Since early high school, I experienced a lot of anxiety in my friendships. I won’t go into details but I had an experience that sparked a lot of fear about making friends mad, friendship dynamics changing, and losing friends. It impacted me, and the way I showed up in many of my friendships, for decades to come.
At the end of 2019, I read Codependent No More (again). It was my second time reading it but my first time really HEARING it.
After closing the book, all I could think about was how I was showing up in many of my friendships.
I was terrified that if I wasn’t constantly checking in, remembering every detail of everyone’s life, making efforts to spend time together, and always booking the next thing, that I would lose their love. People-pleasing to the max (which, all of us people-pleasers know is just a form of trying to control). Holding myself to a standard of perfection (which, all of us perfectionists know is just another form of trying to control).
I would often ignore my own needs, feelings, or preferences in favor of trying to make someone else feel good, special, or loved. One time, I actually stood outside an appointment talking on the phone to a friend, too afraid to say “hey I have to go!” that I missed my appointment.
In a totally normal moment of relaxation, I’d often think of someone I loved and begin to panic, wondering “are they mad at me?!” Impulsively, I’d reach out, force connect, and try to prove to myself that my fear was misplaced.
I was terrified that if I couldn’t maintain the “status quo” in every one of my relationships that something bad would happen: I’d lose the love of someone I cared for.
I believed that if I could do 100%, the people in my life would have no reason to leave me. This belief was my attempt to avoid the pain of loss.
It was EXHAUSTING.
I could also see (with so much compassion for myself) that at the root of my behaviors was the fear of abandonment/the desire to be loved.
None of my friends wanted me to feel this way. None of my friends asked me to ignore my needs, feelings, or preferences. None of them required that I check all the boxes I had written on the “be a good friend to-do list” in my mind. None of them needed me to do 100%.
My behavior wasn’t about anyone else.
My behavior was about me.
So, in early 2020, I made a promise to myself that I would NOT have to live my whole life feeling this way in my relationships.
Here’s what I did to shift things:
I practiced the pause
I went inward. As scary and uncomfortable as it felt, I got more quiet in many of my relationships. I felt the impulse to reach out, check in, and do the most… but I didn’t.
As I felt the impulses, I practiced pausing and just doing nothing. I let the fear build and then I felt something beautiful: I felt it pass.
I affirmed myself when I needed it most
I affirmed to myself over and over again that: it’s normal and natural for relationships to shift and change. It’s ok for there to be ebbs and flows in connection with people. A relationship that shifts is not a failure. No matter the changes in my relationships with people in my life, I am loved. I am safe. I belong.
I affirmed these things with compassion because they spoke to my deep-down fears.
I had to literally take my hand to my heart, breath deeply, and say these things to myself about 100 times a day.
I had to show myself that, no matter what, I’d show up and love myself.
“I AM HERE FOR YOU!” I’d say.
I started to match their energy
Rather than always trying to do the most, I started to practice matching the energy of the friendship. Yes, I talk to some friends often, in an ongoing way. It’s reciprocal and it feels natural (not one sided). Other friendships, we connect occasionally and it feels wonderful in those moments we do. Others, I think of fondly and know that when out paths cross that it will be a joy to see them. Instead of trying to make all my friendships the first kind of friendship, I let go of the pressure, shoulds, and perfection and let them be. I started to match their energy and it was so freeing.
As time went on (and by time I mean a WHOLE YEAR of practicing this), I felt the impulses start to quiet…
and I felt a deep peace of knowing that I am loved in my relationship with myself growing stronger…
I was able to experience my friendships differently. There is no more trying to cling to what they once were or an idea of how they “should” be, but permission for them to be as they are meant to be in this season. I feel so much more AT PEACE in my friendships now.
Yes, many of my relationships have changed. In some, we talk much less. In others, we actually connect more than ever. Neither is good or bad, it’s just what is! I love my friends dearly and this inner healing has helped me to really appreciate each one exactly as it is.
I am free from resentment in my friendships, replacing impulsive actions with intentional ones. When I reach out, it’s not from a place of fear. It’s because my heart really wants to. It feels so good to be so authentic rather than desperately trying to control reality.
If you find yourself trying to control your friendships, epically people pleasing, or flat out missing appointments because you’re too scared to tell your friend on the phone that you have to go…
I’d love to encourage you to borrow any of these practices and see how they feel:
Practice the pause, letting the impulse to act from fear dissolve.
Practice affirming yourself in ways you need it the most.
Practice matching their energy, allowing your relationships to evolve.
This inner-friendship work I did was so parallel to the work I did over a decade ago with exercise/food/body image: it all came down to meeting myself in my deepest fears (rejection, not being enough, wanting to be loved) and moving forward with self-compassion.