When a friendship group feels like pressure

Being part of a circle of friends is one of life’s great joys, but the dynamics of a group are not always easy. Psychologies asked a panel of experts for advice on how to navigate some of the thorniest issues


When a friendship group feels like pressure


‘The group of friends I made when we were at university are very close, but can be quite controlling. If I am busy and don’t see them for a while, there are narky comments and vague threats about being excluded. They are very important to me – my best friends – and I am frightened at the thought of being rejected by them, but I am also an independent person and have a busy life. How do I make this situation work?’


Many group friendships arise out of particular times in our lives, such as meeting the parents of our children’s friends or, in this case, friends we make all at once at university. Psychologies’ agony aunt Mary Fenwick says: ‘It’s not humanly possible to hold on to all the friends we make over a lifetime, and keep them at the same constant level of intimacy. Friendships evolve, and it sounds as if you’re slightly further down the line towards independence. Your friends’ comments might reflect their own fears about you moving away.’

Will Murray, founder of Packtypes self-awareness cards, points out the unhealthy dynamic here. ‘Threats and friendship don’t mix. Be honest with them, explain your situation and how their threats make you feel. Consider developing friendships unconnected to your current situation, too. And be willing to let some old friends go – no-one needs bullies in their life.’

Psychologist Irene Levine agrees: ‘If your friends can’t respect your boundaries, then these friendships may not be worth keeping. Saying no can be liberating. Unless you let your friends know how you feel, they will continue to steamroll you.’


  • Carole Jahme, evolutionary psychologist and author of Beauty and the Beasts: Woman, Ape and Evolution (Virago, £10.61); jahme.com
  • Irene S Levine, psychologist and professor of psychiatry at the New York University School of Medicine; thefriendshipblog.com
  • Mary Fenwick, Psychologies’ resident agony aunt, coach and journalist; maryfenwick.com
  • Will Murray, founder of Packtypes self-awareness cards and author of Understand Everyone (Friendly Publishing), packtypes.com

Photograph: iStock

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