I believe this would be my last submission for MASAF Pen. To commemorate this, I’ll start off with a vulnerable and long introduction.
There was a time when I had little to no friends. I wasn’t the prettiest or richest or most talented friend in the circle and this led me to struggle to make and maintain friends. It came to a point whereby I had to create stories in my head to tell my mother so I didn’t worry her that I, in fact – DIDN’T have a story to have. I admit, I probably was part of the problem but I was too young to know. Eventually I switched schools because I couldn’t stand the school environment. They said high school years are the best years of your life so…why am I two months into it and don’t feel that way?
Transferring was (as of that time) the best decision I ever made. I had the chance to start a new chapter, right the wrongs and reduce the wrongs I did as a child. I had many friends – some who I still keep in contact with (despite the kilometres that divide us, thank you Instagram), knew many people and truly enjoyed my high school years. However, I do not credit myself that this was the fruit of my ‘change’ because thinking back, my circle of high school friends probably tolerated me.
If you are reading this, I thank you.
Moving into university…phew, this one made me run for it. Being my first time away from home, I juggled between the nostalgia of home, studies and handling my own life. As I lived in the campus, life was different. Again, I struggled and it took me approximately a year and a half to grasp how to act in this different environment. My university peers were understanding and tolerated me much more, giving me room to adapt my attitude.
It’s not until reaching France, looking back to my younger years (ceyy, as if I’m old now), apart from the trauma I had, I know that I wouldn’t like me that much either. I wished I knew where it all went wrong, where I could have made my school life better or where I could have changed for the better. Was it really because I was ugly or didn’t have a nice sticker book? Was it really because the circle I was in, bad? Or maybe, just maybe, was it me? Was I the problem?
*Cue ‘Is it me, am I the drama?’ TikTok sound*
In the case that you resonate with questioning yourself. You’d probably try to change so you’d not be much of a nuisance to your acquaintances. But what if, you don’t even know where you went wrong? See, it’s much easier to identify annoying traits of others but much more complicated when looking at ourselves in the mirror. It’s uncommon that we ask ourselves:
“Did I escape from a toxic friendship or am I the toxic one?”
“Is my circle of friends too much for me or am I too much for them?”
The tricky thing is you won’t know if you are doing it right or wrong!
You think you are being supportive, but really, you make things worse. Toxic positivity is one of the points we fail to detect that we are doing. Even more unaware of the implications. By definition, this toxic positivity trait mutes out negative emotions that are experienced. Often it is self-imposed which only affects the individual. Nevertheless, it can also be imposed on others which is dangerous because this manipulates the feelings of others. If you are entitled to feel the way you do, why can’t others? The mistake of sugar-coating the reality undermines the severity of what others are experiencing, invalidates what others are feeling and even ignores the real issue at hand. The best example I can give is when it comes to results.
There is a thin line between being a supportive friend and imposing positive traits onto that person. This situation is the most common and most minor compared to others but, you get the gist of it. Very often giving kata-kata semangat can end up invalidating emotions like disappointment, sadness or anger. In a more serious tone, toxic positivity can also invalidate mental health suspicion. Victims potentially feel that what they are going through are untrue which is alarming because serious issues are easily disregarded.
Instead of trying to paint a beautiful picture immediately after being told a problem, try to allow room for the person to feel by themselves. By submerging enough into the situation, one can also identify why they feel that way. Are they disappointed with themselves or the situation? If the problem were to occur again, would the person have an ideal way to avoid the problem? If not, the same disappointment would occur again regardless. Only by seeing the situation and its underlying connotations, as a friend you can give better comfort or advice. Solution-oriented people are also quick to find solutions which might skip the process of understanding the problem.
“It’s okay, you didn’t expect it to happen this way,”
“It’s a bad day, not a bad life,”
“You may not realise it now, but this could be part of your learning process,”
…are better words to say without directly forcing positive emotions which are (supposedly) aimed to make someone feel better.
Another example of bad traits is inconsistency. Difference in treatment towards others, inconsistency in opinions/actions (some understand this better as hypocrisy) or inconsistency when supporting a cause. Of course, different friends are valued differently as how you would be closer to a best friend than a schoolmate. If you have cousins, I think the definition of ‘trophy cousin’ would help me paint a picture of what I am trying to explain. A trophy cousin is usually the family member that is gushed over, boasted about or used as a symbol of success in the family. As a ‘lesser’ cousin, you feel unappreciated, envious or sometimes hatred towards the cousin – even more towards Aunty Maria who makes a big deal out of it. Now [ctrl+C] this exact concept and [ctrl+V] to how one treats their peers, but now, instead of you being the cousin, you ARE Aunty Maria*. That is the example among family relations. Now, in the context of friendship, there isn’t an exact term for it so, the closest I’ve got and have always referred to is: trophy friend. These are the friends one public show off on social media or mention repeatedly without proper context. Perhaps this trophy friend gives more recognition to the individual, is a measure of coolness or wants to be associated with. The problem doesn’t lie in the trophy friend, it’s more towards the person displaying the trophy. Having friends is not a competition, so don’t collect them like it is!
The final thing I wish I was more aware of is the tendency to make conversations, problems and topics circle around oneself. As cliché as it sounds: the world does not revolve around you. Ever shared a problem to a group of friends but rather than words of comfort, there is this someone who makes the problem theirs?
“Oh, poor you! Don’t worry you’ll survive just like how I did…”
“Really? My experience was way worse than yours…”
*sniffles* “Sorry, I was reminded about how I went through that last year…”
…and continues to take centre stage. Wow, thanks a lot, mate.
As a good friend – listen, understand and then proceed to console (if you can). Some drink their problems away or some bawl their eyes out but, sometimes some simply talk about what’s bothering their thoughts. Even if there isn’t any appropriate advice, it’s fine! Just listen. Literally, just by being a shoulder to cry on greatly helps because there is the illusion of sharing the burden when one talks about it. Remember – if there isn’t anything good to say, DON’T say it. There is no obligation to that. If you can’t help the situation, don’t add salt to the wound.
The key to knowing if you make this mistake(s) as a friend, it’s good to be self-aware of the things you do ,or how people react to your actions/words. Simply put, catch yourself before you succumb to traits YOU don’t want others in your close circle to have. However, an important thing to note is to not self-gaslight. The word gaslighting is used out of context sometimes. Self-gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse and manipulation against yourself like suppression of thought and emotions. The way self-awareness is used is by understanding what you are doing wrong (or right) that affects the people surrounding you. Looking from people’s perspective of oneself helps add perspective to yours! It is important to state here that there is a fineeee thin line between self-gaslighting and self-awareness which makes it difficult to understand if you are the source of the problem, or if your circle is problematic. With that, I end my article. Of course, these aren’t specific guidelines or tips or a good Ways To Be A Friend 101 but I hope that by reading this article, you could pick up on things I wished I knew earlier because I’m pretty sure no one is going to say it to your face.
Thanks for reading and hopefully the articles I wrote were good insights and it’s fine if we don’t share the same opinions!
Take care and stay safe xx.
*Name is selected by random and is not an interpretation of any Maria in reality. Kesian Si Maria, free free je dituduh camtu.