Life in TechnicolorHow to Sustain Friendships

One of the big challenges The Gentle Self faces is how to sustain friendships in the long run. We get hurt by inconsiderate people and careless remarks and feel quickly tempted to quietly abandon the offender, making up all kinds of excuses why we don´t want to see them anymore. But when do you give up on a friend and when do you try to work things out?

I see it over and over in my psychotherapy practice, how people attempt to cope in the midst of this struggle. Ive been meeting with a young man, let´s call him Michael. He grew up in a family that forced him to continuously attend to the needs of the parents and siblings, without getting a chance to learn much about his own identity. As an adult he continued to do the same with his friends. It was always about everybody else and what they wanted. Most of the time, he didn’t have the slightest idea what his own preferences were.

That has changed over time. Little by little, he is learning to stand up for himself. One of Michael´s childhood friends likes to remind him how he´s always been a clumsy driver, who gets nervous crossing a busy intersection and once had bumped into a parked car. One day, when he teased him that way again, Michael cleared his throat and responded calmly: “Actually, that was ten years ago when I first got my license. I drive very differently now.”

His friend was taken aback, but he was perceptive enough to stop making insensitive comments. Once in a while, Michael still has to remind him gently when his friend crosses a line, but he does it with a smile now, and their friendship has grown and they meet each other with mutual respect.

I encourage my clients to try and speak up and work things out rather than walk away in quiet despair or anger. So many connections are lost this way. Confrontation is not always possible, and sometimes arguments are carried out in a hurtful tone by email or texting, which often ends up being even more destructive than a verbal fight.

But if they are able to spell out their hurt – whether it´s directly or with a subtle hint – and are met with understanding and a willingness to change, these friendships usually get stronger as a result.

Sometimes though, there is no repair. When your trust is fundamentally betrayed or you chronically feel that you get the short end of the stick, you may have to walk away. We learn through failure. There is always another chance.


 photo credit: nicola.albertini