During your lifetime you will have met many people, and some of those lucky ones become your friends. The meaning of friendship differs for people. People have different expectations of what a friend can or should do for another. This can lead to disagreement or disharmony.

From the time you make your first friend at school or nursery, you build your knowledge and beliefs about what friends do. This can mean you learn to value friendships, or you become distrustful depending on your experience. For example, if you had a consistently good friendship with a particular friend, you will probably believe friends support, share, help, and care for each other. Whereas if you were betrayed, belittled, isolated, bullied or ignored by someone you initially thought was a friend, you are likely to be wary of people. You may feel vulnerable when entering a friendship and hold yourself back from opening up to people. This protects you from getting hurt initially, but how fulfilling will the friendship be if you can't be yourself?

During your teenage years, the new situations you explore can be exciting and dangerous and enhanced by having a friend to accompany you along your mutual life journeys. Seeing yourself reflected in a friends' eyes can help you build your identity and sense of belonging. Often, school ends and people separate to go to college, university or work. This can lead to feelings of loneliness for those who have had supportive friendships that they no longer see every day.

Toxic friendships are those where one person gains from the relationship and the other is made to feel less than or inferior to the other person. They are unequal and may result in low self-esteem and/or lack of confidence. Ask yourself 'how do I feel during and after contact with this person?'. Toxic friendships are more easily left at the time of life changes. It may not be until after your situation has altered in life that you can see how a previous friendship limited your learning and potential. Fear of being judged and unaccepted is common and halters your growth.

Of course, the big change to your life is when you or your friends form separate, intimate relationships. The time spent with friends is often reduced significantly, and partners can be prioritised over friendships that have lasted years. Some overall life goals of getting married or finding a lifelong partner mean commitments to friendships are less of a priority. Feelings of rejection, isolation, and loneliness can all be attached to the friendships we have had. However, if there are disagreements with the partner, guess who’ll be contacted for the all-important support, analysis, and deciphering of the relationship. Once the friend is back in the relationship, the friend may be dropped again, or they may break up with their partner and make the friend the priority. Either way, this can be confusing.

The stage you are at in your life will dictate how much contact you will need with friends and how much energy you can put into keeping the friendships going. This will change throughout your life, depending on various anomalies such as family commitments, work, availability, health, compatibility, interests, self-belief, confidence, and self-esteem.

Why do you choose the people you do as friends?

Is it compatibility, location, shared interests, availability, age, religion, spirituality, sense of humour, beliefs in common, a need for support, consistency or habit? These are but a few of them. Often, people from abusive families, those living in care, care experienced or non-communicative families, rely on friends. The friends are like a family to them. It is most problematic for them when there is a traditional family holiday period such as Easter, Ede, Christmas, summer holidays, or Sundays. Your friends may spend time with their families, and you may choose not to spend time with yours. Finding you are alone can be scary, lonely and depressing. Feelings of isolation and then critical self-talk can be debilitating.

Looking at the bigger picture is helpful, and using counselling to explore these feelings really puts a different perspective on it. The loss of friendships is a form of grief and will take time to get over, especially if you were not ready for the relationship to end. The pain felt is a testament to the positive relationship you once had. Talking to a counsellor can help you validate your experiences and help you to move on.

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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Leatherhead, Surrey, KT22
Written by Nicola Griffiths, Counsellor
Leatherhead, Surrey, KT22

My background is with people who have experienced trauma, childhood abuse, domestic violence, depression and anxiety. I have an interest in dissociative identity disorder. I was a children and families social worker and I worked on the leaving care team. Dip in therapeutic counselling, BA Hons in applied social studies, Dip in social work, NNEB.

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