Compassionate social support enables us to evolve gracefully

The most important relationships in our lives are with the people who afford us a chance to express our deepest selves. 

People who celebrate the fullness of who we are and what path we’re on. People who forgive us for no longer being what we started out wanting to be. People who commend us for outgrowing our origins and changing direction proudly. People who don’t remind us how we are no longer what we were. 

And people who have no memory of us when we were any better than we are now. 

That’s a true friend. Somebody whose compassionate support enables us to evolve gracefully. 

That’s why the social pruning process is critical. Life’s too short to spend with people who act in any other way. Especially when you get older and work demands more and time shrinks. 

Stanford psychologists have researched this very process, calling it socioemotional selectivity theory

Essentially, as people age, she says, they prune their social circles to those who provide the greatest social and emotional reward, and their less meaningful relationships are discarded in favor of a select group. 

It’s biological. Being with people we like and feel comfortable around and who support our authentic selves produces oxytocin, which quiets the fear and emotion center of the brain. Not to mention, they help reduce heart rate and blood pressure. 

On the other hand, wasting time with lukewarm people whose lives we feel obligated to be a part of because of guilt or sympathy or codependency, isn’t helping anybody. And using the latest technology to create the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship, or the illusion of friendship without the demands of intimacy, is just plain sad. 

I’m reminded of an unfortunate friend fail from several years ago. We had a great connection and enjoyed the same books and spent some good times together, but ultimately, he was more interested in getting his emotional needs met at little expense to himself, but at a significant cost to me. 

Going out to lunch once a month wasn’t so much a hangout as much as it was a safe place for him to spew his bile. I could never get a word in. 

And so, we broke up. The texting and phone calls and emails just stopped. It was disappointing as hell. Because initially, I was thrilled to have met this person. But the social and emotional reward simply wasn’t reciprocal. 

Lesson learned, don’t become mediocre friends with too many of the wrong people. 

Better to have four shiny quarters than a hundred faded pennies.


Are the majority of your friendships wit people who afford you a chance to express your deepest selves?


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Scott Ginsberg

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