Friendships are like marriages. Some evolve to become mutually supportive and life-giving bonds while others grow more and more unhealthy, or even toxic. When a friendship ends—abruptly or subtly; via e-mail, phone conversation, or personal confrontation; with words or silence—I believe it needs to be mourned and processed in the same way as a terminated marriage. Because, even if a split was inevitable or right, it still hurts, just as much, or sometimes even more, than breaking up with a beau. Here, then, are eight ways to make sure you get closure and peace, especially if there was no good-bye.
1. Compose a good-bye letter.
Of course, no one is going to read it. But that’s not the point. The exercise of writing it is astonishingly therapeutic. I’ve written many old boyfriends letters that I never sent, some family members, and my father after he died. I needed a way to communicate that was for purely selfish reasons. So that I could hear myself say good-bye to this person that I really liked, or loved, or enjoyed having as a Facebook friend.
2. Pluck out the feeling.
Sometimes feelings need a little nudging in order for us to acknowledge and process them. It’s like they are seeds stuck in a shell, and we need to scoop them out in order to free them. Some helpful exercises for scooping out the seeds of rejection and sadness from a terminated friendship: looking through pictures of trips together or graduation from high school or college, listening to songs that trigger memories, or frequenting the coffee shop where you used to meet. They all help you to mourn an ending.
3. Plan a ritual.
I know this sounds voodoo-ish, actually that’s a step I’m getting to. But seriously, it’s not like you have a funeral to go to, or any way of moving through this in a symbolic way that can help you process your emotions. So you’re going have to create one … a ceremony of sorts.
After it was clear to me that an old boyfriend in college was simply not into me, I took the beautiful poem that he wrote me to a cemetery on the campus of Saint Mary’s College. I knelt there, ripped up the poem, and threw the pieces of paper into the air, crying (really hard). The most amazing thing happened. It started snowing. Right at that very second. It was like the heavens heard my cry, and the angels were tearing up sheets of paper right along with me. You don’t need the snow to feel better, though. Just the ripping should do the job.
4. Fill the space with something new.
This is true for any loss. When I stopped drinking I had to come up with some sober activities ASAP. Ditto when I stopped smoking. And on down the addiction list … It always feels uncomfortable at first. That’s a good sign. It means you are processing emotions, which is part of closure. If it felt cozy, then I’d say you weren’t doing it right. But change can be fun and challenging at the same time. And you’re allowed to use four lettered words if you don’t like it at first, unless you’ve given those up too.
5. Get even.
Here’s where the voodoo comes in handy. Only kidding, of course, but I did tell Fresh Living blogger Holly Rossi (for her story, click here) that if that bridesmaid/friend who dissed her (Holly) after the wedding comes begging for friendship later, when the chick is on husband number two, Holly has every right to dis her right back. But revenge doesn’t need to be mean to be effective. In fact, the best revenge is sweet, like arriving at a great spot in your life, finding peace with yourself without that person who dumped you.
6. Make a plan.
You might think about what you would do if the friend comes begging back. Because it happens. Or you run into her at the bank or the grocery, and your mouth opens but no noise comes out. Best to have a script, to think it through: if this person wants into my life again, should I let her? That’s a hard one. Go back and view my video in order to answer that question. I ask myself this: Does the relationship empower me, or deflate me? Does this person build me up or tear me down? And can I be sincere–truly sincere–when I’m with her? This goes for new friends too. Start a new friend policy now. What are the requirements from now on for a person to be your friend? You deserve some, you know.
7. Stay with the pain.
You knew I was going here, because I always do. Back to Henri Nouwen’s words, about staying with the loneliness, about feeling it, not rushing into activity to skip over it … about going through it, not around it. He writes:
It is not easy to stay with your loneliness. …. But when you can acknowledge your loneliness in a safe, contained place, you make your pain available for God’s healing. God does not want your loneliness; God wants to touch you in a way that permanently fulfills your deepest need. It is important that you dare to stay with your pain and allow it to be there. You have to own your loneliness and trust that it will not always be there. The pain you suffer now is meant to put you in touch with the place where you most need healing, your very heart….Dare to stay with your pain, and trust in God’s promise to you.
8. Don’t take it personally.
I know, I know … yeah, right! But if you can do this on any level, you save yourself so much suffering. In his classic, “The Four Agreements,” don Miguel Ruiz writes, “Even when a situation seems so personal, even if others insult you directly, it has nothing to do with you. What they say, what they do, and the opinions they give are according to the agreements they have in their own minds. …If you do not take it personally, you are immune in the middle of hell.” Man, I like that.