Have you ever noticed that when something bad happens to you or to someone close to you in your life, some friends might offer help, while others disappear? This seemingly has become more of the case as one gets older.
I read an interesting essay in The New York Times that explained this behavior — the article referred to this type of behavior as “pseudo-care” – someone who offers help when everything is perfect but then disappears in deep times of need.
Why do people do this?
During times of crisis, we depend on our friends for support. Psychologists are beginning to explore why some friends are unable to cope with other people’s trauma arguing that the more vulnerability people feel, the harder it is for them to connect.
It’s a common experience: Something goes wrong in life. Some might experience a chronic illness or a disability, or others may experience a different type of serious trouble. During these times one would think that their friends would draw closer. However, instead, they experience many of them drifting away.
Psychologists suspect this reaction comes down to an individual’s sense of vulnerability and security in the world arguing that some people are not comfortable around other people’s adversities. Psychologists believe that these people feel safe when they distance themselves from other people’s trauma. However, some psychologists argue that what is really happening is that these people are suffering from their own trauma of irrational thinking.
EVERYONE has a story about why they can’t be around other peoples’ trauma. However, many people don’t want to hear them. Not because they don’t have room in their heart to acknowledge and have compassion for those who can’t face the ugliness of grave illness and suffering, but because they don’t need to hear it when they are the ones who have suffered deep pain and hurt of being rejected by those they care about during their time of need.
However, sometimes things change. There are times people have reconnected with those friends who had disappeared. But, sometimes those friend relationships clearly rupture. What one can learn from this is that no matter what you choose it is all okay. Moving forward with a friend relationship that has survived difficulties can be tricky but sometimes it is needed for healing for all those involved.
If you are one of those who decided to separate yourself from those friends who disappeared, it is clearly not helpful for your healing to hold hard feelings towards them in a universal way. However, on a personal level, if you are still hurting from the rejection, it’s often simply wise to set boundaries and not subject yourself to more hurt.
Conversely, there is a glorious truth that some have built far better friendships in the wake of their devastation! The separation experience has sometimes proven to be an effective way to help others realize their limitations as well as needs and wants. Everyone messes up in life. We all come up against our limits in numerous ways, sometimes even failing people we love — which is why on a universal level one may not want to hold a grudge. However, trust your gut…we are not meant to have relationships with everyone.
Whether you decide to work past the pain or decide to go separate ways, here are some solutions that can help combat the “runaway” thinking in others.
- Ask your friends to help out with specific things — the more specific the better. This may not stop others from their distancing behavior, but it has a good chance of helping you feel less isolated. It also helps others feel like they’re doing something that is actually helping you, which is an empowering feeling.
- If you’re on the other side of the coin and find that you’re isolating yourself from a friend who has had some crisis in their life, reach out to them. Ask them for specific things you might do to help. It may be just the boost they’re looking for to lighten their day.
- By learning about your friends’ strengths and weaknesses and what is fair to expect from them, you can let go of your frustration and confusion about their behaviors instantly.
- Any person is going to feel sadness, powerlessness, depression, frustration and low self-esteem during times of trauma. Being aware of this ahead of time can prepare you for the difficult times one will face throughout their lifetime. Realizing that at such times, a person can’t be expected to be a ton of fun to be around, spontaneous and easygoing when dealing with traumatic events and that this is ok and normal.
- When deciding to add a new friendship within your life, don’t ignore how they react to life’s challenges. Knowing how they handle their own life challenges will give you a glimpse on how they will or will not be supportive during your time of need. Ignoring signs can set you up for deep heartbreak in the future. How a friend responds to crisis and communicates through challenges says everything about the future you will have together.
It’s wonderful to find a true friend. It’s not impossible. It happens every day. Within these friendships there’s a common thread that shows us that we need to let go of our idea of what it is “supposed” to look it and be aware of the reality of what it is. When we find friends who share the same values, the same humor, and the same dedication of compassion towards others, we discover a friendship that is deep and true.
It’s easy to wonder where these kinds of friends are, the ones who put kindness and consistency above all other qualities. But, I’m telling you, they’re everywhere. While it takes a little work to find the right type of friend, the payoff is a much quicker (and more exciting!) journey.