Circle of friends.

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Much research has been dedicated both psychologically and sociologically to group dynamics. It’s no wonder, as social group formation is an interesting phenomenon. While friendships primarily stem from interpersonal or philosophical similarities, they can also develop simply due to a shared social or geographical categorization. Therefore, it’s not necessary to share any primary trait or characteristic at all. A group can form by sharing external similitudes, such as participating in a like-activity, playing a team sport, working for the same company or living in close proximity. These types of groups leave interpersonal attraction secondary to the connection between group members. Most groups, though, are comprised of a blend of both primary and secondary types of members. As well, subgroups do develop within a group. Likeable members in a group tend to be upgraded to a sub-in-group, who will deviate from unlikable members placed in a sub-out-group. This is charmingly referred to as the ‘black sheep effect’. Finally, there are outcasts. Though, they aren’t actually a part of the group. Anymore that is. It’s what happens when a member becomes intolerable to the rest of the group.

Individuals seek group membership because we all have a desire for kinship. Though, ‘optimal distinctiveness theory’ suggests that we also desire to differentiate ourselves and to maintain our individualism. Ultimately, we seek out a balance between the two, while at the same time doing our best to avoid the black sheep effect. To have our cake and eat it to, as it were.

Whether you fall into the sub-in-group, the sub-out-group, suffer the black sheep effect; the whole is still greater than the sum of its parts. All members will likely find themselves in any one of these categories at different times throughout the evolution of their group dynamic. However, if you truly desire to keep your membership in good standing and want to avoid becoming an outcast, there are ways to keep yourself in the in-group without compromising your distinctiveness.

Avoid the seven deadly friendship sins.

Wrath. Definition (noun): strong, stern, or fierce anger; deeply resentful indignation; ire. Antonyms (some near): calm, patience and forbearance. It’s okay to have an opinion, but didn’t your mother ever teach you that if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all? Try to exercise some restraint, realize that everyone is entitled to an opinion, that people can agree to disagree and relax! Friendships are not debate teams (unless your group is, in fact, a debate team) or fight clubs. If you are angry, ranting and complaining all the time, the only group you’ll be invited to join is located at a little joint on Outcast-Alley.

Greed. Definition (noun): excessive or rapacious desire, especially for wealth or possessions. Antonym: generosity. Take, take and take some more. Friendship is supposed to be give and take. Reciprocal. Quit thinking about yourself and start putting your friends forward every now and again. You might be surprised about how good it feels to give back. I am not saying you should become a doormat, but it is okay to forget about your needs every once in while, especially when someone else might need a helping hand, a sounding board or a shoulder to lean, or cry on. If all you do is take, the only thing you’ll end up with a big sack full of #1 Outcast awards.

Sloth. Definition (noun): habitual disinclination to exertion; indolence; laziness. Antonyms (near): exuberance, vibrancy and energy. Nobody likes a bump on a log. Don’t be such a drag. Even if the group is participating in something you don’t like to do, like hiking, or wants to go to a restaurant with food you don’t like or to see a movie in a genre that’s not your favorite; relationships are about compromise. Suck it up. Hiking? It’s just walking, only amidst the trees. You’ll be with your friends, focus on them, and the great conversation and laughs that you will have. If your friends want to go for Indian food and you don’t like hot and spicy dishes? Guess what? You can ask for an option that isn’t spicy. And, realistically, most ethnic restaurants have ‘western dishes’ on their menus. Don’t like action films? Focus on the eye-candy, male and/or female, who are always cast in fast-paced thrillers. Remember, if you keep saying no to everything you don’t like, you might stop getting invitations altogether, leaving you in the sub-out-group that could just be a layover on your one-way trip to Outcast-ville.

Pride. Definition (noun): a high or inordinate opinion of one’s own dignity, importance, merit, or superiority, whether as cherished in the mind or as displayed in bearing. Antonym: humility. I have never heard anyone say, what a cool show-off or I sure am looking forward to getting together with that bragger later. Let your friends have a moment of glory, even if you have already done what they have accomplished or even did do it better. What’s the point of extinguishing someone else’s flame and making them feel small? The act of belittling is usually only exercised by people who are trying to make themselves feel better. Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face. Keep your hurtful, superior thoughts to yourself. Chronic one-uppers only end up hurting themselves in the end. And, they soon find out how lonely it is as the top of mount-Outcast.

Lust. Definition (noun): an intense or overmastering desire or craving. Antonym (near): casualness. Is this necessarily a bad thing? Well, if it gets in the way, crippling your ability to function as a normal, well-adjusted adult? Then yes. If you truly suffer from lust, most likely it can interfere with and have negative effects on your daily life, including your ability to maintain your friendships. Be wary, your uncontrollable desire could get you exiled from your group to the remote island of Outcast-opia.

Envy. Definition (noun): a feeling of discontent or covetousness with regard to another’s advantages, success, possessions; jealousy; and, malice. Antonyms (near): kindness, goodwill and sympathy. You might think you are fooling everyone, but jealousy is one emotion that is hard to hide. It really is written all over your face. They don’t call it the green-eyed monster for nothing. And, it’s a buzz kill. Whether you think your friend is better looking, has a better spouse, a better career, or that a sub-group or alliance between two of the group members has formed and doesn’t include you? Whatever the cause, remember above all things, these are your friends! Be supportive, congratulatory and celebrate their achievements. And, if two or more of them get together without you or some other members of the group? Don’t be a narcissist on top of all else; everything is not always about you. Nor should it be in a healthy group of friends. It is a free world, and people are allowed to live it without consulting you first. Don’t you participate in activities with whomever you want and not always include or consult everyone else about it? Anyway, your obvious sour attitude about it certainly won’t encourage your inclusion in the future, but it will guarantee you one thing; admission with a full scholarship to Outcast-U.

Gluttony. Definition (noun): the act or practice of eating, drinking or otherwise, to excess; immoderation; and, devilish. Antonyms: modesty, reasonableness and temperance. Gluttony for food? For drink? For shoes? You could be a glutton for any number of vices, but how could this affect your positioning in the group, you may ask? Well, excessive, immoderate behavior is devilish, and unless these are the shared characteristics that brought your group together in the first place, it isn’t always a desired attribute that makes for a good friend. Unless you are a somewhat stable, reliable type, capable of some modesty, you’ll end up with your very own seat near the buffet table at the Outcast Café.

The moral? We all likely suffer from one deadly friendship sin, or more. The beauty of good friends is that they normally accept the good with the bad. However, there is always room for [self] improvement. Give some thought to what your sin(s) might be. While, it is hard to admit when we are in the wrong, recognizing our faults and trying to do better is easy.  Your friends will notice and appreciate it.

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