How Old Wounds Can Influence and Damage Our Friendships
If you’re breathing then you have a whole lot of stories bumping around inside of you. When hard things happen some of us deal with them by shoving them down and ignoring them until we think they’ve gone away. Other times we work through them by talking about what happened, thinking each step through, and developing some sort of understanding about the whole thing. In either case we think we’re done. Like, “Nothing to see here, Folks! I’m perfectly okay.” Then a new person scratches at the old wound and you realize you’re not. You are SO not okay.
The earliest memories that you have are filled with stories. These stories influence how you think about the world and how you think the world feels about you. To be completely general, if you grew up in a safe, loving, supportive home you’re more apt to think that the world seeks to guide you. If, however, the opposite is true then you’re likely to think that you’ll survive a cruel world by being suspicious, guarded, and mistrustful. These early formed beliefs will become our filter for how we experience other people. The people that we’ve chosen will have their own preformed stories and we’ll keep bumping up against them until we learn how to untie the words with our own hands.
Story is very important for us. We are hardwired to survive by making up stories about people and situations. In Rising Strong, Brené Brown writes, “We make up hidden stories that tell us who is against us and who is with us. Whom we can trust and who is not to be trusted. Conspiracy thinking is all about fear-based self-protection and our intolerance for uncertainty. When we depend on self-protecting narratives often enough, they become our default stories. And we must not forget that storytelling is a powerful integration tool. We start weaving these hidden, false stories into our lives and they eventually distort who we are and how we relate to others.” Well, if that’s not enough to freak you out then I don’t know what will!
So let’s get to the juicy part. We’ve all experienced conflict with our friends. To be in a relationship is a set up for potential rumbles and disagreements. We’re all built differently (and have our own stories) so a flare up is bound to occur at some point. I’ve had conflict with girlfriends that was upsetting, but not earth shattering. I’ve also had conflict with girlfriends that resulted in the relationship ending. Each time I have chosen to end a friendship it was because the situation poked at an old wound. A wound that I thought I had cared for, bandaged up, and healed. My friend would repeat a triggering behavior and I would screech in horror at the wound being ripped open again. Oh gawd, someone call a doctor because it’s about to go down.
Part of the healing process is being our own detective. Holding the wound with both of our hands and asking, “What happened here? How are you feeling? Is this situation bumping up against an old memory?” To look at what happened, we need to write out the facts. Remember, these are just facts (not well she must have thought…so I figured…and she probably feels like – nope, just facts).
What are the facts?
5:55 p.m.: I was sitting at the restaurant waiting for my friend. 6:05 p.m.: Friend has not arrived at the restaurant. 6:07 p.m.: I check my phone to review the texts and to make sure that I have the correct date and place. 6:08 p.m.: I confirm I’m at the right place at the right time. 6:10 p.m.: I text my friend and ask if everything is alright. 6:16 p.m.: Friend calls and says that she can’t make it. She states that she’s sorry. She says that she had a fight with her husband and one of her kids has a cold. 6:20 p.m.: I leave the restaurant.
Next, we need to examine how we’re feeling without censoring ourselves.
Next, is this experience bumping up against an old story?
Uh totally…like that time in college when everyone cancelled one-by-one for my birthday celebration. My brother and my best friend took me out to dinner at the designated birthday restaurant to find one of the invitees already there with her friends and boyfriend (for her own personal get-together) and her telling me that she was sure that my birthday celebration had been scheduled for the following day! Whoops! (Sadly, this is a true story and I had to convince my bestie not to tell her off!).
Okay, so that birthday experience got to me way more than I let on. I felt humiliated and abandoned on a day that I had been really looking forward to. It dug into my body in a way that only a wound can. I knew that I had amazing people in my life. Cognitively, I knew that my life mattered and that I was worthy of attention. But my heart learned to avoid birthday celebrations and planning events that focused on me. I absolutely didn’t want to ever experience that memory again so I avoided it. However, some friends have a way of reminding you of previous heartbreak. Sometimes it’s in how they speak to you. Sometimes they trigger you with their actions. All at once it’s there. Suddenly you are feeling: unimportant, annoyed, angry, disappointed, mad, betrayed, small, abandoned, discarded AGAIN. The old story has made its way into your new relationship.
“Oh for the Love! I graduated college with that girl four years ago (plus or minus ten years)! It’s such an old and done story, right?” Well, apparently not. Look at your last major conflict with a girlfriend. What were the facts? How did you feel? What did it remind you of? If you spend enough time on it you’ll be able to recall a person or situation that influenced the belief that lives inside the wound. If we go back to the original scenario about the friend standing you up at the restaurant we all know that it was a crappy thing for her to do, but what we believe about the situation will influence what happens next.
Imagine that you’re collecting all of your memories in this one moment: your relationship with your mama, each girlfriend you’ve had from preschool on, all of the heartache that’s ever happened to you. Your brain is doing all of this work in less than the time it can take you to say the word, “story”. Just like that your brain gets a dopamine hit for figuring out the mess and how your friend really feels about you and actually (not actually) what happened that day. In a flash you choose to lash out, to shut-down, to talk about her to the rest of your people, to ignore her at future get-togethers, or some other unhelpful tactic to create disconnection between you and her.
We’re just trying to survive, Girls, really. We don’t mean to be hurtful or calculating. We truly don’t. We’re just trying to protect ourselves. That’s why we have to do the hard work of heartwork. We need to be brave enough to peer under the bandages and ask, “Hey, Love, what happened here? Let’s take a closer look and try to understand. Let’s heal this wound again.” This way is much harder. I won’t create an illusion that it’s all peace, love, and butterflies. Looking back at difficult memories is hard. Allowing the old feelings to surface and connect with the new feelings is even harder. It’s challenging, but I encourage you to do the work.
When we choose to avoid this part of the healing we’ll often re-wound someone else. We will repeat the old story and reinforce it. New situations that closely resemble it will be categorized and locked down. No questions asked. The old story wins and we lose the opportunity to really look at our own hearts.
If you’re brave enough to hold your wound up and ask the 3 questions, you’ll know yourself more deeply. You’ll be closer to understanding the layers of your heart and the type of people that it needs to feel safe. Maybe at the end of it you’ll choose to let go of that friend who stood you up at the restaurant. Maybe you’ll choose to talk it out and set new boundaries. The gift of heartwork is that you’ll be responding from a place of clarity, not bouncing off of the hurt from an old memory. We’re made for this. We will heal ourselves first and then share that healing with the people that mean the most to us. Wholeheartedly.
With Love & Backbone,
Did you catch my blog post about breaking up with a friend? Read it here.
Breaking Up Showed Me The Importance Of Speaking Up
I was thirty-one years old and standing in my kitchen when I got the zingy text from a close friend. Just the day before I had spoken with her for over an hour (which was really like four hours in mom-with-little-babies time). We had discussed work stuff and life stuff, but there were still words to be said. I told her that I would call the next day. But the thing is, I didn’t.
Every hour had been filled up and I didn’t have the time or the energy to be fully present for another adult phone call. Though I thought my friend and I were on the same page, I soon found out that we weren’t. She was upset with me. Furious.
When I read the zingy text I felt it in my gut. The experience was hollering a big “NO!” to me. We had been friends for several years. We had shared life events and cheered each other on through moves, jobs, and marriages. We were going to be those friends who stayed connected through every season.
That’s why I was shocked when things deteriorated so quickly. It was like watching a war between the Starks and the Lannisters. It was bad. Reading her texts and emails literally made me shaky. I kept asking myself, “What is happening?” I invited a close girlfriend over to help me check my crazy meter. I let her read the exchange between us and she confirmed: The situation was crazy.
I began to feel extremely stressed out. The timing was terrible. It was right before the holidays and there had been some intense family and worldly events that happened at the time. I was totally wide eyed and depleted. It was like drinking too much coffee and feeling keyed up yet drained at the same time. I knew that I needed to implement a pause button.
We agreed on a cease fire.
I looked inward. I tried to dig into what in the world happened. The answers weren’t simple and they didn’t stack nicely in order. My feelings zigzagged as I waded through the history of our friendship. We had been good friends and I really loved her. But as I picked these layers up and looked at them closely, I saw what had been missing all along: my voice.
I could vividly remember experiences when my values were squished and I chose to stay close to her rather than ask, “Is this right for me?” I could see myself getting smaller and smaller like Russian dolls closing in on me. Somewhere down the path her feelings became more important than my own. I wanted to make sure that she felt seen and accepted at all times. I needed to be open and available. I needed to be perfect. This perfect, however, meant that I needed to be quiet and bendy.
Part of my work in The Daring Way™ is helping people to identify their core values. Knowing what is important to us helps us to stay on our path. When we’re living with our values at the forefront we feel good. When we don’t honor our values, things get dark. By staying true to ourselves we get to live wholeheartedly. Our chosen values, our priorities, our real selves showing up every day.
When I got the zingy text I understood on a deeper level that things were going to be different. It took weeks to understand that things would never be the same again. The old friendship had to go. My hope was that a new friendship could be born. My fear was that it would end.
In those weeks alone, I began to understand a little bit more about who I was. My priorities moved from awareness to something that I lived out loud. Here’s what mattered to me:
My family The wellbeing of my people My work
And something new…myself.
Look, I was never actually bad to myself. That wasn’t the thing. What I noticed was that I tended to put the needs of others before my own. I didn’t say anything when I had questions or feelings about certain situations. I was often silent when I should have shown that I was outraged. I never was my whole self.
Maybe it comes with age or perhaps it was the season that I was in, but it was clear that I could not go on this way. I could not continue to show up for someone in the same way, because I wasn’t the same person.
Everything would need to shift in a new direction.
You see, my life looked much differently than it had nine years before when I met my dear friend. Of course, that makes sense right? We understand that we change, but we’re quick to ignore how this change alters a friendship. When we’re not who we were originally, we have to figure out how to move forward. Do we grow together and adjust? Ebbing and flowing until the rough edges run smooth again? Maybe there’s a wedge that stays in place and diverts the flow until the streams move farther and farther away from one another?
I think the latter is what happened all those years ago. Our lives had both changed us, but we tried to use the same dynamics and roles. We held tightly to what had always been because that seemed like an easy option.
It wasn’t working.
Every time I would get my feelings hurt, I would tuck it away. When situations that were about me suddenly became about her I was shocked and upset, but I said nothing. I was becoming resentful, because I had been silent for too long.
When I took that pause to look inward, I saw that a major new line of communication needed to be established. I had to tell her how I felt and how I was different.
In the middle of winter, I sat huddled in my car gripping my cell phone. I was shivering more because I was nervous than from the cold. I dialed her number. The conversation was short.
She said who she was and what she expected from me.
I said who I was and how everything would be different, because I was different.
Like lines drawn in the sand we concluded that we were no longer a match. I couldn’t be who I was before and the new me didn’t have a place in the old friendship. We said goodbye. We haven’t spoken since that day.
But it wasn’t the ending that I had feared. It was the beginning of a new era in friendships. I began to pay close attention to the women around me. I slowly grew friendships like seedlings in miniature pots. In time they that got transferred to larger containers, then gardens, then in the earth itself. These new friends learned who I was. They were keen on what I loved and also what upset me. I learned to say how I felt when it mattered. I understood that I had to be fully myself or the connection wouldn’t last. It would fade with the season if I stayed silent.
Though the healing has taken years, I am filled with gratitude for my former friend. The old friendship is still thought of with love, but now there’s awareness as well. When we shrink ourselves there’s no way to bring our whole selves to the relationship. That isn’t fair to us nor is it best for the friendship. For this, I am sorry. It’s a pattern I don’t want to repeat again.
This is my plan from this day forward:
I will show up with my whole heart. When it is hard I will use my voice. When I stay silent, I will circle back and open the conversation again. I promise to honor who I am. Wholeheartedly, truly, me.