"Toxic" Friends

How to Respond When You Feel Betrayed

On a pretty regular basis I hear so many of us share how we feel betrayed by our friends.  Have you felt betrayed by friends? Disappointed by their actions (or inactions)? Here are some examples I hear pretty frequently:

  • "We used to see each other at work all the time... now she never even reaches out to me."
  • "I can't believe she's not coming to my wedding. She says she doesn't have the time off work but if she really cared about me..."
  • "After my divorce, she stopped calling and inviting me to things..."
  • "She knew how important this event was to me, but you wouldn't have known it by her actions."
  • "When I needed friends the most... she was too busy. Guess she wasn't the friend I thought she was!"

Does that pain tempt you to want to pull away and protect yourself? Do you tend to devalue the other person and assume they're phony, fake, toxic, or not a good friend?

In this video-- I share with you some big things that have been rolling around in my heart on this topic for quite a while.  I challenge you to listen to them, hold them with a non-defensive heart, and consider what might be done to help foster a healthier relationship! 

xoxo

Making Friends When We are Wired to Assume Rejection and Danger

"She doesn't like you..."

"You'll sound stupid if you say that..."

"She's stuck-up, she thinks she's better than you..."

"Why don't people every write me back or respond to my invitations?"

"What if I share something vulnerable and she judges me?"

The negative voices in our heads are relentless.

And they are, unfortunately, a very common, even normal, human experience.

Our "Negativity Bias"

Science consistently shows that we've been wired with a bias toward negativity.  We're much quicker to asses, even expect a threat; than we are to look for opportunities.  It's a matter of survival. If an animal misses an opportunity to eat-- he can find another one; but if he misses a threat of someone trying to eat him-- then that's pretty much a done deal. We are instinctively more worried about our protection than we are about our growth and pleasures. 

These are some great examples from The Happiness Hypothesis:

  • "In marital interactions. it takes at least 5 good or constructive actions to make up for the damage done by one critical or destructive acct.
  • In financial transactions and gambles, the pleasure of gaining a certain amount of money is smaller than the pain of losing the same amount.
  • In evaluating a person's character, people estimate that it would take twenty-five acts of life-saving heroism to make up for one act of murder.
  • When preparing a meal, food is easily contaminated , but difficult to purify.

Jonathan Haidt continues by saying, 

Over and over again, psychologists find that the human mind reacts to bad things more quickly, strongly, and persistently than to equivalent good things. We can’t just will ourselves to see everything as good because our minds are wired to find and react to threats, violations, and setbacks.

How We Can Respond

Since so much of our reaction is hard-wired and instinctive, the goal isn't to never have these thoughts; but rather what we are aiming for is

  1. Greater awareness that this is, in fact, our tendency, 
  2. Better skills at then processing the information that is coming in,
  3. And, then not making decisions out of fear when we aren't actually in danger.

This reminds me of the research I shared in Frientimacy about what researchers discovered about rejection.  We ALL feel it.  No matter how emotionally healthy we are-- we all feel the pain of being left out, or even the perception of being left out. We can't not feel rejection any more than we can not feel pain when kicked in the stomach. 

What we can do is get better at identifying that pain more quickly--naming what we're feeling--and then figuring out the best strategy for how to move ourselves back to a place of peace. 

Experts in this field suggest that practices that create new thought patterns-- such as meditation, some drugs, and cognitive therapy-- can indeed help us. It is definitely worth the conscious effort of doing what we can to get ourselves out of the trap that so often leaves us feeling rejected, unlovable, or hopeless.

Responding in Friend-Making Situations

Far be it from this blog post to do the work of being able to replace all our thought patterns with loving and healthy ones, but here are a few steps we can take immediately:

  1. Catch Yourself. More Often. More Quickly. Becoming aware of this negativity bias is definitely the first step of growth.  To see where it pops up, what you say to yourself, and how it taunts you is where maturity begins.  We can can't change what we don't see. So with as much compassion as possible, let's start pointing it out "Oooh that's your fear talking..." "Oh that's your Inner Mean Girl* bullying you..." or "yep, that's me totally withdrawing because..."
  2. Show up with Curious Love! As parents watching their 3-year old have a melt-down in a public area knows-- when we see that tantrum we have several options: 1) ignore it and act like we don't see it; 2) scream louder and try to shame them into submission, or 3) get down on their level and ask a few questions. When it comes to my inner critic and fear-- I've found that the 3rd option is the only one that creates change because she usually believes that her fear is legitimate and that she's trying to protect me from something like loss, danger, or rejection. So to the best of my ability-- in that moment or later in reflection-- I try to ask questions such as a) What are you most scared of? b) Because if that were true, what would it mean? c) What are you trying to protect me from experiencing? (And to that one-- I often find myself thanking her for caring!) And that usually leads me into a conversation about what I really want and what I'm willing to do to get it.* (See * below for more info on this process because it really is more than a blog post will allow! Crying tears!)
  3. And remember this is true for others, too THEREFOR don't leave them wondering!  Therefor... let's do all we can to speak words of acceptance, safety, and affirmation louder than their inner voice, when possible. We can assume that everyone is approaching and interacting with us at some level of fear, skepticism, worry, or questioning. They are searching for clues as to whether they are safe and liked. So knowing this, we can make sure to give them as much evidence as possible that we won't bite, judge, or reject them!  We can smile, look them in the eyes, thank them for calling/coming over, show curiosity to them by asking questions, nod our head to indicate we're listening, and always end a conversation by helping answer the question we know they'll have when they leave: "Does she like me??
  • After meeting someone new: "I am so glad we met. I'm looking forward to following up with you to...."
  • After rejecting an invitation: "Oh I wish I could come, but thank you sooo much for inviting me.  I do hope you'll invite me again because I would love to do x with you." 
  • After time together: "That was lovely. Let's do it again sometime!"
  • After someone shares something vulnerable, "Oh I can understand why you would feel x, but I'm impressed with how you did y. That took a lout of courage!"

We can choose so much more kindness toward ourselves as we remember that all of us-- me, you, and even all those women who look like they never worry one iota what others think of them-- want to be liked.  We are prone to worry we're not. But oh how much we want it.

This month, I hope you practice balancing out that negativity bias in our world by showing the compassion to yourself and others that we all crave.

xoxo,

Shasta

***  This theme touches on this month's Friendship Focus in GirlFriendCircles, featuring Amy Ahlers, who is our teacher for the class "Is Your Inner Mean Girl Hijacking Your Friendships?" Join this month for FREE and you can download the class and all of our resources.  Plus, on August 23 I will be doing a live Q/A call on this subject and modeling/sharing how I bring healing to my inner critic voices. All women welcome to join us! xoxo

2 Ways to Respond to Friends Who Annoy or Frustrate

While these two steps won't fix every friendship, they are certainly the first two steps we should practice in our attempts to repair or enhance a friendship that isn't feeling super meaningful. All too often we become increasingly frustrated or hurt by the actions of a friend-- albeit that she only calls us when it's convenient to her, that she talks too much, that she isn't vulnerable enough, or that she hangs out with a mutual friend and doesn't invite us.  In almost every friendship, there will be certain things that we believe could improve the depth of our friendships IF that one action were changed.  Certainly it's our responsibility to examine what meaning we assign that behavior, where that need comes from, and recognize it's our responsibility to get the need met as opposed to someone else's job to automatically know how to meet it... but there is also room in there for us to learn how to ask for what we need.

Having a need isn't the problem... we all have needs.  How we go about getting that need met can be what hurts us and our relationships.

In this video blog I share what I think should be the first two steps to having our needs met and I apply it to three different examples to help us see how we can apply these steps to our own friendships.

 

Do You Talk Too Much?

My favorite part of all my events is when it’s time for live Q&A. (There’s still time to come meet me on my book tour if you live in NYC, Denver, LA, Riverside CA, or the San Francisco Bay Area!) And as we’ve been talking more about the importance of vulnerability in our relationships (one of the 3 non-negotiables I discuss in Frientimacy: How to Deepen Friendships for Lifelong Health and Happiness) it seems a question I’ve been getting a bit more lately has to do with our friends who are “the talkers.” If You're NOT the Over-Talker:

Their long-winded stories and external processing may have been survivable when we thought we were being a good friend by letting her go on-and-on, but as we realize that we’ll never develop frientimacy with someone unless there is mutual vulnerability--with both of us sharing deeply and feeling seen by the other—the realization that this imbalance must change is sinking in. We won’t ever feel close and supported by her if there isn’t the space in our relationship for us to confide and reveal.

If we’re not the one who is over-talking, we still have to practice figuring out ways to share. It’s not necessarily their fault that we’re not jumping in and sharing and talking—chances are they aren’t waiting for us to ask them questions, they are simply sharing whatever comes to mind and probably assuming we will, too. The invitation is ours to recognize that a friendship needs us to share if we’re going to feel closer to each other. So I do so hope you’ll try to interject your presence whether it’s by saying, “Hey before we finish our meal, I wanted to make sure I told you about x,” or by initiating a phone call with her and shaping expectations by saying, “I wanted to call you to see if you had time to listen and support me through something that’s going on at work?”  Being asked isn't necessary.

But while it’s not necessarily their fault that we’re not taking up our space, this post is directed at the over-talkers as it most certainly is their opportunity to make sure they are doing whatever they can to make their friendship a safe place for you to share.

Are You The Over-Talker?

How do you know if you are an over-talker? Well an easy, though imperfect, rule of thumb is to assess each phone call or get-together with the question: “What percentage of the

We love our friends who talk freely but we may need a few conversation pauses to help ensure we both leave feeling heard and seen.

time was I talking?” and if it’s frequently over 50% then it’s time to open up more space for your friends. Because while you may feel close to her, if she’s not sharing herself then chances are high that she won’t be feeling as close to you.

  • It doesn’t matter if you have more going on in your life—her life still is valuable and matters just as much.
  • It doesn’t matter that you’re witty and entertaining and she seems to like your stories—friendship isn’t about performing but about you both feeling seen and heard.
  • It doesn’t matter if you’re an extrovert and she’s an introvert—her feelings and stories still need to be validated and witnessed.
  • It doesn’t matter if you can pat yourself on the back for asking her a question or two, if you’re then interrupting her or using her sharing to remind you of another story to tell.

Five Practices For Over-Talkers

Perhaps you've resigned yourself to “that’s just who I am” or maybe you beat yourself up regularly for not being able to stop talking, either way I’d like to share a few ideas. This is important to keep practicing. Your friendships are at risk of not reaching "frientimacy" when your friends aren't practicing speaking up or when you're not listening as much as you're sharing.

  1. Choose reminders that will help trigger you to stop talking and listen.  Most women who over-talk simply do it because they’re used to doing it. They don’t even realize they’re doing it. How can you increase your awareness? Maybe wear a ring or bracelet that you associate with “Ask questions” so every time you see it—you pass the conversation off. Or devote a month to listening so you have reminders on your morning mirror every day.  Or set an alarm on your phone for half way through the night that reminds you to assess how much you're listening.
  2. Invite your close friends to support your intention. Tell your friend, “I am sorry I over-talk sometimes because then I miss out on so much of your life. Let’s get in the habit of starting with your life before I start sharing mine. Are you willing to share with me some of the important things in your life right now?”
  3. Always ask at least 3 questions on the same subject before you give yourself permission to share what’s going through your head. After asking, “How’s work?” follow up with two more questions related to what she shares. Go deeper. Show your interest. Many of us will only give the polite short answer until we’re convinced you really care.
  4. Validate what they share before rifting on what they shared. Women often share their “similar” stories in order to bond with each other but it can feel like one-upping or taking back the conversation. It’s okay to go back-and-forth, but make sure you communicate you heard their feelings first. Instead of “That reminds me of…” start with something that has the word ‘you’ in it such as “Wow you handled that so well, which can’t be said about a time when I was in that situation…”
  5. Affirm, affirm, affirm. If you know you tend toward over-talking, then also be known for being someone who over-loves. We can all put up with talker when we have no doubt that they have our back, love us, adore us, and believe in us. Make sure we leave your presence feeling good about who we are and we’ll be more likely to look forward to hanging out with you again!

We so love you our dear talkers.  You bring us joy, laughter, and we learn so much from you.  Thank you for sharing your heart with us so freely and for modeling how we can trust each other with our lives. You inspire us, you pull us in, and you make time together stimulating with so many ideas and stories.  We do so love you.

May we all feel seen in our friendships, whether we're the talkers or the ones who need to talk up more!

xoxo

Shasta

p.s.  What other tips do you have?  Non-talkers-- what would mean the most to you?  Talkers-- what works for you?

Loving Kindness Meditation for Friendship

Once a month, for the last three years, this group of amazing women has gathered together to share their lives, to practice cheering for each other, and to ask for help from the group. This last Monday was our May gathering. One of the women shared a situation with someone they were having a hard time with at work and she so wisely said, "I don't think I want advice for how to handle her because then I'll go into defensive mode trying to explain more about what I've tried or why that wouldn't work. I guess I just wanted to tell you and ask for your support." (What maturity to be able to articulate what she didn't need!)

We all thanked her for sharing, validated what we heard her say, and promised prayers and thoughts for her patience and wisdom.  Then a wise sage in the group said, "Are you familiar with the Loving Kindness meditation? I just wonder if that would feel grounding for you?"

The sharer expressed interest and wanted to know more. So this practice was described for those who weren't familiar with it and I watched as everyone scrambled to write it down, oohed-and-ahhed at how meaningful it felt, and a few even vowed that they wanted to challenge themselves to try it for 30 days.

I knew right then what I wanted to blog about this week.  :)

The Loving-Kindness Meditation

What it is: It struck me how powerful this mediation could be in our community of women who are striving to have healthy relationships with themselves and others. It's often referred to as metta, which in the Pali language refers to an inclusive, wise, and compassionate love. From a place of meditation, we are choosing to practice love in our minds, not based on whether others, or ourselves, "deserves" it, but because we recognize that love is more healing in this world than judgment, hatred, or fear.

The words: There are many variations-- feel free to google to find the phrases you like the best or even write you own. I love the adaption that my friend shared on Monday night so I'll share that one with you for now:

May I be filled with loving kindness. May I be well. May I be peaceful and at ease. May I be happy and free.

How it works: It works by offering loving-kindness to ourselves first, then extending out to people we love easily, then extending out to people we feel neutral about (or maybe people we don't even know), and eventually extending out to people who frustrate or disappoint us.

  1. So we want to find the time and place to sit comfortably in a quiet place and whisper the words slowly over and over about ourselves first.
  2. When we feel ready, we then can picture that love extending beyond ourselves to those we love with relative ease. For example, "May Lucy be filled with loving kindness..." We replace the I with either their names or we can say she or they if we're picturing different friends or our family in our minds. Continue doing this as different people you love pop into your mind.
  3. When we feel ready, we then picture that love extending out even more to the next circle of people-- whether that be people you work with, the people you have appointments with that day, anyone who pops into your mind, your neighbors, your family, etc.
  4. Then when you feel ready, invite yourself to think of people who trigger you-- people you're having a hard time forgiving, people who annoy you, people you're no longer friends with, and people who have hurt you.
  5. To end, I like to visualize my love as ribbons going out from my heart to surround the world. For one moment feel what it feels like to simply put love out there-- to everyone, to anyone. And pray that as you go about your day that you'd show up as as someone ready to see that everything said to you by others is either their love for you or their call to be loved. Hear it as a gift you can give to include that person in your circle of who you are willing to extend the loving-kindness meditation toward.

We can use the Loving-Kindness meditation on our friends--both the ones who are easy to say it about and the ones with whom it feels hard.

If it's hard to do: Quite naturally, sometimes these words are incredibly difficult to say about some people, possibly even ourselves. So it's important to be as compassionate and tender with yourself as possible when you feel constriction or panic. Try not to judge yourself-- it's like a muscle that needs to developed--most of us will struggle with judgments as we try to extend the words.

Some ideas when you don't feel the love:

  • One idea is to start the prayer with something like "To the extent that I am able..." or "I don't feel it yet, but I am willing to say it..."
  • Another practice some suggest is if you feel blocked then go back to saying it about someone with whom it's easy for you to feel it and say it several times for that person, then try--from that place of love-- to let some of it spill over as you return to the person that originally choked the words.
  • Depending on your tradition, another option might be to say it about God's desire if you don't yet feel you can say it from yourself, such as "God wants you to be peaceful and at ease."

It's crucial to realize that you don't need to feel these words to have them do their work on us. In fact, that's kind of the point.  We're slowly re-wiring our brain toward love so chances are slim that we already feel these things automatically. It will not feel easy or authentic. Keep in mind that we're not obligating ourselves to anything, letting anyone off any hooks, or justifying their behavior.

This meditation is more for us than it is for them. 

We are practicing becoming more loving people and this is how we get there.  We may not think we believe the words, but there is a voice in us, somewhere, that knows these words to be true. We are calling out to that voice and letting her be heard above the voices we all too often listen to.

We are choosing our peace over our defensiveness.

With so much big love for you,

Shasta

p.s. Do you practice this meditation? What's it been like for you? Share with us your tips or testimonies!

Are You Bullying Yourself? Reform Your Inner Mean Girl

Amy Ahlers & Christine Arylo are calling us all to reform on Inner Mean Girls! I'm honored to host a guest blog this morning from two friends of mine whose book Reform Your Inner Mean Girl comes out today!  Amy Ahlers and Christine Arylo, two powerhouses who are filled with love, have co-authored this interactive and transformational book. 

And be sure to take the Quiz below to find out how your inner critic voice might need to be reformed!  :)

Are You Bullying Yourself?

7 signs you are sabotaging your life, happiness and relationships

By Christine Arylo & Amy Ahlers

You hear about Mean Girls all the time. Mean Girls in the hallways of junior high. Mean Girls in the conference room or at the PTA meeting. People even make big bucks off of glamorizing and exploiting Mean Girl behavior. Think The Real Housewives of (insert your favorite city).

And while you may be able to turn off the tv or steer clear of not-so-nice women, there is one Mean Girl that no woman can escape.

Meet your INNER Mean Girl.

She’s the force that lives inside of you that fills your head with negative thoughts, bullies you into making self-sabotaging choices, and can make even the most successful woman feel like crap in two seconds flat. She bullies you into working more, doing more, and saying yes when you should say no. She’s a pro at making you feel inferior by comparing you to others, pointing out what you haven’t yet accomplished, and judging you by totally unrealistic standards.

She’s the one behind your obsessive thinking, worrying, and perfectionism, and the one who makes you eat/spend/drink too much and ask for too little when it comes to what you need and what you are worth.

She’s also the one that sabotages your relationships. She’ll make you over-stay in unhealthy relationships out of loyalty and fear. She’ll become an outer mean girl and point the finger at what your friends or mates are doing wrong, so that you don’t have to look at yourself or be vulnerable. She’ll even make you feel like you don’t belong, don’t enough friends, and are doomed to be alone.

At the deepest level your Inner Mean Girl is a reflection of the things within yourself that you can’t be with – fear, shame, anger, disappointment, sadness, rejection, not feeling loved – that subconsciously you are trying to avoid feeling, but are in fact are running you and ultimately sabotaging the happiness and success you work so hard for.

The person we women bully the most is ourselves. Our girls are doing it too, starting at the age of 6! We are in the midst of a self-bullying epidemic. And the culprit behind it is your Inner Mean Girl.

The good news is there is a cure. Much like outer mean girls, Inner Mean Girls can be reformed.

Step number one is to get to know your particular type of Inner Mean Girl and how she bullies you. Over the past 5 years, we’ve worked with over 30,000 women and girls around the world, and are pretty sure that all of us have at least one Inner Mean Girl. But most of us are unaware that the self sabotaging actions we take, the negative thoughts we think and the pressure we feel is coming from ourselves.

Here are a few signs of self-bullying – see which ring true for you. Do you:

  1. Get down on yourself for not measuring up to the expectations you or others have for your body, career, children, finances or relationships?
  2. Feel like you are not accomplishing enough no matter how much you get done?
  3. Pressure yourself to say yes to others even when you don’t really have the energy or the time to give?
  4. Obsessively think about the future, about other people’s problems, or about what could possibly go wrong?
  5. Continually do things that sabotage you – like eating too much, dating the wrong people, spending money you don’t have, working yourself to exhaustion?
  6. Procrastinate? Avoid completing things? Play it safe and small?
  7. Do everything on your own and then feel stressed, resentful or like the world is on your shoulders?

These are all forms of self-bullying – and that is just the short list! If your friends could hear the hurtful thoughts inside your head or witness the judgments and pressure you put on yourself, they would call the authorities!

From our work, experience and research, we have found that one of the most prevalent reasons women are unhappy, unfulfilled, stressed out and not having the relationships or life they desire, is the mental and emotional abuse suffered at their own hands through their own self-destructive thoughts and self sabotaging choices.

So how do you stop the self-bullying?

Now that you have identified some of the ways in which your Inner Mean Girl bullies you, the next step is to find out what kind of Inner Mean Girl you have. We have discovered 13 distinct types of Inner Mean Girls that specifically torment and sabotage women. These include the Achievement Junkie, Good Girl, Worry Wart, Doing Addict, Perfectionist and more. Perhaps you can relate?

Once you identify your Inner Mean Girl Archetype, you can begin to make shifts in how you show up and think.

To determine your specific type of Inner Mean Girl, take a free (and fun!) quiz at www.InnerMeanGirlQuiz.com

Once you take the quiz, you’ll receive a report scoring and ranking all 13 types of Inner Mean Girls so you can see your highest scores and most active Inner Mean Girls. We’ll also give you with the report, specific Inner Mean Girl Deactivators, simple techniques that give you the super power to disarm her and in the process stop the negative chatter or stop yourself from the self sabotaging, self-bullying actions.

Here’s to you regaining control of your mind, your body and most of all, the relationship and friendship you have with yourself.

Inner Mean Girl book

Amy & Christine's book is available for purchase on Amazon. Order it here.

We're giving the wrong advice for "toxic" friendships!

When my Google alerts brought a recent Today Show article to my attention with the headline: Here's Another Good Reason Women Should Dump a Toxic Friend, I groaned, and then clicked. In short, the article highlights research showing that "as the amount of negativity in relationships increased, risk of hypertension [in women] also increased." two young girls in a fight

I do not argue against the research at all.  I know whole-heartedly that bad relationships contribute to an increase in risk of high blood pressure in women and can leave serious damage on our bodies.  In fact, we know that to be true of anything that is causing us stress.  I am a very big fan of healthy friendships.

But what I want to speak out against is the advice we dole out alongside this research.

When we plaster a headline that gives the directive to dump a friend on an article about how stressful relationships are hurting us, I am left asking, "Why does no one ever suggest figuring out how we can make this relationship less stressful?"

 

The Traditional Advice for Toxic Friends

For long time followers of this blog, you'll know that I am not a big fan of this trend in labeling each other toxic; nor the common advice that is given that seems to always be fraught with urgent and simplistic commands such as: "Kick her to the curb," "Dump her," "Detox from her," or "End it now!"

And seriously this stuff is on the rise.  It seems we live in a world where the advice is that you're healthiest or most mature when you simply eliminate all non-perfect people from your life. (But look at the most amazing people in the world-- Jesus, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, Jr., or Gandhi-- thank God they didn't hear this advice and instead chose to actually engage with and work alongside unhealthy people!)

It'd be one thing if we all had a plethora of amazing relationships, lived in meaningful community, and all felt tons of love in our lives-- then, by all means, I suppose you could get rid of the excess when it wasn't fun and joy-full.  But this advice is being given to an incredibly lonely world of women who are starving for meaningful friendships.  And we're neglecting to not only tell you that meaningful friendships come with some stress, but we're also not mentioning that the other way to eliminate unhealthy relationships is to show up differently and make them healthier!

An Alternative Approach to Toxic Friendships

I've mused about this before when inviting us to own that we are strong enough to be around unhealthy people, taught that it's not necessarily a person who is unhealthy, but an unhealthy pattern that has been developed in the relationship, and shown how I think we can decrease the expectations in unhealthy friendships as opposed to an all-or-nothing approach, but every time I see another expert using the fear of toxicity to encourage women to push each other away, I feel ever more convicted to be, what sometimes feels like, a lone voice continuing to offer a different perspective.

There are definite times when we must end our stressful relationships, or establish strong boundaries around them, so I'm not speaking out against giving women permission to break-up. What I am speaking out against is the popular tendency to make that ending as our first step, rather than as a last step. In most cases, we're at our personal "last straw" before we've ever even tried to improve it!

Step In Before Stepping Out

No one wants a stressful relationship in their life.  I get that.

But neither can we just go cutting out every relationship when it gets stressful!  Friction, disappointment, insecurity, guilt, jealousy, and crisis are a part of life (don't even get me started on how tired I am of this trend to "be happy all the time!") so therefore they are a part of relationships.

Rather than be shocked when our friendships aren't all laughter, cotton candy, and photo-perfect events, what would happen if we actually expected her to annoy us or disappoint us from time to time?  And then, more important than trying to avoid angst, we focus instead on figuring out how we want to respond to it when it does come up?

My invitation to anyone struggling in a friendship that has mattered to you is to make it a practice to step closer to that person, before stepping away.

In other words, acknowledge that some friendships get stronger after talking something through, and choose to play the odds that it could happen to this friendship. It might not, but it could.

I view my friendships as investments-- sacred containers where I have stored up time, energy, love, memories, and vulnerability.  Anyone who has started a business, or made an investment of some sort, knows that there will be times when it would definitely be the easy thing to just close up shop or walk away.  But you only do so after you feel you have done everything you could do to make it work.  We understandably want the investment to pay off.  I want that for your friendships, too!

It takes a long time to foster a friendship.  It doesn't happen overnight or easily.  So when the inevitable disappointments and frustrations show up, I have a commitment to put in as much energy in the saving of these relationships as I feel I have put in to the development of these relationships.  So for a new friend, someone on the Left-Side, someone I haven't invested a ton of time and energy with, I probably won't extend a ton of energy into saving what may barely be built.  But with long-time friends, or intimate and close friends, I am willing to step up, lean in, show up, and give it my all to see if we can find a place of mutual love again.

Awkward?  Probably.  Stressful? Indeed.  Unsure how to do it? Likely.

But it's also courageous, life-building, love-practicing, and emotionally deepening for us to figure it out.  This is where we get to practice being the loving people that we are!  This is where we either make a more beautiful relationship or grow because we tried!

Anytime there is a fight, an unmet need, a slow-boiling frustration, and repeated judgment in one of our friendships, we have the sacred opportunity to try to fix it, repair it, enhance it, and grow it before we end it.

So if I were the expert on the Today Show giving application to the research, I'd be quick to say, "This is awesome that we have this research that reminds us how damaging our stressful relationships can be on our bodies.  Hopefully that incentivizes us to practice our relational skills to see if we can make these relationships not only less stressful, but also more life-giving. Staying in relationships without establishing boundaries, stating our needs, or sharing with honesty isn't serving anyone."

When did trying to fix something that is broken turn into such rebellious advice?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Problem: My Friend Doesn't Ask Me About My Life!

"It's their fault for not asking me about my life..."

I have this strong memory of being at a cafe a couple of years ago with 4 of my close friends.  In an attempt to invite us all into more sharing and connection, I said, "Let's go around the circle and say one thing that feeds us in our group friendship (i.e what we currently like and appreciate), and one thing we want more of from the group (i.e what need we have that isn't being met or how others could support us more meaningfully.)

The question was popular and everyone shared really beautiful things-- affirming each other for how their lives were enhanced by our friendships, and bravely sharing how it could be even better.  It was super touching to hear each person share what would feel good to receive from the group, ranging from understanding for always talking about the same problem in one life to asking for more encouragement as another struggled with her marriage.

I was thinking ahead to what I would share and decided to be truly honest and share that would feel good to me would be to have them initiate asking about my life a little more... I felt that I often I did that for them, but didn't always feel like they asked about me as frequently.

Does your friend talk too much? Maybe it's your responsibility to talk more?

The whole afternoon ended up being hugely ironic in that right before my turn everyone got distracted and the conversation ended up veering in another direction.

I felt hurt, but was certain that surely, at some point, one of them would realize that I hadn't yet had my turn.  I kept waiting for one of them to ask me to share.

No one did.... and in the car on the way home I licked my wounds.  I remember feeling pity for myself, frustration toward them, and disappointment in how the relationships clearly weren't that fulfilling and mutual.

In transparency to what I felt back then, I blamed them. They were clearly selfish, caught up in their own lives, and unable to fulfill my needs.

But in the middle of my pity-party where I was certain that I was the amazing friend and they were the problem... clarity hit me.

"It's my responsibility to share what I want to share..."

I'm always grateful when my voice of wisdom can still be heard over my ego... I've done my very best in recent years to give her as much permission and practice in speaking loudly to me.  So while in that car, I remember trying to hear her above the whining of the little girl stomping her foot in my head...which required stopping my defensiveness and blame long enough to listen:

"Shasta... you know they love you and care about your life.  No one is maliciously trying to ignore you.  You're making this way bigger than it needs to be. They would feel horrible if they knew they hurt you. 

Besides, you could have handled it differently, too.  You could have said, "Hey before we talk about x, let's finish our sharing first," or "Before we go, I wanted to make sure I was able to tell you guys about what you mean to me..." And deep inside you know that they would have loved to have heard you and then you'd be driving home feeling grateful for the friends in your life instead of licking imaginary wounds.

Not imaginary because they don't count... your need to be in friendships where you feel heard is super important and I'm so glad you can articulate that.  But it's your job to ask for what you need.  And honestly, to have the chance to share about your life doesn't require them to ask about it, it only requires that they receive it when you decide to share."

By the time I got home I knew that I could have handled that in a way that would have easily benefited all of us far more than me sitting there quietly as though I were testing them.

Friendship doesn't mean we don't disappoint each other sometimes... it means we're in relationships where we can trust each other to speak their needs-- and I hadn't done that.

Speaking Up

While in a fantasy world someone might just guess what's important to us to share, in the real world, the chances of someone asking all the right questions are pretty slim.

As a pastor I remember one woman accusing the church of being shallow after she had attended that prior weekend without anyone finding out that she had been dying inside from the knowledge that she had suffered a miscarriage the week before.  My heart broke that she hadn't received the support she craved. And I also knew that she could have shown up in a way that ensured she got what she needed.

It's nearly impossible to know what's going on in each others lives unless we volunteer it.  It's not the job of our friends to ask us about work, our marriages, our families, our holiday plans, and make their way down the list... only to have us then feel hurt that they neglected to ask about our health.  You get the idea.  If we have something that needs to be shared... then we need to share it.

Likewise, if we have a friend who calls us and then just talks and talks and then has to go; maybe we can take that as permission to call her and share our lives with her?

Or, if a friend has a habit of going on-and-on about her life, we can certainly experiment with saying, "I always love how freely you're able to share... I need to learn from you because I always feel like I get home without sharing much..." Or, "Hey before we're done with dinner, I wanted to be sure to tell you about what happened at work this last week."

We can offer up our lives.  It makes it no less sincere; nor means they care any less.

Less important than being asked something is whether we're all sharing-- whether that happens is as much my job as theirs.  I don't need to be asked in order to share.  I need to practice offering myself up, being willing to take the space, being willing to be vulnerable-- whether it's initiated by me or them.

Now when I sit in circle with women, I take responsibility to share more.  While I'm still a fan of women being more aware of asking questions and showing interest in each other, rather than filling the space themselves, I also know that most of them don't do it maliciously.

I know that our collective friendship depends upon it-- the relationship will start feeling lop-sided if I don't speak up and own part of the space.

I know that it's my job to reveal, not their job to guess.

I know that vulnerability isn't as dependent as much on the question being asked, as it is on the answer that is shared.

If you have relationships where you feel like you're always the one doing most of the listening and question-asking, I challenge you today to consider how you've contributed to that imbalance and what you can do to show up in a way that builds the relationship and better supports you.

That's not to say that they don't have more to learn or that they couldn't do it differently; but we can't control them, we can only change how we show up.

 

 

9 Principles for Responding to a Friend in an Affair

This time last year I wrote a blog post that quickly became one of my most searched-for articles online: Help! Should I Tell My Friend that Her Husband is Cheating on Her?  In that post I mused that I should probably write a post to guide us through the angst when we find out it is our friend who has cheated. It has taken me a year to want to sit down and write it. Finding Out That Our Friend Has Cheated

While statistics are all over the board about how many of us actually admit to having extra-marital affairs, it does seem that due to women having more economic and sexual freedom, our numbers are on the rise in the last two decades. It appears that now one in every 5 or 6 of us will end up doing what we all of us swore we never would.  That means if you have 5 friends-- chances are high that this issue will impact you.

This is such a difficult subject to cover adequately due to all the possible complicating issues that could be present.  For example, is she confiding in you or are you finding out another way? Does she seem intent on trying to pull it off or is she confessing that it happened and she's trying to end it?  Do you know her partner and/or her lover?  Is your significant other involved in any way (i.e. as a friend to her partner)? Is she confessing or is she asking you to be an alibi for her and to aid her in the relationship?  Have you been wounded by marital affairs in the past, making it harder for you to come to this one without your own scabs getting pulled off? Are you happy in your own relationship?

Different answers to any of these questions would prompt different insights into the best way for you to respond, but without knowing you or the situation, all I can give are some principles that will hopefully lay a foundation for any choice you end up making.  Having been on both sides of this issue, and journeying closely with several friends over the years who have confided in me the angst of juggling a second relationship, I offer my wisdom with hope and humility.

Nine Principles to Remember:

  1. This is her crisis, not yours.  Yes, it could impact your friendship, your picture of her, your belief in love, and possibly even your own marriage, but, and this is important to remember: getting hit by some of the debris of an accident isn't the same as being in the accident. Keep this about her as much as possible. See my blog post about helping a friend in crisis to better provide a visual of how to act when you're in the outer rings.
  2. Nurture yourself and your relationships. With that said, if you are in a romantic relationship, be mindful that it may be impacted.  It may be as a result of conversations that you have with your significant other about the subject of infidelity, the insecurities it brings up in you, or simply the questions it raises about whether you're happy or not.  Recognize that while your friend is responsible for her life, she is not responsible for yours. Life will throw you a variety of subjects to process, this is your time to do so on this one.  In some ways it's a gift. Be extra gentle on yourself (and your partner) as you work yourself back to a place of alignment and peace through journaling, counseling, meditation, and other self-nurture and self-growth actions.
  3. Don't make it personal.  It is not because she doesn't trust you that she didn't tell you sooner.  It is not because you were in a happy relationship that she felt tempted to go find that, too.  It is not because you weren't there for her... blah, blah, blah.  She made choices and you are not to blame.  Additionally, there are a thousand reasons women don't tell their friends, many of them very valid reasons, so don't get steamed up about when and how you found out.  Just breathe deeply and acknowledge that in the big scheme of everything she's sorting through and trying to juggle and process-- the last thing she wants is to lose a friend and the last thing she needs is to spend energy now processing yet another relationship in her life. The more you can keep reminding yourself to not take this personally, the happier you (and she) will be.
  4. Draw your boundaries. It's okay to say that you're not willing to lie for her, be an alibi for her with her husband, or to talk about it ad nauseam.  It's okay to tell her that due to your religious beliefs, moral code, or personal history, this is a subject that you are very against or incredibly uncomfortable with.  It's okay for you to state what you are able to do and what you cannot do right now; but do so in as sensitive a way as possible, with as much respect as you can, and with the intention that you still want to do what you can.  It doesn't need to be all or nothing.  Perhaps start with something like, "This is such a hard situation for me, though I recognize it's even harder for you.  I want to love you and support you through this in the ways I can, and be honest with you where I can't right now.  In what ways do you most need me right now?" And then, ask her to tell you what would be most meaningful.  From there, you can honestly say yes to what you can and no to what you can't.
  5. You are her friend, not her counselor.  She may be so relieved to finally have you know her secret that she's at great risk of confiding waaay too much to you.  This is her affair, not yours, you don't need to hear all the details. Tell her with all the love you can, "I want to try to navigate this in a way that protects our friendship and serves us both as best as possible... and, I think, that includes you making sure you have the expert support in your corner to process this with."  It's unfair to put you in a place of counselor. And she needs one.
  6. Acknowledge that she is still a good person.  I really do believe that everyone is doing the best they can with what they have at the time. She didn't wake up one day with the intention to hurt anyone or to not live up to her own values.  She made bad choices, but that doesn't make her a bad person.  Be very cautious to protect your thoughts about her, whispering a form of the prayer, "Help me see her the way God sees her." Or, "I see that part of her that is beautiful, good, and pure."
  7. Her feelings are real.  We might not like them, but they're real. Real in that regardless of how we feel about her inappropriate relationship, she is feeling intense feelings of love, hope, and feelings of being valued, admired, and needed.  In other moments she is, undoubtedly, feeling shame, denial, and guilt.  We all know those feelings.  We might hate what is causing her to feel that way or disagree that she should feel them, but far better for us to try to empathize.  We know what it feels like to be torn; we know what it feels like to want to be loved, we know what it feels like to think about breaking up with someone you care about.  We don't have to condone her behavior to say, "It makes complete sense to me that you'd be drawn to that," or "I can't imagine how sad you must feel as you grieve the end of that relationship."  Love doesn't have to agree in order to support.
  8. Be mindful of our judgment.  From the Christian scriptures comes a saying: "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone." It was what Jesus said to the crowd who wanted to stone a woman for committing adultery.  I invite you to be mindful of the fact that we are all in process and all struggle with actions that are hurtful to ourselves and others.  Yours may not seem as glaring, so be thankful for that!  Then with humility recognize that you, too, have made mistakes, and that you're still struggling with discontent, jealousy, complaining, greed, criticism, or gossip. We are all learning the lessons we need to learn.  She will learn hers.  And she'll surprisingly learn it better when compassion is shown (so she doesn't have to feel defensive) as love is what empowers us to grow.  Shame simply paralyzes people.  We want her to grow so we want to act in as many ways as possible that invite her to courage, compassion, and hope.
  9. Know that this too shall pass.  Yes it will!  I promise.  It may feel like more drama than you can handle right now (and that's okay, try to be present as you can and honest when you can't) but someday she is going to wow you with the rebuilding of her life.  She's going to be laughing again, present again, and hopefully more healthy and mature because of the life lessons she is learning now. And when you find yourself in a crisis, she'll be someone you know you can trust to not judge you, to support you, and to understand.

This is, by no means, a comprehensive list.  I could keep going for days.  And I'm very aware that you could get done reading the list and still not know the best way to respond.  I therefore write these words with a prayer that accompanies them that anyone who reads this looking sincerely for guidance will find it. May those who seek, find.  May those who are unsure, err on the side of love.  May you be given an extra dose of compassion, energy, strength, and love today... your friend needs it.

What is our Response-ability in Relationship?

While I'm in Cuba with a GirlFriendCircles.com travel circle, I'm posting this thoughtful guest blog from Susan Strasburger, an integrative counselor who works with individuals (and couples) who struggle with self-criticism, are in the midst of transition, or feel stuck in a decision process.  I requested permission to re-port this article of hers since it speaks so beautifully to what we've been talking about the last few weeks on this blog about dealing with negative friendships.

Thanks Susan for sharing your wisdom with us as we seek to grow more loving, healthy, and responsive!

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Two women were discussing recent experiences with their ex-partners: One had wanted her partner to be able to see that she had “turned a corner” in relationship to him, and felt frustrated that he engaged with her as if she hadn’t changed. The other woman was confused by her partner’s actions, and “wished he’d been more overt about telling me his perspective had changed.” Their combined question became:

Questioner: What is our responsibility in a relationship to get a friend or partner up to date on specifically how our perspective has changed?

Susan: The answers to this are actually embedded in the question. If there are “specific” changes about ourselves that we want our friends to know, it’s our responsibility to tell them (unless you have friends who can read your mind). And/but… if we are noticing something different about our friend, and they haven’t spoken to us directly, it’s also our responsibility to tell them our experience and ask to understand what’s going on for them.

At this point, you may be saying, “Wait, wait! You mean, either way, it’s my responsibility?!” Yup! Hopefully you won’t see this as a burden, though, if you’re willing to re-frame what “responsibility” means. The ability to be responsive, rather than reactive, is a cornerstone to our well-being, in any relationship. We want to make conscious choices about how we speak and act, rather than defaulting to defensive or accusatory behaviors. Having this intention means taking responsibility for the quality of our relationships. Of course, we get to feel disappointed if the other person isn’t taking as much responsibility as you would ideally like them to take. All we can do is keep modeling what it is we want, make requests of the other person, and see what unfolds.

Questioner: I really love the wisdom in your response. I find the connection between “responsibility” and “response” evocative, and sense that hearing a little more about this would be very helpful to me!

Susan: Ok, stick with me for a minute, while I dip into semantics: Dictionaries attribute many meanings to the term “responsibility.” I’m choosing: “the act of being answerable or accountable, as for something within one’s power, control or management” rather than other definitions that include words such as “blame” or “moral obligation.”

With this definition, we no longer default to: “You’re responsible for my heartache!” We may feel that phrase, and even want to say it! Yet that would be what I call “reactive” behavior.

Being “responsive” requires us to stretch beyond blame, shame-turned-inward, or just leaving without communication. We know that the other person stimulated something in us that we call “heartache” – perhaps we didn’t feel seen, respected, or loved in the ways we were hoping for. If we’re being “responsive,” we’ll find within us what is most self-caring to do next. That is, we claim responsibility for what we do with our feelings of heartache. It might still be to leave, yet first tell the other person “I’m feeling too overwhelmed to speak right now, I need a little space, and I’ll come back when I’m ready to talk.” Or it might be to engage with the person, knowing we’re “accountable” for what’s “within [my] power” which includes the words and actions I choose. This route of course takes skill, compassion and a lot of practice!

Are we then responsible for the outcome of that conversation? Ahh, semantics again: we’re responsible to each other, but not “for” each other. Perhaps another blog post?!  :)

Five Questions to Ask Before Ending a Friendship

Not all friendships last forever, in fact only about 1 in 12 friends end up being lifetime friends.  And even those friendships have to change and become something new many times over as we all go through various life stages and moves.  But all friendships are meant to enhance our lives and teach us new ways of loving people even if they don't last forever so we want to learn how to leave people better for having spent time with us. Very few people are actually "toxic" (a word we're throwing around waaay too easily these days!) but that is not to say that the friendship we co-created with them might not be meeting our needs anymore.

If we're starting to entertain the idea of our friend being toxic, then it is a good time to pause and answer the 5 questions below.  In many cases we're not so much mad at her for obvious "wrong-doings" she's done as much as we are disappointed at the unspoken expectations we have of her that she didn't live up to. We're just as likely to call a friend "toxic" for not calling us enough: "I always have to do all the work in our relationship!") as we are for a friend who calls too much ("She's insatiable!  She makes me feel guilty that I have a life and can't talk every day!

Seeing that it often has less to do with their actions and more to do with our expectations and current needs reminds us that there is room for mature conversations to help grow the friendship into something that brings joy to both individuals!

The Five Friendship Threats

The five friendship threats that I highlight in my book Friendships Don't Just Happen! are: blame, jealousy, judgment, neglect, and non-reciprocation.

Those five threats are the umbrella that every specific story of friendship frustration falls under, whether the judgment stems from us thinking she's dating the wrong guy or that we interpret her canceling our plans as "selfish."  And, unfortunately, they can't all be avoided.  The truth is that we're human, we have expectations of each other, and we have needs we want filled so we're bound to experience these threats from time-to-time.

What we can do is be aware that some frustration and disappointment is normal in relationships, that we're just as likely to be the subject of her annoyance as she is ours, and that the most important thing in these moments is deciding how we can best respond in ways that grow our friendship.

Five Questions to Ask Before Letting the Threats Lead to Demise:

Here are five questions that maturity invites us to ask before getting so frustrated with someone that we're at risk of walking away from them instead of being willing to repair a friendship to something more meaningful than we've ever before experienced:

  1. How can I show up a little more thoughtfully? Let’s first assume there is something we could do to enhance this friendship even if we feel she is the problem—what comes to mind?  In other words—she may be jealous and we don’t want to play smaller to avoid her jealousy, but could we affirm her more?  If we feel neglected, can we write her an email and say, “I miss you.  Can we schedule some time together?” Go past asking if she deserves it, and just simply brainstorm what could be done if you had to do something?
  2. Have I asked her what she needs?  While the next two questions are super important in helping us articulate what we need, I sometimes find that providing space to ask her what we could do in our relationship to bring her more happiness is a fabulous way to often change the dynamic. If we sense she's jealous or that she expects too much of us, sometimes simply allowing for that space to ask her can diffuse the problem, helping both of us navigate a path where we both feel more heard.  Maybe some form of, "I'm sensing that you're pulling away a bit (or feeling frustrated when we talk).. maybe I'm imaging it... But, I wanted to check in with you to see if there was anything I could do differently in our friendship to make it more meaningful for you right now?"  We often skip this step out of fear of hearing that we're not meeting a need or fear that we can't, or don't want to, meet the need we'll hear, but I've found that there is way less anger on both sides after she feels like we care enough to ask.  And it's completely acceptable to respond with a "Oh how I wish I could be that for you, but honestly I can't give that kind of time right now.  I am so sorry! Does it help that I'm still willing to x?"
  3. What is it I actually want from her?  For example, if we feel that we’re always the one giving more than the other (non-reciprocation), then pause and ask ourselves—what is it I actually want or need?  If she just noticed what I gave and thanked me, would that be enough?  Or is there a specific area I need her to give to me more?  Or do I need to know what I do for her that means the most so I don’t waste my time or money giving to her in ways that aren’t all that important to her? When I'm upset that I'm over-giving, is it because she's asking for too much or because I'm simply giving too much? What do I think I really need from her?  And try to answer it with specificity, but also with knowing the root reason.  In other words, instead of just saying ,"I need her to be there for me more," try to say, "I need her to call me at least once a week... because what I really need is to know that I matter to her and that she's thinking of me...."
  4. Have I already asked her for what I need? We so often end friendships without taking the time to let the other person know what we need or how we feel.  It doesn’t always have to be some big and difficult conversation as much as just some guidance where we can tell the other what’s more meaningful to us. If we feel frequently feel judged when she gives advice or opinions, then it’s appropriate to say, “I just need a friend to listen right now.  I don’t need anyone to try to fix this.”  If we feel like she's jealous of our activities and feels left out, then we can follow-up her silence or passive-aggressive statement with, "Are you okay? I just had this feeling like maybe I've upset you somehow?  I'd be so open to talking about it!"
  5. What could forgiveness look like in this situation? Sometimes, forgiveness means letting go of how we want someone to be in our lives and learning to love and enjoy them just as they are, trusting that they’ll keep growing and maturing along the way.  But sometimes forgiveness also means setting boundaries or limiting our exposure to those who have hurt us.  In this case, if it doesn’t have to be all or nothing, what kind of friendship might we still be able to enjoy?

If we feel we've owned our part, shown up with compassion and love for her own needs, and asked for what we've needed from the other and not gotten it-- then it may be time to let this friendship drift apart a bit.

This Friendship Is Going Negative: What Do I Do?

So my last blog post obviously hit a nerve. It is now the #1 post of the last 3 months, beating out popular posts--such as Reflections on my Katie Couric Interview and What Do I Do with My Toxic Friend?-- two posts that have been up for months.  We are apparently very interested in this subject of how to respond to the negative people in our lives!

Two Different Frameworks for Evaluating the 'Negative' People in Our Lives

So, as promised, I am going to share with you two frameworks of how to deal with the friendships that feel negative in our lives. This is a long blog, but I really wanted to cover at least two different paradigms and examples... hope it's helpful!

While we feel so much more mature than we were as children, the truth is that we still get on each others nerves.  Now we use language like toxic, negative, and un-healthy to label each other. *photo from irisclasson.com*

Just so we're clear-- I'm not writing about criminals, drug abusers, mental issues, or those who are willfully hurting us; but rather the vast majority of women that we've called friends at one time or another but now tend to use words such as toxic, negative, or selfish to describe them.  While we can all point out that there will always be a very clear "black and white" to the two extremes of who we can each have in our lives at different times, my desire here is to challenge us to look at what Kathy, in her comments on the previous post called, the "gray area."  The gray area being people who may not be un-safe to us, but certainly may be annoying, depressed, insecure, self-obsessed, distracted, or negligent.

1.  FRAMEWORK 1: Know the Different Types of Relationships So You Create Appropriate Expectations

I don't have room here to cover the entire 5 Circles of Connectedness which highlight the 5 different types of friendships, but basically our most casual of friendships are on the far Left-Side (Contact Friends) and the most intimate and consistent of our friendships are on the far Right-Side (Commitment Friends). I cover this in the most depth in my book but a quick overview can be found on this blog.

5 types of friends image

What's helpful about understanding the various types of friends is that when we do an honest assessment of whether our friend is truly a Committed Friend (someone we've built up meaningful history with over a long period of time, they are active in many areas of our lives, we are as transparent as possible with them) or perhaps is a Common Friend (maybe someone we've only known for a couple of months, someone we are only close to in one area of our life, etc.) it helps us answer the question: Do I have unrealistic expectations on this friendship?

I've observed many women not having a strong Right-Side of close friendships who then place those needs onto friendships on the Left-Side.  In other words, just because she's one of your closest friends doesn't mean you've developed the friendship that warrants the expectations and demands.  A good question to ask: "Am I blaming her for x because I want her to be a Committed Friend but in reality we are still Common Friends?"

Furthermore, it helps me see my commitment to the relationship.  If she's in a dark and needy space and she's my Committed Friend then I am truly committed to going through that phase with her even if she doesn't act healthy, positive, and supportive for a long season.  I can do this because we have a history together that reminds me that this isn't who she is permanently and I know that this is the call to relationships-- to be there for each other, even when it comes with some drama and emotion.  But if she's a Contact or Common Friend acting this way then a)  it may seem more like a red flag because we don't have enough history for me to accurately assess how she's acting now from how I know she's capable of acting, and b) we, quite frankly, don't have the same obligation/commitment to each other to be there for each other in the same ways.

Being clear what type of friendship the two of you have developed helps you better see how invested you are in this relationship and what expectations are fair. What you are willing to give, or put up with, in a Committed Friend might be different from what you are willing to do for a Common Friend.

For me, if whining and complaining is the grievance, for a Committed Friend it would be completely appropriate (though maybe not enjoyable or energizing-- so I need to make sure I'm getting enough of that in other close relationships during this season) for them to call me any time of night or day and sound like a crazy person sobbing and saying irrational things.  But while that would not be acceptable behavior for any friend of mine on the Left-Side, I would be willing to give them the space to monopolize the conversation during a scheduled lunch get-together and I'd give them a pass on complaining... for a time.

Does that differentiation make sense? It means we don't have to cut everyone out of our lives when they are needy and depressed and hurting, but neither does it mean that we're expected to put up with everything from everyone.

2.  FRAMEWORK 2: Know the Definition of Friendship so You Can Repair and Assess

This evaluation method also helps us decide which relationships to move along the Continuum so that you are choosing to nurture the friendships that are healthiest, minimizing the chances of having high-drama and unhealthy behaviors in your Right-Side friendships.

The definition of friendship, put out by Dr. Paul Dobransky, that I highlight in my book on pages 128 & 129 is  that friendship is "consistent, mutual, shared positive experience."  He says that when a friendship is failing it is because one of these four required qualities is missing.  I have almost an entire chapter devoted to each of those concepts but basically a friendship needs to have repeated time together, be seen by both as a friendship, include increased vulnerability, and ultimately add more joy than stress to your life.

For our purposes here, how this definition helps me is to realize at least two things:

1) These are not simply qualities that she possesses or not, but they are behaviors that we together have either developed or not. Here, we are evaluating the friendship-- the pattern and dynamic between the two of us-- not the person.  We're recognizing that something doesn't feel good between us-- but that's not the same as saying that every relationship this person has in their life is identical to our experience.  While we may find that they do something annoying, it's also possible that had we been more honest up front or set different expectations, that this dynamic wouldn't have been created. We hold for that possibility by assessing the interaction, not the individual. Which means it's possible we could do something different and shift the experience of the relationship.

2) It also informs me that if there are relationships that don't meet those requirements then it doesn't necessarily mean that I can't have those people in my life, rather it just means I don't want them to be on my Right-Side.

How These Frameworks Inform My Response

Knowing these two frameworks (both in greater detail in my book) helps us:

  1. Assess the current relationship experience-- what type of friend is this and which of the 4 qualities are most lacking?
  2. Figure out what needs be repaired so we can show up differently to see if that helps.
  3. Identify the investment/depth of the relationship so we can decide if it's worth an honest conversation (confrontation though awkward can be the best gift we learn to give to friends on our Right-Side where we should be willing to try "everything" before letting the friendship just dissolve.
  4. Decide if we can just move these relationships to the Left-Side (see them less often, confide in them less, have fewer expectations) rather than cut them out of our lives.

That's all I have time for today (You'd think I was writing an entirely new book with as much as I have to say! Ha!) but I'll keep writing on this-- next time I'll share 5 questions you should ask before ending a friendship.

Have a great weekend!

Are these helpful? What jumped out at you? How have you seen these concepts play out in your life? How could these have helped your past relationships? I love hearing your feedback so it's more of a conversation.  Jump in!  :)

 

 

Is "Get Rid of Negative People in My Life" Good Advice?

Please note:  This post isn't intended to speak about the cases that include mental disorders, criminals, drug abusers, or those who are willfully hurting us.  The intention of the post is to speak to the vast majority of relationships we are walking away from, without conversation or efforts to enforce our boundaries, because we write them off simply as being "negative." This is a two-part blog, in my next one I'll talk about how to approach friendships we feel are unhealthy, but I want to write this prerequisite post to help clarify the difference between the roles of friends in our lives versus others with whom we're called to still live beside.

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There is something in my soul that stirs with a dis-ease every time I hear some form of the increasingly popular advice: "Only surround yourself with positive people. Get rid of negative people!"

Good Advice? "Only Surround Yourself with Positive People"

It can be found in little cute quote boxes shared everywhere on Facebook saying things like "People inspire you, or they drain you. Pick wisely."  It's advice that is freely given from self-help experts with little explanation other than what sounds like a command, "If their presence can't add value to your life, then their absence will make no difference."  It comes in many well-intending forms, all with the goal of making us better people: "Surround yourself with only people who are going to lift you higher."

We've actually been hearing this barrage for so long now that I suspect most of us just accept these quotables as irrevocable truth. But these single-sentence aphorisms can be misleading at best, damaging at worst.

Needy People in Our Lives

The question isn't whether we let needy or depressed people into our lives.  The question is how much do we let them in, and for what purpose.

The truth is that we have to learn to be around hurting people-- not only because it's unrealistic that we can avoid them, but how else will we serve this world with what we each have to offer?  We can, and must, be around people who judge, whine, attack, and defend. We're related to some of them, we work for some of them, and sometimes we have been or are those people. The more important issue is whether we're counting on these individuals to be our closest friends.

Our friends-- the handful of people we choose to let close to our hearts--must fulfill the four requirements of friendship by being, more often than not, a) consistent b) contributing c) self-revealing, and d) positive.  You clarify those quotes above with the words "closest friends" instead of "people" and I won't squirm. (Or at least not as much... truthfully, even our friends can't always be all those things without there being misunderstandings and hurt feelings at times. But... I'm okay with us striving toward those qualities with our inner circle.)

But before we evaluate our friendships in the next post, let us own what is ours to own: We are not victims to other people's' pain. We are healers. Ultimately it's around hurting people who we're meant to be around, each of us giving the gift that is ours to give to those who need it.

This isn't a world made up of friends and enemies, rather it's a world of friends and people to be friendly toward.  Enemies must be crushed and eliminated; whereas hurting, jealous, toxic, unhealthy people must be loved and healed. Just because someone isn't our closest friend doesn't mean they don't have value in our lives.

Elimination is Not Necessary

To suggest that I can't be around anyone who isn't at their best because it will bring me down glosses over my own strength. Any of us who have been pastors, social workers, therapists, or in any other people-helping industries can attest to the fact that as long as we are practicing our own self-care, have our own support system in place, and are clear about our role in the lives of people who are hurting, then our positive influence can be greater in their lives than their pain will be in ours. Light is more powerful than darkness. And hurt people need love and light.

The answer isn't just to eliminate and ostracize hurting people, the answer is to learn how to shine our lights so brightly that we can enter any darkness and know that our light cannot be extinguished.

And not just that our light can survive, but actually that our light gets stronger and more compassionate and more life transforming as we show up in genuine moments with others, no matter what condition they are in. We are blessed and grown in those moments just as much as they are.

We do not become the people who this world needs simply by turning our backs on anyone we don't like, trust, or deem healthy enough to be in our presence.  No, in fact, those are exactly the people we need to let into our lives.  Not just for their sake, but for ours.  To serve others is what we're called to do in this world-- your calling centers around it.  To learn how to forgive is the greatest lesson any of us can ever hope to learn (which means we will need to practice it a number of times).  To sit with someone in pain increases our ability to empathize, which increases our ability to trust and love, which is ultimately what you want: more love.

If your light is dim or flickering, then perhaps you may need to set some boundaries and limit time with people who you feel can't support the happier and more powerful version of yourself; but that's temporary, and something to own in yourself rather than blame in others.

Re-Defining the Good Advice

Here's how I re-interpret these ever-popular quotes to put the responsibility on me, rather than the blame on others.

"People inspire you, or they drain you. Pick wisely."  I am not picking people, rather I am picking my response.  I get to decide whether I am inspired or drained.  I can be around someone who is shining and walk away drained by jealousy, or I can sit with someone who is chronically depressed and walk away inspired and grateful.  My power doesn't mean I get to pick who's valuable, it means I get to pick whether I'm able to see the value in everyone.

"If their presence can't add value to your life, then their absence will make no difference." This is such a dangerous quote.  Taken to the extreme, wars are fought, holocausts are allowed, and racism and classism are justified.  No, if their presence doesn't add value to your life it's either because you haven't taken the time to get to know them yet or you haven't yet seen who you can become because of them.  It is not because they are without value.

"Surround yourself with only people who are going to lift you higher."  In the closest circle of your life, I agree that this is a good ideal.  We want to create relationships that nurture, uplift, empower, and love each other well.  But even this has its limits... because it's not others who end up deciding whether we lift higher or not, it's our call.  Sometimes it's the person who wounded us the deepest that pushes us to grow and lift. The universe can use anyone and everyone to help us become our best selves.

This was a hard blog to write... so many caveats I want to give, possible misunderstandings I want to avoid... I end it with a prayer that these words will land where hearts are receptive and ready to see just how powerful we are, how others cannot limit us, and how much the world, as needy as it is, needs us to not turn our backs.  For what's the point of getting healthy if not to turn around and love others to their best as well?

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My next blog will be about what to do when our friendships aren't living up to all four of the required qualities in a friendship and how to make decisions about the best approach to either healing them or limiting them in our lives. Subscribe in the upper right corner.