The truth about friendship breakups and how to get over them
Credit: pexels.com @Ketut Subiyanto
Friendship breakups can be ugly. It’s not so much the tension or emotion of that last conversation (or argument), or maybe even the series of actions that led the parties involved to call it quits. Yes, these aspects can definitely be less than pleasant, but I find that it’s often the aftermath of these events that can really take a toll on one’s mental health, and even the way in which they progress in further friendships. For a lot of people, the lockdown period was a means of either strengthening friendships, just keeping them afloat, or in extreme cases, completely dissolving them. While the social conditions of the quarantine were not conducive to most forms of relationship building, experiencing the entire dissolution of a friendship that was formerly thriving pre-rona can be heartbreaking.
How do we get over friendship break ups? What lessons can we learn? Can you really be ‘civil’ with people you used to close friends with? How do you move forward if you were in the wrong? And how do you get over it when you were in the right?
Friendship breakups can be ugly. It’s not so much the tension or emotion of that last conversation (or argument), or maybe even the series of actions that led the parties involved to call it quits. Yes, these aspects can definitely be less than pleasant, but I find that it’s often the aftermath of these events that can really take a toll on one’s mental health and even the way in which they progress in further friendships. For a lot of people, the lockdown period was a means of either strengthening friendships, just keeping them afloat, or in extreme cases, completely dissolving them. While the social conditions of the quarantine were not conducive to most forms of relationship building, experiencing the entire dissolution of a friendship that was formerly thriving pre-rona can be heartbreaking. While I don't think that friends and social circles are disposable, (if anything I believe the opposite), I have learned that I cannot allow other people to make or break my happiness. I must allow life to teach me what it means to savour people’s presence and companionship, but also understand that these friendships cannot be the sole determiners of my joy.
So, maybe you’re like me and you’ve had an unfortunate friendship break up recently, perhaps you’re in the middle of one right now, or maybe even trying to get over one. What steps can you take to move on and thrive in your current friendships?
1. Realise that your friends and social circle cannot make or break your happiness.
Having a supportive circle or friendship network is a powerful and necessary tool for leading a healthy and happy life. Humans were made for relationship, that’s just how we are. However, our biological need for companionship does not mean that our entire mental and emotional wellbeing should be dependent on our social circles. The moment that you are able to reach a point of contentment with yourself and recognise that every friend is a favourable addition to your life, your relationships will change for the better. Not only will you become less reliant on others’ responses or reactions to you in the group chat or when planning brunch for the 12th time in a row, but you will also be more appreciative of those around you, understanding that their presence is quite literally a gift, not a given.
2. Be honest with yourself about any hurt you may harbour.
In the middle of a friendship break up, or even retrospectively, there will most likely be hurt that you still harbour. I know for me there was—that lingering feeling of what went wrong, or what else could have been done to fix things, and even bitterness at the other person for their part to play in the friendship breakdown. Identifying this hurt and being able to pinpoint it to specific events, interactions, and emotions really helped me achieve a sense of closure. In one sense, it helped ‘legitimise’ my emotions, as I no longer felt I was upset for upset’s sake. On the other hand, it helped me identify more clearly the sort of interactions and conversations that may lead me to harbour unspoken hurt, and be more conscious and honest about these sorts of conversations in my current relationships.
3. Make the choice to forgive.
Yes, I know. Forgiveness is the last thing a lot of us want to think of after a friendship break-up, but there is a certain freedom in forgiveness. I know that I am completely over a hurt when I am able to forgive, and the weight of being wronged no longer burdens me. Forgiveness does not have to be instantaneous, and often it takes time, but it is freeing. Phrases like “forgive and forget” suggest that forgiveness and reconciliation are synonymous, but these two things must be distilled from one another. To forgive does not mean to forget—if anything it means to confront your hurt front on and make the choice to free yourself and the perpetrator from it. This doesn’t mean going back to being best friends or trying to awkwardly waltz through being ‘civil’ with this former friend. What it does mean however, is no longer burdening yourself with this hurt or holding it against the other person. If working through forgiveness means leaving this person unfollowed or muting their account for a while, then so be it. Forgive and be free.
4. Love on your social circle.
At times it can be easy to look for flaws in your other relationship after one ends badly. But try not to let the cynic in you (admit it, we all have one) take the upper hand. Rather, take some time post-friendship break up to be more conscious of your friendships moving forward. What sort of friend do you want to be? How responsive and supportive are you in your social circles? Have you let your friends know how much you appreciate them recently? Giving yourself time to really love on your current friends will remind you how much you truly appreciate them and may even make the loss of this former friendship less painful.
Relationships and friendships in particular can be hard work, but such is the nature of life. There is only so much we can anticipate in our own lives, let alone when we add the emotions and actions of others to it. So, give yourself space and time to allow your friendships to grow and flourish, and if the time comes when the ties must be cut, do so with a clear mind and pure intentions.
“Life is pure adventure, and the sooner we realise that, the quicker we are able to treat life as art: to bring all of our energies to each encounter, to remain flexible enough to notice and admit when what we expected to happen did not happen.”
Maya Angelou, Living Well. Living Good.