“Letting go gives us freedom and freedom is the only condition for happiness.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh
For much of my life, I lived for approval and acceptance from family members, friends, and co-workers. I can’t recall not considering what one thought about my actions or what I had said, wondering if I could have done them better. I was always thinking of others and their feelings toward me.
It was a constant battle in my head, and it was starting to drain me of my peace.
No matter what they had done to me in the past, no matter how much pain they’d caused me, I thought it was only right that I give it another try. After all, friendships take a lot work.
You see, for me, gaining a sense of acceptance from the people I cared about was a life source that I sought after, again and again, because it meant I was important, that I mattered.
But at what cost?
When the relationships we’ve worked hard to build for many years aren’t giving us the joy they once did or a sense of community and energy anymore, what do we do? What if, in fact, it feels downright toxic and negative to be around them?
This happened to me. All the signs were there, but I didn’t see it for what it was. I thought maybe I was just too sensitive. I would often tell myself, “Get over it, you’re thinking too much again.”
Then one dreary day I got a call from my mom. My dad was in a horrific accident and he passed an hour later. My family was grieving from loss and shock, and the one person I thought would be there by my side suddenly disappeared.
This person was my cousin, and a good friend I had known my entire life. I looked up to her as a young girl, and even thought of her as a big sister I never had.
My cousin proceeded to go on with her life as if nothing had happened. Not one single word was exchanged between us. It was as if I were a stranger to her.
It hurt me deeply, and I was utterly pained by her actions.
Looking back, I understand why she made the choice to stay away. Facing death and pain isn’t easy; in fact, it takes great courage to face it head on and ride the storm.
While I had been hurt and resentful about how she avoided me during the most painful time of my life, I had the gift of time to reflect and to reevaluate my relationships, and the other issues that made this particular one unhealthy.
As painful as it is, there comes a time when we need to “break up” with a friend in order to live authentically and to be free.
Life is short, and we deserve to be happy. Sometimes we have to consciously make the choice to not tolerate emotional abuse and to recognize when a relationship simply isn’t working.
We break up with our significant others when we’ve exhausted every avenue and know in our hearts the relationship isn’t working and it’s time to let go. Just because we are not in a romantic relationship that does not mean we have to tolerate negative behaviors or what isn’t working.
You don’t have to wait for a life tragedy and loss to realize this. Take the time to reflect on what kind of people you want to bring into your life and what you deserve to have—a friend who is honest, who will cry and laugh with you so you can grow together.
Here are seven things to consider if you feel you are in a similar situation:
1. What does friendship mean to you?
Your definition of what makes a good friend may be different from your friend’s. This may sound silly, but this is the platform on which you build a relationship that may one day flourish.
The relationship I desperately wanted to have with my cousin was but a mirage. I had deluded myself into thinking that we had a strong bond. Reflecting back, it wasn’t a very healthy relationship.
Be honest. Tell your friend what you need. Your friend may see things differently and it may solve any misunderstanding between the two of you. But if your friend chooses not to reciprocate, you’ll be able to gauge if this is a relationship you want to keep.
2. Is the friendship just too exhausting and negative most of the time?
I used to wonder why it was so hard being around her. It drained me of my energy and left me feeling very negative about who I was as a person.
I resented that I couldn’t express my authentic self to her. Often she would reply to me with, “You think too much,” as if my feeling, values, and beliefs were not valid.
A friend who cares about your well-being will discuss any concerns you may have and not dismiss them as trivial. If you don’t communicate your feelings, resentment can build, and you may harbor negative feelings toward this person.
3. Is the relationship balanced?
To me, a friendship is like a seesaw. It takes two people, and each needs to give and take a little to balance out the ride.
Like any close relationship, both parties need to make the effort and choose to grow together as friends, or it can be a very painful process.
Thinking back, our relationship was very one sided. I always felt I was the second choice, a person to call when she needed company, or to vent. I don’t recall her ever asking me how I was doing, especially after my dad was killed. There was no depth in our relationship.
4. It’s okay to let go.
Relationships are complicated, and it’s never an easy choice to let go of a friendship. It was painful for me to accept that our friendship was over, but in order to live authentically and to be free, I had to let it go.
It didn’t happen overnight. As our relationship deteriorated, we saw less and less of each other. When she called to invite me over, I deliberately chose to decline the invitation. I knew that I would regret going, and that it would leave me feeling of resentful, with old, painful memories haunting me.
It can be a long, emotional, and unpleasant process when we are deciding whether we should continue on with a friendship or to let it go. All these feelings are normal. Any transition in life comes with some form of discomfort. It means we are growing and evolving.
5. Know that it’s nobody’s fault.
Sometimes relationships end, despite every effort to make it work. Just because we have made the choice to let go of the friendship, that doesn’t mean it has to end it a negative way. We can say farewell with well wishes and make the choice to remember the happier times in our hearts.
I think every relationship is unique and the way you choose the end the relationship depends on the situation you are in. Listen to your inner voice and honor it.
You may choose to tell your friend that you need some space. Or you may choose to write a personal letter to express your feelings and concerns if you think it will be too confrontational. At times I still miss the friendship I had once shared with my friend, but I keep the good memories with me in my heart.
6. Stay open.
Stay open to new friendships and to your present moment. Staying open allows for new opportunities and new relationships to come into your life when you are ready.
Photo by Ed Yourdon