“The primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation but thought about it.” ~Eckhart Tolle
Has this ever happened to you?
Something happens, some kerfuffle or other, like sickness, loss, or unexpected change. And just when you need it most, a friend—whom you considered true and dear—doesn’t stand by you.
You feel betrayed.
Painful, isn’t it?
Painful like the stabbing of 1,000 knives that each bears 100 tiny knives. (So, 100,000 knives in total)
This happened to me a few years ago. I’d just graduated from college when I became unwell with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS).
One of the benefits of CFS is that you have plenty of time to work through things. I was angry with many friends, and disappointed. But gradually, I came to see that they weren’t the problem—I was.
Like most people I had a set of ideals about what a good friend is:
A good friend agrees with you, listens to you, stands by you in hard times, and bakes you cookies when you need cookies.
The trouble is, thinking about friendship in these terms—even though this is how we’re taught to think of friendship—is not very, well, friendly.
It can keep us stuck feeling resentful, and make us act selfish and unkind.
If you’ve ever felt hurt by something a friend did (or didn’t) do, please read these five tips.
They may help you get over things more quickly. And you may see, as I did, the magnificent gift you’ve been given.
1. Know that it’s not personal.
Can I be honest?
When we’re going through a tough time, most of us (okay, me) tend to think mostly about ourselves.
After all, we’re the one who’s sick. Or getting divorced. Or embarrassed because our nipples went viral when our dress slipped and someone took a photo.
There’s nothing wrong with this; sometimes the sanest way to deal with a monumental hullabaloo is to begin in a self-absorbed ball of pity.
But in our super-sized reign of self-focus, our view of friendship can become warped.
We think we chose our friends because they’re cool people. But what we really do is chose people who are like us and who can give us what we need.
(We don’t need to judge this; it’s just what happens.)
When we’re struggling, we expect people to help us. We assume that what we want, they should give. Even though what we want is now different to what it used to be.
When I got sick, I expected my friends to:
Keep visiting me
Understand what I was going through
Agree with how I was dealing with it
I thought I was the same old me. But I wasn’t. I’d gone from being “life of the party Lisa,” to being unable to sit for very long. And many things I used to think were dorky—spirituality, natural therapies, self-help—I was now fascinated by.
I forgot that my friends had their own lives and trials to deal with.
What does your friend need? It might not be being friends with you at this time. And, if this is true, don’t you want them to have what they need?
When people can’t be there for us, it’s not personal. Just as we didn’t ask for this, neither did they. And while it feels like they don’t care, they do.
When we expect people to abide by our rules for being a “good friend,” it says more about our insecurities than it does about them. (More on this shortly.)
The friends who are “there for us” are there because it fulfills a need that they have. They are no better or worse than those who aren’t.
2. Stop trying to get people to understand.
Human beings are pack animals.
We want people to agree with us, and sympathize with us. And when our tribe suddenly doesn’t, it’s painful. We feel cast from the pack.
We think friendship is about seeing things from someone else’s point of view. And, while of course we try, it’s not.
No one can ever truly understand you. Not really. The only person who can see the world through your eyes is you.
This is very freeing once you get it.
I will never see things from my husband’s point of view. Not completely. Just like he’ll never truly know mine. Understand this, and it becomes easier to walk alongside one other. When our insecurities bubble up and we respond differently, we’re not surprised. We expect it.
3. Think abundance, not lack.
When friends reject or disappoint us, it feels like something is taken away.
This is because most of us have a scarcity mindset when it comes to friendships. We hold on tight to the ones we have, thinking they’re limited.
But they’re not.
There are, after all, billions of people on the planet.
When I stopped thinking of friendship in terms of rules people need to follow, but as moment-to-moment connection, then I saw it:
Love is everywhere.
Who knows what my next connection will be: it could be a long-lasting relationship or it could be chatting with the librarian as I pay my overdue fines.
4. Accept that friends can’t stop the pain.
It feels good to have people around us who love us just for being us.
But sometimes we find ourselves with less support than we’d like. And sometimes we’re surrounded by kindness, but it still feels like we’re alone.
What can get lost during the tough times is that no one can do them for us.
The deep pain we feel as we watch our plans (which might not have been very good plans, who knows) slip away—that’s ours.
And while we tend to see bad times as getting in the way of life, they are life. They bring about changes we’d never have ordinarily made. They reveal insights and gifts we never knew we had.
They are ours.
5. We can triumph through rejection.
We think other people cause us pain, but it’s never an event or person that makes us sad. It’s how we think about things.
Our feelings always come down to how we feel about our self. The more secure we are, the less we’re affected by what people do or say. The less our mind makes it about us.
The pain of loss seems to uncover a sense of self-love within us. It’s one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received.
It’s a universal law. Maybe it’s happened to you?
We’re brought up to depend on others. To gauge our success by looking outward: to what other people think, to the number of designer shoes in our shoe wardrobe, or to the number of premium flies in our fishing kit.
It’s like we’re taught to walk with a cane, dependent on approval to hold us up. When the cane is removed, we stumble. The wondrous thing is, after a while, just naturally, we begin to walk and feel good by ourselves.
For me, this didn’t happen overnight, but gradually.
I didn’t try and change how I felt. If I felt sad, I felt sad. But as I stopped blaming my friends for my sadness, something shifted. I stopped feeling resentful and I started feeling more love. For everything.
And lest you think I’m some love filled, never-get-annoyed (even when people drive fast around small children) saint, I’m not. I just have more ballast than I used to.
I didn’t always think this way, but to me, friendship is:
Knowing we all struggle to feel the deep reservoir of self-love within us.
Knowing we all try our best, given our skills and resources at the time.
Knowing it’s okay to be true to our self. Just like it’s okay for others to be true to their self.
Knowing that love isn’t about rules and expectations but about moment-to-moment kindness.