Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Fitting In: The Importance of Finding the Right Friends by Chris Viola

One thing that almost all people with a disability share is the difficulty of finding friends. Finding friends to avoid isolation is important to improve one's self-esteem, happiness and mental health. However, finding the 'wrong' friend can be as bad as having no friends at all.

Those who live with disability are often seen by others as being easy to take advantage of and are especially vulnerable if they appear to have something others may want, such as money. When low on friends, I’ve resorted at times to just being happy with ‘whoever spends any time with me,' which often leads to making poor choices. As someone with Asperger’s, I face many of these challenges, and have made poor choices myself in regards to friendship. Giving some examples, but without naming any names, I’ve had friends who would call me names or insult me on a regular basis, threaten to not be my friend if I didn’t do favours which I realise now were unreasonable, threaten violence against me, say they’re better than me, break commitments without telling me and avoid helping me even when I asked little things from them. Do these look familiar to you? Even if you’re lucky enough not to have experienced them, you likely recognize them as signs of bullying.

Luckily, I noticed these things later when I started making other friends, who would do nice things for me without even being asked. Whenever I said I couldn’t make a commitment, they would say it was ‘okay.' They’d say things that would boost my confidence, not lower it. I also noticed that many of these people were also the subject of bullying, and I began to think. Maybe, since they’ve been bullied so much as well, they knew what it was like, and would never dare do that to anyone else. I know after what I experienced that I was certainly in that mindset.

If you have any doubt about your friends, AbilityOnline offers two resources to its members. The first is called Friendship Builder that describes the qualities to look out for in fake friends. Another is Bully Bouncer that shows you how to deal with bullies. I encourage you to look at those resources to make sure that you are able to surround yourself friends who are good for you.

Chris Viola is currently studying Public Relations at Mohawk College.

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