Sometimes we push people away when we need them the most

Sometimes we push people away when we need them the most - NZ Muse Modified CC image – original via Flickr user Вεη

I never cease to be amused when others call me wise and/or mature. I’m in fact pretty socially awkward and about as far from a people person as you can get, but I have rare moments of clarity when I can understand someone’s motivations by dint of being removed and impartial.

Without going into too many details, one friendship circle has recently been rocked by the equivalent of the BP oil spill. Sudden, devastating, things-may-never-be-the-same-again. This is strange for me, because I have never really experienced much in the way of overt friend conflict. (Some covert conflict, yes, leading me to keep my distance from the people in question. But out and out fights/arguments/strife? Nope.)

T says it’s because I’m a coward who hates conflict and does anything possible to avoid it. (Harsh, but true.)

I think it would be more accurate to say it’s because of the nature of my relationships, however.

It’s true that I tend to be a people pleaser. It’s also true that while I do have friends I can get deep and existential with, by and large our friendships are generally pretty easy going and fun. We may occasionally debate issues, but not in a personal or bitter way. Also, I’d like to think my friends are GOOD TYPES, as a rule, which makes getting along far easier than not. Although surely that’s true for most people?

It’s hard to keep making an effort when you think another party isn’t pulling their weight. But sometimes, when we’re hurting, we withdraw. We push people away when we most need them. It’s counterintuitive, I know. I’m not sure why we do this (I’ve done it myself, and I suppose it’s a petty test, really. Push them away and see if they will push back; do they care enough to keep trying?) – only I fear in this case it’s gone much too far.

Friendship seemed a lot easier back in high school. As life gets more complicated, so too do relationships. How do you handle it when dear friends are making terrible decisions? How about when they KNOW they’re making stupid choices, but continue to do so nonetheless? Do you offer support without judgement? Do you offer unsolicited advice? Is there a point at which you throw your hands up and step back from it all? What is helping, vs what is judging, vs what is enabling? My understanding of human psychology only goes so far.

20 thoughts on “Sometimes we push people away when we need them the most

  1. There is a fine line between trying to help and being judgmental. Ideally, you would have to offer unbiased advice, like you would with a reader’s question on a blog. You don’t know them, love them, know their flaws, so you can be impartial. A lot of the time, people who think they can offer advice offer it based on “what would I do if I were in the same situation”. You will never be in the same situation. Two people can be facing the same situation, yes, but circumstances will always be different. We can’t conceive what we can’t understand. For example if I am fit and eat a balanced diet, I can’t really offer advice to a bulimic person. I took a different path in life that shocked many people, none offered good advice. I let my friends make their own mistakes, even though it hurts, they wouldn’t listen anyway and they have to learn by making those mistakes. If it affects me, I walk away. There is no time for toxic people in life, as hard as it is to admit that a high school friend is not a friend anymore, it is better than being slowed down and hurt by toxic friendships.

  2. I have a drafted unsent letter to a friend who was making some terrible choices around this time last year. I never sent it, I never posted it, but this post reminded me of its existence.

    I didn’t offer unsolicited advice (I also tend to shy away from conflict, and I have no idea if that would have helped at all). I didn’t really “push” back hard, either. I was just…still there. We had coffee and talked about the things we always talked about. We didn’t hang out as much, but I guess what I did would be classified as support without judgement, and without involvement in the poor choices. The other friend in our trio stepped back from it all, and the two of them didn’t speak for months.

    When it all came crashing down, maybe 6 months after the whole thing started (and fortunately, nothing horrible resulted, at least nothing that ruined her life/career)…the 3 of us started hanging out again. A few tense conversations happened, but for the most part we all just moved on, and went back to “normal”.

    I’m not sure our two responses resulted in any difference once our friend came back around to “normal”. I’m not sure if my situation was the same as yours is, but I guess the point is that I didn’t know what to do either. I told myself that by not participating in the bad choices, I was not enabling, but that I was still going to be there for when she either changed her ways or everything came crashing down. I’m not sure, though, what I did might have been enabling.

  3. I don’t know how to deal either. In the case of my sister, it became detrimental and toxic for MY health to keep being involved in her unhealthy decisions, so I stepped away. With friends, I most likely would have left a long time ago, and with less fanfare and confrontation. I’m usually an avoider. But then again, I don’t tend to be friends with people who make very bad decisions for themselves…like you say, I befriend GOOD TYPES. Less spontaneity and excitement with those types, but that’s not what I value, anyway.

  4. I totally agree with your comment that friends were so much easier back in school… as I become older I realise how hard it is to give people the time and how much effort it takes!

  5. Friendships are never easy with certain people. I have a friend with whom being friends is a hard, hard work. I stopped offering her my advise or opinion while ago because I realized she does not really need it. She want to listen to the sound of her voice.
    Friendships should not be a hard work. Misunderstandings happen. But it should be easy to move on. It should be easy to talk about these misunderstandings and laugh about it.

  6. I’m down to two friends with whom I would feel comfortable giving unsolicited advice. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve drawn away more. I have my own family to take care of.

    Friends were not easier for me in high school! I had some seriously crazy high school friends. But they were easier in college.

  7. This reminds me of a friend who we’ve grown apart from because she didn’t want to be happy. While she never explicitly said that, she did so many things to make her life harder and more burdensome than it had any business being. When she asked for advice we would give it, but then she would dismiss it as impossible for one reason or another.
    I hope someday she decides to be happy, because I think that this point, that’s what’s stopping her, and it’s shrinking her social circle, too.

  8. I admit that I do not make the most effort in regards to nurturing my friendships. I often use the excuse I’m busy. Then they’re busy. Life is busy. More time passes and sometimes it gets harder to make plans with them and easier just to cancel, postpone and make excuses. But the ones that make an effort to reach out to me, to reconnect, I do make an effort to make time for them, even though I am not the one taking the initiative. I hope my agreeing to spend time with them indicates that I do appreciate the effort that they’ve made.

  9. It is hard. You can only give advice so many times before you have to just love the person even though you don’t love their decisions. If they want to box you out that’s their decision, but always leave an open door for them to come back (even if that open door comes with conditions.)

  10. I have wonderful friends…but, it’s an ongoing process and if the friendship is worthwhile then you don’t resent the time that you are spending helping your friendship continue to evolve and grow through time. I have some friends who are open to hearing observations (note-NOT criticism) given in a loving way. I have friends who are resistant to hearing anything that feels like criticism. So, I “know my audience!” At the end of the day people are going to do what they’re going to do and you’re their friend not their parent. Sometimes people work through their crazy time and you are standing at the finish line applauding their triumphs. Sometimes you can’t deal with it because you’re overwhelmed by your own crap. As adults it’s always a hard balance because we have family, work, and ourselves to deal with. As long as the friendship is healthy it’s worth the time and energy.

  11. Oh I love telling people what to do. I constantly offer advice. All the time. Having said that, none of my friends have had any major chrises (?) that would warrant a serious life pep talk. In fact, I’m probably one of the girls who my friends slam their head into a brick wall over. I’m also very big on accepting advice as well, no matter what my friends have to say, I take their thoughts on board.

  12. This is so true. I have been guilty of pushing others away even when I needed them the most. I am trying to better about that. I don’t want to end up in misery over my own stubbornness. That sould be useless.

  13. Oh this is a tough one. I had a friend (well, she wasn’t really a true friend as she just wanted to talk about herself ALL the time) who was making the same mistakes over and over with a guy. I ended up having to take a step back from our friendship. It’s hard to sit by and watch, but unless your friend asks for advice, it’s not always a good idea to give your thoughts unless they are in danger of really hurting themselves or someone else. Tough…I know.

  14. I’ve only met you once but mature, open minded, considerate, intelligent and socially aware are all words I would use. Definitely not socially awkward!

    Sadly people change and friendships can sometimes grow to a point where memories are the only things that hold us together. I have found myself sitting with a friend and realising we no longer operate on the same radio band, things in life have moved and will likely never go back to their old places.

    I think the best thing is to not get involved. Just be graceful and if a friend is no longer someone you want in your life let them drift away.

    On the flipside, as you say sometimes we push those away we need the most. However a good friend may be able to see that and will stick by.

  15. I don’t tend to step in and give my opinion but I do try to be there and to provide my opinion of someone seems to want it. It can often be a tough judgement call though.

  16. Evening, hope everyone is doing better
    I’m going to make this rather short so I can get straight to the point
    Sometimes we do push people away when we need them the most, and more often than not, it is something that is going on internally within us, it could be that we do not accept ourselves, therefore, we cannot expect others to accept us either
    I just wanted you guys to check out TD Jakes, well at least a few things that he says on Youtube, it really can help you understand, or have a better understanding of some of the things you’re going through and how you can get through them, especially with God
    Either way, please check it out, I have copied and pasted a link below
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yxHnGgqf-h0
    Hope it helps

    Take care and God Bless :)

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