select few things.
- Set limits: decide in advance how long you’ll spend looking for the best deals (or whatever it is you’re doing), or limit yourself to looking only at a certain number of websites, for example.
- Whatever you do, don’t get emails and Facebook notifications popping up on your laptop or phone screen!
- In your free time, try thinking ‘what do I actually feel like doing now?’ Learn to go with your instincts instead of following a habit to go on Netflix, Facebook or whatever. Maybe you’ll actually feel more like going for a walk, painting, calling a friend, baking a cake…. Don’t know about you, but too much time online makes me feel bug-eyed, zoned out and drained.
- Keep some white space in your diary.
- Look for recommendations g. try the Good Garage guide if you need to choose a local garage and consider subscribing to Which?
Share your ideas and reflections below!
https://wordpress.com/read/blogs/105969207/posts/274 When choices become clutter
 2014/15 Department for Culture, Media and Sport https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/476095/Taking_Part_201415_Focus_on_Free_time_activities.pdf
On the whole, talking about the chronic pain I experience tends to be greeted with a resounding silence, and/or rapid change of the subject.
If you’d asked me ten years ago to name taboos in the UK, I’d have said things like ‘female masturbation’ and ‘being transgender’. Twenty years ago, I might have said ‘being homosexual’. Particularly in some circles, these things are still somewhat taboo, but much less than they were. Now I’d include chronic pain, but only because I live with it. If you don’t, you’re probably happily oblivious of the awkwardness around the topic.
The Cambridge UK dictionary defines ‘a taboo’ as ‘an action or word that is avoided for religious or social reasons’. Having suffered from chronic pain for several years now, I’ve only gradually become aware of how often I refrain from mentioning pain, and why. On the whole, talking about the chronic pain I experience tends to be greeted with a resounding silence, and/or rapid change of the subject. No doubt this is why I often avoid mentioning it, or mention it briefly and rapidly change the subject myself.
Why the awkwardness?
Are people awkward about chronic pain because they don’t know what to say, like when someone’s parent has died? Or is it because they think you shouldn’t mention it; you should be pretending everything is fine? Hard to know really. Here are my thoughts on possible reasons why people react strangely to talk of pain:
- Chronic pain, like death, old age and hospitals, is something most people prefer to ignore until forced to confront it. Discussion of these topics causes a sense of unease that people want to avoid.
- People want to ‘save’ those with chronic pain from talking about something that seems very personal, so strive to change the topic.
- People are worried about either sounding pitying or heartless, so say nothing or change the subject.
- Actually, people are only a little awkward but the chronic pain sufferer is expecting awkwardness and that magnifies it in his/her mind.
There’s always the worry that silence means something negative like ‘you need to man up’, especially after actually receiving some rude and inconsiderate comments along these lines in the past.
Then there are other reasons why people with chronic pain don’t talk about it:
- Fear of sounding like you’re complaining and fishing for sympathy.
- The complexity of the subject, which can only really be covered fully by a long conversation.
- Fear of sounding ‘soft’.
This article sums up brilliantly the many reasons why revealing a chronic pain condition can make a person feel very vulnerable: it can feel like you are in a no-win situation. But the less you say (or are able to say, before the topic is changed!), the more likely people are to jump to the wrong conclusions. The more you can explain, the more people are likely to gain understanding.
Why we all need to help end this taboo
The trouble with any taboo is that it creates repression and shame. People feel abnormal and are unable to obtain the benefits of discussing something important to them, such as compassion, getting useful suggestions, and that feeling of carrying a lighter load. And the subject of the taboo remains poorly understood, shrouded by prejudices. Estimates of those living with chronic pain vary, but it is undoubtable that the percentage is high: about 7.9 million people in the UK experience moderately or severely limiting chronic pain (between 10.4% and 14.3%) . How many people do you know with chronic pain? Does it match these statistics? If it doesn’t, then maybe you know some people who are living in the silence of this taboo.
We Brits are well-known for a ‘grin and bear it’ attitude and for euphemisms. We say things like ‘things have been better’, when really we mean ‘things are terrible’. Is this helpful when it comes to chronic pain? Well, there’s certainly a need for much ‘patient endurance’, as chronic illness writer Toni Bernhard puts it. And sometimes we do smile, in spite of the pain, and we must. But we shouldn’t feel pressurised to pretend everything is fine if we feel unhappy. We shouldn’t feel unable to set boundaries, to pace ourselves, and to use mobility aids or other aids which ease our burden. Most importantly, we should feel ok about sharing this struggle, this massive part of who we are.
And with 69% of those with the severest level of pain experiencing anxiety or depression , improving the social conditions faced by these people should be a high priority. Feeling that pain is taboo isn’t going to lift anyone’s mood – quite the opposite.
How can we get there? If you live with chronic pain, try to start sharing when you can. And if you don’t live with chronic pain, be ready to listen, to show some sympathy, and to discuss this issue which has been pushed into the shadows for far too long.
I’ve started talking more about pain, talking about it whenever a good opportunity arises. I’ve started resisting the urge to not talk about it. And you know what? It feels good. It feels a bit revolutionary. It feels like being myself and like opening the door of understanding, even if merely by an inch.
https://wordpress.com/read/blogs/120574110/posts/996 a personal description of the advantages of telling people about a health condition
https://wordpress.com/read/blogs/67332141/posts/796 on the stigma of autism
https://wordpress.com/read/blogs/116356880/posts/220 on the stigma of mental health issues
Scholarly articles/research related to this topic:
Other references to chronic pain as a taboo:
If you would like to suggest a related link, email me!
 Prevalence of chronic pain in the UK: a systematic review and meta-analysis of population studies by A Fayaz, P Croft, R M Langford, L J Donaldson, G T Jones, http://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/6/6/e010364.full
 The Health and Social Care Information Centre, Sally Bridges, 2012 http://content.digital.nhs.uk/catalogue/PUB09300/HSE2011-Ch9-Chronic-Pain.pdf