Believe it or not, your own behaviors can contribute to the feelings of discontent you may feel in your relationships. I constantly tell my clients that the quality of your life will be determined by the quality of your relationships. So it's definitely worth the time to explore ways to improve our friendships! However, before we can do this, we may need to first identify what NOT to do. Here is my top ten list of behaviors to engage in to lose friends:
1.) Don't Initiate
At the beginning of a new relationship, someone is going to have the make the first move. If you are just waiting for people to initiate with you, you could be waiting a long time. Even after making a friend, it takes work to sustain and maintain a friendship. Friendships can easily fizzle out if you don't make the time and effort to pursue people well. Or, you can eventually have friends fizzle out on you and burn out of you if they are doing all the work reaching out. Initiating doesn't mean dropping a hint like, "We should get together sometime." Truly initiating means being proactive and asking your friend, "I would love to hang out with you. Are you free this saturday or next?"
2.) Keep Assumptions
This means that if you start to have negative thoughts about your friends, you keep them. Unfortunately, some of your thoughts may be inaccurate interpretations such as,
"They don't think I am a very fun friend",
"When she made that comment to me, she must have been judging me",
"This person has a lot of other good friends, I don't think she has room for me
in her life", or
"They haven't initiated with me in a while, I guess they don't care about me."
As you can see, by keeping these assumptions around, it is tempting to push other away, withdraw, or judge them out of feelings of insecurity.
Earlier, I said that not initiating can contribute to losing friends. However, the other extreme of over-pursuing can also. This means you are so hungry for connection with some new friend you made, that you share too much too soon. You go deep really fast. You come across as needy. This can create false sense of intimacy without the foundation of trust in the relationship yet and can also overwhelm the other person.
4.) Keep a Scoreboard
What does this mean exactly? It's when you keep a constant tally in your head of what you did for someone else and you feel hurt and rejected when they do not reciprocate in the same or similar manner. You remembered your friends' birthday, took her out to dinner, and bought her a present. She forgot your birthday....but she's a good friend in other ways. You are tempted to withdraw, be passive aggressive, or cut her off totally though because you feel like you are doing "more". People can see through it when they feel that you are not caring for them unconditionally. It's important in friendships to give people grace and understand that others attend to their friendships differently. It doesn't mean that they don't care.
5.) Forget What Your Friends Disclosed and/or Not Following Up
Have you ever disclosed a deep vulnerability to a friend only to be hurt that it was never brought up again because she never asked about it? This is disappointing and can possibly damage trust. So if you flip it the other way around, it's important to be mindful that when others share deep struggles or open up about vulnerabilities, you want to follow up and care for them in this way. However, if you are too inward focused or not good at asking questions, this can be neglected and can possibly damage trust and a willingness for the other person to continue being open.
6.) Stay Superficial all the Time
We all know this, but it's worth mentioning again---people would rather be friends with open and real people with struggles than with someone who "has it all together." Therefore, if you stay superficial and don't share anything personal or deep, others may feel disconnected from you and have a hard time relating. Also, they can get bored. I understand that we can't always have deep conversation and we do need superficial conversation sometimes, but we don't want to consistently depend on superficial conversations to maintain our friendships.
7.) Allow Your MOOD to Determine When You Reach Out
You are feeling depressed, so you isolate yourself from your friends. You are anxious about what people think, so you avoid. You feel insecure around certain people, so you stay aloof. You are overwhelmed by all the stressors your friend is going through and don't know what to say, so you don't address it at all. You are busy with work, so you don't prioritize friendships. As you can see, there are lots of mood states that can sabotage our friendships! It's important to reach out and be consistent in friendships even when you don't feel like it. Lack of consistency in relationships will just create more distance and can feed into even more of a sense of depression and isolation.
8.) Judging Others
This one may seem obvious, but it's actually hard to catch at times. It may mean internally judging someone for how they are living their life, how they are spending their money, how they are raising their kids, etc. Basically, being judgmental is when you are thinking to yourself how you think your friend SHOULD be rather than accepting your friend for who he/she is. Your friends may or may not catch that you are judging them, but you gotta ask yourself--What is the purpose/function of your judging? It may be related to insecurity. You are judging others to make yourself feel better. Or, you judge others to avoid looking at yourself. Or, you judge others to store up negative feelings towards someone so just in case they reject you, you don't feel as hurt.
9.) Focusing too Much On Quantity of Friends Rather than Quality
You "know" a lot of people and refer to a lot of people as friends (i.e. you even have 372 Facebook friends), but deep down you may feel lonely. Really, these "friends" may feel like acquaintances. If you spread yourself thin trying to keep up with a lot of people, but not going deep with a few, it can eventually lead you to feeling like you don't have a solid foundation of friendships that you can confidently say are "lifelong friends." I heard a speaker once who said that by the time you are on your deathbed, you can count the number of true friends you have on your fingertips. I think this is so true. Realistically, you may only be able to keep up and invest in 2-3 people who know you well and whom you trust really got your back. If you tend to focus too much on having lots of friends rather than developing quality relationships, you make yourself vulnerable to losing these friendships in the long run due to people simply losing touch.
10.) Oozing Out Negativity
I understand that if you struggle with depression or a mood disorder, this can affect your attitude and your thought life and can show up in your overall demeanor. However, you want to be mindful of how you manage our mood in relationships. If you are oozing out too much negativity such as only talking about yourself and what is going wrong, exhibiting a pessimistic attitude about life not getting better, not cracking jokes, and not having an optimistic attitude about what your friend is sharing about, it will be hard for others to tolerate being around you. I am not saying to not be negative at all. I am just saying to be conscientious of also exhibiting some positivity in the midst of the negative.
In summary, I understand that that these behaviors may not directly make you "lose friends", but they can contribute to feeling dissatisfied in friendships. In the long run, this dissatisfaction can demotivate either person in the relationship to really work at maintaining the relationship.
After reading this post, ask yourself:
What problematic behavior in your relationships do you need to be more mindful of? What new behavior do you want to implement instead?
For former and current DBT clients, these are the skills that can applied:
1.) Non-judgmental Stance--you are accepting your friend for who he or she is and not judging them for how you think they "should" be
2.) Radical Acceptance--you are accepting that friends may not reciprocate the same way or even at the same level as you. You are accepting this rather than keeping a scoreboard and taking things personally.
3.) GIVE skills--you are learning to listen, attend, and validate others
4.) Opposite Action--even when your urge is to avoid friends, you are acting opposite of your mood for the sake of having consistent contact with friends you want to invest in
5.) Check the Facts--you are staying rational and going off of evidence about what you know about your friends rather than making assumptions and interpretations