ASK ABDI: IS IT NORMAL TO CHANGE FRIENDS SO FREQUENTLY?
QUESTION: I’ve changed friends a lot over the past few years, and I’m starting to think that as the only constant in these relationships - the problem is with me. Time and time again, I’ve ended relationships when I’ve come to the end of my rope. Unfortunately, I feel it happening again. Is it normal to have this happen every year or so? I feel like there must be something wrong with me.
I’ve repeatedly felt taken advantage of emotionally and financially in my friendships. I always feel like I must hide parts of myself to be accepted and that my role in these relationships is one of a caretaker and/or entertainer. As such, I have a tremendously hard time saying no. I feel that I must handle my issues alone and quietly, so not to burden my friends, but always be available to discuss whatever is irking them. Of course, honesty is pretty much out of the question when I may have an unpopular opinion.
I feel like I was looking for myself in these relationships. That if they loved me, then I could love myself. Accordingly, I accepted the parts of myself that they liked and disregarded the parts they didn’t. I felt so insecure and desperate to fit in somewhere, anywhere, that I failed to notice the toxic ground I settled in.
It’s become clear to me that I’m not the person I thought I was - the one who needs externalities to feel at peace internally. This time around, I’ve tried being honest, setting up boundaries, and being less guarded. With some friends it has been a disaster, some it has worked, and the jury’s still out with others.
It is clear to me that I just don’t understand friendship. Is it normal to change friends so frequently? What’s the point if I keep setting up the same dynamic elsewhere? How is it possible that I keep doing this? Is it just impossible to have a friend that you can share your whole self with and be honest with? To feel accepted, appreciated, and supported? Or should I just try to appreciate the parts of people I like and not expect everything from one person? Any help would be greatly appreciated.
ANSWER: Let’s start by acknowledging that there is no such thing as “normal”, as you put it. Any situation that feels off needs to be examined without the additional weight of judgment placed on it.
The question you need to ask yourself is, why is there a repetitive pattern that you are trying to break? You get into a relationship; get fed up and “to the end of your rope”. You then break it off only to find yourself in a similar relationship. As you are discovering, with deep recurring patterns, conscious awareness of a situation alone does not bring change. One has to get to the root of the unconscious issue that is keeping the pattern in play.
You say that you “have felt taken advantage of emotionally and financially in friendships”. You are not helpless here: you have (and continue to) set up a situation, albeit unconsciously, where this is occurring. As much as it might seem that you are the victim of circumstance, the fact that it is a recurring pattern points to your role in it.
The next question is what are you getting in return? You seem to be relatively clear about that as well: you are tap dancing for your dinner, so to speak. You have become an expert in contorting yourself at the whims and needs of others as a way of getting love. This pattern starts at a very young age and usually involves narcissistic or emotionally unavailable caregivers. Due to this, we learn early on to perform in order to get love. To feel the full gravity of this wounding, we need to not look with our adult eyes but FEEL this terror from the heart of a young child. For a child, the absence of love equates a deep terror since she is incapable of survival without her caregivers: it is traumatic. As an adult, it might seem like an inconvenience or emotionally painful, but the anxiety under the feeling is tremendous. And hence, the incessant tap dancing that you are doing to get the love. Of course, this love never shows up, as you have mastered the art of picking narcissists to repeat this pattern with. Similar to your childhood, these narcissists are too self-involved to give you love back.
These are not friendships you are describing, but babysitting gigs. Without the joy that is. The bigger component here is your ability to hide/not risk being seen in these relationships. The fact that they are a one-way street of you giving and not receiving means that you never have to be vulnerable. As frustrating as it is not to be fed, the terror of being seen and possibly being rejected is even bigger. This is the reason you are constantly repeating this painful pattern. The good news is that you are getting fed up with it. This is an important step. Now you have to follow that up with the next level: taking the risk of revealing yourself. This can include expressing your viewpoints, preferences, opinions, etc., that put you more out there. You have to learn to tolerate the terror that this can and will bring on.
This can be difficult work in relationships where the pattern of hiding is in place. Remember that you started these relationships with this unconscious intent in place: I will hide my true self, feelings, and needs. I will perform for love; my job description will include feeding all your narcissistic whims. Since I need love, but am afraid of being vulnerable, I will settle for the promise of love and will live on fumes instead. (This is an unconscious replay of your childhood wounding, which has become habitual at this point.)
Changing the agreement in relationships midway can bring in all kinds of havoc, as the ink has already dried on the original unconscious agreement. In this case, you acting like a circus bear that performs all manners of tricks in return for a small treat. However, this is an excellent opportunity to see which relationships can be transformed and which need to be released gracefully. As you have seen, “With some friends it has been a disaster, some it has worked, and the jury’s still out with others”. That is wonderful and honest. Learn from the process while practicing revealing you. That is the key here: learning what your needs are by gently revealing all aspects of yourself that you have been hiding. This can be as simple as choosing the next place where you will eat or which movie you will see. Or as hard as taking a firm stance when someone states something that you disagree with in your bones.
On a related side note, there have been a lot of ruptures in relationships (intimate as well as friendships) recently due to the awakening process taking place. Our inner self is demanding to be honored and can not tolerate false behavior. There is a lot of shaking up going on in relationships due to one or both parties feeling the need for change. Our job in these repeating circumstances is to take responsibility for creating a situation where we are not fed. We need to examine and tend to what unhealed material in our psyche is responsible for the repetitive situation. Finally, we need to muster up all the courage we can to start changing these patterns. You need to answer all the questions in your last paragraph by looking within. In order to do that, you need to learn to be in a relationship with yourself, first and foremost. Unattended and unhealed wounding from your past is unduly affecting your present.