Friendship is one of the most enduring and wonderful gifts of being alive. Friendship is universal in humanity. Young children start friendships with the sharing of curiosities, toys and laughter. As we grow, some friendships develop with us for a lifetime providing companionship, support, and love for each other’s beings. I believe that friendship, throughout our lives, serves as a mirror of our very essence. The love, laughter and concern we share with friends gives us a sense of self which can sometimes be thwarted within our family relations. Our friends become our historians, secret keepers and comrades on life’s journey. In the years I have worked as a therapist, the friends of my patients have filled my practice space with their presence as fierce defenders, continual cheerleaders and often lifesavers.
The question this week deals with why friendships change and even sometimes end after long periods of time. We have probably all had friends in our lives who were so involved with us during certain periods that the thought of that person no longer being around seems impossible. However, just like many other human relationships, friendships are quite complicated and can be fraught with conflict and tension at times. There are countless reasons why even some of the more enduring friendships come apart at the seams. On the most basic level, friendships can change when two people grow apart from each other. This can happen when friends meet and get close during certain periods of their lives because they are sharing common experiences together. This may include growing up in the same area, going to school together, being on sports teams etc. As we grow and mature, friends that once “fit” no longer do and we move on. Hopefully, this change occurs slowly and naturally over time and without much stress attached. Proximity is also very important in creating and maintaining close connections with friends. Sometimes, physical distance creates a wedge between friends.
The more painful termination of friendships has to do with more complex psychological and emotional issues and are often fraught with anxiety and great distress. Friendships that last a lifetime are those in which the balance between give and take, honesty and support, and a genuine desire for our friend’s well-being are paramount. Unfortunately, as in all human relations, this balance can sometimes shift and no longer benefit one or the other in the relationship. For example, a friendship can go along smoothly until one half of the pair comes into some circumstance where social or financial status shifts. How two friends deal with the change of fortune for one or the other is a delicate mission. Here jealousy, envy and insecurities may arise creating tension where none existed before. As we go through life, we realize that some friends are always there when things go wrong for us but cannot stand it when our luck changes for the better. Likewise, some friendships cannot tolerate the loss of status, position or standing of the friend. Sadly, sometimes friendships are harmed when others in the friend’s life such as spouse, other friends etc., create tension. A more deeply held psychological construct is that of who we pick in the first place to be our friends. Until we become psychologically aware and more evolved, we may pick the wrong people to befriend as a way of working out unresolved interpersonal issues from our pasts. As we become more emotionally healthy, those friendships will no longer be tolerable. For example, when one has low self-esteem, they may pick critical friends as a way of reinforcing their negative self-view. However, if one grows more confident, this dynamic may no longer be acceptable.
In essence, our friends are the life-affirming fountain from which we drink. Good friends fill us up with warmth, honesty and a sense of well-being. If you feel drained, empty, belittled and insulted by a friend you should acknowledge that this is diminishing your life experience and not enhancing it. In this case, I would move away from this person, honor whatever good you did get from them in the past, and move toward those friends in life that only want to help light your way!
Dr. Karen Binder-Brynes is a leading psychologist with a private practice in New York City for the past 15 years.