Forgiveness

The Other 3 Most Powerful Words

One of the highlights of being on book tour (for Frientimacy: How to Deepen Your Friendships for Lifelong Health and Happiness) is meeting so many amazing women across the country who resonate with the need for healthier friendships. I've learned so much from all of you-- from your questions, from your stories, and from your own powerful work in this world.  Your encouragement, resonance, and conversation feed me. One of those amazing women I met is Tricia Andor (her new blog), a big-hearted and fun therapist. While I was thrilled by her passion for learning more about friendship, moved by her affirmation of my work, wowed that she attended 3 of my 4 book events in Denver (driving nearly an hour each way, every time!) and touched that she brought me a goody bag that included snacks for the road... (great illustrations of how we can build friendships with positivity!) what I really wanted to share with everyone was a comment she offered during the Q&A time at the end of one of my presentations.

Her words reminded me how simple and easy it can be for all of us to practice opening up conversations with our friends where we might feel some tension, distance, or frustration.

The "Other" 3 Most Powerful Words

Certainly we know that saying "I love you" can be three of the most healing and transformational words on the planet; but what do you say when you're actually feeling anything but loving?

women talking

During every Q&A we all hear stories of women who are feeling disappointment with their friends: we wonder what to do when we learn the 3 actions that build friendships but are then dubious that our friends will contribute as much as we will, we feel frustrated that long-time friendships aren't feeling meaningful anymore, and we feel angst with our friends whose annoying habits have put distance between us.

As I highlight in my book that maturity and spiritual growth are connected to our willingness to lean in to our friendships with honesty--as opposed to our default mode of simply tolerating something for as long as possible and then just giving up--our palms can start to sweat at the thought of actually confronting our friends.  When it comes to our romantic relationships-- we are far more practiced at having the conversations where we talk about our relationship: whether it's meeting our needs, whether it feels fair, or what we feel needs to change.  But when it comes to our friendships we all too often withdraw.

And that's where Tricia's three magic words can help us!  :)

She offered up an easy and beautiful way that has helped many of her clients over the years as they engage in repairing conversations:  "I've noticed that..."

  • "I've noticed that we don't talk with each other as much as we used to..."
  • "I've noticed that when we get together I sometimes leave feeling like I didn't get a chance to share with you what is going on in my life..."
  • I've noticed that when we make plans I feel worried about whether it's really going to happen since you've had to cancel several times..."
  • I've noticed that I tend to be the one reaching out trying to get our time scheduled..."

"I've noticed that..." is:

  1. Casual sounding (as opposed to "I need to talk with you about something that's bothering me.");
  2. Uses non-blaming language (as opposed to you "You never...");
  3. and Focuses on an observation (as opposed to assigning a motive or starting with a tough feeling)

Additional Tips:

Starting a conversation that shares an observation is an awesome way to open up a dialog with a friend.  Here are a couple other tips, I'd offer:

  1. Get to a question as quickly as possible. The goal here isn't to dump on her, give lots of examples, or share all your feelings, but rather it's to start a conversation. Therefore, in order for it to be a conversation, we need to invite their sharing early. After sharing the observation, consider asking a question like, "Have you felt that, too?" or "Have you noticed that?" or "Do you have any ideas of how we can improve this?"
  2. Avoid using global language such as always or never.  Even if it feels like always or never, if this is one of our first times approaching this subject, it invokes less defensiveness to underplay it a bit and leave some grace in the air by saying, "Sometimes" or "a couple of times."
  3. Assume the best--give them grace.  As we all practice having honest conversations, I find it feels best to speak as though we assume the best of the other. We may feel like it's the last straw, but if we haven't broached the subject before then we have to realize this is the beginning of the repair work and treat it gently and with hope. After making an observation, statements like "I'm sure that's not what you intended" or "I know you've been so busy" helps us extend an olive branch and increases the chances of them feeling safe enough to be vulnerable.  Our friends need to feel our love if they are going to own their failures or share their own hurts with us.

So those three magic words could lead to something like:

"I've noticed that we don't get together as much as we used to.... I know we're both so busy and you've been working so hard on such-and-such, so I don't want to put any pressure on you or your schedule, but I do miss you!  Do you feel like there's a way to connect more frequently that would work for you?"

Or,

"I've noticed the last couple of times that it feels like there might be some tension between us. I don't know if I did something to frustrate you or if I'm just imagining things, but I'd love to talk about it if anything is in between us. Do you feel like anything has changed?"

It's not our responsibility to have it all figured out or solved, not worth the time and energy of writing out some long script with all the grievances and feelings, and not our responsibility to guess how they are feeling.  All we are being invited to do in our relationships as we practice speaking up is to lean in a bit more and at least get the conversation started.

May many meaningful and restorative conversations occur in all our lives,

Shasta

p.s.  I have lots of other scripts, tips, and ideas for how to open and facilitate awkward, but courageous conversations in my book Frientimacy: How to Deepen Friendships for Lifelong Health and Happiness.

 

 

 

 

Feeling the Edge of My Circle of Love

The month of Christmas, for all it's wonder and festivities, can also be a season where our "edge of love" can rear its little head. I call it the "edge of love" because even the most loving, non-judgmental, and kind people among us all have a perimeter, or boundary, of who and how we love.  I love easily the people and moments in the middle of my circle of love: girls nights in front of fireplaces, snuggling with my husband, talking on the phone to my sister, getting together with family I adore.

Shasta's Circle of Love

But... certain types of settings and certain types of people (or even very specific people) don't invoke in me the same pure love. I can feel myself show up with a lack-of-love as I reach the outer edges of who and how I love.

My goal, of course, is to make that circle of love so big that I can show up in nearly every setting with absolutely anyone and feel nothing but innocent love for the people in front of me.

But I am still far from that:

  • When I'm tired or have been around a lot of people lately.... I notice the circle closing in and getting smaller.
  • When I hear certain rhetoric or politics on the news... I notice myself feeling tempted to move an entire segment of the population outside of my circle because of my judgments.
  • When I feel forgotten or neglected or uninvited to something... I notice myself closing up a bit, which also shrinks the circle.
  • When I am so focused on my to-do list that I can't sit and be with people in meaningful ways... I know that my agenda is filling up too much of my heart.
  • When I am in certain settings that don't feel obviously meaningful (i.e. school programs, parties with people I don't know well) I am tempted to believe and expect little, therefore not showing up with an open heart.
  • When I am with a certain friend who has felt more draining than fulfilling, I can feel the edge with her where I want to love her but am not feeling expansive.

Maybe you know the feeling, too.  We know we are loving people; there's no question of that.  But if we're honest, every single one of us has an edge to our circle. I invite you to close your eyes and ask yourself where you're seeing the edge of your love show up recently.

It's more important than ever this year.  Practicing loving others is for our benefit as it leads to greater peace and joy in our lives as we watch ourselves judge, worry, or fear less. But this year, with all that is going on in the news, it's not just us that needs to feel more peace and safety, but our entire world is moaning with out it. Fear shrinks and closes us; love expands and opens us.  We need a world where humanity is still showing up with open hearts.

Loving Others Can Include Boundaries. To be clear: we're talking about a circle of feeling love for someone, which isn't the same as having boundaries for what we can give or do for others.  The circle of love doesn't mean I have to seek them out and hang out with them, spend time with them out of obligation, do whatever they ask of me, or give them all my time and energy.  It does mean that we see the value every person has-- that we see them as the innocent and loved people that they are even if we don't understand them, agree with them, or if they act out of brokenness and wounds, like we do, sometimes. It means I can think about people, or see them in person, and want to only send them love and light. It means showing up able to wish every person the very best and mean it.  Even with someone with whom I need to set boundaries with or limit my time with:  I want to be able to think of them and feel love. In fact, I set the boundaries because I love them.

Loving Others Is About My Need for Healing. And when I don't--or can't-- I know it's because there is something in me that is wounded and still needs healing. And I want to see that, own it, and pray for healing in me that I could then show up with greater love for the other.

It's not their fault I have a hard time loving them, it's my invitation to become a more loving person.  It's my responsibility to:

  • Invite in all the love I can from the people and places that fill my tank up.
  • Engage in the self-care and self-love that helps me hold all the love in my tank.
  • Choose self-awareness over blame so that I have more opportunities to ask myself "Why does this really bother me? What is it triggering in me? What's this about?"
  • Practice looking at those who annoy me and silently think "I love you anyway. You deserve love in this world," while simultaneously praying "Keep healing this in me so I don't feel provoked."

Loving Others Is the Work of a Lifetime! Oh I am far from this.  It's one thing to write-up my ideals and quite another to actually reach them.  But I will say that I have seen my circle of love grow bigger over the years, and that's encouraging!  I can think back to people and situations that would have bothered me years ago where now I can stay peaceful or better able to access my joy. I can see the growth in me! That excites me!  It reminds me that whatever "edge" feels impossible right now could feel easy this time next year!

This holiday season--whether you're with your in-laws who exhaust you or reacting to the news we see in this world--if there's anything we all wish we could put on our wish list, wouldn't it be more peace, love, and joy?

My prayer: Oh that we might see our love expanded this season. Replace our judgments with a willingness to see people differently, increase our ability to see people the way God does, and keep healing in us anything that limits our love.

Question: How to "Fire" a Bridesmaid?

Today I am tackling a question that came in on Monday. We can all learn so much from each others questions, even if our circumstances are different.  Hope this is helpful!  (And if you ever have a question you'd like me to weigh in on, ask it here.)

Dear Shasta,

My relationship with one of my bridesmaids is feeling strained and I'm wondering if I need to fire her even if it causes a loss of the relationship completely? 

We've been friends for over 6 years and celebrated all kinds of things together, but since I was in her wedding in June, our relationship has felt strained.  I felt pushed out on a few of her wedding events (only bridesmaid not asked to give a speech at the rehearsal dinner, the last bridesmaid to find out a lot of important information about some of the parties, etc.) and she had a falling out with a mutual friend of mine who happens to also be one of my bridesmaids. Drama!

A few weeks ago I went to see her face-to-face and asked what was wrong and she basically said, "The wedding is over so I'm over it." I finally got her to admit that she was upset about overhearing me talk about my upcoming wedding at her wedding. (But it was her mom who asked me questions about it! Ugh!) We were interrupted and never finished the conversation. We've hardly talked for two months except for her texting me to find out about what dress she needs to wear, etc.

Do I fire her? How do I do that? Help me!

Thanks,

Bride Not Feeling the Bridesmaid Love

 

We all know how painful it is to fight with a friend... and the stakes go up when it comes to our weddings.

Dearest Bride Not Feeling the Bridesmaid Love,

Oh I am so sorry that you're feeling such angst! None of us like dealing with this stuff at any time in our friendships, least of all during a season of life where we really want our friends loving us up!

I'm so proud of you for dealing with this and deciding to not just take the easy way out by putting up with it. She sounds like she's willing to just go through the motions, but you both deserve way more than that. What we don't want is for things to just stay the same-- we want this to either get obviously better or blatantly not.

Why It Might Be Fixable

To that end, I wrote an entire blog post today with the 4-steps I'd recommend in firing a bridesmaid, but I had a knot in my stomach the whole time. While I think that advice might be helpful to someone who does in fact need to end things, my intuition says that for you: this is a relationship you can salvage, dear Bride.

    • Your willingness: You have proven by going to her house already that you have the skills necessary for healing this rift.
    • Your history: You have been friends for quite a while and it has been meaningful and fulfilling.  This fight doesn't sound like a chronic issue as much as one that is connected to specific circumstances and events. The fact that she is close enough to you to have been invited to be in the wedding says that this is a friendship that has mattered.  If people matter that much-- then they're worth any level of awkward conversation first as we do our dogged best to repair that which is wounded.
    • Her response: The fact that she tried to brush it off isn't healthy, but it's common and usually done out of her guilt for feeling the way she feels. My guess is that she wishes she weren't bothered by what bothered her. So while I wish she were more practiced at owning her feelings and sharing them with you... the truth is that she's probably trying to protect you from them.  Which isn't a crime.
    • The crime: Also, from what I can see, there was nothing malicious done, no screaming red flags saying that she's an awful person or that you have to protect yourself. She hasn't willfully or repetitively tried to hurt you. Rather, it appears that the relationship has suffered from hurt feelings on both sides (during an event that often comes with high emotions on both sides) and some miscommunication.  Those are fixable issues.

Lean In, First

So, I'm taking the time to re-write this blog post, without trying to think of all the possible scenarios in which a bride and bridesmaid can fight (and I've heard the gammut!), and instead praying for the wisdom to write just for you.  I'll have to trust that others will find their own truth.

I'll say it again that I find it so impressive that you went to her house and initiated a conversation, even willing to help push it past the niceties to hear hints at what the real issue was. Unfortunately, that step is all too rare in female friendships.  I admire that you did it.  But it doesn't sound like you were able to get far enough in that conversation to really bring peace to either of you... and in my opinion, it's worth you trying again.

We often make up a story about how "if they cared for us" then they would come to us or initiate. That's simply not true. The truth is that a lot of caring people out there hate conflict, aren't comfortable with their own feelings, or are so unpracticed at engaging in it that they avoid the awkwardness.  They don't yet understand that intimacy isn't developed between two people because they avoid what might feel awkward, but because they lean into it. Many people don't yet know this secret... but more important than knowing it right now is whether they are willing to learn it by showing up with you and engaging when you hold the loving space for it.

So my advice: if you're willing to risk losing the relationship anyway, you might as well risk it for honesty and hope first, before risking it to simply walk away.

You used the word "firing" her as a bridesmaid which helps us recognize that if we were managers firing an employee, we'd hopefully have several conversations with the failing team member about what they could do to improve their performance before we booted them. If we'd face up to tough conversations with employees, detailing what we need to see, and asking how we can better support them-- then don't our closest friends deserve at least the same amount of willingness?

The Conversation

The value of another conversation is that it will force one of two outcomes: increased intimacy and bonding OR increased friction and disconnection.  And it will do so in such a way that it is hopefully obvious to both of you. In this way, you're not so much firing her "out of the blue" as you are stating what is obvious to you both: "I need people surrounding me that day who are happy for me and excited with me; if you can't do that right now then it's not fair to either of us to pretend otherwise."

1)  Open a conversation, again: If possible, you should do it in person; if not, then definitely on the phone because the goal is a conversation (back-and-forth) as opposed to the two separate monologues that emails create.

I always encourage starting with the hope, being honest, and then leaving an open-ended question. So that could look like: "I was hoping we could talk some more about what has happened between us so that we can hopefully get back to the place where we feel ease and joy between us. Last time we talked you said you had felt hurt because you overheard me answering questions about my wedding while we were at yours. I so didn't mean to upset you... is there anything we, or I, can do to help make that feel better? What do we need to do to fix this?"

Then be quiet and listen.

2)  Keep leaning in.  If she brushes it off and acts like everything is fine, then come right out and ask, "So you feel like everything is good between us? You don't feel like anything has changed?"  Many of us feel guilty for feeling angry or disappointed so we're prone to try to swallow it rather than to talk about it. We can understand that fear and gently probe, assuring her that we'd prefer her honesty and that it's completely okay for her to have feelings.

If, on the other hand,  she shares what she thinks will help, then listen and see if you're willing to do what she's asking.  In most cases, she probably just wants to be validated and heard, so let go of worrying about whether you did anything wrong or not, and instead just try to hear her feelings.  The more she can share, the less angst she'll feel with you. And it's okay for you to share what hurt your feelings, too.  Just try not to dump that all at the beginning in a big opening monologue and instead share it only if the conversation gets off to a good start where you're both sharing and hearing.

Try to not cut this conversation short just because it's uncomfortable, but rather trust that greater intimacy could be on the other side of this conflict. (My book next April is all about the relationship between conflict and intimacy so I can't wait to share it with you!!!) Most of us aren't super practiced at tough conversations so we're anxious to pull away, but staying in this space (and trying to stay as loving as possible while there) is soul-growing and relationship-bonding!

3)  End well.  If you feel like you both shared honestly and have been able to answer the question, "What do we do now to rebuild the love?" then hallelujah!!! Schedule fun time together as soon as possible and intentionally add more positivity back into your friendship to off-balance the weariness.

If not, then ask the tough question: "Do you see us getting past this to a place where you sincerely feel like you can be excited for me and cheer for me at my wedding?"

Her answer will give you a lot of information and hopefully call her to either help offer a solution or agree with you that this isn't going to be repaired in time to stand up beside you in celebration.

If she expresses doubt then you're able to follow it up with, "I hope we can at some point, I really do.  I have so valued our friendship.  But unfortunately I want bridesmaids who are all in... excited for me and confident in our friendship. It's not fair to either of us to have you go through all the trouble of being a bridesmaid just to have us going through the motions."

Depending on how the conversation went, it may not feel super good right away since you likely both stretched beyond your comfort zones. (Like how we might feel sore the day after exercising!) But whether it fixes the issue at hand, or not, rest assured that you practiced a super crucial skill that this world needs more of-- the ability to show up with tenderness and be seen, even when hurt.

It is not wasted time or energy; it is not to no avail. No matter the outcome, this process will invite you both to increased growth, which whether it's the last gift you give each other as friends, or the next step to greater closeness with each other-- it is good.

And my gut says that you two can pull this off. She doesn't have to be perfect and all the other bridesmaids don't have to be close to her, she just has to be able to step back into loving you in a way that assures you that she's standing up there saying, "I've got your back." May it be so.

I hope that you are soon "Bride Who Is Feeling Lots of Love"-- you deserve it.

xoxo

Shasta

p.s.  Write me an update if you can! And congratulations on your wedding day!

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!

Who Do You Need to Forgive?

This week, in the midst of holiday shopping, travel plans, kids' programs, and parties I feel compelled to bring our attention to what could arguably be the most important action on your to-do list this season: forgiveness. Forgiveness.  images

Take a moment and observe your body as you say the word.  What happens?  Does something tighten? Does your breathing change? Does anything feel heavy?  Does life feel expansive and joyful when you say that word or do you feel dread and constriction?  It's definitely a loaded word for most people.

We shy away from it because we feel a little guilt about the grudges and judgment we hold.  We want to roll our eyes at people like me who are calling for us to let go of this thing that feels impossible to relinquish.  Living with the ideal in mind and choosing to stay where we are creates such an exhausting dissonance that to close the gap requires us to either forgive or decide it's not important. So if we can't picture letting go then our only other obvious choice is to convince ourselves we don't need to.

Why Forgive?

Why I'm choosing to write about this today is because I want you to make room for what 2014 can hold for you.  And it's hard to invite more love, connection, peace, creativity, intention, health, and joy into your life when judgement and anger are taking up space, consuming your energy, holding your subconscious hostage.  It's hard to sincerely say to God, or the Universe, "I want a more abundant life", when our very actions are showing that we want to sit here and hug this rock of anger a little longer.  It's hard to show up with love for the new people we meet when the story we play in our heads sings an unforgiving tune of "People disappoint me.  I should be wary.  I need more protection."

There are many motivations to forgive people, but the one I care about today, for you, is that I want you to have more amazing connection in your life in the year ahead.  I want for you more love, more laughter, more revealing, more play, more touch, more understanding, more empathy, more affirmation-- all the things that come with being truly connected to others.  I want that for you so very much.

But you can't move forward with both arms open wide for more connection if you're still looking back, trailing a bag of rocks behind you.

Who to Forgive?

  • Forgive yourself.  Forgive yourself for what you didn't do that you wish you had done; and for what you did do that you wish you hadn't done.  Forgive yourself for playing too small because you were afraid and for dreaming too big because now you're disappointed.  Forgive yourself for the actions you took that don't reflect the person you want to be.  Forgive yourself for acting out of insecurity and fear.
  • Forgive the obvious other.  This is the person(s) who we know off the top of our mind that we're mad at. We were hurt and deeply disappointed by their actions.  Just thinking about them makes us sick to our stomach.  We feel like we lost a piece of ourselves in that event.
  • Forgive the subtle other.  This one can be slightly more difficult to admit because, as I talk about at length in my book, we often feel guilty admitting we need to "forgive" the people we love because the things that cause us angst aren't "wrongs."  We might be mad at her for getting married, jealous that she gets to retire with plenty of financial security, hurt that she moved away, or frustrated because she whines about her marriage but doesn't do anything about it. But remember-- if you feel angst then forgiveness is the answer to peace.
  • Forgive life.  It sounds silly, perhaps, but we have to forgive God, too.  Again, we're not forgiving because wrong was done, we're forgiving to bring peace to us.  I've had to forgive God for letting things happen to me, for not creating a "fair" universe, and for not answering prayers.

How To Forgive

There are entire books on this process (and re-read chapter 9 in my book for more ideas and context) so far be it from me to summarize all that wisdom here, but here are three steps I go through this time of year to make sure I'm processing what is being felt and stored in my body.  By admitting all this we are only acknowledging what is already there in us, and bringing it to consciousness is the only way we can access the wisdom from those experiences and choose to eventually move away from the pain of them.

  1. Be Clear Where There is Angst.  Start with yourself.  List every area of your life where you feel any angst at all-- romance, finances, body, etc.  Now write down every thought that comes to mind when you answer the questions: What do I wish I had done differently? Why am I disappointed in myself? Where might I be blaming myself? This is an exercise of reflection so you don't need to filter yourself or talk yourself out of putting something down. To list something doesn't mean it was wrong, it just means you feel some angst and we want to listen to that.  For example, in the area of tight finances-- I might list things like "I have to forgive myself for not making more money," or for "Choosing to be self-employed." It doesn't mean I shouldn't be self-employed or that it was a mistake-- it simply means that I acknowledge my role in where I am, and that I still need to come to peace with something in that area.
  2. Glean Any Wisdom or Information that Could Be Helpful. Keeping with that example, once I see my thoughts on paper I can then ask myself-- are these things I wish I had done differently? Is there wisdom to learn here?  What information can I take with me that might help me in the future?  What could I do, if anything, to feel more peace in this area?  Is there an action I want to take right now? Is this a circumstance that needs to be/can be changed or is it more important that I change how I look at it?
  3. Lean Into Willingness.  Sometimes in journaling, I'll sit with the pain and it's just as clear as day that I am ready to let this go and feel peace.  It can be that quick.  It can be this ah-ha that has been waiting to happen and my body just knows that I have now harvested the best from that situation and that there is no more value in bringing it with me.  But sometimes I am so not there. The very idea of letting it go scares me and feels way too big.  Sometimes I feel like I'm letting myself or someone else off the hook and that something in me will die or be lost if I do it. In those moments, I lean into that very still and small voice that knows that forgiveness will ultimately bring me peace and all I ask myself to do is say "I am willing to come to forgiveness."  It may not be today.  But I'm willing.  I'm willing to get there.  And that's enough for now.

After you process your own angst... continue your list by doing the same steps for the others in your life that you feel some angst with.

Maybe schedule an evening or a weekend early-morning to just sit, sip a favorite drink, and journal.

The goal is to get to a place where we continue to whisper to life "We are willing to let this go so that something more abundant can enter my life."  For that is so very much what I want for you as you go into this new year of your life.

And it truly is the biggest contribution you can make to your life and to others this Christmas season.  Be the gift of one more person showing up with love.

 

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.

Today is National Reconciliation Day!

Oh I wish this holiday had been on my radar last week so I could have given you plenty of notice to start thinking about what action you wanted to take today toward reconciliation! Watch the 30 minute HuffPo Live panel regarding Reconciliation by clicking on the link to the left.  (Featuring: Alvin, going through a divorce, Amy Alkon, the Advice Goddess, and me-- all sharing our experiences and wisdom.

But, alas, it was only when HuffPost Live contacted me and asked if I'd be on a live panel this afternoon on the topic of reconciliation that I was made aware that there was such a day.  Apparently Ann Landers decided back in 1989 that every April 2 should be celebrated with everyone picking up the phone to call with whom we may have had a falling out with, hence it's become the Day of Reconciliation.

I was honored to share on the panel, but here is a more comprehensive post about what reconciliation can look like.

The Two Types of Break-Ups

First, there are two types of fall-outs that I speak to: Rifts and Drifts.

Rifts are when something happens to undermine the relationship; whereas, Drifts are when nothing specific happens to the relationship yet we find ourselves slowly drifting apart.

You undoubtedly have experience with both.  Reconciliation is possible and necessary with both, but they may look quite different.

Reconciling Rifts & Drifts

Let's start with defining reconciliation.  Reconciliation can mean reestablishing the close relationship, but it also means simply the ability to find resolution, or acceptance. In other words, when we speak of reconciliation, it doesn't automatically mean that the goal should be intimacy, trust, and connection with the person we felt hurt by.  Certainly, to come to peace, to forgive the other person, might mean that we'd be open to that re-engagement someday if growth had occurred on both sides.  But more often than not, forgiveness might just mean finding our own peace, reconciling what is real with our expectations of what we want.  The discrepancy between those two causes unmeasured angst.

In my book, knowing whether we're dealing with a Drift or Rift helps me know what path of reconciliation to seek.

Drifts....

If there is Drift in a relationship, the invitation is for us to not only recognize it is happening, but also to check with ourselves about whether we want it to happen.

In one of my recent Drifts, I knew that it was only busy-ness and distraction that was putting distance between us.  In my gut, I knew I wanted this friendship to last.  I didn't need to know whether I needed it as often or as deeply in my life as we had co-created before, but I was clear when I checked-in with myself that I didn't want to lose the friendship. So in this relationship, I wrote her a note and said,

"I miss you! I know we've both been so busy, and I'm so sorry that on my end I've not been as present or available. I know relationships ebb-and-flow, but I definitely don't want to let us get too far from each other since you mean so much to me!  Any chance you're up for scheduling a catch-up call next week?  I'm flexible Tuesday afternoon or Wednesday evening, do you have an hour anytime in there you'd be willing to give me?"

Reconciliation in this case was reaching out with a sorry I've neglected the relationship (it doesn't matter if she has, too, our apology is still true) and a stated desire to re-engage. She was honored and grateful.  Neither of us had meant anything malicious and neither had wanted to put any pressure on the other. But we all like to know that the other misses us and naming it helps us both take it less personally. (Because if you ignore it here, this is where we're more likely to get our feeling hurts with unmet expectations that can then turn into a Rift, all because we didn't address the Drift.)

To contrast it, another Drift in the last couple of years was a relationship where I checked-in with myself and realized that reconciliation actually meant being okay with letting the relationship take a backseat.  I was at peace with it happening because I sensed that both of us were going different directions, our energies pulling us into other relationships and experiences.  To try to re-engage here would have been simply out of guilt, the voice of "you should..."

In some cases of Drifting, it's possible that the two of you simply call less and less and it slowly dissipates.  That's okay, but if possible, I'd still prefer  a little communication if possible, out of respect for what we've shared.  Obviously every situation is different, and is largely determined by whether we sense both people are at peace or if we feel she is still pursuing while we're retreating.  But in my case, in response to her reaching out to me via email to set up a time for dinner, I wrote,

"Thank you so much for thinking of me!  You are someone whose relationship has meant so much to me over the years.  Let's definitely get a dinner on the calendar, and hopefully we can make that happen every couple of months even though I know we're both so busy! I hope that no matter how much time and distance ever separates us, that we can always call each other a friend.  I so admire you."

Reconciliation in this case was two-fold: me being at peace with letting the relationship be something other than "all-or-nothing," and making sure I communicated to her how much I admired her.  My goal is to leave relationships with people feeling better about themselves for having known me.

Rifts...

Rifts, can be a bit trickier, in that our hearts have likely been more bruised and our expectations more unmet.  Her disappointing actions have left us frustrated and questioning the friendship, which is almost impossible to do with out us feeling both defensive and judgmental.  Those two feelings make it hard for us to even want to reconcile.

The second-to-last chapter of my book highlights healthy options for responding to the five friendship threats, but for these purposes today, let me just get on my soapbox for a moment and say this:

GirlFriends--as a rule of thumb, treat your friendships that experience frustration and disappointment with the same courtesy you give to your romantic relationships: consider a mature conversation.

I've yet to hear of the dating break-up where someone disappointed you and you just cut off contact without ever having a single conversation about it! No! We may dislike confrontation, but we step up to it for romance.  We say, "We need to talk..." and then we tell them what we need, how they hurt us, what's okay, what isn't, what we hope for, etc.  Sometimes it turns into this awesome conversation where we both feel heard and we can move into a more meaningful and trusting relationship.  But even the times it leads to a fight, we always expect a follow-up conversation, knowing we need to either make-up or at least facilitate as healthy closure as possible. Sometimes we break-up, make-up, and break-up again.  We give them multiple chances, because we "love him" (or her), or because we know "he's trying...", or because we've "invested so much already."  All valid excuses we should be giving to our girlfriends!

So off my soapbox, while I know full re-engagement of the relationship, recovering from whatever caused the Drift, isn't always possible, I am an advocate of at least trying before a friendship break-up.  Too many of us walk away, unwilling to try again, claiming the other person isn't healthy, doesn't know how to be a friend, or  can never be trusted again.  All of which may not necessarily be true.  As any of us who have been a long-term relationship can attest, we will hurt each other, and that doesn't mean we can't also still love each other well.

Your Invitation:

Since you're getting this blog post so late in the evening on this Reconciliation holiday you may think you're off the hook from having to reconcile with someone?  No way!  In fact, they say the best way to let yourself off the hook is to forgive, to come to peace, to accept, or to resolve.  Who can you reach out to tonight or tomorrow as your way of stepping into a holiday that we should really be practicing 365 days a year?

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More relevant posts:

  1. Friendship Break-Ups 1: A Drift or a Rift  (Defining both, and going into more detail about causes for Drifts.)
  2. Friendship Break-Ups 2: Saving a Drift, Avoiding a Rift (3 steps to help prevent our Drifts from becoming Rifts)
  3. Friendship Break-Ups 3: Was She Really a Friend, Anyway? (Speaking to when we get our feelings hurt because a friend wasn't there for us...)
  4. Friendship Break-Ups 4: Letting Go or Holding On? (How to decide if the friendship is worth pursuing.)

 

 

 

 

What Do I Do With My Toxic Friend?

I've so loved doing the book tour as it's given me such a fabulous opportunity to meet so many of you in person.  Love it!  (A few more are scheduled in SF, Southern Cal, and Seattle.)  At every signing I've met amazing pairs and groups of friends who have emphatically said, "We're friends because of GirlFriendCircles.com!" What joy it has brought my heart! Isabel and Deirdra became fast friends after meeting each other at a ConnectingCircle in the LA area!

My second favorite part of doing the book readings has been the Q&A part that follows after I read a few excerpts from my book Friendships Don't Just Happen!  I love the spontaneity of hearing what questions people have about friendships, in general, or about challenges in one of their friendships, more specifically.  Some questions get asked repeatedly, so I'm going to dedicate the next several blog posts to answering them. (Happy to take more questions too-- what do you wish I had included in the book that I didn't?  What questions were you left with after reading a certain section? What area of your friendships would you like my advice? Leave any question in the comments and I'll answer it in an upcoming blog!)

One question that is asked at nearly every gathering is about a toxic friend.

I Don't Know What To Do With My "Toxic Friend"

In asking me this question, a woman usually starts with some sadness as she says, "I don't know what to do..." that is then followed by a litany of annoying behaviors that she's putting up with in a friend, and then usually ends with a statement like "I don't think I can put up with this toxic friend anymore."

My first response is always the same, "Have you talked with her about this yet?"

Their response is typically some version of no; followed by their seemingly valid reasons about why a conversation would simply not work. Sometimes the reason is because "she" wouldn't be able to hear it.  Sometimes it's because it's too awkward.  And sometimes, the defensiveness comes with a version of, "I don't know if it's worth it.  I just don't need this kind of drama in my life."

The Three Parts of a Friendship

SO much to say... and fortunately I say much of it in my book in the 9th chapter on forgiveness where I teach various healthy ways to share our feelings and needs with others and in the 10th chapter where I talk about the damage done to us and others when we label people as toxic.  But there is always more to say!  :)

Today I want to talk about the third entity that is created when two people become friends.  There is always an "us", a "them", and the "relationship".

They are NOT the relationship without us.

In other words, when our needs aren't being met, we're quick to assume that it's "her" fault.  But in actuality, it may be the responsibility of the relationship to actually show up differently.  And that relationship-- made up of both us and them-- can't look any different without us showing up differently.

Let me give you an example.  Last week one girl-- let's call her Karen was just so upset her friend, a former roommate, was consistently "insensitive, selfish, and unable to understand her life." All signs of toxicity, according to Karen.

The crime being committed?  Continuous invitations to late night concerts since the friend could get those tickets through her work.

Those of us not involved in the situation might look at this and think it petty.  But this, my friends, is how it happens to so many of us.

From Karen's point of view, this behavior meant:

  • That the friend didn't respect Karen's demanding job and how early she had to wake up every day.
  • That her friend was needy since she kept reaching out.
  • And, that the friend was self-absorbed since the only invitations she offered had to do with her job where she could get those tickets.

Those are no small feelings.  If we feel like we have  friend who doesn't respect our job, is too needy for what we can give, and is self-absorbed-- then it becomes all too easy to label her as toxic.

But this is a perfect example for pointing out that the behaviors we're frequently upset about aren't typically some obvious wrong-doings or friendship betrayals.  Other people looking at just the facts, as we are here in Karen's situation, might look on and say, "It's not that bad!"

Indeed, we're mad because of the meaning we've assigned to those behaviors.  In other words, we interpreted them through a lens of unmet needs and concluded more-often-than-not that she must be such things as jealous, selfish, needy, and judgmental. We guessed motive and made assumptions about how she was feeling. From Karen's vantage point it, the assumptions were right.  As all of us know from personal experience how justified we feel in our frustrations.

I didn't have the privilege of talking to Karen's friend in this situation, but what if she just misses her friend that she used to live with and doesn't see as much anymore?  What if she thinks she's giving a gift by always giving Karen the first chance to go see a concert?  What if she's just scared she's losing a friend she cares about?  I could see someone having very good motives thinking that they are being amazing to keep reaching out even though they know their friend is busy.

And what if Karen's reaction comes more from just being tired at her job, exhausted at the long hours, resentful for not getting to go out with friends, and feeling bad that she doesn't have the time for this friend?  Sometimes instead of acknowledging we feel some guilt, it's easier to blame the other person for being insatiable or needy.

Maybe it's the Friendship that Needs to Change, Not the Person?

So if we have three entities in a relationship-- Karen, the friend, and the friendship-- is it possible that neither person is toxic, but that their friendship isn't currently working. Maybe they are just two women--presumably neither wanting to hurt the other-- who haven't figured out how to have the conversation in that friendship that would help transition them from being roommates to being friends that don't have as much time anymore?

Maybe it's not her that's toxic, but the friendship--the two of them together-- that needs work?  And that requires both of them doing something different, but actually then needs to start with Karen since she's the one who's feeling frustrated.

My suggestion to Karen, who wasn't sure she wanted to salvage this friendship because she was pretty resentful by this time, was to give it the chance to grow since so much time and love had already been invested. I always think we owe it not just to the people we've loved, but to ourselves--who have to keep practicing these skills of forgiveness, honesty, vulnerability, and conflict management-- to have a conversation that allows us to express our needs.

What if we assumed the best about the friend and just said,  "I'm so sorry I'm always saying no to your repeated invitations.  It's not that I don't want to spend time with you.  I miss you, too. Thank you for not giving up on us.  Unfortunately, I just can't do late night concerts with this current job so is there another time we can set up to see each other next week?"

Easy? No. Pain-free? No. Guaranteed to fix everything? No. Comfortable? No. But Karen was willing....

Who are you tempted to label as toxic where it may be a situation of two good people who actually both have good motives but have fallen into a pattern that isn't working for one or both people?

 

 

A Moment of Honesty about Forgiveness

As anyone in the spiritual work field will tell you-- whatever sermon we're about to preach will show up in our own personal battles.  Whatever lessons we're going to be called to teach will have to also continue being learned.  Whatever healing we're going to extend will have to first be received. And maturity is never zapped into us.  Praying for patience means that I'll be slowed down more today so I can build up that muscle; and asking for peace means knowing how to find our calm in the midst of the storm even if we thought we meant making the storm go away. Yes, I know all too well that to be a teacher means to first always be a student.

And last week was as blatant as it gets: "Shasta, you have more to keep learning and practicing!"

A Lesson in Forgiveness Presents Itself

All summer I planned for the launch of my author and book website: ShastaNelson.com. So it was with excitement last Tuesday that I woke up ready to show it to the world.

Except when I clicked on it, my videos weren't showing up the way I wanted them to.  And so I called the man who had been slaving for weeks on getting every design element coded, double-checking all my links, fixing typos I had missed, and sometimes changing one detail that the designer had requested only then to have me want to change it back.

With a stressful deadline, high hopes, and lots of exhaustion on both sides-- that Tuesday morning conversation ended with mutual frustration. Both sides feelings justified in their version of the story. But he interrupted what he was doing to make the change I requested and then we went live.

But instead of feeling happy, I felt kinda sick to my stomach at the misunderstanding. And while we like to think of ourselves as rationale human beings, research bears out that most of us make a decision based on a feeling and then go seek out the rational, logical, facts, and data that supports our feeling. So we both stewed over how the other person could have handled that scenario better.

I reached out once.  He didn't respond.  He reached out later.  I didn't respond. I had my feelings hurt.  And I also felt mad for how I had been treated.

The Irony Isn't Lost on Me

All the while-- my video on ShastaNelson.com is being shown to the world for the first time.  That video, "I Have a Theory That Friendship Can Change The World" is the core of my teaching-- basically that our relationships are the gymnasiums where we practice being the kind of people this world needs.  Building up muscles of compassion, encouragement, and yes, forgiveness.

Through out the day, whenever I felt frustrated, I'd shake my head in irony as I heard my own voice say, "Because if we can't forgive the people we've committed to loving... then what chance do we have of being able to extend that much-needed gift to people we don't yet know, people whose religious or political views are different from mine, or people who live on the other side of the world from us?"

I kept preaching to myself.  And I kept shaking it off.  I wasn't ready yet to forgive.

It is far too easy in those moments of hurt and anger to fall for the lie that to forgive the other person means to let them off the hook.  I've written on this subject (an entire chapter in my book), taught about it, coached people through it, done it countless times myself... but there I sulked.  Momentarily forgetting that I am the prisoner of my own frustration, my own unwillingness to forgive.

Now with it entirely behind me I look back and think it was the most ridiculous thing to have spent all that energy hurting, being frustrated, and feeling defensive about.  We've reconciled, both said sorry, and used the opportunity to share honest feelings and set up healthy expectations for the future.  We're fine.

But it hit me hard how little the things can be sometimes that end up holding so much more meaning for us.  The misunderstandings that turn into battles.  The hurt feelings that lead to separations.  The wounded egos that refuse to reconcile.  The meaning we attach to their words, letting them speak louder than was ever intended.

Fortunately most of our misunderstandings are with family, friends, and colleagues-- people we're committed to trying again with.  So we force ourselves up to the plate of saying sorry and offering forgiveness.

And every time I go there, I get a little more practiced at it.

I don't think it's a realistic goal that I can ever live without needing to forgive myself and others, but I do hope that I keep having the opportunities placed before me so that my suffering diminishes a little more each time as I learn to say sorry faster, offer forgiveness more thoroughly, and to extend reconciliation with more love.

Just know that every situation that calls you to forgive is a gift.  A place to practice growing up.  A place to step into the person we want to become.  A place where we practice the skills that the world needs.

I hope for you, today, the gift of someone to forgive. It's a gift.  Trust me.  :)