How to Survive a Friendship Breakup
Surviving the loss of a friend can be even more painful than a romantic breakup. In the mental health profession, a friendship rupture or rift is a frequent reason why people may seek support.
It is possible to heal from the loss; as you work through the pain, you’ll eventually become stronger. Your pain is real. Give yourself the space and time you need, just like you would with a romantic breakup or any other significant loss. A broken friendship may include a lack of trust, lack of communication, feeling disconnected, unresolved conflict, ongoing hurtful behavior, having nothing in common, financial discrepancies, splitting a friend group, possessions left behind, and/or one person taking all the responsibility for the friendship.
What Causes a Friendship Breakup?
We’ve all heard that friendships are like seasons: they come and go at different phases in your life. While that might seem comforting, it ￼denies friendship’s much more complex nature. If you’ve gone through a friendship breakup, you know it hurts more than the inevitable passing of the seasons. You may feel broadsided by the loss, even if it has been culminating over months or even years. But why do friendships end?
Some of the reasons include:
- Change of interests and values (moving, getting married, political views, having children, religious views)
- Breach of trust
- When one person feels unsupported
- Feeling used financially or emotionally
- Clashes with the partner of a friend
- Attraction to the partner of a friend
- Abusive behavior
- Not making time for the relationship
- Psychological disorders left untreated
Is it a Breakup or a Break?
You may face self-doubt about moving on from your friend, so take time to determine whether this is the right decision. Sometimes, you can save a friendship by investing more in the relationship. But, there has to be a balance between fighting for the people we care about and not tolerating harmful behavior.
You can (and should) be a friend’s support system, but it can cross a line when you become their therapist, bank account, or punching bag. The friendship might shift when one or the other person becomes more “successful.” If your friend is actively present when they need you, but fades away when you are no longer required, it was not a reciprocal relationship to begin with. Your friend might have secret resentments or perceive you as privileged or spoiled.
You’re the one who has to decide to move on or remain in the friendship, but here are some questions to consider:
- Has there been a betrayal? If so, has my friend made any attempt to make it right?
- Is this just a misunderstanding?
- Have I taken steps to talk about how I feel with my friend?
- Is my friend toxic?
- Does my friend repeatedly poke at my vulnerabilities and guise it as teasing or joking?
- Are they taking any steps to become a healthier person?
- Is my friend repeatedly hurting me even though I’ve talked to them about their behavior?
- Do I feel judged or belittled by my friend?
- Does my friend hold me back or help me become a better person?
- Does my friend say nasty things about me behind my back?
- Is this disagreement something we can overcome, or will it only cause more harm in the long run?
Prioritize Your Mental Health
Moving on from someone causing you mental and emotional harm is OK. Studies have shown that social relationships can either sabotage or support behavior change. When you begin to experience personal growth, it can be frightening and even threatening to the people around you. Your personal growth and your friend’s inability to grow with you may have triggered the friendship breakup. If that’s the case, I applaud you for your bravery and the growth you are pursuing. A friend will be there for you in good times and bad.
Related post: When Your Friends Are Successful
Where Possible, Seek Resolution
Many people express confusion about a friendship breakup, not understanding why it happened or feeling they never got to say what they needed to. I call the friendship breakup, with ghosting, the “living death”. You don’t know what happened but they’re still out in the world. You may even cross paths with them. We are creatures that crave meaning and explanation. Ghosting is often a reprehensible act.
Related post: Ghosting and Mental Health
When possible, talking to your friend can be a healthy way to promote understanding, express how you were hurt, and even apologize. Remember, your goal isn’t to launch a personal attack on them or be defensive. Make sure you can speak calmly and, if possible, wish them well at the end of the conversation. At some point you genuinely cared for each other and that’s to be honored. If they aren’t open to talking, or it doesn’t feel appropriate or safe to you, try writing out what you’d like to say. Expressing your thoughts on paper or email facilitates a better understanding of what happened. Even if you don’t understand “why,” expressing your emotions in writing can restore a sense of control over a situation where you may have felt helpless.
Related post: Restorative Writing and Mental Health
Reasons you may be struggling to move on:
- You felt silenced by the friendship and haven’t had a chance to express how you feel.
- You have experienced abandonment in the past, and losing this friend has brought up those feelings of abandonment.
- You’re still waiting for them to come back.
- You feel guilty, and you’re carrying the blame for the friendship ending.
- The betrayal has so many layers you don’t know how to unpack it.
- You have so many happy memories of the friendship that it’s bewildering to let it all go.
- You have so much shared history that you struggle to get the needed space.
How to start:
- Get a piece of paper and write at the top, “What do I need to let go?”
- Sit quietly and listen to your intuition to determine what may keep you from moving on.
- If you aren’t sure, start writing and let your thoughts flow unhindered.
- As you write, look for what blocks you from moving on.
- Once you know what that is, explore what you need for resolution.
- Healing happens in layers, so don’t be discouraged if you identify multiple things.
- Choose one thing that resonates most strongly and work through that.
- As time passes, continue to work through the different areas of pain. there is no timeline.
Often, current pain is complicated because it connects to past pain. If you discover the connections to past pain, embrace this as an opportunity for growth. Healing takes time; it is a process. So be gentle with yourself. Permit yourself whatever you need to heal, and don’t push yourself to move on before you are ready. Mourning has no checklist.
Give Yourself the Gift of Forgiveness
Amazingly, forgiveness protects health even in high-stress situations. One study showed the longitudinal impact of forgiveness on stress levels. Another study showed that self-forgiveness increases physical and mental health. Forgiveness is about taking a step forward to healing and moving on.
What Forgiveness Is NOT:
- Blind trust
- Letting the other person get away with wrongdoing
- Restoration of a relationship
- Being in close contact with a person who abused you
- A denial of justice
- Saying what the other person did was OK or right
Forgiveness takes time and is more of a lifestyle than a one-off event. As you seek to move on from your friendship breakup, you won’t feel (or heal) all the feelings at once.
Part of the pain of losing a friendship is you are losing the possibility for the future. ￼In a few months or years, you may hear your friend is married, moved away, is having a baby, wrote a book, or just got a promotion. Because of the pervasiveness of social media, you might even observe your friend having fun with others. ￼In loving relationships where it is an expectation to share these life events, watching from the sidelines can be incredibly painful. It’s important to forgive and be kind to yourself as new pain surfaces. It can come and go.
Validate Your Emotions
A breakup is a feeling of rejection at the heart of a friendship. Whichever side you are on, there will be a sense that someone you were once so close to no longer values you as a person. One study found that feelings of rejection directly impact self-perception by creating feelings of hurt, loneliness, jealousy, guilt, shame, anxiety, embarrassment, sadness, doubt, and anger.
Society expects you to experience these emotions when you suffer a loss or a romantic breakup. There isn’t always the same understanding for a friendship breakup. So if your social circle isn’t supportive of what you are going through, you have to learn to understand and validate your own emotions. If it feels unbearable, talk to a therapist.
Don’t Let It Follow You
We find it painful and upsetting to see a friend move on because, the truth is, we haven’t. We want to believe we matter enough that they will experience the same amount of pain as we are experiencing. When they seem happy and unaffected, it can feel like we didn’t ever matter to them. Holding on to feelings of injustice may cause the friendship breakup to drag you down and spill over into other areas of your life.
So, ironically, one of the keys to moving on is… moving on. Ultimately you’ll have to let go of the need to know they cared. Instead of holding the pain close, release all of your expectations and disappointments. You’re not letting go of all the good things you shared. Instead, you are letting go of the need for them in your life. There is life apart from this other person. While they may have shaped a part of who you are or been with you through difficult and painful times, you are still a person, and you can recover from this.
Rebuild Your Ability to Trust
You may not notice this immediately, but over time, you may discover your friendship or the friendship breakup has impacted how you view others. Any time there is vulnerability and emotional intimacy, you enter into a relationship of trust. Whether that trust is intentional or not, it impacts your ability to trust others. If you are hesitant to get close to new people or withhold and withdraw from other relationships, it could be because of your friendship breakup.
Invest in Positive Relationships
As you move through the grieving process, there will come a time when it’s essential to begin making new friendships; intentionally investing in creating positive and healthy attachments. As you’ve worked through the steps of moving on, you’ve likely identified some of your own unhealthy behaviors. Take what you’ve learned from this last friendship to prepare you to be a better friend and to set good boundaries so you don’t accept harmful behavior from others. One patient said to me, everything I learned in my last relationship will make me a better person in the next. Friendships teach us a lot.
Form New Habits & Make New Memories
Sometimes, friendships can cause a narrowing of activities and even personality. Whether they were actively holding you back or your friendship allowed you both to become too comfortable or complacent, now is the chance to recognize your potential and expand your horizons. Instead of constantly reflecting on the things you did together, work to build new memories and experiences.
Related post: On Friendship Pain