I listened to a client tell me a story last week about how hurt and disappointed she felt when her friends didn't rally around her after a recent surgery. I empathized with her, expressed regret with her that they didn't wow her and love her in a meaningful way, and then asked, "Do you think they knew that you needed anything from them?" "But it was a surgery!" she said, as though that answered my question.
"Yes it was," I concurred. "But tell me how you talked about the surgery with them before and after the event.... Did you ask for help? Did you express your fears? Did you tell them what you thought you might need?"
When Our Friends Aren't "There" For Us
I continued, "In other words, if I called your friends now and asked them what they thought you might be needing or wanting, would they be able to tell me?"
After a few more minutes of conversation, her narrative--that many of us can probably identify with in one form or another--emerged:
- We want our friends to automatically know our need. She held a belief that if they were really her friends, or even just good people, then they should know what she might need without her needing to tell them.
- Even if we haven't yet articulated our needs. Yet, when I asked her what help she needed, she didn't have a ready answer and acknowledged that if she couldn't even articulate it to herself, that it might be asking a bit much to have others guess it.
- Even when we know deep inside that they aren't unwilling to help. She acknowledged that chances were high that most of them assumed she didn't help because her husband was taking time off, her adult daughter was home, and she had lots of friends. And admitted that while it hadn't been meaningful to her, a few had said to her, "Let me know if you need anything."
- Because we give to them, this is the least they could do.... But she couldn't shake the feeling of betrayal by her friends since she felt like she was always giving to them and this was "the one time I needed them."
Unmet expectations in our friendships lead to massive disappointment, hurt feelings, grudges, and worst of all-- the feeling of not being supported. And if we can't count on our friends, then we feel very alone and vulnerable. We feel betrayed because we thought we had friends and now wonder if it was all a mirage or a waste of time. We feel used... thinking about what a good friend we've been, and wondering what the point of it is if we can't count on the in return.
We Must Learn To Express Our Needs
There are a thousand conversations we can have on this subject (and my book Frientimacy actually has several chapters in it that teach these concepts!)-- including,
- being in touch with our feelings to know what we actually need (my client didn't actually need help as much as she needed to feel thought of and loved),
- being willing to let our friends see us with needs and feelings, especially if the pattern of our friendship has mostly been with us looking like Super Woman (possibly calling up a friend and when she asks how you're doing, be willing to be seen: "Well, I wouldn't recommend a regime of being un-showered for 4 days, laying in bed in pain, and watching soap's as a recipe for feeling hopeful. ha! I'm actually pretty lonely and the days are feeling so long it leaves me wondering if I'll ever recover!"
- and learning to ask for what we want and need. Which could look like either telling friends ahead of time "I'm worried that I'm going to go crazy or feel so alone that first week after my surgery. Any chance you'd be willing to come over for a bit--better yet if you come un-showered--and hang out so I have something to look forward to?" Or even after the fact, "I'm going crazy and miss you. I wish I could offer to come see you, but since I'm still not leaving the house much-- any chance I could entice you to come over here and hang out, if I were to order a pizza for us?"
But what I really want to address is our fear that if we have to ask for something that it then defeats the purpose.
My client said as much, "But if I have to ask for it then they'll feel pressure or just do it from obligation or guilt."
Speaking Our Needs Doesn't Make Their Help Less Sincere
And to that I say:
"Actually, in my opinion, the friends who are willing to hear what we need and try to do it, if they can, are the best friends in the world. It's the most sincere expression of love to hear a need and attempt to respond to it. And the most effective and strategic use of their energy and time, that has the highest chances of feeling fulfilling and meaningful to me, means that we both are as clear as possible what would be helpful. True friends don't read minds-- heck, we don't even read our own minds half the time!-- but rather they say "Yes!" when we reach out."
The goal is to feel loved. And we can help our friends do that for us if we are willing to help tell them what that looks like. That they then step up is the highest proof that we are supported. It's our job to be in touch with what we need and communicate that to those in our lives who want to love us well.
Pssst: my next post gives meaningful ideas for how we can ideally show up for our friends without them having to ask us! :)
p.s. Want to learn more about preventing unmet expectations and practice speaking your needs?
We have a brand new virtual class titled "Preventing Expectation Hangovers in our Friendships" that features Christine Hassler, author of Expectation Hangovers, who teaches us how to communicate our needs to our friends to prevent disappointment and unmet expectations. Included with the 1-hr audio class is a worksheet, a monthly challenge to practice, and inspirational mantras!
Others who took the class already said things like, "This class was illuminating. I learned so much!" and "This changed the way I view my friendships in life-changing ways. I can't even begin to describe how helpful this material was to me." and "I listened to this class three times this month just because there was so much I needed to keep hearing."
Note: If you were an active member of GirlFriendCircles.com in August 2016 then you automatically received this class as part of your membership!