When Friendships Hurt
If I could pack away the memories of failed friendships like I’ve been packing up boxes of things I no longer want to make room for new things, I would. But the past doesn’t work like that. Instead, the thoughts of people whose side I chose to leave and who decided to leave me ring through my brain when a facebook memory invades my screen or I hear a joke I wish I could send them or feel something I know they’d understand. The emptiness exists far beyond the last time you speak to a person.
Whether you were on the deciding end or the stinging end of a friendship that no longer exists, or still in a friendship that hurts, you have to decide if it’s going to make you bitter, or if you will let it make you better.
Here are a few thoughts that will help you grow when friendships hurt.
1. Make peace when you choose to walk away, but don’t let it be your first option. Be the friend that can speak their feelings and hurts in a gentle way, offering forgiveness and hoping for restoration.* Be the friend that reaches out if you think someone is hurting. Be a friend that will listen if someone tells you why you hurt them, and for a second, don’t try to defend yourself. Focus on keeping a friendship, even if it means facing hurt head on.
Though forgiveness and community is one of the greatest gifts of this life, there are people who will continue to hurt you while you remain in a friendship with them. If that’s the case, make peace with walking away. Though the ending of a friendship will sting, it will hurt less than direct and repeated wounds from them over and over again. It is better to live with the loss of a toxic friendship than to remain in a cycle that will keep you from growing and feeling peace.
2. Sometimes wounds from a friend hurt because they can be trusted. Friendships don’t always end because of something the other person did. Before packing up the situation in your heart and filing it on the “they were wrong” shelf, take note of the reason it ended. Did they try to tell you something you refused to change or accept? Is there a consistent behavior you have that hurts others? Identify the mistakes you made in the friendship and use that to grow. Just like the first point mentioned, we have the right to walk away from people, but people also have the right to walk away from us.
Then use those lessons to make you a better friend, a better person. If you need to apologize, do it. You will grow and your current friendships will be even better.
3. Recognize that the hurt isn’t always about you. We think of ourselves far more thought of than we actually are. Other people have lives that exist outside of yours, and often, people aren’t purposefully rejecting you as much as they just aren’t thinking about you. I actually find freedom in that. But this is one I wish more people in my life understood: If you want to be thought of, reach out and ask someone how they are doing. If you want to be invited or you want people to come when you invite them somewhere, take an interest in their lives first. You don’t get to be offended because someone else is living their life well. Identify the difference between someone intentionally hurting you and someone just focusing on what’s happening in their world.
Growing from a friendship that hurt doesn’t always mean reconciliation. Though moving past losing a friend wasn't easy, what hurt more was trying to piece my life back together from the hurts they caused and the toxic behaviors I let in. Every person you spend time with makes an imprint on your soul, character, home, and habits. I remember and miss the good in people, though I'm thankful for the peace I have now that the turmoil and hurt they caused is no longer part of my life.
So instead of forgetting, I pack up my boxes and file them in different sections. Some go in the Things I Could've Done Better section, some go in the Forgiven But Still Hurts sections, and some go in the Still Hoping section. And when a memory of them comes back? I remember where I filed it, how I've grown and learned because of it, and how thankful I am for the person I've become and the life I have now.
If you want to find a little more freedom, “Free of Me” by Sharon Hodde Miller is my favorite book this season. This book changed things for me. If you feel overly focused on your life or trapped in a cycle of hurt, I highly recommend it.
*I always feel that I have to put this disclaimer when writing about walking away and toxic relationships so here it is: A relationship/.friendship where you are abused, verbally/physically or otherwise, is never okay. Your safety is more important than that relationship.