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How do friends impact us?

Friends are the company we choose to surround ourselves with, often they can be described as our “chosen family”. Without a doubt, the roots of friendships can run deep. But why and how are they so significant, have you ever wondered? What do you think? Let us know in the comments!

Much research has been done in proving the hypothesis that ‘friends have a significant influence on attitudes and behaviours’. A method used by researchers saw how changes over time in characteristics relate to the initial characteristics of their friends. If the children’s characteristics became closer to their friends’ initial characteristics this would prove that there was an influence. Berndt and Keefe(1995) used this technique to look at students and their friends. They found that ‘friends significantly influ­enced changes in some aspects of students’ adjustment’. This illustrates a clear influence of friendship upon others’ behaviour.

So, in what other ways can our friends influence us? And, why is this the case?

Let’s start with why.

Our friends are the company we choose to keep and so inevitably in the behaviour we see them exhibit and the discussions that we have with them, we are likely to be influenced. This is especially the case for our close friends. Normative social influence is a term used in social psychology to describe how our behaviour can be influenced by us conforming to the social norms that surround us. This can tend to happen unconsciously with our friends. As we identify with them, our traits will be likely to rub off on one another. And therefore, we can be influenced.

For example, our friends can influence us in a wide range of ways. This can include spiritual, physical, educational, political and much more. For example, in terms of spiritual influence; if our friends are of a high imaan and fast throughout the whole of Ramadan, the conversations we may have with them or purely seeing them do so may influence ourselves to act in the same way. This is a positive influence whereby their values are beginning to manifest in our behaviour. This could be due to a variety of reasons, for example: us holding them in a high regard, or us seeing the positive effect this is having on them.

However, in the same way, this can also tend to have a negative effect. For example, if our friend holds a particularly politically incorrect view, this can rub onto us. We could end up developing these views, which would also negatively influence us. This could be particularly apparent if it is a larger group of friends; we may feel pressure to conform to their views when with them, however over time they could be internalised.

Our understanding of the world, the way that we view ourselves and build our sense of identity can all be influenced by a wide range of factors, and our friendships are one of those. Who we are can become a product of the people that we surround ourselves with. Therefore, it is important that our friends are a reflection of what we think is important because otherwise our sense of identity may become lost.

The Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) is a good example to use when exploring the theme of friendship, this is due to the Sahaba, the most beloved companions and their many stories.

It was narrated that Ubayy ibn Ka‘b (may Allah be pleased with him) said:

I said: O Messenger of Allah, I send a great deal of blessings upon you; how much of my du‘aa’ should be sending blessings upon you? He said: “Whatever you wish.” I said: One quarter? He said: “Whatever you wish, and if you do more, that will be better for you.” I said: One half? He said: “Whatever you wish and if you do more, that will be better for you.” I said: Two thirds? He said: “Whatever you wish and if you do more, that will be better for you.” I said: I will make all of my du‘aa’ for you. He said: “Then your concerns will be taken care of and your sins will be forgiven.”

This is a clear example of how our friends can influence us to behave. The Prophet (ﷺ) guided his friend towards great influence which was beneficial to them both.

The Prophet (ﷺ) explicates the importance of friendship in the following hadith:

None of you [truly] believes until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself.”

Therefore, it is evident that our friendships can be life-changing. They form our sense of identity, form part of who we are and in many instances can allow us to improve oneself.

Hence, it is vital that we take considerable steps where our friendships are concerned. The friends that we spend a majority of our time with, would be most beneficial, to share our most important values with. This way we can positively influence each other. Our friendships should be building us to get closer to the people that we wish to be and reflect our priorities.

Do you have a close friend who you feel has a positive or negative influence on you?

Zainab Shafan

Zainab is currently studying psychology at UCL. She was studying Psychological and Behavioural Sciences at the University of Cambridge, however that did not work out so she took a year out to pursue other interests and gain experience. During this time she released her own book named 'Free to Go', available on amazon. She also set up her own blog: Zen Words. She also aimed to build a foundation for herself to develop skills and give back to the community; and the perfect opportunity arose with Inspirited Minds. The charity combines two disciplines very close to her heart (Islam and Psychology) and to be able to be involved through writing, a passion of hers, is a huge blessing. Reading the newsletters herself has been a continuous source of enlightenment and a means of catharsis; so, to be able to provide this for other people will be undoubtedly rewarding.

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