Over the course of our lives we pass through many communities. From preschool to college, our friend groups evolve. The average person switches jobs every 3-4 years and coworkers, supervisors, and commutes change. We move, marry, and socialize with a mixture of old and new, couples and singles, with and without families. We take up sports and hobbies, join clubs and cheer on teams. There are many opportunities to define who we are by what we do and with whom we spend time.
In all this coming and going, have you found your people? You know your people by the feeling you get when you are around them. Even if you are an introvert, I hope you have had the experience of connecting with others over shared ideas, hobbies, or with positive and supportive feedback on pursuits that you enjoy on your own.
Friends, relatives, coworkers, carpoolers, and committee members can all be your people. Not all of them will be, but look for them in your daily life. Your group of people will be slightly different from mine, from your partner, and from your other friends.
Think back on a happy era of your life. This might be swim team from childhood, a church group, your first crowded apartment, or even just last week’s 4th of July barbecue.
You know your people because they have room for you in the relationship. They welcome you — not just into their homes or schedules when life is busy, but they have capacity for your thoughts and feelings. They welcome all of you. With them you have pleasant interactions, and feel gratitude and contentment. You will also argue and occasionally say or do the wrong thing, and apologize and make up. When you interact with your people you will be motivated by something we relationship therapists call Positive Sentiment Override — the good outweighs the bad or annoying or hurt. And you will feel sure that you will be understood when it is important.
I see way too many clients who are surrounded by people who have a toxic effect on their lives. It’s especially discouraging when these situations occur at work or with family, because the client feels stuck. Here are some tips on how to find more of your people:
• Start paying attention to how you feel after talking or visiting with others, shopping at certain stores or other regular activities. I had a client very dedicated to a particular exercise class until she realized that she always left annoyed and stressed out by the vibe there. Choose something else!
• Feel gratitude when you do spend time with your people, put these plans on your calendar, and start looking forward to them as soon as possible. Think of these relationships like vitamins or sunshine that you need for warmth and sustenance.
• Be on the lookout for those who feel like your people even if you hardly know them.
• Avoid long discussions with those whose opinions reinforce your most negative view of yourself (critical friends or family, or those with habits you are trying to break)
• Choose your free time as wisely as possible, at the very least spending time in neutral environments.