Homework That Makes Me a Better Friend

To be frank, this article was very hard for me to write; and probably nobody thought it would be anything else. I know I would’ve acquired the empathy of every over-thinker who likes to write as I backed myself into a corner of doubt. Every 20 seconds. 

Did I need to have fully grappled the reality of an old friendship in order to talk about it? Maybe. For the sake of time and efficiency: should I write devoid of the emotions I still feel so that I won’t have to run back and forth to the mirror carrying with me a monologue of affirmations that confirm ‘my feelings are valid’?  Probably. Should I be concerned with how the human on the other side of the old friendship dynamic may view my ability to share something so fresh with the internet? Yes.

I am concerned and I do care. Very very much. I’d be naive to think I wouldn’t still have a great deal of love towards the person I dreamed I’d be my best friend ‘forever.’

Something that brought me much joy and freedom, stopped: at least ceased in the way it was operating. I’m floating in this weird form of reality where I’m still fostering an emotional connection; but it’s given way for something bigger. Growth. I grew. I grew up in maturity and I grew in confidence. I felt myself burst out of my shell of anxiety and guilt. Friendship upheaval was teaching me things. Lots of things that I was stuck with prior, simply became unstuck. 

I fully/properly/actually/mind-blowingly understand stuff. It’s fine to love someone and not love certain aspects of their behaviour. It’s okay to seek people comfortable with my current season of chronic illnesses and healing from childhood trauma. It’s biblical to pray for someone from afar and trust God will fill that void.

It was difficult to pick only a few unexpected lessons- but if I shared any more, I’d have been writing from pure emotion. There’s nothing wrong with that of course, but I’m penning this for education sake and the internet is not my therapist. 

Here are 5 expected lessons I learned during a friendship upheaval. 

First of all, you should know your own top love language. The 5 Love Languages test was created by Gary Chapman consist of physical touch, quality time, acts of service, receiving gifts and words of affirmation. Whatever you score highest on means that’s the way you feel most loved and valued by your partner or friend. 

This was already working wonders in my romantic relationship. So I assumed maintaining this in our friendship would push us into long term success. Next thing I knew I was facing the commonality that things get lost in translation sometimes. I knew hurt feelings weren’t the best foundation for understanding what made us feel loved but I believed they were enough to start a road to recovery. This isn’t always the case.

I believed friend xyz needed quality time to feel valued. I believe I needed affirmations to feel valued; or more specifically, I needed to know my failure to fulfil normal friendship duties, like hanging out and phone calls for weeks on end, didn’t make me a toxic friend- I was simply learning to survive with distressing health. My fears manifested when over text she believed it did.

TIP: Find out your friend’s love language and be sure to love them in that way.

Indulging in an active social life was the furtherest thing from my mind. It’s a shame I couldn’t juggle both my health and her love language. Life just wasn’t that simple anymore.

Whatever you are dealing with, you are allowed to request space to just be. Be prepared for your friend may take it personally. Lay some boundaries down with them so a healthy distance is created for you if they take out their anger on the friendship.

Respecting other’s needs is easy, but standing up for your own is completely different/somewhat un-related/ complicated story.

Self-justification ruins relationships. It ruins the opportunity for good communication and ruins the chance for healing. Justifying others reactions is just as bad. We shouldn’t be living in a everything-is-our-fault default mode. 

Blaming myself is easier than knowing someone else needs to take accountability. I can’t stand the feeling of anger. I only have to think of dealing with that emotion to persuade me to justifying other’s behaviour. That’s wrong. Allow people to own their actions. Face your emotions.

If you allow yourself to justify others, the guilt will pack on strong. I start to feel like a failure rather than someone who is sick! Priorities switch when life happens. Why should I be made to feel guilty for something I can’t control? It helps to create an affirmative phrase to remind you of what really went down. ‘80% of the friendship was wonderful. 20% was rough and it was painful enough for me to move on with my life.’

People often justify themselves because of their ego. Our ego isn’t bad despite what popular references suggest! It just has a natural tendency to protect itself against ‘threats,’ such as taking accountability or feeling ‘tough’ feelings like shame or anger. 

TIP: Our brains create stories to protect us from feeling pain. But we need to feel pain, past and present to have a healthy relationship with our emotions.

Others have been justifying people’s actions since childhood. Very early on, our egos formed us a story that everything is our fault. This story protected people from acknowledging their primary caregivers/ those we looked up to, hurt them. To secure their trust in them, it was better to think we were to blame. It was better to be the bad guy than seeing their parents be him instead. Down the line, this story eventually extends to friends, partners, teachers, family members and so on.

Here’s a scenario. Your friend humiliates you online for failing a test. The next day you confront them and they feel attacked. Your friend’s ego kicks in to protect them from feeling sad/angry/shameful. “What?! You’re so offended by everything. How many times have I showered you with gifts? Doesn’t it mean anything that I pray for you every morning? It was just a joke.” This insinuates you shouldn’t feel hurt because of the many times you benefitted from the friendship. 

Which response below sounds like you?

“I don’t want to make them feel like I’m only focusing on the negatives and aren’t appreciating the good things they do! I’ll let this one go. Plus, she hardly says mean things so it must have been a joke.”

VS

“Those things are appreciated but unrelated to this particular time. I have a right to feel____. Don’t joke at my expense.”

If this situation applied to me, it would’ve have taken weeks of practice to get the second response. It’s especially triggering if sitting down with emotions is a struggle. I just keep reminding myself that I’d rather do the hard yards now than blame myself in every negative interaction I have in the future. 

I once overheard someone say those dealing with life challenges are people often needing discipleship. They are not ‘whole’ people necessarily. Speaking for myself, that was me. I respect friend xyz’s efforts to connect with me when I was unable to connect with anyone. That would’ve been hard for anyone; especially if an ego story was protecting them (validating friend xyz). When my absence from friendship duties was taken personally, it was wildly stressful (validating me). I never wanted her to feel unloved in our friendship. This left me struggling with obligation to balance both my health and be the friend she wanted me to be. 

The behavioural habits people exhibit reflect their inner most needs. During one night, my struggle with rejection materialised. My partner’s very valid and important request for time to do hobbies that night resulted in me reacting desperately; I cried for hours and endured the severe pains of what I assumed was me slowly being abandoned. I wasn’t. These routine actions ultimately showed my faults more than anything and quite obviously I needed to a) stop projecting (taking out) my pain of rejection onto him and b) heal from the original wound. 

Normally people pick up wounds or insecurities from childhood or an event that took place while cognitive function was still forming. With this invaluable knowledge, I feel secure when analysing people’s behaviours. 

Ask yourself: 

  • Are they projecting a potential inner wound? 
  • What happened in his/her past for them to project their trauma onto me? 
  • Do they have the abilities to see past their ego or fear to begin healing? 
  • Should I give them space to heal (if they are hurting you YES) or should I support them through it?      
  • Where do they need compassion the most?

As an empath, I’ve been hurling these questions into limbo since I was a child. It was only nearing the end of this friendship I just realised just how capable I was of understanding friend xyz in our differences. 

Tip: When you practice these skills, you build a strong intuition and are able to read into behaviour closely. 

Asking myself those questions meant I was able to separate my ego and hurt feelings from reality. I was able to see how people treat me actually has nothing to do with me at all. Rather it’s an extension of how they feel inwardly and I choose to move forward in compassion and boundary establishing. 

When we are in situations of stress, we can choose to act in two ways. And I keep saying choose because we do choose our words. No one forces us to spread gossip or say things in anger without apologising. Phrases like “You made me so angry I couldn’t help it!” are so ridiculous I cringe with embarrassment at how many times I believed that was an okay thing. It’s not. 

1. Reacting: normally a fast, aggressive reply done without thinking about the potential consequences. It is typically utilised to provoke a cycle of reactions. Easily done.

2. Responding: a calm, thought out reply done in a non-threatening manner. It’s typically utilised to bring peace to a situation. Difficult without practice.

Hold yourself responsible for responding to your friends at all times. Many people do still want to honour the person they were once close to. It’s as if dismissing them means to dismiss the person you once were when the friendship flourished. 

If you’re struggling with reactivity, tempt yourself to be proud of your response and how you handle situations. Anyone, and I mean anyone can take their anger out on you, cuss someone out or worse. Not everyone can exhibit a sense of calm, both inwardly and in their responses. It’s cool to be in that minority. 

When people say changed behaviour is the 1# way to apologise- apply first it to yourself. 

Behaviour truly tells us what stage of accountability someone’s really at. It’s a poignent reminder for ourselves. We have to be so careful we aren’t avoiding any responsibility on our part. If you need to apologise to someone, it needs to be genuine. So genuine, you change because of it.

You’ll know your apologies are real because you can sense a shift in yourself. I didn’t value myself enough to tell friend xyz to stop taking my struggles personally and ‘to please understand’ my new reality. Now, I’ve changed my behaviour and am confident enough with everyone to bring issues to light straight away.

Here’s something interesting I learned through my mistake of not speaking up sooner. When you label past hurt as wrong, people react. They may dump apologies on you through anger that ‘they aren’t like that anymore.’ They may say they’ve ‘already apologised’- even when it’s not necessarily true. How were they supposed to know ‘you get offended at everything?’ They might even claim you’re guilt-tripping them. You are not. Many people feel threatened by accountability, especially if no one’s asked this of them before. But our main goal is avoiding conflicting situations like this by bringing issues to the table immediately. People may choose to react regardless, but that’s not on you. 

 At the same time as checking out ourselves, carefully mull over your needs being respected. What’s not important to them may be incredibly important to you. That’s just life. For example, I didn’t show up to many of my partner’s family things. Although he wished I were there, he respected time/space was important to me. A few different people however, didn’t consider my need for time/ space important. That’s because it failed to fulfil their needs. So they didn’t respect it. It’s a shame, but adverse perspectives like this can’t preserve long term relationships. Everyone’s needs have to be respected.

There are a million ways to say sorry but sometimes, all we need is simply to do better. God gave us the grace to start afresh from the moment we wake up till the second we fall asleep. I’m grateful He gives me the chance to change my behaviour. I’m grateful I can show him my sorry is genuine. 

I’m good to spread that freedom to others in my life too. 

So yes. I followed my gut to choose space. It’s something I’d never done because I assumed it was selfish. Now you’ll see me bouncing off the walls, highly recommending it to everybody and anybody. It was awful and empowering. It’s not ideal for everyone to isolate themselves when they’re enduring a difficult season of course. But I was okay and God had me all to himself. I’m at peace with that. There’s two sides to every story and the truth sits in-between. I know I fell right into it because that ish had me crying on the floor every day learning lessons. So now? I share them with you. ūüĆŹ 

Using Format