Recently, my wife suggested that we hire people to work on some of the household projects that I’m not getting done. I completely over-reacted to her suggestion, and I knew it almost as soon as my words were out of my mouth. After telling my friend Bob about how defensive I got, our good discussion reminded me about the importance of finding the right influencers.

Bob said he could relate and confessed that he had had similar over-reactions. After we laughed about our over-sensitivity, we dove deeper into why we react that way. Rather than listing excuses or justifying our behavior, we talked about what’s going on inside us when we get defensive. By the end of lunch, I felt better equipped to respond to similar situations in the future.

Our influencers

Every parent knows kids become like the people they spend time with. That’s why good parents care about who their kids choose as friends. So here’s a question: who do you hang around, talk to, and therefore allow to influence you?

For those of us working to stop behavior that is hurting our partner and ourselves, the right influencers make positive change easier. Permanent change requires dropping some ways of thinking and adopting new ones, which then results in different actions. The right influencers can help us think differently, either because we ask or by watching their example.

Friends as influencers

Friends can be the right influencers because they care about us. But to the extent that they themselves are a hot mess, they may not be. Remember, too, that friends are motivated to agree with us to preserve the friendship, which might not be what we need.

I have a friend who asked me to help her understand a guy she was dating. He was not responding to her texts, and she was about to “let him have it” before asking for my viewpoint. I didn’t know for sure why he wasn’t responding, but I gave her some possible reasons that did not involve him being a jerk.

My comments surprised her because all of her girlfriends had agreed with her—that the guy was just playing games. In the end, it turned out his slow replies were honorable, and my friend avoided escalating the situation into a relationship-damaging incident. She learned to not rely too heavily on her friends’ advice because they tended to tell her what they thought she wanted to hear.

The right influencers give perspective

The right influencers can provide a different (and likely more innocent) perspective on our partner. It’s difficult to be objective when we are feeling hurt because our emotions distort our vision. Someone not personally involved does not have our handicap and can therefore help us recognize our distorted thoughts.

Our beliefs about relationships, parenting, work, money, and what’s right or wrong is shaped by our life experiences. Others with different experiences often hold different (and, may I say, often more constructive) beliefs. My parents fought frequently, so lots of conflict in a marriage seemed normal until I talked to others whose parents got along well.

Those same people also help us understand ourselves—again, because it’s impossible to see ourselves clearly. Having someone reflect back to us our strengths or gently calling out our weaknesses is valuable insight. I had a counselor who used to say, “My concern for you is…” and then would challenge some of my ideas. I felt really cared about, even while she was adjusting my attitude!

The right influencers provide wisdom

I’m fascinated with the difference between information, knowledge, and wisdom. Information is a set of facts. Knowledge is when a person possesses that information. Wisdom is applying that knowledge in a beneficial way.

Anyone who helps us take knowledge and apply it in a beneficial way is the right influencer. Decisions and actions that hurt others or hurt our relationship with them are, of course, unwise. The fine art of living a fulfilling and harmonious life with other people requires true wisdom.

The right influencers offer encouragement

I know from personal experience how easy it was to get discouraged with my transformation process. I had a friend remind me of the progress I’d made and express their confidence in my efforts, which helped keep me going. The right influencers can keep us from stalling out with their encouragement.

Where to find the right influencers

Surrounding (or at least exposing) yourself to the right influencers is one thing. Finding those individuals whose character and lifestyle is worth copying is another. Where can we go to find the right influencers?

Joining a group gets us out of the isolation we might feel after a domestic violence incident. This is especially true if we’re separated from our partner or there is a restraining order prohibiting us from seeing them. Groups related to a sport, hobby, or other interests are safe places to start.

Volunteering is a great choice because you get around others, it builds your confidence, and the act of serving feels good. Churches are places where people can grow spiritually, serve others, and learn to live in healthy relationships. I learned much from my counselor, who generously shared his own struggles and the strategies he used to navigate them.

Cultivating a relationship with the right influencers

In order to get to know someone in a real, authentic way, we have to be honest and vulnerable. This makes me really uncomfortable, and I think that I’m not alone with those feelings. The reward of developing deep, caring friendships or mentoring relationships is worth the discomfort, however.

Start slowly, share a little at a time, and see how the other person responds. Do they ignore what you said and talk about themselves, pass judgment, or express understanding? Over time, do they keep things in confidence or gossip about you? Remember, you’re not required to tell everyone your life story the first time you meet them—nor should you!

As you gain trust in the relationship, share your questions, struggles, and failures. Ask them how they think about or what they do in challenging situations like you face. Don’t be surprised if you are asked to do the same for them. This is how great friendships with the right influencers are built!

Faith note

God has all of the characteristics of a great influencer. He is always available, ready and wanting to hear from us. He loves you and me, and he wants the best for us.

As the creator of the universe, he is infinitely wise. Therefore, we can be confident that his guidance is good. His words, which can be found in the Bible, are full of hope, affirmation, and encouragement for those who trust and follow him.

While the people you’ll find at church are not as perfect as God, he still calls us to connect with them. He wants us to be friends with other followers because he knows that will help us to grow in ways that will bless us. It is also our best opportunity to fulfill our purpose in serving others, while at the same time being cared for and encouraged ourselves.