Friends don’t hurt friends—or at least the way it should be.
Everyone has a story or two about getting stabbed in the back. What about friends who just suddenly stop all communication with you, and give you no reason? Betrayal and abandonment are hard to forgive and forget. You almost expect it if you’re on the dating scene, but when it comes to friendship, we take it harder.
Dr. Jan Yager’s book, When Friendship Hurts: How to Deal with Friends Who Betray, Abandon or Wound You talks about the realities of friendship gone wrong. How do you deal with toxic friends? Why do some people have a pattern of picking the wrong friends, and end up getting used time after time? How can we choose positive, healthy friendships that enrich our lives, and spot them early on, weeding out the “frenemies” waiting to happen?
According to Dr. Yager, it starts with us. If you don’t respect yourself, you will allow others to treat you badly. For an in-depth look at some highlights offered in this book, chapter by chapter, read on. (Warning: This article is NOT a quick read, but you’ll find a lot of insights.)
What is a Friend?
This chapter briefly breaks down friendships by type and definition. Casual friends (you can have several of these, which are also known as acquaintances), close friends (people usually have about 4-6, because of the time it takes to develop and maintain them), and best friends (usually less than 4). Yager’s definition excludes spouses and family members from the definition of friend, which I think a lot of people would disagree with. But keep reading.
She also discusses the traits people look for in friends when it comes to character, trust, empathy, and honesty. For example, when is omission of information tactful vs. dishonest? The way you and your potential friend view the answer to this and other questions reveals a lot about your compatibility. Yager also warns you to spot “pseudo-friends,” also known as fair-weather/foul-weather friends who consistently appear only when things are (or are not) going well in your life.
Detecting Harmful People Before They’re Friends
Here you will find 21 personality traits of people you don’t want as friends. Dr. Yager describes the character of each trait, then gives suggestions and caveats for those who decide they want to put up with (oh excuse me, I meant to say maintain) friendships with these types of people (with or without confrontation), and insight as to why the person exhibits this negative behavior. Each description is interspersed with real life examples, and she explains what an ideal, healthy friendship looks like.
What each of the 21 traits has in common is crossing a boundary, or reacting to their friend based on their own emotional state (jealousy, insecurity, depression, discomfort). Yager advises that its best to end a friendship if the problem has severe effects on the friendship, and the person does not seek professional help (therapist, etc.).
An important thing she mentions, which is easy to overlook, is that we can (and should) identify parts of ourselves that are described in these traits. It’s so easy to point the finger and tell someone what they’re doing wrong, because we see ourselves differently than others do. (This is also the reason why many people are in denial or self-deceived about their own problems.)
What’s Really Going On?
This chapter is the longest, spanning 40 pages. It digs deeper to examine the reasons why friends betray each other or enact revenge. Yager goes into detail about how people let negative emotions and life’s changes (relocation, promotion, marriage, or growing apart) end friendships that spanned for decades.
Here’s a direct quote I want to lift that I think is paramount, because when we have difficulties in friendship we tend to take it personally: “As hard as it is, remember that jealousy is not about you. It is about what your success or example stirs up in someone else that causes her to have the need to make you feel bad. The other person feels inadequate and threatened by you so she does the only thing she, sadly, is capable of doing to retaliate. She criticizes you, pulls away from you, withholds praise, ignores you, or devalues your accomplishment, to try to make you feel as bad about yourself as she feels about herself.”
Yager also discusses how people grow apart and why it’s OK.
It’s All in the Family
The way we interact with others starts from role patterns we learn in childhood. Kids who had toxic parents, sibling issues or abuse have learned to see themselves in a negative light, and could consequently choose friends who fit those same patterns, Yager says.
The best way to deal with this is to acknowledge and deal with these issues if they exist, so you can change how you see yourself for the better, change how you react to others, and make different friendship choices. Again, therapy is a great start.
Can This Friendship Be Saved?
This is where we learn some steps to salvage a friendship. One step Yager suggests is putting yourself in their place to create empathy and decrease your anger against them. I know this would backfire for me because when I do this, my analytical nature and reasoning would take over, and I would still feel like the other person was not justified for what I felt they did to me. In any case, creating self-awareness instead of going straight to blaming and projecting are other suggestions, as well as using “I” statements during a confrontation to diffuse the other person’s defensiveness.
When and How to End It
When you are in limbo about whether to end a friendship, you need some guidance. This chapter gives tips, guidelines and affirmations, including ways to minimize the likelihood of retaliation by the person. It also discusses how to go about this process with your child’s friends, especially if they have dealing with gangs or bullies, or other unhealthy company.
Mixing Friends and Work
Have you ever noticed that most primetime TV shows have the cast working together AND socializing together? I know that for so many of us, real life is not like that. Many people I know like to keep their professional life separate from everything else. But if you want some tips for how to handle people at work that you get along with, you’ll find this chapter interesting. Yager discusses making friends at work, including these topics:
- Hiring friends (people you already knew outside the workplace)
- Deciding how much personal detail to share
- Managing trust issues
- Having a family-style environment vs. staying distant and strictly professional
Yager’s recommendation is to have casual but not close friendships at work because casual friendships are safer, with few exceptions. She notes that one of the most challenging work situations is when one person is promoted over the other, especially if both friends were at the same level before.
Of the 10 rules Yager lists for friendships at work, I’ll mention a few here:
- Use your best judgment to avoid or withdraw from situations that would cause a potential conflict of interest. (You know what they say—avoid even the appearance of evil.)
- Stay away from gossip, especially if it’s private, unannounced to the whole company, or unconfirmed by the person(s) involved.
- If you are dating someone in the workplace, you need to be even more careful. You don’t want your relationship to affect your performance or how others see you.
When friends with a person at work, separate the friendship from the work. If you find yourself in conflict with the person, ask whether the conflict started because of the friendship, or because of the workplace. If you were not friends with this person, and strictly a co-worker, would you handle it differently?
Finding Good Friends
The “Friendship Attunement Quiz” has 20 questions to help evaluate whether an acquaintance might have the potential of developing a positive, healthy friendship with you, based on compatibility and trustworthiness. You also get tips on how to encourage an acquaintance to become a friend in a gradual way. Yager says that people slowly develop trust by sharing confidences while doing activities and having experiences together (not just by talking), and the friendship develops from there. This chapter also includes a quiz about whether to reconnect with old friends.
An interesting point is the notion that it takes about 3 years to develop a “tried-and-true” friendship, because that is the length of time where the realities of life have tested the friendship, such as relocation, marriage, divorce, promotion, job changes, etc.
Some people choose not to make new friends because they’re shy, fearful, have had too many bad experiences with friendship. This chapter rounds out with how to choose a therapist if you are in this category, as well as 10 tips on how to make time for your friends.
Where to Go From Here
Yager describes an action plan to cultivate new friendships and rekindle old ones you miss. The key is to make friendship a priority, and be available for activities and events where you can have fun, learn, and share experiences that bind you together.
Sometimes we want to know why a person has stopped talking to us and rekindle a friendship, but the truth is, knowing the answer may not satisfy you. The person who has ceased communication with you may not know why s/he did so, deny it, blame you, or ignore you and drudge up the hurt all over again. It may be best that you decide to let it go and move on.
This chapter also provides closing insights to some of the stories and examples from earlier chapters.
As Yager puts it, befriending yourself makes it less likely that a friend will betray you or that you will tolerate a toxic friendship long enough for them to do so.
I recommend this book for anyone who has had interpersonal problems with friendships in their life and needs more guidance on how to cope. Be ready to do some introspection and answer those hard questions. With so many quizzes and revelations in this book, you’re going to have to do some work, but it’s worth it. Sooner or later, you’re going to need somebody, and somebody’s going to need you—wounded and hurting no more.