Perhaps we undervalue the loss of a friend?
Everyone has probably had the experience of having a friend who doesn’t want to be as close or who wants to end the friendship altogether. As the parent of young children, I see firsthand how the friendships of young children can be especially capricious—strong and united one minute, but cold and distant the next. Yet adult friendships are often subject to the fleeting nature of friendship as well. If you think about a friendship you’ve had in which you start to notice that your friend no longer wants to be close to you, the experience was probably fraught with a mix of emotions: sadness, anger and envy, especially if you then witness your ex-friend develop a bond with someone new. What’s interesting from a psychological perspective is how the experience of a friendship breakup also leads to significant confusion.
In my clinical work, I find that the confusion has to do with the following differentiation: You know exactly why it hurts so much when you lose a lover, but you tell yourself that a friend leaving you shouldn’t be as painful. Because we don’t have sex with our friends (ahem, usually), we tell ourselves that not having to lose the sexual intimacy should make losing the friendship less painful than when we lose a romantic relationship. Plus, there is massive cultural acknowledgment of how painful the loss of romantic love can be: Tell someone you had a romantic breakup and everyone pours on the sympathy, while every other song on the radio speaks to the pain that comes with a romantic breakup. Where’s all the hoopla when a friend breaks up with you?
So, how can you cope when a close friend no longer wants you? Acceptance is the key to recovery from the loss. Understand that friendships – just like romantic relationships – can be fleeting. You must also keep in mind that some friendships formed when you were young or in an unstable or impressionable point in your life may not fit you as you evolve and grow over time. In other words, though it is painful when a friend stops wanting you, you may have outgrown the friendship without even realizing it.
More often then not, the loss of a friend is multiplied by the refusal of those around you — and the refusal of your own self — to accept that the loss is deep, difficult and real.
The starting point is accepting the loss. The very next step is accepting the pain is real and permitting yourself to grieve.
Without such, no one can heal or move on…