Waking up, breaking up – friendship and moving on

Wild Irish fuchsia (NJK photography – Creative Commons)

The account below was first published by Ali, a young woman from Dublin, Ireland, on her site, Thinking InsideOut Loud and reflects on the end of a friendship and growth of self-awareness and self-worth.


I recently experienced a friendship break up. I am not going to lie; it was harder than any intimate relationship ending has been for me. Initially, I was full of anger. I blamed them for everything, pinpointing in my head the things they were doing wrong, all the while failing to see my part to play in the fall out. After the anger subsided, I started to internalise everything and blamed myself. I thought of everything I had done or had said, what I could and should have done differently and swore I was the worst person in the world and was a terrible friend, which is so far from the truth its laughable. I am a great friend; I was just terrible with boundaries and allowed a lot of co – dependency to play a role in the relationship.

The fact of the matter is, I should not feel angry or sad. They were not entirely to blame nor was I. It was a two-way relationship and we both allowed it to fail. It is also just a part of life, not everyone you meet is here to stay. However, I do believe every relationship you enter comes with a significant meaning. Some people will not always positively add to our lives but regardless, there is a lesson to be learnt from them. Whether that lesson be to not allow yourself to be so accessible to people, that not everyone deserves to be around your energy or maybe they will teach us about ourselves and things that we need to improve on to be better friends, lovers, colleagues, bosses, sisters, brothers, children, or parents or whatever roll we are playing in said relationship.

GRIEF

When we think of someone grieving, most of us assume that someone they cared about had died. In my late teenage years, I started to think about mortality a lot, about my own and my families, my friends and all the people I cared about. I have not experienced death much, my grandparents died before I was born or whilst I was quite young, so I don’t really remember them, which meant I escaped the grieving process. I used to think I was lucky that I never went through it but then I realised that my first experience with grief would be as an adult and I started to worry that I would be unable to cope. That is the joys of anxiety, picturing the deaths of loved ones and imagining the unbearable emotion that is grief before I even experience it. Anyways, for the last couple of years I felt that worry consume me from time to time. That was until I started therapy again. Since then, I have come to realise that I have already experienced grief and a lot of it. My lack of self-awareness and emotional immaturity made me ignorant to the fact that grief is ultimately the “loss emotion”. Meaning that any loss of significance can cause it. Losing a career that you loved, your dog dying, loss of contact with a family member and of course, a friendship or relationship break up!  

When a person dies and you begin to grieve, the people around you understand that and will try to support you in the process. However, like I said before most of us limit grief to death. So, when a person leaves your life due to circumstances outside of death; people can find it more difficult to understand and support you. Which can leave us feeling quite alone. There is less sensitivity and more of a life goes on attitude. Can you imagine someone saying to you “ah sure you’ll find a new mother, give it time” when you are grieving the death of your parent? No? Exactly, so why do we say it to people after a relationship ends or after a fight with a friend. Yes, I think its still important to always remember that life does in fact go on, but it is imperative that you feel the emotions in the moment, so that you do not supress them.

PROGRESSION

A relationship ending is almost never truly a complete loss. Yes, at the time it feels that way but when you work through it all you come to realise it was usually for the best. With me, my realisation was that the relationship was taking up too much of my time and it was feeding my unhealthy need to feel wanted or needed. It was also a major stimulation in my life, something I used to avoid sitting still with myself. I wanted to fix everyone else instead of looking at my own flaws and ill behaviours and I wanted to feel important and relied on in relationships which I have now noticed was a reoccurring pattern with a lot of my relationships for years. I would focus entirely on another person to avoid myself.

When you remove yourself from a situation, you begin to see the situation with a fresh perspective. It is easy to get caught up and ignore what is going on when you have something to keep you distracted, remove that distraction and everything becomes clearer.

“Who do you think you are? Thinking you are better than us”

A statement that makes me cringe. Another realisation I have had as of late is how caught up I was on what other people thought of me. I never wanted someone to think that I thought I was superior or that I was looking down on them, that fear subconsciously prevented me from making moves to be the best authentic version of me. My fear became reality recently when this exact statement was said to me. I was so upset and could not understand why they would say that to me when all I was doing was making more time for myself and doing what I felt I needed to do to move forward. Usually, a comment like that would send me backwards but this time was different. I started to realise that I was better, not better than that person but better than the life I was living. I had no purpose, no ambitions, ignored my true interests and done nothing of meaning all day every day. I also stopped caring about what they thought the minute I read “The Four Agreements” by Don Miguel Ruiz.

In The Four Agreements, the author, Don Miguel Ruiz discusses basic rules for life. Those of which I believe if implemented into your life daily; will change your life forever. The rules are as follows…

  • Be impeccable with your word

Speak with integrity, say only what you mean, avoid speaking negatively about yourself and gossiping about others, speak with truth and love.

  • Don’t take anything personally

Nothing others do is because of you, what others say is a projection of their own reality, when you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you will not be the victim of needless suffering.

  • Don’t make assumptions

Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness, and drama.

  • Always do your best

Your best will change from moment to moment; it will be different when healthy opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best and you will avoid self-judgement, self-abuse, and regret.

All four agreements are important and once you are conscious of them and decide to live that way, life becomes easier. I can still take things personally and I react out of emotion rather than love and understanding of another, however, I do try my best to remember to use these key tools as much as possible. So, when I received that comment, I told myself not to take it personally. It had nothing to do with me or what I was doing or saying and all to do with how the other person felt at that moment. They felt inferior due to their own created reality. I do not think they are inferior; I think they are wonderful and filled with infinite potential. If they just realised that about themselves, they would excel. But none of that matters, what I think of them does not matter as what I think about a person reflects MY reality and what really matters is our own individual reality. People say things all the time, good things and bad things and they are all irrelevant. We should not rely on others for praise nor should we take their criticism on board. What matters is how we speak about and to ourselves.

LETTING GO

There is a small number of people who are no longer in my life who I still think about. I think about what they are doing, hoping that they are happy and working on being the best version of themselves. I have never been the type to hold a grudge, thankfully. I say thankfully because holding onto anger is so damaging to our bodies and it only harms us, no one else. Letting go of the person and situation is the only option. I trust that the universe has it all figured out for me. If a person is supposed to come back, they will and if I am supposed to not speak to this person again, I won’t. Everything happens for a reason, some people I will still miss and others I wont even think of again. Missing someone is not a bad thing, it shows how much of an impact they had on you. Allow yourself to feel the loss but do not let it consume you.

I will leave you with this. Everything in life begins to get easier when you are willing to work on yourself. Understand yourself and others. Understand that you can not change another person, but you can change yourself and then you will notice other people change around you. MJ had it right. Start with the man in the mirror.

by Ali, Thinking InsideOut Loud, July 3 2021

Finding Your Tribes: Solidarity Networks for Social Anxiety

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Dark by Anna Vanes ©

Finding your ‘allies’ and ‘tribes’ is not to find groups of homogeneous personalities but to find networks of diverse people who share a common interest and can offer mutual companionship and solidarity. For individuals with social anxiety disorder symptoms, such groups also likely offer opportunities to learn to manage and overcome aspects of social fear.

Common support groups are friends, family units and the medical profession. However, finding wider and multiple tribes offers a richer set of resources to call upon. A tribe which includes individuals who can closely relate to one’s experiences, including of similar mental health difficulties, offers unique potential for understanding, as one writer puts it: “Her journey wasn’t mine, but at least I knew that she was still on it, still surviving. I was surviving, too, and eager to keep becoming the only self I would ever have.”

As a child, the writer describes herself suffering severe social anxiety and depression at a time that “the online community around mental illness was not as accessible or developed as it is today, especially for young people.” Her family seemed to not understand her difficulties and, yet, she found an unlikely ally. At first, comparisons with her Aunt Layla were uncomfortable: “I couldn’t view her journey as a parallel to mine. I couldn’t look at her and see the stable person I might one day become.”

However, having been the subject of her parents’ oversharing of her mental health difficulties, she comes to recognise that Aunt Layla had suffered a similar fate: “We had both been exposed and held up to our old selves—and also, in some ways, obscured. My fear of being confronted with my aunt’s stability dwindled and I began to empathize with her more.”

A simple gesture by her aunt during a moment of “paranoia” that lead to the writer, as a young teen, secluding herself in her grandparents’ house, seems to seal the bond between aunt and niece.

Another writer, Lizzie, writes on her blog of her challenges with coming to terms with grief after the death of two friends. One of her friends committed suicide and Lizzie describes a sense of guilt: “I wasn’t able to save my friend, and that was translating into all sorts of other things that I didn’t feel able to do. I began having panic attacks, to the point where they were happening everyday at work.”

It took an intervention from a work colleague for her to seek medical support, including being prescribed medication and undertaking cognitive behavioural therapy which, though not working on her grief, helped her anxiety symptoms. Despite these treatments, she describes putting up an “emotional wall” at this time and putting unrealistic expectations upon herself to succeed at work.

Reflecting on her journey, Lizzie writes of her social anxiety symptoms and her “control freak” desires to control what people thought of her as being obstructive traits: “I often struggled to let others into my grief, as I didn’t want to be a burden.”

Her Christian faith was a source of strength and, particularly, her church, when it came to integrating and processing grief: “During the summer of 2019, I had the chance to meet regularly with some ladies in my church and we dug deep into the difficult places of our heart and our past that were preventing us from living a life of total freedom. This is where I learnt about and was set free from the feeling of inadequacy relating to not being able to save my friend.”

“Self-compassion,” the writer adds, “is one thing that I did learn throughout this tragic journey. I learnt that there were things that were so out of my control, that it wasn’t worth worrying so deeply. Instead, I needed to create space for myself and allow time for healing.”

Allies and tribes are not homogeneous groups but people whose commonalities allow unique understanding and empathy and whose differences enable them to provide support. Whether an aunt, friendship group or church group, these networks, comparable to therapy groups, can offer a wide range of knowledge, interaction, understanding, trust and sharing. Combined with necessary medical treatments, they can offer meaningful and practical support for someone suffering mental health illness or difficulty.

Ayetola Fagbemi’s account of the discovery of her connection with her Aunt Layla can be found on the Sinai Magazine site here.

Lizzie writes of “Journeying Through Grief” after the deaths of her two friends. Click here for the blog-post.

Image designed by Anna Vanes.