If you ask a teenager a thing or two about friendships, the answer is most likely to be: Friends are everything. This sentiment resonates among countless adolescents. But with time, their priorities change, and the change might bring about difficulties and disturbing feelings in them.
This is exactly how fellow Kolkatans Anurima Mitra and Nisha Singh – who have just entered their 30s — became friends in their teenage. Thanks to shared adventures, secrets, and amusements, they stood out as an inseparable pair, riding out the stormy years of adolescence and sharing the first thrills of adulthood.
When they reached their 20s, what seemed an unbreakable bond developed chinks. As Singh looks back at their friendship, she says, “We were the kind of friends who could communicate without words, who finished each other’s sentences, and who shared a bond that seemed [strong enough] to withstand any challenge.”
According to Singh, Mitra’s immersion in a demanding career led to an unhealthy competition between them, and their vibrant friendship shrank to occasional communication. It left Singh heartbroken, disappointed and confused, wondering what went wrong with their beautiful friendship.
“I experienced deep feelings of separation and [tried many times] to communicate with Mitra. However, she was hesitant to [have a] chat, and that left our unresolved issues lingering,” recalls Singh.
“In the weeks that followed, I found myself wrestling with a range of emotions,” recalls Singh. “I questioned my worth as a friend, analysing every interaction for answers. The grief permeated my daily life, and overshadowed even the simplest activities.”
Emotional high seas
A 2021 research paper led by Kaitlin M Flannery, PhD, from the Department of Psychology at the State University of New York College, Cortland, sheds light on the intricate emotional landscape that adolescents navigate during friendship breakups. The study revealed that adolescents experienced both sadness and happiness or relief when a friendship ended. The range of emotions they felt varied – it was based on factors such as the reasons for the breakup, the way it unfolded, and who triggered the break.
How break-ups affect wellbeing
In a comprehensive review conducted by Alexander Rothman, PhD, and his team from the psychology faculty in Minnesota, friendships were found to be important variables for long-term health, well-being and overall satisfaction in life.
The study also revealed that the quality of friendships plays a vital role in shaping the physical and mental health of individuals. The review highlighted an observation that people who encounter strained friendships, such as friends not supporting them in challenging times, misgivings about friends’ ability to help during challenging times, can have lasting implications. They could possibly be a reason for the development of chronic illnesses later in life.
According to Bengaluru-based psychologist and therapist S Usha Rani, breaking up with friends is a topic that often flies under the radar. “Society tends to [glamourize] romantic breakups, but we must not overlook the emotional effect of losing a friend who once served as a confidant, a support system and a chosen family,” she adds.
Aditi Tulshyan, marriage and family counsellor and trauma therapist at XpressIt Mental Health Services, North Delhi, emphasises, “Breakups in friendships can be just as devastating as romantic breakups, as they often involve the loss of a confidant and a sense of belonging.”
Healing the rift
Navigating the aftermath of a broken friendship needs self-care and introspection. Take time to grieve the loss, seek support from trusted friends and loved ones, and engage in activities that bring joy and promote healing.
Tulshyan reminds us to set realistic boundaries, particularly if a friendship looks toxic. Usha Rani encourages forgiveness as a means of finding peace within us.
Mending the bond
“Moving forward requires patience, self-care, and a support system,” says Tulshyan. She suggests surrounding oneself with other friends who are understanding, and loved ones who can provide solace and a sense of belonging. One should engage in activities that bring joy, she says.
Tulshyan suggests some strategies for healing oneself from a breakup with a friend.
Allow yourself to grieve: Just like any loss, it is important to give yourself permission to grieve the end of the friendship. Acknowledge your emotions, whether it’s sadness, anger, or confusion, and allow yourself time to process them.
Seek assistance: Reach out to other friends or loved ones who can provide a listening ear and emotional support during this challenging time. Sharing your feelings with someone you trust can alleviate the pain and provide a perspective of situation.
Reflect on friendship: Take some time to reflect on the dynamics of friendship and any patterns or issues that may have led to its breakdown. This analysis can give you insights about yourself and your needs in relationships.
Practise self-care: Engage in activities that bring you joy and help you cope with emotional distress. Focus on self-care practices such as exercise, meditation, spending time in nature, or pursuing hobbies that add to your well-being.
Set boundaries: If the friendship broke due to toxic behaviour or ongoing conflicts, it is important to set limits to protect your emotional health. This may involve limiting — or even cutting — contact with the former friend and surrounding yourself with positive influences.
Follow the lessons learnt: Every experience, even if painful, is a valuable lessons. Reflect on what you have learnt from the breakup and use the insights to evolve as a person.
“Remember, healing from a friendship breakup takes time. Be patient with yourself and trust that with self-care, support and personal growth, you will emerge stronger and ready to embrace new connections and experiences in the future,” advises Tulshyan.