Over the months, I have received several questions through my online contact form. I hope you agree that I have proven myself to know a thing or two… though, as I’ve said several times, I am only an expert on my own life, and even then, sometimes I flub miserably. It’s all a learning experience, folks!
These posts will be strictly from my heart to yours. I may or may not talk about books, or prior posts of mine, or send you to links with advice from others. It just depends on your questions and where my gut tells me to go.
My hope is that you will feel comfortable enough to ask some questions or jump in with some answers of your own to the questions that are posed by others. Please feel free to comment!
One thing you need to know: I will never use your full name or any identifying information about you. I will distill your question to the foundation, as you will see here in our first installment of “Dear The Self-Help Whisperer™”:
Pat K writes: I would like to hear more […] about how you dealt with friendship conflicts, betrayals, and losses.
I’ve talked a lot about this subject because I have a lot of experience with it, sadly. I hope you will indulge me doing a little foundational work on what friendship means to me… because it helps to set the scene for my response re: friendship conflicts, betrayals, and losses.
I’ve had some of my friends for decades, but… most of them have been generous, patient and forgiving as I waded through what it means to be a friend.
I’ve made new friends, too, but to be honest, none that I could call at a moment’s notice for coffee or to rescue me if I got stuck in a snowbank. We care about each other, of course. But I have created distance or there is distance (as in miles or kilometres) between us.
As is probably clear from what you’ve read in my blog, I have been deeply wounded by some people who said they were my friends. It’s happened enough times that I’ve seen a pattern, which is why I’ve gone to the trouble to determine what I need and expect in my friendships. I’m hoping to head-off another crash. I know you understand.
I believe my biggest problem with friendship in general is tied into expectations – from both sides.
There is a fundamental question that comes into play here: What is a friend? We expect certain things, much like a marriage contract, though I hesitate using that term because it sounds so formal. But the point still remains, many (most?) of us take friendships as seriously and therefore, when we go through conflicts, betrayals and losses, it feels like a gut punch.
EXPECTATIONS IN FRIENDSHIP
Here’s what I expect from my true friends:
- Listen, and I will listen to you.
- Attempt to understand me, and I will attempt to understand you.
- Care what happens to me – good or bad, as I do you.
- Want what’s best for me, as I want what’s best for you.
- Give me the benefit of the doubt, as I do you.
- Be honest, and I will be honest with you.
- Don’t give up on me, and I will not give up on you.
Preferences I need to share with new friends:
- No frequent phone calls – I hate the phone. Email is fine, texts are okay, but not a favorite. I have social anxiety and need the space. Push me at your peril. Kidding. Kind of.
- I hate surprises. No, really. Hate. them.
What I will not accept:
- Emotional blackmail or gaslighting.
- Abrupt (one word) or vague responses to emails or texts that leave me wondering if I’ve done something wrong or keep me guessing about what you really mean.
Will your expectations be the same? Of course not. But I think it’s important for you to know what yours are… maybe even write them down, as I have. The trouble is… we don’t. There are many reasons for this… not the least of which is that it feels like work. We think that friendship should be natural, easy, breezy. It’s not. It’s a relationship!
I say all this, Pat, to say that MAYBE we can avoid the conflicts, betrayals, and losses in the future by being honest about what we expect and ask the same from our friends.
BUT NOW TO THE HEART OF YOUR QUESTION: How do I deal with conflicts, betrayals and losses?
I’ve changed a lot over the years. As recently as a decade ago, I’d go first to shock, then cry, then ask, “Why me?” and then, even though they’d cut me off or out of their life, I’d make sure they’d never have an avenue to contact me by blocking them on social media, on the phone, not going anywhere they might be… basically, disappearing. Often, I’d have no idea if they’d done the same to me. I’d get rid of everything they gave me. Cards, letters, gifts. I didn’t want any bad juju – that’s what I said to myself, anyway. Sometimes I talked to others about them. Not often, as I abhor gossip. I’d cycle back and forth through the emotions, finally settling at a point where I thought that maybe it would be okay if I unblocked them. Then I’d realize that they really were gone… no messages, no emails, no phone calls. It was really over.
Several years ago, as you know, my closest friend dumped me. I felt embarrassed, humiliated and lower than a worm. I had no desire to talk to anyone about it, though I told my family because … heck, I don’t know. Maybe self-punishment. And finally, I sought some help.
With the benefit of time and a lot of reflection, I realized some things that I should have seen as red flags. In fact, one of the red flags showed up in another friendship that also hasn’t fared well. I didn’t know how to untangle it all.
An online acquaintance was VERY-well-versed in The Work of Byron Katie. We went moment-by-moment through the friendship, in writing, and he asked the 4-questions about problems I saw and the final breakdown of the friendship and then responded with follow up questions. The main 4 questions are:
- Is it true?
- Can I absolutely know it’s true?
- How do I react when I think that thought?
- Who would I be without that thought?
He held my feet to the fire… didn’t let me get away with anything. I invited a woman I know and respect to read what had been written and she also gave valuable insight.
Through my study with Katie’s work, I came to believe I didn’t understand my friend or myself. She wasn’t a bad person – she wouldn’t have been my friend in the first place, if she had been. However, I put expectations on her, as she did on me. We did NOT understand each other. I knew this in my gut but never questioned it because I wanted so desperately to have friends, but didn’t feel I deserved them. Therefore, I became a victim. She chose a piss-poor way to end our friendship, for sure. But I now see that I had my part in the breakdown. Not in the way she ended it – that’s all on her.
I am hoping that being vigilant will help to avoid something like this in the future. Of course, people sometimes surprise you, and not in nice ways. And you remember that I hate surprises. Ugh! But… I’m hoping that I am better equipped to avoid the pitfalls now.
Finally, be gentle with yourself! You deserve the best that friendship has to offer!
I know this was very long but I hope you find it helpful.