I’ve been noticing a pattern in regard to certain female friends I have had. For example, I tend to always have a friend who is my age but acts as older, even motherly, toward me. This friend is very encouraging yet makes really mean comments when I share good news or when I am painfully upset. Most of the time, I don’t notice the hurtful words until later, when I am alone. Then it hits me really hard. The few times I have said something in the moment, this friend apologizes so much that I wonder if I overreacted. But then she’ll say another, even crueler thing. I’ve been through this about four times with different female friends. I don’t understand why I never see these relationships as they are at the time they are happening. I only get a clue after everything falls apart. Any advice?
You may have been socialized to be submissive in the presence of a mother figure, either by your own mother, a female relative or older sister. You might even have had a childhood or college gal pal who alternately befriended, then bullied you, then befriended you again. This cycle may have occurred so often it became a habit, although painful one. Inconsistent affection is crazy-making for most of us. So is the kind of communication you describe. It becomes difficult to understand when a comment is a constructive insight and when it is simply a projection of the speaker’s insecurity.
Any adult friendship that is unequal deserves careful discernment. If the person is a mentor, for example, inequality is part of the equation. But among friends, equality is essential. Yes, we could complain about your friend’s attitude. We can also label it a way of avoiding emotional intimacy while pretending to be caring. But what really matters is solving the problem. How can you end this pattern of difficult female friendships? Begin by removing any attitudes or behaviors within yourself that call forth an overbearing maternal energy from others. That’s right. You have an opportunity to grow up and be equal to every person, situation, emotion and experience in your life.
As you heal, you may find that mothering yourself is more appealing than being mothered. That’s a sweet realization. A change in you also means you will attract fewer unhealthy relationships. Isn’t that good news? You will also be able to exit any problematic connections quickly and with more awareness. In the future when you feel gut-punched after talking with a female friend, write. Describe exactly what happened before the painful comment. Writing will help you figure out why your brain was unable to respond in the moment. But don’t obsess about why you lacked a strong comeback. Just trust that you will handle situations compassionately in the future.
Why are we given the people we are given in our lives? This question really bothers me for reasons I don’t want to share because the people involved always read your column. But I would appreciate an answer from you.
The people in our lives are present (or leave) so that we can learn to love and be loved. Real love is deep, wide and honest enough to call forth the best from us. This means love reveals aspects of us that we might prefer not to see or admit to. Those insights are invitations to love ourselves enough to change. Of course, there’s another level of response to your question, if you are ready. Here it is: The reason we are given the people we have in our lives is a mystery. Wrapping our minds around accepting the possibility of the unknown is a powerful spiritual exercise. Enjoy!