When A Friend Hurts You

by Christine Burke
Originally Published: 
Julia_Albul / iStock

Now that I’m in my 40s, my friendships are more important to me than ever. This is not to say that I didn’t value my friends in my 20s and 30s, because, let’s face it: My college friends know stories even my own husband hasn’t heard. My 30s were spent breastfeeding infants, watching endless cycles of Sesame Street, and neglecting my personal need for connection and stimulating conversation. During those crazy years, my adult interactions were limited to quick cups of coffee amid a sea of needy children, and I was lucky if I could complete a coherent sentence or two

With the crazy toddler-rearing years behind me, I now have more time to cultivate and develop my personal friendships. The tentative connections I made in the preschool line have morphed into mature, dynamic relationships. The friends closest to me are my lifeline, my sanity, my reality check, the ones I lean on in times of trouble, and I cherish what they bring to my life every day. I make my friendships a priority, even on days when I can’t give one more bit of myself. Over the years, I’ve whittled my friends list to include only those who bring real value to my life, those who accept all of me, including my flaws.

About a year ago, I had a terribly hurtful experience where a close friend crossed a line with gossip and spread untruths about me. Her betrayal left me reeling; I was shocked that she could be so vindictive. Blindsided by her actions, I realized that for the first time, I was going to have to let go of a friendship. I spent the days after the incident bewildered and stung that someone I had considered a good friend could throw my friendship away so easily. My reputation was damaged, my heart was broken, and I was downright angry.

Because I value my friendships so highly, when a friend hurts my feelings or breaks my trust, it cuts me deeply. Perhaps it is unfair for me to hold my friends to the same standard I set for myself as a friend. I realize that in any friendship, there is bound to be some discord, but what do you do when a friend has betrayed you to the point that you can’t move past their hurtful actions?

1. Be honest…with yourself.

Oftentimes, hurtful behavior from a friend starts off with a small transgression that you forgive quickly. You love your friend and want to believe she’d never intentionally hurt you. But over time, you see a pattern of behavior, and as much as you don’t want to admit it, you realize your friend may not be the person you thought she was when you first met her. Being honest with your own feelings will help you be honest and open with her.

2. Let the anger go.

My initial response to my former friend’s betrayal was all-encompassing anger. As the situation unfolded and I learned more about what she’d said and done, I was livid that she could hurt me in such a way. It took everything I had not to get in my car, drive to her house, and bang on her door to tell her exactly how I felt. Thankfully, my cooler head prevailed, and as I gained perspective, I realized her actions actually had nothing to do with me. What she did came from a place of hatred for herself, and I was able come to the conclusion that anything I could say to her to defend myself would fall on deaf ears. I chose to let the anger go and move on with my life. Months later, when I forgave her, the forgiveness was to set me free, not her.

3. Walk away and don’t look back.

Making the decision to leave a friendship can sometimes feel as hard as deciding to leave your marriage. A friend who is intricately woven into the fabric of your life will leave big holes and loose threads when you have to suddenly rip them out of your life. But when that hole in your fabric is gaping and open, you will soon realize that your close, real friends will close the gap quickly, making your fabric stronger than ever. My close friends rallied around me when I was hurting, and I was grateful that I had cultivated relationships with strong women who had a low tolerance for bullshit and gossip.

I chose to walk away from a toxic friendship, and I don’t regret it for a minute. I don’t miss the drama, I don’t miss wondering what she’ll say about me next, and I certainly don’t miss the hurt and pain she brought to my heart. It’s her loss, really, because I am a damned good friend—the kind who always has a hand for you to hold, a shoulder for you to lean on, and some good wine on hand for when the situation calls for it. I think it’s only fair that I expect the same in return.

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