Our beliefs about relationships naturally affect how we behave in those relationships. And when our beliefs are distorted, it can lead us to actions that sabotage our friendships—and leave us neglecting ourselves.
Which is why it’s important to take the time to explore our beliefs and contemplate their accuracy. Below, Alyssa Mairanz, a psychotherapist in New York City who specializes in relationships, shares three distorted beliefs.
Distorted belief: My friend doesn’t really mean that
According to Mairanz, many people struggle with the belief that their friends don’t mean what they say. In other words, they regularly question their friends’ motives and intentions.
For instance, your friend says she can’t get together for dinner because she’s studying for a tough test or needs to work late. You think it’s a bogus excuse. You think: “Clearly, she just doesn’t want to hang out with me,” or even “I’m not that important to her” or “She doesn’t want to be my friend.”
This pessimism and lack of trust often originates in childhood, Mairanz said. “If your caregivers, and/or other important people in your life at that time, regularly disappoint you and are unable to give you the support you need, you will likely think all people will be that way.”
In addition to being suspicious of sincere friends, this also can lead you to befriending individuals you really can’t rely on, which only reinforces your negative beliefs about people and relationships, she said.
“This mentality also comes from a low self-esteem. When someone on some level doesn’t feel lovable and as if they deserve good things, this can lead to not trusting other people.”
Distorted belief: Being a good friend means being there for the person—always
Your friend asks you for a ride to the airport. Your to-do list is a mile long, and taking him will triple your stress level. But you say yes, anyway, because that’s what good friends do.
It’s your friend’s first day off in forever, and she wants to stay out late. You are exhausted, and need to get up early the next day. But you hang out until 2 a.m., because that’s what good friends do.
Your friend needs to come over to discuss something. Right now. You’re leaving for an important appointment. But you skip it, because that’s what good friends do.
In other words, you believe that a good friendship is about dropping everything to be there for your friend. All the time. You dismiss your own needs. You care for your friend—at the expense of yourself.
However, as Mairanz said, “meeting your needs first is important.” Plus, “in reality, you can’t always accommodate other people and true friends understand that.”
On the opposite end of the spectrum, some people are the ones who hold their friends to impossible standards. “Often that kind of friend is seen as exhausting and that mentality actually pushes people away and brings resentment,” Mairanz said.
Distorted belief: A good friendship is equal—literally
In other words, you have an eye-for-an-eye or tit-for-tat mentality. This distorted belief leads to more conflict, frustration and even vindictive behavior, Mairanz said.
She shared this example: Your friend has to miss your birthday because of a work conference. You’re able to attend his celebration but because he didn’t attend yours, you decline. Why would I make an effort for him if he didn’t make an effort for me?
Our distorted beliefs are often motivated by fear of upsetting someone or by feeling abandoned, Mairanz said. “Some people have a lot of anxiety about others being mad at them and leaving the friendship.” We imagine that this will feel like the end of the world.
But will it? Really?
Mairanz stressed the importance of revising our thought process. For instance, remind yourself that it’s OK if someone is upset with you, she said. “Not advocating for yourself will have more negative long-term consequences than upsetting someone in the short term.” That is, you might bottle things up, which can lead to anxiety and even depression.
You might become resentful, which can spark a blowout and end your friendship. “Avoiding conflict just delays the inevitable; eventually things come to a head,” Mairanz said. “By waiting, you have less control of when and how you express yourself, which often means a more dramatic and angry confrontation.” Plus, conflict is a normal part of any relationship, and when done constructively, can actually bring people closer.
Mairanz also suggested exploring the likelihood of your friend getting angry with you for certain actions. “Most of the time, the consequences imagined are not actually the result.”
Do you see yourself in these beliefs?