Q. I recently had a difficult encounter with a friend that I have known for about two years. We work in the same company and have worked on projects together and spent time going out to lunch and on walks. We have shared a lot about our personal lives and been quite vulnerable with each other. In some ways, I’ve also put her on a bit of a pedestal.
Recently, I said some things about her family and she got very angry and has pulled away from me. She felt misunderstood and offended, she informed me. At first it was difficult for me to understand what I did that was so offensive. After thinking about it and talking to other people, I can see how I was a bit judgmental. I feel awful about my blunder. I find myself crying about it, feeling guilty, anxious and worrying that she won’t ever be my friend again. I keep going over the conversation and critiquing myself, but it just makes me feel worse. I don’t think she wants to talk about it. I don’t know how to go forward and resolve this situation. Can you advise?
A. Sounds like you feel trapped in this dilemma. Often when we feel closer to someone, something big like this can happen. Sometimes the intensity and vulnerability of the closeness is scary and people need to break the contact in order to protect themselves. This is often unconscious. Whenever we share our deeper selves with another, there is the possibility of hurt feelings. It is a risk to expose ourselves because we don’t know how it will be received and what triggers a person has that we will step on. There seems to be genuine care between the two of you. If that is so, take a few moments to actually remember and recognize that reality. Let it steep in your body and feelings for a bit.
Sounds like you are starting to be very hard on yourself. We all make blunders. It is valuable to inquire into what you were feeling when you said the things to your friend that she found hurtful. Was there aggression, fear, jealousy or other emotions there? If so, look more deeply into them and it can be an opportunity to learn about yourself and grow. Close friendships can bring up a lot of our own family issues, especially with siblings. See if your friend reminds you of anyone from your family or experiences from your past. When we hit a very challenging place with someone, it often has baggage from previous significant relationships, especially from the family of origin.
See if you can cultivate the ground of self-compassion by realizing that you are human and that means you have been hurt in life and are conditioned and flawed, and therefore, will from time to time hurt another person. How you feel about that and how you are willing to change, makes all the difference. Owning your limitations, speaking them and forgiving yourself will help you move on. This will also make room for a healing dialogue if your friend is ready. If she chooses to stay away, then you can, from a distance, send positive thoughts of well being and care. This will free you from negative worrying and soothe the hurt and fear.
Alzak Amlani, Ph.D., is a counseling psychologist of Indian descent in the Bay Area. 650-325-8393. Visit www.wholenesstherapy.com