Best friends and worst enemies
October 28, 2013
I like to split breakups into three different stages - for lack of a better word - namely: dealing with a breakup, healing a broken heart and moving on after a breakup. They're not really stages, because they may very well overlap in time, but I believe the distinction is useful to make.
During the first two stages of your breakup - healing and dealing - one of the most powerful things you can do is to rekindle old friendships. Your biological wiring is overloading you with pain and abandonment fear and you can somewhat bring balance to this neurochemical cocktail by reminding your primordial brain that you are in fact still loved, appreciated and by no means abandoned.
Engaging your support network is common breakup wisdom and it is not uncommon to see old friendships revive and strengthen after the ending of a relationship. The root cause of a bad breakup is generally two people with complementary attachment issues coming together believing to have found love and affection in a codependent, dysfunctional relationship. Severance of this codependency results in a disproportionate amount of pain.
Because of the codependent nature of the relationship guys often unconsciously use their girlfriends as an emotional crutch for their own life and their own identity. As a result, when the relationship ends, when the girl breaks up with the guy, the crutch is removed and his sense of self collapses.
Our hero now believes he is incapable of anything without this other person in his life. Before the breakup, this translates into him prioritizing the woman over himself in the relationship. By placating her needs, and disregarding his own, he reinforces his inferiority and fuels feelings of self loathing and insecurity.
When a guy attributes a higher priority to his girlfriend's needs than to his own, one of the first things to deteriorate is his relationship his his male friends. Often times the guy creates a new identity for his relationship: the relationship identity. And this identity is not reconcilable with the old identity which his buddies have come to appreciate. A dual identity crisis ensues. Guess which identity takes precedence?
Conversely, a good way to gauge if a relationship is healthy is to observe if the guy has two irreconcilable identities, one for his partner and one for his friends. Or perhaps he no longer actively keeps in touch with his male friends, which is the end result of the dual identity crisis.
A guy needs his friends and a guy needs to answer to his needs. To not answer these needs is to sabotage yourself and thereby indirectly sabotaging your relationship. When your goal is dealing with grief and healing heartbreak, your friends are in fact your most valuable source of comfort, care and understanding.
When your goal, however, is growth, your best friends become your worst enemy. I know that sounds harsh, but let me explain. They are used to the old you and they will resist any change they see in you, because they don't want to lose the you they know. Humans in general adhere strongly to what they are familiar with and resist change.
One might be tempted to say: "What good friend would hold back their friend?" And it's unfortunate that it works this way. But there is a very stubborn mechanism at play in our unconscious minds.
Let's say you share with your friends your new plans to drastically overhaul your life. You have already set the first step towards change and you might even feel you've made some changes already. Your friends, however, still see the old you, or will want to see the old you. They will respond in the same way they would respond to the old you or they will pressure you to act normal. And this frame of mind will be at odds with your new perspective and it will push you back into your old identity.
There's a saying in the self-help scene that you are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with. If you want to make changes in your life, if you want to use this experience to grow, you need to do something different than what you've been doing so far.
Your best friends should be among the most important things in your life, but once you're ready to move on, you need to be able to divorce yourself from them temporarily, in order for you to grow unimpeded. You need to get to a place where you've conquered your inner demons and are comfortable being alone. True friends will understand and welcome you back once you're ready.
During the initial stages of your breakup, use your friends for support. But when you are ready to set a new course in your life, you will need to be ready to disengage your friends temporarily.