Regardless of our age, positive friendships bring joy, a sense of connection, entertainment, stress relief, improved mood, and self-confidence. The benefits of healthy friendships are so significant to our well-being that daily social interactions are recommended, and a common homework assignment that I prescribe.
We are hardwired for human connection and as a result, we do not thrive emotionally when friendship conflicts arise. In fact, we can be thrown greatly off course and become toxic and self-destructive when we sense a threat to our friendships. This is when we will commonly see “drama” like behaviors, such as gossiping and excluding. Ironically, these are maladaptive attempts to rescue the friendship.
When a friendship is salvageable, for example, the friendship is meeting one’s emotional needs the majority of the time, assertiveness training, conflict resolution, boundary education, and the processing of feelings are my go-to interventions for friendship healing. When the discussion leads more toward’s one’s frequent heartbreak, consistent emotional discomfort, or one’s boundaries being violated, this is when we begin discussing the time for a friendship breakup versus a friendship make up.
The emotional recovery of a friendship break up can take months to heal from, and if complications from older friendship wounds are present the grief process can take even longer. Examples of friendship grief reactions range from avoiding all contact, vengeful fantasies and behaviors, and collecting new and old friends to side in one’s favor.
Friendship Grief First Aide
Proven strategies to grieve a friendship that alternatively promotes an easier recovery, prideful behaviors, and improve self-confidence include the following:
- Write a handwritten goodbye letter. Do not pay attention to grammar, spelling, or formatting. Freely write what comes to your mind, including how you feel, why you feel the way you do, what you don’t understand, what you want, and how you plan to move forward. Put the unstamped letter in the mail, the trash, or a shredder when you are finished. Repeat this ritual when emotions linger.
- Set boundaries. In an effort of making sense of the pain, we can obsess about the loss and villanize our ex-friend when talking about them. Stay away from writing on social media and make a choice of the few people you will share your feelings and experiences with. Be mindful of how others may react to your negative comments and how others may perceive you. When venting, focus primarily on your feelings and your responsibility.
- Share only the facts. Adjectives and judgments about others tend to heighten our emotions. To protect your feelings from escalating, when talking about your ex-friend, stick with the truth and limit language that is exaggerated or abusive.
- Have a backup plan. Be prepared that you may be blindsided by others approaching you with questions about what happened. You may also run into your ex-friend unexpectedly. Have a plan in place for what you want others to know and how you want to pridefully respond if you see your ex-friend in public.
- Create a friendship shopping list. Make a list of what you want in a friend, how you want to be treated, and what the consequences will be if your needs are not met.
- Write a friendship inventory. Make a list of what makes you a good friend, how you can improve, and commitments you will make to be a better friend as a result of this experience. Read the list often to remind yourself of the strengths you provide your other friendships.
- Take care of yourself. Regularly involve yourself in activities that make you happy, such as drawing, being outside, playing an instrument, exercise, or listening to music. When feeling down, commit to having fun and surrounding yourself with those that care about you.
- Get social. Invest your time in your old friendships by reaching out and inviting them to go do something enjoyable. Also, include yourself in activities that expose yourself to making new friendships. Be courageous and introduce yourself and find common interests. Remember, everyone wears an invisible signs that says, “include me.”
- Journal. Writing down your feelings is one of the most therapeutic exercises you can engage in. When your mind wanders on old memories or you get preoccupied with fantasies of reunifying with your friend, journal your feelings and write down a list of reasons you broke up and compare it to your friendship shopping list.
- Be your own therapist. Friendships don’t always last. Remind yourself that this is normal and it is common to outgrow friendships. Validate your feelings, don’t judge yourself, and engage in activities that make you feel good about yourself, such as volunteer work or kindness acts.