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Center of Gravity

Circle of Friends

Are you above or below the center of gravity in your social circles?

Are you aware of times when others hold you up? How about times when they pull you down? How often do you get to have the experience of truly resonating in every way imaginable with a room full of people?

Let me preface this post by pointing out the obvious. We are all much more alike than different. We all share the same basic needs and many of the same wants. We would be served well by recognizing the many profound ways to find resonance with anyone and everyone. What follows is not intended to inspire judgement of those near you. The ideas below are intended to help ease a specific pain that I see often in my self, my friends and especially in my clients, all of whom are either creating or managing major life transitions.

When coaching people through major life transitions this is a topic that is bound to come up eventually. Whether we are looking to make big changes in our life or recognizing that they have already been happening, it is quite common to suddenly see our friendships in a new light. Relationships that once felt supporting might now feel limiting. It is normal to suddenly feel alienated, unsupported or just plain old alone. When seen in the proper light this can actually be a joyous realization. Without a big enough perspective it simply hurts.

We tend to make friends based on both circumstance and what I’ll call your attitude or worldview. Circumstances will determine who we end up in a room with. Attitude will determine who in that room we form a lasting connection with. Consider school.

When you were in school you were likely with a lot of people your age. Some of these people you called your “friends”. Others you knew, but did not feel as close to. The circumstances put you in a classroom with many of them. Your attitude, your interests, your worldview and a million little details of your personality all combined to create a resonance with some people and less resonance with others. Those we resonate the deepest with become friends.

When we are young these decisions often occur subconsciously. Occasionally kids might set out to make more “popular” or “athletic” friends, but for the most part we settle into relationships without much planning. Then we grow. Some friends grow with us. Other friends grow in different directions and at different speeds. Some friendships naturally fall away. Other friendships seem to stick through all kinds of changes. The big test for most of us is after we graduate from high school or college. When we graduate circumstances change drastically. We find ourselves in a new school, a new job, a new location and engaging new activities. We meet new people and forge new friendships based again on circumstance and attitude.

Early in life circumstances change often enough that changing attitudes go unnoticed. We naturally find ourselves with new people engaging similar pursuits and make new connections. The big upheaval that I see in myself, in my clients and in my friends comes later in life when we settle into a routine and then choose to seek growth and transformation. We begin to transform our attitude or worldview, but still spend time in the same old circumstances with our existing friends. This is when the many joys of bettering oneself will likely include some pain. It hurts to grow without our friends. They may even start judging you for it.

Years ago I came upon the term “center of gravity” in relation to a circle of friends or any other social circle. The concept is blindingly obvious when we look at children, but few realize just how important it is for adults as well. We tend to encourage children of a similar age to play together because, developmentally, they have a lot in common. With small children this is clear physically. Crawlers have a hard time keeping up with the walkers and runners. Those who can catch and throw have to throttle their abilities to hang out with an infant. This is not a judgement of better or worse. Worthiness has nothing to do with it. It is an observation of simple facts. As the years pass this becomes less and less about physical abilities and more about intellectual, emotional and potentially artistic, spiritual and many other skills or “lines of development”. Virtuoso musicians like to jam with others who have serious chops. The same is true when scientists want to talk shop. When we grow in one line we resonate with others who are a similar level of development. Again, this is easy to see in physical pursuits such as money or sports and to some extent intellectually. Where this is often overlooked is when it comes to the basic levels of consciousness, emotions and spirituality.

We all have a circle of friends that we have collected along the way. Each friend comes from a shared circumstance and a shared attitude. This circle of friends could be said to have a “center of gravity”. This is a metaphoric way of saying that each group of people has a level of consciousness or a shared worldview. This includes moral and ethical principles. We use the term gravity to describe how when one member of the group deviates from the norm the group will tend to pull them back towards the center. If Bobby is drinking or doing drugs far more than others in his circle he will feel pulled to clean up. He will feel that his actions are not normal. This is incredibly helpful when someone is struggling, when we are sad, get caught in a destructive relationship, are abusing a substance or having financial difficulties. When one person is sinking below the groups center the group will offer an energetic pull to bring them back to baseline. Sometimes this is spoken explicitly, but much of the pull happens unconsciously. We all tend to conform to unspoken, but shared values. This equalizing potential is one of the great gifts of friendships. We all have different strengths at different times and as long as we largely agree on what is important these differences get smoothed out.

But what happens when you do the really deep work of shifting your consciousness? I am going to ignore the voices that think that people don’t change. Perhaps another time I will explore the fear behind this belief. For now let’s assume that people really do develop over time. We know it happens from childhood until adulthood. It does appear to be true that most adults slow down developmentally when their physical growth stops and they start a career and a family. But what happens if your consciousness keeps developing well into your 20’s, 30’s, 40’s 50’s and beyond? Chances are not everyone in your group is developing in the same ways at the same time. Here is where the center of gravity of your social circle can have a painful and limiting effect.

If you can see how a group of friends can help pull you up when you are down then it should be clear how they can do the opposite. Your wonderful, well intentioned, perfectly amazing friends can actually pull you down when you are attempting to fly. Social circles have normative potential. Groups of people keep one another in line. We hold an unspoken shared vision of who we are and what we are likely to achieve. If our group does not approve of using drugs then we will make it hard for others within the group to use drugs. At times this is helpful. At others it is not. Wrapped up in every normative potential is a value judgement about what “we” are. If one of us deviates from this, forget the direction, the tendency is to “correct” them by reminding them what “we are”. The same holds true if you hang out with addicts and then try to quit. You will likely be pulled back into using with them based on everything from where they spend their time to what they do while there to how they define fun.

It is often true that attempting to grow is actually threatening to others. If you are doing this, why aren’t they? Unconsciously, we often sabotage our friends by holding an idea of who they are in our minds. What we know of one another is based solely on the past. We use experience to build an internal model of the people around us that is largely consistent with their actions. But what happens if they change? Does our model change? Probably not. We tend to attempt to fit them into the model that we have built for them. Often times we laugh when they claim they are not the way we have known them to be.

At this point, in order to grow, we must not only overcome our own limiting beliefs, but those of our friends as well. On top of this, there is the simple fact that as we change our interests and values change. We may no longer be going to the bar as much or complain about work the same way. My clients change their diets, they get up earlier in the morning, they change their careers, they travel more, they read different books, they meditate and change their media consumption habits. When we start creating major transitions in our lives we often find that we are not resonating with our friends in the same way. This can hurt far more than we had imagined. We still love these people. We still want the best for them. At the same time we recognize that their lifestyle and attitude are no longer aligned with ours. Some people avoid their friends. Some try desperately to change them. Others fall back into old patterns. Each of these choices comes with some degree of pain.

Here is my number one piece of advice:

Seek new friends. Engage new activities, clubs, events and gatherings that challenge you, stretch you, and push you towards the actions and ideas that you are working to develop. But, do not cut anyone out unless they are truly hurting you! You may crowd some old friends out of your schedule with adventures that they can not relate to, but keep the door open. Who knows what the future will bring. Often times friendships are a game of leapfrog in one line of development or a process of differentiation where our weaknesses are balanced by others strengths and vice versa. Sometimes you need to be the one to change and offer others a vision they couldn’t otherwise see. What is crucial is reaching out to create new connections with those you admire, those you aspire to resonate with, and those you can connect with in the areas you are growing. And recognize that you are doing the very hard and absolutely crucial work of raising the center of gravity of society at large.

This post is from a series called Insights that are inspired by the work I do with my clients as a Life Coach.

If you are ready to live with more joy, more passion and more purpose then I would love to be of service. Contact me to find out how my Life Coaching Program can kickstart your journey.