Friend. This topic or title has gained quite a bit of interest recently. Is a person actually our friend, or are they only our acquaintance based on forced interaction (school, work, church, etc.) that then puts us in the category of friend-ish? Could we stand to “unfriend” a friend?
Deciphering the difference between friendish or friendship sparked some great conversations. Learning the difference between the two really helped to garner clarification and consider some possible parameters that might need to be put in place to protect both mental and emotional health. But also, learning how the presence or absence of actual friendships can affect a person’s overall physical health and well-being was very eye-opening. We do need friends; BUT… friends are even more beneficial for us if they are positive, consistent, and emotionally available to us in a way that allows for true openness and trust.
But what happens when we realize that certain people are not the right fit for the title of friend; and may, in fact, need to be “unfriended”?
Some of us try to ignore the red flags that signal to us that a person is not a friend. Regardless of the signs, we will consistently try to force the engagement, usually finding ourselves regretful that we’ve subjected ourselves AGAIN to being uncomfortable or somehow disregarded. In some cases, even making ourselves the targets of sideways remarks that semi or totally offend us. But we’ve gotten so used to the role of people-pleasing that we can’t seem to shake this behavior even when it’s in our best interest to do so.
This tendency begins in childhood and adolescence. We want people to like us. First, it starts with wanting to feel wanted by our parents and to have their attention and approval. Then, we want our peers to think we’re nice and cool, and include us in things. For years, we try our best to fit in or to offer what we have to others that will make them be impressed with what we bring to the table. Remember Show-and-Tell? Yeah…that gimmick never worked. I get it that it was intended to help us talk and share with others, but it usually fell short in helping us not to yield to the spirits of comparison and competition. We skipped straight to vulnerability in the friendship hierarchy without having the foundation of positivity and consistency.
The Friendship Circle
We can go all the way back to the Pre-K or Kindergarten and even think about “the circle.” The object was always to be in “the circle.” Those who chose not to join the circle or who got put out of the circle were ostracized…even if they came or were allowed back. Other little “friends” would be anxiously waiting to tell the teacher that Lil Suzy doesn’t deserve to be in the circle because she’s doing something different from everyone else. And so, very early on, Lil Suzy operates in anger, fear, or anxiety with regard to “the circle.” You see! IT BEGINS SO EARLY! And we’ll spend most of our adult lives wrestling with the doggone circle.
Yes, it’s true. Lil Suzy’s friendship experiences may forever be shaped by what happened in “the circle.” She could risk not knowing how to be a friend because she’s mimicking the control of the one girl who forever etched her out of “the circle.” Or, she could be so desperate for ANY FRIEND that she subjects herself to mistreatment, or being uncomfortable, because she doesn’t ever want to be put out of “the circle” again. Sadly, Suzy could be so traumatized by “the circle” that she just chooses to go it alone and continue to have a negative interpretation of friendship.
What often happens is we try to determine our identity based on other people’s interests and values, rather than on who we were created to be. We’ll try to connect our full identity to our grades, our appearance, who our parents and siblings are, who we’re married to and their profession, where we went to school or church, what organizations we’re in, our careers, and even who our children are or become. We’ll spend all our time trying to convert or fit into these societal boxes, so that others will want to be our friends. But friendships are hard to cultivate when true individual identity is absent. Everybody wasn’t meant to be in the circle. And though the circle may have been a place of order, it should never have been confused as a place of friendship or approval.
Whom we are as individuals is the foundation of our identity. Our uniqueness brings value to our families, our careers, our affiliations, and our relationships. Yet, we’ll spend years trying to please people and fail to be pleased with ourselves. Afraid to let go of who and what doesn’t serve us well. We’re afraid to disassociate, divorce, unaffiliate, and UN-FRIEND.
Friends or Nah?
The term unfriend has become an ugly word. Not just an ugly word, but an offensive word. But I’m here to play devil’s advocate.
I see individual messages on FaceBook about this topic all the time; and I’ve had some conversations with a few friends about it. People are usually very bothered when they realize they’ve been unfriended. I, however, am on the other side of this. One because, I’ve unfriended some folks a time or two, and I’ve also been unfriended by people.
Here’s my take.
First of all, unlike friendish, unfriend is a definition specific to social media ONLY. More specifically, unfriend is defined as – removing (someone) from a list of friends or contacts on a social networking website.
It’s not as personal as people take it to be.
From my personal perspective, unfriending is not a negative spotlight on the person who was unfriended. It’s based on the personal needs and protection of the person who took the action. In other words, the unfriend is about mental health and emotional safety.
Case and point. When I left my job, I pretty much unfriended everyone I used to work with. Did all of them do something to me? Absolutely not. And…I don’t dislike all of them. However, that was a very tough transition for me holistically. I needed a degree of separation to allow myself time to process and heal. Those in close relationship with me know the experience was very overwhelming; and I hope they would respect the time I needed to get back to being Dawn. AND…the time I needed to find and learn the “NEW DAWN” I was to be…absent from the job that had been an identifier for me for almost a decade.
Maybe you haven’t lost or left a job, but think about any drastic transition: high school to college or work, single to married, a major move or promotion, married to divorced, civilian to military, military to civilian, good health to sickness, active parenting to empty nesting.
Transitions require time to process.
When you’re going through something painful or stressful, you do your best to avoid additional triggers. Your goal is to grow, evolve, and eventually move on. But how can that happen if you’re constantly being reminded of what went wrong, what brought you here, or how much more you need to do?
Think about it from the standpoint of someone who is going through a breakup or divorce. Please don’t be surprised if you receive the friendship boot from this individual; but try not to take it personal. Why would a person want to look at all the pictures and activities going on in a family they are no longer a part of? It’s not that they’re hating on it; but, as long as there is still some hurt and brokenness there related to some portion of those people, a person has the right to choose what and who they allow into their emotional space. And it upsets me when people expect you just to stomach it all and be ok. Like, “LOOK OVER HERE! Here’s the person we replaced you with. We never really cared about you anyway. We’ve moved on, so why haven’t you?”
Now, I know this may not be what people are actually saying, but this is what it may feel like. So, try to take into consideration the experiences of others and have some empathy.
The unfriend is not personal…it’s necessary…for healing, growth, and maturity.
It takes a very aware person to know what they can and can’t handle at the moment. And that decision and control should lie within the person…and not those outside of them. They can choose to remove themselves from “the circle” if the circle is triggering.
I always thought that warnings before movies, books, and music were provided for parents and children; so, we’d know what was or wasn’t appropriate based on age. However, I learned more specifically that trigger warnings are intended to give people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and others who’ve had traumatic experiences, an indication of what they will encounter through the subject matter. Trigger warnings are measures used to prepare viewers, readers, and listeners for content that may provoke unwanted recollections and emotions.
But let’s be clear…personal social media posts don’t give trigger warnings. So, if an individual knows that a certain person (or group) triggers their emotional stability, they have the right to govern themselves. Period.
They are not unfriending the person. They’re unfriending the triggers. The triggers that make them sad, angry, or regretful. Every person has the right to protect their own emotional wellness.
If Friendship Matters
If that unfriend bothers you that much (and you’re not just being petty) … Maybe you’re actually a little hurt behind the unfriend…and that means the relationship still means something to you. Reach out to the person and see how they’re doing. They may be honest with you, or they may let you know they’re not ready to talk and need some space. If you were truly in a relationship, you should have more than just their social media contact, and eventually they’ll come back around. If not, you weren’t a friend anyway… You were “friendish” and should just let it go.
From Social Media Distance to Social (dis)Engagement
As I mentioned before, social media definitely increased our normal friend base tremendously; but it has also shifted and thwarted our definition of friendship. Again, IT IS important that the status of friendships not live under the shadow of ambiguity; but have clear expectations.
But what about outside of social media? What if we need to unfriend in our actual real-life friendships? What constitutes an unfriend?
We Can’t Be Friends
In simple regards…I would say relationships that are repetitively the opposite of the pillars of friendship could constitute an unfriend. Relationships that hem on negativity, as well as lack of support and consistency. Additionally, relationships that don’t respect the boundaries of private and sensitive information – those vulnerable conversations that were shared in confidence. In other words – betrayal.
When there is history, it’s often hard to make the decision to walk away; but sometimes, the walk-away is necessary. We struggle, though, with unfriending because we’re not sure how others will perceive it; or, we’ve gotten so used to disfunction…that disfunction has become functional for us. The unspoken protocol of “the circle.”
Remember when the teacher would always allow Lil Johnny to be in charge of the circle, to help control his behaviors; but Lil Johnny struggled with impulse control, and did and said whatever he wanted? Yeah! Some of us will spend years being ruled by and putting up with Lil Johnny syndrome. Enough is enough. But the truth is…Lil Johnny is probably married and has friends who are not safe, if he never got his behaviors under control.
Protect Your Mental & Friendship Safety
I just saw a FaceBook post that said, “Stop trying to justify the wounds simply because you love who’s holding the knife!”
Some friendships will kill us if we’re not intentional about our own safety. I don’t mean they will kill us physically…but they can definitely chance to kill us emotionally, mentally, financially, and spiritually.
What do you need to do to protect your friendship space?
I’m fairly certain, it’s not by forcing yourself to remain in someone else’s circle. Remember, we also learned in kindergarten that the hula-hoop was not a shared activity. Neither is the protection of your mental health and emotional safety.
Consider this… If they constantly want to dim your light, they may not appreciate your sunshine. Just something to think about…
Continue the Conversation
Thank you for taking the time to read and hear my thoughts. We’ll be having the FRIENDSHIP conversation for the whole month of October. If you found this conversation interesting, don’t forget to LIKE and leave me a COMMENT. If you think this conversation was helpful, SHARE it with a friend. To never miss a conversation, SUBSCRIBE.
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