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Is it always personal? Navigating complex friendship dynamics

depersonalisation empowerment reflection Nov 21, 2023
Person looking confused in an argument

Over the weekend, I found myself engaged in a heartfelt conversation with a friend who opened up about the challenges she was facing within her friend circle. She described a constant struggle, feeling consistently misunderstood and misinterpreted. As someone who values ethics and sensitivity, it deeply bothered her to be continually perceived in a certain light. Having to argue and justify herself against what appeared to be someone else's projections had taken an emotional toll on her.

I resonated with her experience because I've encountered similar situations in the past, particularly in various friendship groups. I was often leaned on as the rescuer of the group until I consciously decided to step away from that dynamic. My friend wasn't considering stepping out of her friendship group; she sought advice on how to cope with the feelings of inadequacy.

In response, I posed a crucial question that has been a lifeline for me in navigating life's challenges. I asked her, "If someone else with similar broad-stroke personality traits were in your shoes, would they be treated the same way?" Her immediate acknowledgment that someone with similar sensitivity, ethical traits, and caring nature would likely face the same treatment marked a turning point for her. Realising what was happening wasn't actually personal allowed her to let go of the hurt and confusion.  It also allowed her to think about boundarying the behaviour and considering how she was showing up in the group.

Understanding that the issue wasn't about us but rather about someone else's unresolved struggles being projected onto us is a game-changer. When we find ourselves painted as the bad guy, it can stem from the other person's unique insecurities, creating a need to be cared for as a victim while unconsciously desiring rescue from others. It's a distorted drama cycle where, in the absence of an actual persecutor, we are cast as the bad guy having hurt them.  It can lead us utterly confused..

This perspective has prompted me to reflect on my own life, particularly incidents from my youth. If a different child had been in my place with the school bully for example, who had similar broad-stroke personality traits as me, would they have faced similar hardship?  Undoubtedly, yes.  It led me to understand that wounds and scars can be carried along our timelines, triggering us to ruminate over what we did to deserve certain experiences.

The metaphorical scab that we can't help but pick at can persist for years, causing us to revisit and grapple with the past. However, asking oneself a single question can be enough to break this cycle – seeing the event for what it was and giving oneself the time and space to heal.

Once we've depersonalised the triggering event, the inner work begins.

  • Why did I take it personally if it wasn't really about me?
  • What negative beliefs about myself surfaced in that situation?
  • How am I showing up in these situations in a disempowered way?
  • Do I know and accept myself well enough if I'm not challenging what feels untrue?

Exploring the thoughts, feelings, and beliefs that contributed to magnetising the interpersonal dynamic allows us to bring hidden aspects of ourselves to conscious awareness for healing and transformation.

Approaching relationship conflicts with a growth mindset involves becoming observers of ourselves, distinguishing what is and what isn't our responsibility. It's not about making the other person wrong; it's recognising that they are unconsciously working through their own issues. If it's not personal to us, we can imagine someone else stepping into the same role, shedding light on the unresolved issues the other person needs to address that have nothing to do with us.

Looking back on my life, I've realized that I inadvertently co-opted certain friendships to work through family dynamics that I couldn't safely address within my family. Friendships became a space to process unresolved wounds with individuals who, often unconsciously to me at the time, mirrored family personalities and traits.

Through self-observation and a commitment to seeing things objectively, I've become aware of my personal, unresolved triggers. Understanding that much of what happens to us in our lives isn't inherently personal allows us to shorten the hindsight by degrees. Reflecting almost in the moment becomes possible, and we can ask ourselves essential questions:

  • What's it triggering within me?
  • What's it stirring up in my personal history?
  • What can I let go of to empower myself and transform the potential outcome?

Navigating the complexities of what might be playing out in our and others' subconscious is an ongoing journey. It's about self-discovery, letting go of unnecessary baggage, and steering towards empowered and authentic relationships. The awareness gained from these experiences enables us to embrace personal growth and become adept at reflection, even in the heat of the moment.