You are who you surround yourself with. That’s a core belief that is passed down from parent to child – that you have to be with the “Right Crowd” in order to be happy and healthy, and that there is a “wrong crowd” that can make you negative or cause trouble.
The idea of a right or wrong crowd is, unfortunately, an often coded term used to denigrate a group of people that someone doesn’t find acceptable to their family. But the idea that you can surround yourself with people that hurt your mental health is absolutely backed by science.
Negative Friends Cause Negative Feelings
If you are someone that struggles with negative thinking, one of the first things to do is examine who you surround yourself with. That is because studies have shown that we are, in many ways, a product of our immediate environment. The people we choose to have close to us in our lives can affect our emotional reactions and our way of seeing the world in many ways:
- Emotions Are Contagious – Studies have shown that people that find themselves in the presence of negative people are more likely to feel negatively. There are many studies that show that both positive and negative emotions are contagious, and so negative friends can influence our moods in a negative way.
- Self-Perception Changes – Who we surround ourselves with also affects our self-perception – that is, it affect the way we see how we and our friends compare to others. If we are in a group of negative people, we might view others as more positive and accept the identity of negativity.
- Poor Social Support – Negative people do not often offer the same level of social support as positive people. This can create an environment where a person doesn’t have the support they need to turn around negative thinking and address their own naturally occurring thoughts.
- Reinforced Negative Thinking – Our friends are also responsible for reinforcing the validity of our thoughts. If we thinking negatively about someone or something, and our friends tell us that the negative thinking is valid, then we have the validation we need to continue to think negatively in the future.
Sometimes, the issue is simply relationship satisfaction. If you are with people that think and speak negatively, you may simply just not be very happy. That, in turn, creates an environment where you feel negative more often.
Addressing Mental Health Through Lifestyle Changes
If you have anxiety, depression, or another mental health condition, it is unlikely that “new friends” is going to make a big change. But if you’re looking to make your life better, identifying the behaviors of the people you surround yourself with and acknowledging the effect they may have on you can be a big help.