Breaking Up With FriendsBy Sheryl Paul
June 01, 2013
As painful as it is, there are times when it's loving to move on from friendships that no longer feel nourishing or supportive.
Carl Jung coined the term “synchronicity” to describe the connecting principle that causes events or experiences to intersect simultaneously. We’re familiar with the word “coincidence” to describe a similar principle, but synchronicity carries a paranormal or, perhaps, a spiritual connotation: a recognition that we’re all connected through an invisible web in more ways than we realize.
So when the vast majority of my clients discuss the painful experience of outgrowing or ending friendships in the same two-week span, the word synchronicity springs to mind. It’s more than coincidence; it’s the sense that we’re all struggling with the same issues and that none of us are alone.
It’s an inevitable and heartbreaking fact that some friendships seem to have a finite lifespan. There are friends that you know will see you through every transition and life change, support you through every loss and joy, witness your breakdowns and celebrate your breakthroughs. And there are other friends that enter your life for a season, perhaps the high school through college years, perhaps through your twenties. It’s these friendships that you may eventually outgrow.
It’s often through transitions that the truth-silt of a friendship rises to the top of consciousness. Weddings, parenthood, turning thirty, losing a loved one, and moving can all bring to the light whether or not a friendship will survive the bright light that shines through the amplified, vulnerable soul-state that transitions constellate. This is when you see if a friendship has become dead weight and needs to be loosened or cut away, or if it will be strengthened and the intimacy deepened in ways you could have probably predicted. Just as transitions offer an opportunity to weed out the beliefs and ways of being that are no longer serving you, so they provide the loosened soil from which you can weed out friendships that have withered.
The most common reason I hear that a friendship has withered and needs to be let go is when the initiate (the one in transition) realizes that the friendship is primarily one-directional. “I realized that I’m always the one calling or reaching out to make plans,” my clients will share with me. “I’m always there for her and she’s rarely there for me. And when we talk, it’s all about her and her life and she rarely asks about me.” Friendship, like all relationships, need to operate in two directions in order to remain healthy. When you realize that you’re doing all the giving and your friend has been taking for years, it’s time to move on.
Another common reason is that you met the friend at a stage of life where you related over your common wounds. Perhaps when you met you needed to feel needed and, thus, consented to a friendship agreement where you were the giver and your friend the taker. As you’ve grown through your twenties or other transitions, you’ve likely let go of the need for a friendship that is primarily based on need and wound. You’re ready for an equal relationship where you champion each other to take responsibility and are equally committed to supporting each other through words and actions. At this point what I commonly hear is, “I feel like I’ve outgrown her.” It’s not that your friend has to be in therapy just because you are (if that’s the case), but she or he does need to support your growth and recognize that you’re no longer in the same wounded place you were in when you met.
Ending a friendship or changing the contract can be one of the most challenging conversations you’ll ever have. As with any breakup, when you let go of a friend the dominant issue is often revealed with greater clarity or even amplified. For example, if you’re ending the friendship because your friend is self-centered and lacks compassion, this is exactly what you’ll see in the final conversation and the aftermath. This can serve as a confirmation that, even when it’s hard and painful, you’ve made a loving choice. Let yourself cry before, after or during a conversation, reminding yourself that even when you move on from a situation that isn’t loving, it’s a change and an ending and requires times to grieve in order to work it through to completion.
For many people, a direct conversation may not be necessary as the friendship just naturally fades into outer layers of one’s life. You find yourself calling each less and making less plans to get together. This indicates that there’s a mutuality to loosening the connection, and while you may still decide to see each other a couple times of year, there’s an unspoken understanding that you’ve both moved on in different directions. There may be a grieving process required in these cases as well, but it’s usually less so as there isn’t a firm cut in the friendship cord.
When you let go of a friendship that is no longer serving you you’re sending a clear and powerful message to yourself about how you want to spend your life and energy. No longer willing to nurture a plant in your garden that is taking energy and weighing you down, you open up the space to invite and nurture new friendships. As with all transitions, where there is a death there is a rebirth, and one will always depend on the other. So when you let go and grieve, notice the new places inside yourself and your surroundings that open up and blossom.
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