“With friends like these, who needs enemies?” —English proverb
Spring has finally arrived. For many, the arrival of spring means new beginnings and a time for cleaning out the clutter. It’s time to get rid of the old and make room for the new. Sometimes this mindset may include rethinking some of our relationships, particularly our friendships.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, healthy friendships and other positive social supports contribute significantly to our mental and emotional well-being. On the flip side, unsatisfying or destructive relationships can be quite harmful to our health.
In my practice, when I hear people describe hurtful and sometimes verbally vicious treatment coming from people they call “friends,” I often ask: “What about this friendship works for you?” The answer I most often hear in such cases is: “We have history” or “We’ve been friends since childhood.”
There are many wonderful perks of having a long history with someone, of course. These might include shared memories, inside jokes, not having to explain your stories over again, and (hopefully) an unconditional acceptance of who you are. But, like with all other relationships, as each person grows, they may also grow apart from people in their lives.
Every relationship takes work. But when a friendship becomes more of an effort in maintenance than a source of joy—especially if the effort you put in is not reciprocated—letting go may be the most compassionate thing you can do for yourself.
So how do we know when it’s truly time to let a friendship go? Below are a few signs that can help provide guidance:
1. Your friends put you down.
“Pay close attention to anyone who does not clap when you win,” goes one saying. In other words, you might notice that each time you achieve something, your friend has something negative or discouraging to say. Or perhaps they try to one-up you with their own tales of achievements. These can both be red flags. A true friend will genuinely feel, or at least express, happiness when things go well for you. They will not only allow you your moment of glory, but they will also bask in it with you.
This also goes for the friend who talks about you behind your back. Beware of a person who always badmouths others. You may be next.
2. They put you last.
Between kids, partners, careers, aging parents, and sick relatives, we all have busy and complicated lives. Nonetheless, even the busiest of us try to make it a priority to nurture the relationships we value. We make time for those who matter.
When a friendship becomes more of an effort in maintenance than a source of joy—especially if the effort you put in is not reciprocated—letting go may be the most compassionate thing you can do for yourself.
Many of us have close, lifelong friends who we may not speak to for months or even years, but when we do, it feels as if no time at all has passed. What it really comes down to is how important you are to them. If you find yourself trying again and again to make an effort that is not returned in kind, it may be time to let that person go.
Whether returning calls, texts, emails, or telegrams, if you are important to someone, they will, at the very minimum, acknowledge you. If I truly value a friendship or a partnership, I make it a priority to not mess it up. And when I do make a mistake (I’m only human, after all) I make it a priority to repair it.
It’s easy to get tied up and lose focus in the busy times and varied challenges of life. The concern is when this becomes a pattern. Further, if your friend is one who carries their phone as if it were an appendage, checking it every five seconds, then they’ve probably seen your text. Interpret that as you will.
3. You only hear from them when they need something.
Say you have a friend who texts you to ask a question about something they need to know or ask for a favor and immediately replies to your response. Yet any time you reach out to them, it takes them days (or weeks!) to respond. This type of relationship is likely to eventually suck the energy out of you, in the best-case scenario. Worst case, if you are a person who struggles with self-worth, it runs the risk of perpetuating false beliefs of unworthiness. Make room for those who value you. Let go of those who only want what you can give them.
4. You’ve simply grown apart.
Most people have had friendships that worked well at one time because of commonalities or shared interests, such as work or school. Sometimes these friendships flourish beyond graduation or the ending of a job. However, those relationships may be based exclusively on those commonalities. If a relationship is not grounded in anything more substantial, and you find yourself having nothing to say or being unable to relate to the other person any longer, the relationship may have run its course. This process of growing apart is a natural part of life.
5. Misery is no longer your preferred company.
Everyone goes through highs and lows in life. Perhaps there was a particularly dark time in your life—for example, a period of intense self-destructiveness and self-hatred. Sometimes friendships that were formed during these times can make you feel stuck. If you didn’t feel so good about yourself at the time, you could have attracted those who felt the same way, both about themselves and you. After all, misery does love company.
Even if you are still struggling with issues of self-worth, you may have developed better tools to cope. For example, say you are actively working on self-love and self-compassion, but your friend tries to undermine these efforts. If this is the case, it may be time to move on, for the sake of your well-being. Misery loves company, but if you’ve reached a point in your life where you no longer want to be miserable, it’s probably time to let this friendship go.
These are only a few of the signs that your friendship may have gone on long past its expiration date. However, as is the case with any relationship, how the other person treats you and how you feel about yourself while in their company are often the best guides to determining if you have a relationship worth holding on to.
If you are still at a loss, you can simply ask yourself the following two questions:
1. Does this friendship feed me or deplete me?
2. If my goal is self-compassion and long-term happiness, will this relationship bring me closer to or further away from that goal?
An integral part of self-growth is letting go of what is no longer serving us. Unfortunately, this sometimes includes long-term friendships, as difficult as the thought of doing so may be. Anyone who has three, two, or even one really good friend who can be confidently relied upon should consider themselves lucky. When it comes to friendships, it is the quality rather than the quantity that makes the difference.
Deciding to let go of a friendship is never an easy decision. But if you pay attention to the signs listed above—and more importantly, to your heart—you will eventually know what to do. If you struggle to know whether a friendship is serving you, or want to work through any other issues related to friendship, I encourage you to reach out to a compassionate counselor who can offer support and guidance.
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