When I think of what defines a great friendship, I recall what George Eliot said: “Oh, the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person, having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but pouring them all out, just as they are, chaff and grain together, certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and with a breath of kindness blow the rest away.” When a friendship feels that way, it seems that we can do and be anything we want to be with the support of our friend.
But what happens when a friendship starts to create stress within you? Are you, like I was for a long time, under the notion that friendship is forever and no matter what a friend might say or do to you, you’ve got no choice but to grin and bear it?
Holding on to friendships that sap the life out of you, because you think you have to or because you don’t want to be the one who breaks off, is unhealthy.
So how do you know if it’s the end of a friendship?
When it was time to let go of any friendship, I always resisted the move. I would rationalise the behaviour of my friend or tell myself that I’m being oversensitive. But eventually I had to do it. I have learned now to trust my instincts about this and you will too, if you allow yourself to listen to your feelings.
Here are just some of the feelings about your friendship you’ve got to watch out for:
You feel like you are not being listened to
Recently I was at lunch with a friend and we spent hours together. When I got back home, I realised that all the while, she had done all the talking and I only listened. Except for a casual enquiry about my wellbeing, she was not interested in my life at all. I thought about our previous meetings, and I was saddened to realise that they had all been the same. In fact, the thought of meeting her again now made me feel uneasy. It was time for me to let this relationship go.
There are other ways in which friends don’t listen to us. For example, when you are in the process of making at important decision and are looking for some guidance, instead of listening to what you feel, your friend may overload you with advice based on his biases. Eventually you will stop relying on this friend when you need someone to speak your heart to. What use is it to cling to such a relationship?
You feel guilty
Some people have a knack of treating others badly and when you call them they will turn the tables on you and make you feel guilty for pointing them out.
My friend Priya recently shared with me why she called it quits with her friend of many years, Karishma. Priya, a working single mom, was finding it difficult to attend all the social dos that she would in the past make sure not to miss. Her mounting personal responsibilities did not leave her with any time for socialising. Sadly, Karishma could not understand this and kept pressuring her to come, sometimes even using emotional blackmail. Rather than offering to lighten her friend’s load, Karishma was only making Priya feel guiltier.
If you have a friend who behaves the same way, then know that this is just a tactic some people use to get what they want. Friends don’t do things to make their friends feel guilty.
You feel used
A woman I know had a friend who borrowed a large sum of money from her, promising to return it. But when this woman asked for the money when she needed it, her friend made her feel horrible about asking for it back. She had no intentions of returning the money in the first place and this had been her plan right from the day she asked for the money. The woman who was stumped at the reaction of her friend, decided to let go of both, the money and the friendship.
We all have friends who do that. When I realised that a friend of many years showed a pattern of making friends with people who she found useful to her, it was a wake up call. Then you have friends who will connect with you only when they need something. They’re the kind who, having not spoken to you in years, will suddenly call out of the blue, supposedly to re-establish contact, but actually to ask you a favour.
Sometimes it takes us too long to admit the truth that we’re being used. Knowing that you have been chosen not for who you are but what you can do is a hard pill to swallow. But the faster we get out of the relationship, the better it is for our self-esteem.
You feel a lack of trust
Trust is a huge factor in any relationship. If you feel a lack of trust in your friendship then you must examine the reasons, check if your feelings are valid and then take a call about whether your want to continue or not.
Trust is not always broken with big betrayals. Sometimes it is the little things that erode the trust. I recall when a friend of mine had started sharing with me intimate details that another friend had confided in her. I had not asked for any of this information to be shared with me; in fact it was even making me uncomfortable. But for my friend it was just gossip and she thought I should consider myself privileged that she was sharing it with me. I began to wonder if all that I had shared with her was also similarly being relayed to someone else. And if I could not share details of my life with this person, then that pretty much meant the death of our relationship. Because there can be no friendship without the sharing of what’s happening in our life with our friends.
You feel demeaned
It is just not okay when a friend is constantly being sarcastic, making snide remarks about you, your appearance or your choices, or being verbally abusive.
It’s important that you move away from such a person for your own emotional health.
We often tolerate bad behaviour from a friend that we wouldn’t stand from a colleague or acquaintance. I think that when we find that a friend is not acting towards us like someone who cares should, it’s time to let go of that friendship.
Use pen and paper to make a decision
When you’re not sure what to do, you could use a method suggested by Dr Florence Isaacs, author of Toxic Friends, True Friends: “Draw a line down the middle of a page. On one side, list the good things that you get out of the friendship; on the other, the bad. If the bad outnumber the good, and you’re not getting something substantive enough from the relationship, it’s time to act.”
Once you’ve made your decision about moving on, you can either choose to let the person know in person, by phone or by email. However, I’ve found that in some friendships, it’s best to move away quietly, by distancing ourselves and slowly reducing all contact, because any direct communication about the friendship would result in more ill feeling.
Breaking off from a friendship, especially if you’ve known each other for a long time, is always difficult. It takes honesty, courage and determination to do this. Feelings of sadness, anger and regret might stay for a long time. But remember, when you do let go of an unhealthy friendship, as hard as it might be, you create room in your life for more healthy and loving friendships.
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