Explainer05.23.23It’s not like I want them to be lonely without me, but…ByJK Murphy
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So you’re home alone on a Friday night, all cozy, content, and enjoying the latest Bridgerton spinoff when social media alerts you to the fact that your bestie is chilling with their work friend tonight. Suddenly, your peaceful evening with Queen Charlotte is plagued with thoughts like, Wait, my friend would rather hang with a coworker and not me? and Why wasn’t I invited? Deep down you know there’s more at play than pure FOMO (aka fear of missing out) because you’re happy at home and don’t even know (or don’t want to know) the other person. Still, you might feel weird, a little hurt, jealous, confused, or territorial, even. If all that makes you want to shout, “Why am I like this!?” then you’ve come to the right place. Turns out, there are a few reasons why you might hate when your friends are hanging out with other friends—without you.
As a Leo, I’ve been through this before. You see, I experience my fair share of “Main Character Syndrome,” having a slight tendency to walk through the world as if it revolves around me and feel shaken when I realize I’m not the center of everyone’s life, which often happens when a friend hangs with someone else or even talks about spending time with other people. It’s not like I want everyone to be miserable and lonely when I’m not around or that I want to be invited to everything, but knowing my loved ones have lives—and friends—of their own is a hard pill to swallow.
Plus, it’s hard to admit being uncomfortable about your friends having friends because it feels shameful and kind of desperate and needy. And if you think more of your friendship than they do? Baby, that’s nightmare fuel. (Anyone else remember that brutal Saturday Night Live skit when Aidy Bryant asks Lizzo, “Is it me, or are we best friends?” to which Lizzo charmingly replies, “Yeah, well. I mean, I’m definitely your best friend, and that’s great for you.” My worst fear!)
When you can’t really talk about this friendship mind f*ck to anyone, it can be even harder to get over. But, it turns out, all these feelings are totally normal—even for non-Leos.
So, why are we like this?
Part of being human is having a natural desire for connection and attachment, which increases your chances of finding caregivers and ups your odds of survival, says psychotherapist and author Kyler Shumway, PsyD. But that urge is a double-edged sword and one of the reasons why it feels wonderful to be part of the herd but painful when your pals get close to someone else, he says.
This fear of not being part of the crowd can ring especially true for neurodiverse people whose brains work differently (like if you have ADHD or are autistic) and might have unique strengths and challenges. Sometimes kids and teens who are different from their peers in this way can have trouble reading social signals and are more likely to be bullied and harassed, making them extra sensitive to rejection, even as an adult, Dr. Shumway explains.
I can relate to this kind of pain, especially as a person with ADHD who experiences rejection sensitive dysphoria. For me, feeling rejected (like when my friends do stuff with people I’m not friends with) manifests as a flood of negative emotions, including depression and shame. I often grapple with worrying that I’m not as important to my loved ones as they are to me or that I’m a backup choice. All it takes is a perceived dig, like a missing invite or a delayed text—even if I understand why I wasn’t included—to send me on a downward spiral of insecurity.
On top of that, when rejection strikes, it can feel like your needs for social connection and support aren’t being met in that moment, which your brain might sense as dangerous, Dr. Shumway says. All these feelings build on each other as the years go by, making you more sensitive to your friends seemingly choosing someone else over you, he adds.
If you’re already feeling insecure in your bonds, the idea of your friends having other friends might be especially triggering, says Dr. Shumway. In cases like this, you might be quick to assume that your friend is pulling away or deprioritizing you. After all, why else would they make an elaborate birthday-themed Instagram post for their other friend (even if they did make one for you last month too)?
How to work through these uncomfy thoughts and feels.
Feeling like you’re a backup or like your safety and social support are in jeopardy can be incredibly stressful and isolating. But as understandable as all those emotions are, they’re not always rooted in reality. So, here’s how to work through them so you don’t end up texting your bud something wild like, “I just think it’s funny how you were with *insert my new nemesis’ name here* last night.”
1. Soothe the jealous gremlin in your brain.
If your friendship struggles are rooted in jealousy, the best way to deal is to take a step back and focus on how your friends do show up for you, says author and licensed social worker Minaa B., LMSW. “In a one-sided friendship, you are not receiving anything most of the time. You are not receiving communication, effort, interest, or desire for connection. You usually find yourself catering to their needs while having yours be neglected in return,” she says. Being the one who always reaches out and makes the plans while they put in little to no effort is a prime example of a one-sided friendship.
But if your friends do show interest and put effort into communication and quality time (aside from when they’re hanging out with you know who), it’s likely the friendship is a healthy two-way street and you’re overthinking things, Minaa B. adds. That can help you let go of thinking your friend doesn’t like you as much as you like them and focus on yourself while they’re having fun without you.
2. Investigate your feelings.
One promising step in getting your friendship jealousy and anxiety under control is to use a popular dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) skill called REST, which stands for relax, evaluate, set an intention, and take action. Dr. Shumway says this can be very helpful for frequent friendship worriers because it encourages you to take a step back and fact-check your thoughts and feelings before you send a shady emoji reply to your pal’s IG Story or bottle up your emotions to burst another day.
So if you feel scared because your friend is hanging with someone else, for example, try pausing to take a breath and then ask yourself, Is my friend abandoning me because they hate me, or is there something less terrifying at play, like they’re just allowed to have other friends who I’m not friends with? Dr. Shumway suggests reflecting on whether there’s evidence that you’re being rejected or excluded (are they making Barbie movie premiere plans without you, Greta Gerwig’s biggest fan?) or if there are clues that everything is OK (their last text to you was actually them reminiscing on how fun your previous hangout was). “By reflecting on all the evidence, you can take a more complex, holistic view and recognize things may be more mixed than they seem at first glance,” Dr. Shumway says.
Once you’ve done all that, setting an intention and taking action can look like telling yourself you’ll use your coping skills (more on those in Tip 4!) to navigate any uncomfy feels that pop up in the future and then actually following through with that plan. So if your first instinct usually involves sending that aforementioned shady emoji, this might look like putting your phone away and going for a tech-free walk (if that feels safe) to avoid acting impulsively.
3. Remember: You’re the shit.
Sing it with me: It’s me, hi, I’m the problem, it’s me. One of the more uncomfortable aspects of life is when we face this realization. And this situation is no exception. Sometimes you’re letting jealousy and fear get the best of you. But ultimately, you’re in charge of your own feelings and actions. “The most important thing to remember is that your friend is not responsible for healing your emotions,” Minaa B. says. So to move past this, you’ll have to find inner peace by leaning into your self-worth and reminding yourself that you are good enough and bring so much to the friendship table, she adds.
Start by thinking about all the amazing qualities you have, like how you never spill your friend’s secrets (except to your dog because they don’t count), how you’re honest and tell them that new accessory they’re trying out isn’t really working (tough job, but you do it so well), and how you always know what TikTok will make them laugh when they’re sad (a rare talent).
4. Break out those healthy coping habits.
One of the ways I cope with feeling rejected is through another DBT skill called TIPP, which stands for temperature, intense exercise, paced breathing, and paired muscle relaxation.
Essentially, to help myself work through this distress, I start with a cool splash of water to the face to bring my body temperature back to its usual state (I tend to run warm when I get emotionally wound up). Physically cooling myself down helps me chill out emotionally too. Then, I try some joyful movement, like dancing, which clears my mind and helps me focus on other things. Finally, I do a breathing exercise and/or purposefully tighten then relax my muscles so my breathing and heart rate slow down, which helps me let go of the stress and extra energy all while keeping me from acting impulsively. (Heads up: If you have chronic pain or physical concerns, play it safe and talk to a doc before trying this muscle relaxation tip.)
That’s just one tip that works for me, but there are lots of different coping strategies that could work for you, like journaling when you’re feeling sad, jealous, or insecure. And if you don’t even know what you’re feeling RN, there are tips for that too.
5. Talk about what’s been on your mind.
If you think they’re not giving you the love you deserve, you can level up to communicating your feelings and friendship expectations with your pal once you have a solid grasp of what’s going on in your brain.
These convos can be tough and might trigger a disagreement or rupture in the friendship, but here’s how to do it with confidence and minimal chaos: First, delicately reach out to your friend with kindness instead of accusing them of hurting you or making them feel like they’re not allowed to have other friends, Minaa B. says. Pro tip: Try to do this in person since it’s super easy for people to misread your intentions through text.
When you’re clearing the air face-to-face, try explaining your feelings along with the story you’ve been telling yourself. I’ve had good luck with saying something similar to “I thought you were pulling away,” and asking my friend to confirm what’s actually going on so I know what’s up.
Just be honest about wanting to spend more time with them and how you wish they’d reach out more. You can also talk about feeling rejected when they don’t initiate plans if that’s something that bothers you.
Chances are, if they want to stay in your life, they’ll be glad you shared all this with them. “Conversations like this can alert your friends to your needs and give them the opportunity to respond,” Dr. Shumway says. And if your friend pulls away after a heart-to-heart, that just shows the friendship probably wasn’t that healthy or fulfilling to begin with, he adds.
6. Chat with a pro about these tricky moods.
If you don’t feel ready to approach your friend with whatever is bugging you or self-reflection feels like a struggle, you can always work through these friendship troubles with a therapist, say Minaa B. and Dr. Shumway. With the help of a mental health professional, you can learn more about what you’re feeling and if any of these friendship woes have deeper psychological roots that you might want to explore. Doing that can help set you up for more satisfying relationships.
For me, having self-compassion and remembering things aren’t always as they seem has made my friendships so much easier to navigate as I get older. Now, when I feel the sting of rejection when my friends are just out there living their lives, I’m more capable of processing my emotions and creating more empowering stories about myself that are rooted in fact rather than fear. We’re not weird or sad or broken for being bummed about unanswered messages, or for being jealous that our friend has other friends. For better or worse, we’re just human.
Wondermind does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Any information published on this website or by this brand is not intended as a replacement for medical advice. Always consult a qualified health or mental health professional with any questions or concerns about your mental health.
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