Friendship and the human connection

Today I want to talk about a tricky subject. Friendship. I’ve been struggling lately with friendships in general. In all of the turmoil of what this struggle has been bringing up inside me, I thought maybe I’d share what I’m going through in the hopes that if anyone else is struggling…maybe my thoughts will help.

On the surface it’s not very tricky at all. You meet someone for whatever reason, you connect due to circumstances or commonalities, and a friendship emerges.

Regardless of how the friendship started, it somehow finds its own flow and becomes its own thing. It may be a deep friendship created out of trauma, a friendship of convenience, a friendship that hangs on because of the time already invested, or it could be a friendship of circumstance that has its own limits simply because of where it started. Regardless, friendships are a very personal thing from person to person.

Some people make friends easily and have a ton of them. Some people only have 1 or 2 friends and are a little guarded about creating relationships. Either way, there’s no right way or wrong way to friendship, period. 

But somehow…we all tell our selves stories about our friendships, about other people’s friendships, and about how friendships “should” be.

Honestly, I’ve struggled with friendships my entire life. Not so much from the outside, but internally. From the outside, I have many friendships spanning decades and differences in quality, but on the inside, I’ve struggled off and on with the way some friendships make me feel.

Some are friends I’ve had since grade school and our interaction is mostly dictated by the algorithms of social media and whether either of us pop up in the others feeds. You might think this is sad, however, I view it as a positive. If it weren’t for social media, many of these friendships would be memories. I’ve lived ALL OVER the country, and there’s no way I’d be able to keep in touch and in contact with all of the friends I’ve made and moved away from over my life.

Some of these long distance friendships from grade school and high school are just as relevant in my life today as they were 25 and 30 years ago. The bonds forged are so strong that neither time, nor distance can change the friendship.

Another aspect of friendship is the people involved. Who you were when the friendship was made and how much you have or have not grown during the life of the friendship. This is how you “out grow” a friendship I think. Each of you change from the people that you once were and as you do, your values in life change, thus changing your needs within your friendships. That can go either way. Changes for the good or the not so good, but either way, change can shift a friendship!

Whether we want to admit it or not friendships are categorized and sorted every day with every gesture and interaction within it. Every kindness extended or absence of kindness by either participant is an acceptance or rejection of the friendship. This is the unconscious system that we use to reflect how we feel about that friendship. Friendships become referred to as close, or acquaintances, long distance or non existent. We continuously shuffle these relationships around in our head coordinating with whatever criteria we’ve decided to place importance on.

It’s funny to have such a clinical way to deal with such an intimate thing, right? Friendships are so intimate, yet we react to them in such a non intimate way sometimes. And no one wants to ever talk about friendships and how we are effected by them. I’m unsure if it’s because no one wants to hurt feelings, or if they don’t want to be judged by others, but it has been my experience that on a one on one basis, many people will discuss their views on friendship and what they do and don’t value about them, but as a whole, friendship can be a taboo subject. We all want to seem as if we are impervious to how a person treats us in a friendship, and that we don’t take their action or inaction as a direct reflection of our value and place in the world. 

There. I said it. I care about friendship. And you know what else…so do you. Even if you don’t know it.

The front we put up is that we are so strong and so cool that we really don’t need friendships at all. “Everything I need is inside me. I don’t need anything from anyone. If you don’t want to be my friend, that’s cool. I don’t need you.” This narrative can also be on the opposite side; “I’m so cool I don’t have to work for friendships. I don’t care if someone is or isn’t my friend, therefor, I don’t need to work on friendships, they just come and go.”

Friendships are just a simple way of saying “human connection” and our categorization of friendships is a way to articulate how they make us feel. When you say someone is an “acquaintance” it’s just a way of saying “there isn’t a strong connection”. If a friendship is referred to as “close” it’s a way of saying, “this friendship makes me feel good and valued.”

When we feel hurt in a friendship, we often reflect it outwardly. We lash out and call the other person toxic, or we gossip about them, or find everything wrong with them we possibly can to justify their actions or inactions. Whatever we need to do to make our selves feel better.

Well, here’s the truth-none of this is wrong. You are allowed to be hurt by a friendship. You are allowed to have standards and expectations about your friendships. You should give a shit about human connections and your place within them. You should care about how people treat you. You should give a shit about how you treat others. 

What’s not okay is the lashing out part. Which is why I’m writing this post. 

I’ve always been a person of deep internal reflection. I always dive deep within my self when I need to find answers. Over the course of my entire life I’ve struggled with being hurt in friendships. This is mostly because, though it doesn’t always seem that way, I am an extremely emotional person. I can feel more about a person than they could ever tell me. It’s an instinct I’ve had since my earliest memories. The closest thing I can relate it to is an intuitive empath. I can feel a person out in about 5 seconds. I’m not talking about judging, or “sizing” someone up. It’s hard to articulate, but I can only describe it as a feeling. I think everyone has this ability, but not everyone taps into it. I tapped into my human intuition early on because I had to. I had a shitty mom and a shitty childhood, and at a very young age I had to fend for myself. I learned to rely heavily on the “vibe” I got from people to determine their intentions. It started basic, a feeling of whether a person was good or bad (from the point of view of a kindergartener). Eventually, I learned what “good” and “bad” felt like internally. Over time, this instinct grew. I learned to reach for the feeling when I would initially meet someone, or any time I interacted with people I already knew. It just helped me navigate whatever situation I found my self in. Whether it was stranger danger, or friend or foe. I started to notice that I could feel the moods of people I already knew, and that helped me navigate unfamiliar situations with people I already knew. I learned to trust, above all else, this feeling. 

Even later in life when someone would say, “oh don’t trust so and so”, I’d keep the words in the back of my head, but I always placed more weight on the feeling I got from “so and so” instead of the words of the other person. Basically, what I was doing was reading people’s vibes, but at the time, I had no idea what that was.

As an adult, being able to tune in to other people’s vibe has served me well, but it can also be a double edged sword. Because I can feel what people mean more than their words, I have accidentally become a truth teller. Basically when people are full of shit, I can easily feel it, and I usually tell them about it. I can easily see when someone is being disingenuous or fake. As I’ve evolved as a person I tell people less and less about their bullshit. I still see it, and feel it, but what I have come to know as truth is; it’s not my place to tell them about their bullshit. Who am I to take away an opportunity for another person to learn a lesson? But it still doesn’t feel good when a friend says one thing, but their actions and their vibe says something different. I’ve learned to not point it out to people, but instead to silently trust my inner compass, and adjust my actions accordingly. But sometimes, because I am an emotional person, it hurts to feel this shift in a friendship, especially if it’s a friendship I would categorize as “close” but I’m forced to see that the other has categorized that same friendship as “acquaintance”. 

So here I am, new year, new me. Like many, one of my goals for 2019 (and for pretty much every year before) is to “cut out toxic people”. Can I get an amen?!.!?!.!! 

But wait, before you get to excited, let me tell you about the work I’ve done thus far in 2019, and why I no longer feel the need to “cut out toxic people”. Because basically, that’s not a good feeling. It doesn’t feel good to me anyhow. I’m mean don’t get me wrong, it’s empowering. Just in the words alone, I immediately feel powerful and better then whatever “toxic” person I’m about to cut out!!! But inside, deep inside, It doesn’t feel good to think that I have had a toxic person in my life to begin with! 

The truth is, if a person is truly “toxic” I would of felt that from the moment I met them, and I wouldn’t of given them much space in my life. So if I’m referring to someone in my life as toxic, what I’m really saying is that I’m no longer aligned with this person. 

Maybe they changed, maybe I changed, or maybe no one changed, but the circumstances did. Who knows. But what I do know is telling your self you’re going to cut out someone toxic is too easy. I think it feels better to reach for more. Instead of cutting out toxic people, I am really becoming clear about what I value in friendships, and aligning more with that. Instead of cutting out, I’m making room for more. More love, more laughter, and more joy. 

If I feel that a particular friendship is no longer serving me, what I’m really saying is that my feelings have been hurt inside the friendship. The answer is not to stop having expectations within that friendship, or to lash out and call that person toxic. The answer is to do the work inside myself. I am responsible for my reactions, my feelings, and what I choose to do with those feelings. 

So when I recently sat with my feelings here’s what came up. When this particular friend says they miss me, but doesn’t reach out to make plans, it makes me feel like I’m not enough. When this person cancels plans, or just doesn’t show up when there is a plan, they are telling me I’m not enough. When I am not included in celebrations or gatherings that I once was, this person is telling me I am not enough. It’s hurtful. It brings up feelings of resentment, anger, and ejection. But is this person really saying I’m not enough or is that the story I’m telling myself?

Understanding one fundamental thing in all of this is important, at least in my opinion. I don’t think you are ever wrong for how you feel. Feelings are just feelings. You don’t make them up. They just bubble up inside of you. You are however responsible for what you do with these feelings.

I decided to honor the feelings I was feeling. To allow myself to feel the anger, and the resentment, and the rejection and to sit in those feelings to really figure out where they are coming from. My job is to process it. When I sit with the why of these feelings, I’m able to connect it to one of the biggest traumas in my life and one of the biggest sources of pain that I deal with. The abandonment I feel from my mother.

My mother is an alcoholic, and very early on chose alcohol over everything else, even her self. Logically I understand alcoholism is a disease, and she is an addict, but reconciling that inside is a completely different story. That wound is one that I will carry off and on my whole life. Telling that little 5 year old inside me that my mothers’ life long love of alcohol and drugs and her choice to put this things above all else is not a direct reflection of my self worth will be a narrative I have to say over and over again. 

Anytime I sit with feelings of rejection, or feeling like I’m not enough to someone, I unconsciously connect it to the same feeling I’ve carried since I was a child. I’m not enough. I wasn’t enough for my own mother, how could I be enough for anyone else?

Bleh. Childhood trauma is shitty. All trauma is shitty really.

My point in sharing all of this isn’t to have some kind of pity party for me! Yes, I carry childhood trauma, BUT that trauma has also shaped me in ways I am eternally grateful for. I choose to use my trauma as a point of connection to others, and I also choose to end the cycle, by teaching my boys that they are enough and their mother loves them with her whole heart!!!

I choose to show up and do the work. Practice what I preach. Don’t talk about it, be about it.

This friendship I’ve been struggling with doesn’t define me. I am enough. Instead of reacting to my  fear based feelings of rejection and resentment, I choose instead to use the feelings that were brought up to be a tool in my own healing journey. I will honor this friendship and all of the gifts it has given me, and allow the transition to happen. Instead of seeing it as an ending, I see it as a beginning. An opportunity to learn, and a space to be opened to better connections and stronger bonds. 

People change and evolve. As they do, so do their connections with others. Noticing a shift in friendships and connections is a good indicator that you’re growing and changing. It’s okay to feel, it’s okay to let go, it’s okay to outgrow friendships, and it’s okay to move on, but do it in a way that honors you and reflects the work you’ve been doing on the inside!

Be the change people!!!