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Thursday, May 21, 2009

When friends attack

We've all experienced a friend saying something hurtful to us - those little jabs and barbs. Today I was thinking and realized what that can often mean, sometimes why it happens, and what to do about it in those cases.

I have two friends who are close friends with one another. However, they go through cold spots from time to time. One of them, let's say Friend A, recently told Friend B something somewhat the equivalent of "you don't really matter to me anyway". Friend B was telling me how hurt she was by that.

Why do friends sometimes say things like this? It happens between couples as well, but let's just look at friends to keep it simple. I think it sometimes happens because your friend is starting to lose confidence in whether or not you still care. It sounds strange to say this, but it is important for your close friends to know they have the ability to hurt you.

When you're close to someone, you invest part of yourself in them. You trust them with a piece of your heart, and what they say matters to you. You want to know that they feel the same way. When I think about Friend B, I realize that she is a very busy person and sometimes doesn't answer messages or give a lot of time to friends. I think maybe Friend A was starting to lose confidence that she was still entrusted with a piece of Friend B's heart. She was starting to wonder whether Friend B still cared what she had to say.

So, when this happens and we're starting to doubt whether or not our friends care, sometimes we're tempted to run a little experiment. By pricking the person with a snide remark, we see whether or not they're hurt by it. If we know we have the power to hurt them, then we know whether or not they still care. It's strange but I think sometimes this is the motivation behind these kinds of remarks, even if only subconsciously.

Unfortunately, if we are on the receiving end of something like that, our response is often egotistical. We don't want them to have the 'satisfaction' of knowing they hurt us, so we act like it didn't matter and we don't even care what they say. This is the exact opposite of what the friend was hoping to see. It only confirms their suspicion that you no longer are invested in them and, sadly, the friendship is further strained or even broken with both sides hurt. It sounds silly, but if you are hurt by it, the friend will often be surprised that you were so hurt, but deep down relieved. Then they'll suddenly feel guilty about saying it now that they know you really do care.

Next time you get a snide remark, insult, or hurtful comment from a friend, think about whether or not they might feel neglected. They might be 'pinging' you because they're losing confidence in whether or not you still care for them. Let them know, in a non-accusatory way, that you were hurt by the comment and the reason you were hurt is because you care what they think. Then offer them reassurance that you love them and are invested in them, and apologize for not making that more obvious lately. If my theory is correct, that response should be helpful.

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