“Our brains are wired to connect, but trauma rewires us to protect. That’s why healthy relationships are hard for hurting people.” ~Ryan North
If there’s such a thing as popular culture, everyone has a gang that’s perfect for sharing good-natured jokes in coffee shops. Or a BFF who knows them better than anyone else and is always there for them no matter what. Therefore, when we feel insecure about our friendships or find it difficult to get along, we tend to feel embarrassed and think that we are the only ones experiencing this.
I’ve had problems with friendships for most of my life, and it came up a lot in my therapy sessions. But it wasn’t until I stood on the other side of the therapist’s chair that I realized I wasn’t the only one.
But it wasn’t always like this. In elementary school, life seemed easy. I had one best friend, and I never questioned that friendship. We had weird arguments, lived in our own unreal world, loved each other unconditionally, and were fat as thieves.
I thought elementary school was a fun place, but home life was far from it. My parents divorced because my father was an alcoholic. Her single, overwhelmed mother was unable to give me the attention and love I needed. This is when the seeds of my low self-esteem were planted.
In high school, that seed began to grow and crack. The first sign was that I could never settle down with the friends I had. Although I made new friends quickly, it didn’t take long for me to settle down and was always looking for more and “better” friends. At the time, better meant a popular audience, and they seemed to have more fun and attract the attention of boys.
I now understand that this restlessness was not only from pushing me away from intimate relationships, but also from seeking more love and approval. I was worried that if I stayed with them too long, they’d see the real me, which I didn’t think was worthy of their love.
So I moved from group to group, leaving behind perfectly good friends and trying to bend myself into different collectives. Unfortunately, this type of behavior doesn’t work in high school. I quickly learned that being popular doesn’t necessarily mean good.
My new friends turned against me, but I couldn’t go back to the friends I rejected. I was bullied, alone, and felt like an outcast. Ironically, my desperate desire to be popular, born of my thirst for love, inadvertently created the very hell I was trying to avoid, reinforcing my worthlessness. .
I made so many friendships in high school that by the time I got to college, I had pretty much given up on them. While others were having fun balling in college social circles (probably!), I was hiding in a relationship.
For me, the clarity of romantic love felt more defined compared to the confusing world of platonic friendships. This made my life less stressful, but I felt increasingly isolated and depressed as I looked out into the joyful world that deep down I wanted to be a part of.
Then, as I became a mother and needed a support network, I continued to crave connection and search for the perfect gang. However, my past experiences have only made me more anxious about friendships, and I sometimes find myself overthinking when I meet someone.
What did they think of me?
Why didn’t they reply to that text?
Is everyone playing without me?
What do they want me to look like?
I struggle to be myself and am easily triggered by small misunderstandings. I often felt rejected or disappointed, so I would find other reasons to push people away. I felt like I was the only adult struggling with friendships, and I felt ashamed without really understanding why, and my self-loathing grew even more.
Another way to explain my push-pull behavior is that I had an insecure attachment style. I would attract people to make me feel loved, but I would push people away because I felt I didn’t deserve it.
Low self-esteem and insecure attachment go hand in hand, and we often associate it with romantic relationships. However, our attachment styles can also affect our friendships, and recognizing this is the first step to managing them.
It wasn’t until I started training to become a therapist and learned about attachment and core beliefs that things started to make sense. We learn from an early age about ourselves and the world (i.e., we are not good enough, people will leave, our needs are not important, etc.) that shapes our later perceptions and behaviors. I started to understand.
Also, from an evolutionary perspective, we are designed to crave the safety of others, but negative experiences in childhood can make us hyper-vigilant to rejection. I also learned that it protects me.
After forming these perceptions, everything went well and my low self-esteem and anxiety about friendships disappeared when I started working on the problem using the following tools:
Let’s challenge our assumptions.
Most of our friendship problems stem from how we interpret situations. For example, we think, “If her friend doesn’t text back, she must be mad at me,” or “If she canceled, it’s because she doesn’t care.” maybe.
These thoughts feel very real because our anxious brains are trying to protect us from rejection by preparing for it. However, our thoughts are rarely grounded in reality because we view them through the prism of fear and low self-esteem.
To challenge these thoughts and develop a more helpful way of thinking, journal your troublesome thoughts and ask questions. Are you reading? Make an assumption? What other explanations are there for someone’s behavior?
Be curious about your feelings and show compassion.
Friendship problems are usually caused by deep fears and beliefs that were formed in childhood about ourselves and others. For example, the belief that you are unlovable or not good enough, or the fear of being alone and rejected.
Anxiety on the surface is a useless attempt to prevent your worst fears from coming true.But it’s just you feel Being rejected by a friend doesn’t mean you have was denied. These feelings are probably old, unhealed wounds from childhood.
To heal these wounds, you need to acknowledge your emotions and tune into them in your body. Do you have chest tightness or bloating? Be curious about where they’re coming from and give yourself what you need to feel safe now. For example, tell yourself that you can’t help but feel that way because you’re trying to protect yourself. But you are safe, loved, and worthy of being cared for right now.
Use mindfulness to manage overthinking.
If we experience low self-esteem and it’s affecting our friendships, we’re more likely to be overthinking. Not only does this affect our mood, causing anxiety and depression, but it can also cause us to become attached to the stories our minds tell us, creating further rifts.
Mindfulness is a highly effective skill that helps you stop thoughts from snowballing and helps you realize that thoughts are just thoughts (even if they feel real!). Mindfulness can also help you become more aware of your body’s emotions without being consumed by them. For example, you can acknowledge that you feel rejected, but then step back and choose a more compassionate way to respond to yourself.
Understand and accept your friendship style.
I’m a loud talker, so I regularly train large groups. So it took me a while to realize that I was actually an introvert who needed a lot of alone time and close friendships.
It’s very easy to assume that everyone has a friend group, and if you don’t have one, you might think there’s something wrong with you.But actually that’s all One friendship style, and many people prefer close one-on-one friendships.
I remember back in elementary school, when I was at my most authentic, I never had a group of friends and naturally gravitated toward intense one-on-one friendships. Remembering this gave me permission to honor that part of myself. I no longer compare myself to those in my clique or aspire to be like them, preferring to cultivate personal friendships with people who I truly feel like can be themselves.
Increase your self-worth.
If you like yourself and feel loved, other people’s actions don’t really matter.
When I realized that low self-esteem was at the root of my anxiety about friendships, I made a conscious effort to love myself, and everything improved. This is easier said than done, but my other Tiny Buddha posts detail how I did it.
What really helped me was a powerful self-esteem meditation. myself Validate and live your life as if you are already enough. Ultimately, I felt more secure in my friendships and more accepting of my friendship style. What’s more, once I started accepting and loving myself, I stopped thinking that I had to be friends with everyone to feel good enough and started attracting the right people to me.