This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
By Jane Gilgun
There’s a lot of talk these days about defriending. People do it on Facebook all the time. One minute someone’s a friend. With a click, someone is defriended. This happens not just on Facebook. Every day, people defriend other people. Everyday, people make new friends. The purpose of this article is to discuss what goes on when we defriend and befriend other people. Defriending doesn’t mean you are an eejit or jerk, although it doesn’t hurt to reflect on what went wrong, Defriending means a lack of fit. Befriending means a goodness of fit. Mary’s case study illustrates these ideas. Movies in our Heads We’re Rorschachs for each other. By Rorschach, I mean that we project onto other people what is in our minds. It’s as if we have movies running through our heads. We meet new people. Something about them gets one or more of the movies playing. We think we are seeing the other person but what we really are seeing are the movies that play in our heads. Sometimes the movies are happy stories. So we like the person. Sometimes the movies are unhappy. We don’t like the other person. Sometimes the movies are scary. We are afraid of the other person. Movies that are happy sometimes lead to deeper friendships. This happens if we get to know the other person’s unique qualities. Sometimes we realize our first impressions are wrong . People we like at first may not suit us as we get to know them. People we started out not liking or were afraid of may end up friends. When friendships develop, the influence of the movies weakens, and we get to know other people as individuals with their own quirks, flaws, and endearing qualities. We get to know THEM and not images and ideas left over from the past. That’s what the movies that play in our heads are: images and ideas that we formed often when we were children. When we are children, we think like children. These
carried over images and ideas usually serve us well, but sometimes they just don’t fit the new situations we’re in. As we get to know some people, we may find we can joke and be playful about flaws, our own and theirs. With other people, we simply put up with what annoys us with little if any comment. We may not be as close to people whose flaws are off topic. Sometimes the annoyances we feel around others are like thorns. We are uncomfortable with them, but we put up with them. The good parts of the friendship outweigh the annoyances. Sometimes the thorns are too much. We can’t handle the relationship. We want out. Three Ways to Defriend We can defriend others with a cutoff, a standoff, or a tapering off. Cut offs are quick short chops. People who do cut offs have made up their minds. They don’t want the messiness of discussion. They want out. Some who do cutoffs may have tried to work things out. When the situation appears hopeless, one person may feel forced into a cutoff even if the other person wants to hang on. Standoffs result from arguments and are mutual. We disagree. We get fed up. We say something. The other person says something back. We’re yelling or want to yell. Or we’re silent and the other person yells. Both people are butting their heads against stonewalls. There’s a standoff. The defriending is mutual. Sometimes people in standoffs stop speaking to each other. A standoff becomes a cut off when one person wants to end the relationship and the other person doesn’t. When we taper off, we ignore or are slow to respond to emails, texts, and phone calls. When we do respond, we are brief and distant. We turn down invitations and don’t offer them. We are courteous and kind when we see the person. Tapering off sometimes is mutual and sometimes not. The receiver of the tapering off can be relieved or sad that the relationship has ended. We are no longer close friends but distant acquaintances. We may still respond with sympathy when we hear of difficult times or with happiness at good news. The relationship no longer has the enjoyment of a friendship. People we defriend may not have any more flaws, quirks, or good qualities than the people we befriend. We are friends with people we feel good with and who have qualities we like and flaws we tolerate or even find endearing. If unhappy movies spin in our heads when we are with somebody, we don’t feel good with them. We have no obligation to work at creating a relationship. We have no obligation to others besides courtesy and respect. We don’t have to stick around.
When We Can’t Defriend Sometimes we can’t defriend. Children are difficult to defriend. So are spouses, other relatives, bosses, and co-‐workers. Self-‐interest and the well-‐being of people who depend on us demands that we get along with people in these categories. When we’d like to defriend but can’t, we have to figure out how to accommodate to people we have commitments to, who depend upon us, or whom we depend for our livelihoods. The more vulnerable the person whose flaws annoy us, the more important it is that we figure out how to deal kindly with them. Children, for example, are vulnerable because of their dependency upon parents. At work, the more important a job and its income are to us, the higher the stakes are to figure out how to get along when we’d rather leave. Accommodation to people whose traits annoy us can be difficult. A lot of people can’t do it. They get stuck. Feeling bad about ourselves or getting stuck over a person who is essential to our lives is no way to live. Talking to someone we trust, reading self-‐help books, going to self-‐help groups like 12-‐Step programs, or parenting programs may help. Family and couple counseling can do wonders for family life. Journaling, vigorous exercise, yoga, meditation, boating, hiking, and anything else that can keep us on an even keel are important to do. It takes effort and interpersonal skills to deal constructively with people we would like to defriend but can’t. Defriending Bullies & Abusers Some relationships end. We are better off, and so is everyone else concerned. We may love the person’s good qualities and the good times we have with them. Yet, some of their qualities and behaviors are not just bad in our imaginations. Anyway we look at it, what these people do is hurtful. Some people act like jerks and bullies. Sometimes they are abusive. Some are dangerous. If we are married to people like this, if our bosses or co-‐workers are like this, or family members and children behave this way, we have to do something to protect ourselves and anyone else who depends upon us and who is being hurt. Finding someone to talk to and the activities discussed previously are help us keep our heads clear so that we can make good decisions. Sometimes the themes of movies keep us in situations we’d rather get out of. Common themes in abusive situations are the following. • I’m at fault. I do things that make other people angry. I have to do better. • If I were a better spouse, parent, or worker, the other person wouldn’t act this way toward me. • I can’t do anything about this situation. I just have to put up with it.
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I can’t do any better than this. If I leave, I’ll just end up in another bad situation. I deserve to feel better. I think I’ll take that next drink or swallow a few pills. I think I’ll go to the casino. I’ll take a few bucks out of my kid’s piggy bank. What a cutie. If I get a chance, I’m going to shack up. Things are bad at home. I deserve this.
We may need to find someone safe to talk to if these kinds of thoughts spin in our heads. We may need information about abuse that we can get on the internet and at family service agencies. We may seek specialized counseling where we learn that how we are feeling is normal in these situations. With the help of others, we begin to see things more clearly and make some good decisions. The movies that keep us in abusive situations fade and desire for something better gets stronger. Twelve-‐step programs and parent support groups can do wonders for people whose movies keep them in unhappy situations. In such groups, people learn that it’s not their fault. They learn that they deserve to be treated with courtesy and respect. They learn to stand up for themselves and to tell other people to stop behaving badly. They learn to recognize and show appreciation for kind behaviors if they haven’t been doing that. When things are really bad, we may have to leave relationships and jobs. Shelters are full of women and children fleeing abusive situations. Men and women may have to get out of relationships that are abusive. It tough economic times, people may have to put up with difficult work and family conditions. Coping with difficult issues requires turning off self-‐blame and knowing when situations are unfair. When we base our actions on self-‐respect while thinking through various consequences and accepting them, we are positioned to make good decisions. Friends Who are Not Friends If we want to keep a relationship because the other person can help us to get ahead, it’s time to think about that. We have to ask whether we are using another person for our own gain. The situation is unfair if the other person thinks the relationship is a friendship and that mutual regard and satisfaction exist when they don’t. Other people may have no inkling that this is a relationship of convenience. Sometimes both people realize that the relationship is one of mutual self-‐promotion. This kind of relationship can be viable and even temporarily enjoyable. It can turn into a friendship or it can end when the need for each other ends. These people could become distant acquaintances. If we realize that someone is using us and we don’t like it, we have no obligation to continue the relationship. We can defriend, with or without a discussion. A discussion might be mutually beneficial because we will have set boundaries and
stood up for ourselves. We affirm our self-‐respect. The other person may learn something. When Someone Defriends Us Another person may defriend us. That hurts. Most people take it well and don’t do anything that harms others or themselves. The defriending experience may even be a good lesson. Mary is of a person who responded well. When Bobbi cut Mary off, Mary was shocked. She didn’t see it coming. Bobbi texted that she was too busy to see Mary again. Mary was hurt, but she accepted the defriending. She texted back that she was sorry and that she enjoyed Bobbi’s company. Bobbi didn’t reply, a further clue that this is a cutoff form of defriending. At first, movies from Mary’s childhood played in her head. She remembered when her mother scolded her and how bad she felt. She used to feel that not only her mother but everyone else in the family was mad at her. She felt bad and worthless. The cut-‐off stirred things up. Mary let the old movies run their course. It took some time, and Mary was uncomfortable. She carried on her everyday life and thought she was kind and attentive to others. She then reflected on what she may have done that merited defriending. She is not sure what it was. Since Bobbi wants a cutoff, Mary can’t talk to her or seek to repair any hurts. So, when she reviewed how she had behaved toward Bobbi, she realized she may have done some hurtful things. She would like to apologize, but the cutoff makes that impossible. She thought Bobbi probably only sees her flaws and does not appreciate her good qualities. There’s nothing Mary can do. She has decided to respect the cutoff. After a short conversation with me about movies playing in our heads, Mary thinks that maybe when she first met Bobbi, good movies played in her head and in Bobbi’s. Bobbi liked her. She liked Bobbi. After a while, unhappy movies played in Bobbi’s head and not in her own. So, Bobbi wanted out and wanted no conversation about it. End of story as far as Bobbi was concerned. Mary is unlikely to see Bobbi often. So, the defriending will not result in frequent awkward moments. Mary said she thought it would take her some time to get over the hurt. Until the cut off, she had thought she was in the beginning stages of a long-‐ term friendship. I saw Mary a few days later. She no longer felt hurt but was angry with Bobbi. She said Bobbi was not who she thought she was. She thinks she may have projected qualities onto Bobbi that Bobbi didn’t have. She hadn’t known Bobbi well, but if she would cut someone off the way she did, she was better off without her. The cut-‐off taught her something that the movies in her head did not lead her to expect. Her movies told her Bobbi was great and that their friendship would probably be life long.
When we parted, she said she on her way to dinner and a movie with old friends. She will put a collection of photos from a recent hike onto Facebook. Adjusting to cut-‐offs is a process that takes time and has various stages. Mary is on her way. Handling Unkind Defriending As Mary learned, an unkind defriending tells you something about the other person. Mary has flaws. So does everyone else. No one, however, deserves to be defriended in unkind ways. Being defriended in unkind ways may set off unhappy movies. The best case scenario is to see the movies as things we made up, usually when we were little. It helps to test out the assumptions that we put into our personal movies. Are we bad? Our movies may tell us that, but we probably are not. We’ve got quirks and flaws, but we are probably not bad through and through. Do we deserve to be treated this way? No. No one does. Relax and let the movies play. If we do, they lose their power. As they lose their power, the sting of being defriended goes away. This takes time, however, and it’s hard to do. If it were easy, more people would do it more often. Mary’s story shows how people adjust well to defriending. The feelings that arise when someone defriends us can be powerful, and they can really hurt. Let them run their course and do at least some of the things discussed in this article to deal with them constructively. You will be fine. The unhappy movies will lose some of their sting. Also, along with letting the movies play out, it helps to think of the people who like us and want to be with us. It helps to spend time with people who want us in their lives. That’s one of the things that Mary did. It helps to do things we like. Mary worked on a photography project. If walking is our thing, then we can do that. At work, we can make an effort to show interest in other people. Ask how their children are doing, what they will do on their vacations, or where they grew up. Much better not to spin our wheels thinking about what we did wrong when we might have done very little or nothing at all. If we’ve done something wrong, then we can make up for it, say we’re sorry, apologize, listen to any recriminations and accept them, and hope we are forgiven and the relationship can go on. What Not to Do When Defriended Some people are so upset with being defriended that they do things that hurt themselves and others. They may retaliate by spreading rumors, sharing secrets, they’ve pledged not to tell, or destroying the other person’s property. They may get drunk, withdraw from others, go into a depression, overeat, or be mean to others. They may try to speak to the other person by phone, email or text, or show up at work or at home. They may persist even when the other person tells them to stop.
They may be so distressed that they don’t think about the consequences of their actions. Sometimes people who have been defriended think of doing things like this, but they don’t because they don’t want to hurt others. They know these actions will hurt them, too. They don’t act on the movies that run in their heads. They might enjoy them a little bit, however. The best course of action is allow the images, thoughts, and feelings that compose the movies to run their course and come to an end. As stated earlier, talking to someone, self-‐help groups, journaling, meditation, doing enjoyable things, and just plain acceptance are constructive ways of being dealing with being defriended. One-‐Side Relationships Sometimes we are involved in one-‐sided relationships. Caretaking and one-‐sided romances are examples. Caretaking is a relationship based on a one-‐sided sense of obligation and duty. One-‐sided romances are affection and desire one person has for another who does not reciprocate. Caretaking Caretaking can work well when the terms of the relationship are clear. This happens when there is mutual regard between those taking care and those being cared for. When the terms are unclear, problems can arise. An example is caretaking based upon a sense of superiority on the part of the person doing the caring work. This is patronizing behavior. The caretaker may view the other person as needy, and they want to rescue them. They enjoy the role of rescuer. The caretaker may be projecting on the other person movies running in their own heads. The person being patronized may believe the caretaker is seeking friendship. If the relationship does not become mutually satisfying, it is not likely to last, at least not as a friendship. These are people who socialize with another person because they feel sorry for the other person and worry about the other person’s loneliness. The movies in their own heads lead them to feel responsible for the well-‐being of a person they might not even like. Things can get gummed up when someone takes it upon themselves to be a helper and the other person mistakes the relationship for a friendship. Caretaking based on a sense of superiority benefits no one in the long run. If caretaking does not change into mutuality, the patronizing nature of the relationship will become obvious. There will be a tapering off or a cut-‐off.
Caregiving Another kind of caretaking relationship is mutual. A better word for this is caregiving. Caregiving happens when someone loves the person who needs care and takes satisfaction from giving the care. The people who give the care are family members and friends. The receiver of care knows they need care and appreciates the efforts. They love back. No one feels superior to the other. This is a terrific situation for both. Caregiving relationships of this type may have some challenges. The person being cared for may be cranky and uncooperative, for example, but the persons who does the caring work has love in their hearts and they persist. They may sometimes get cranky and exhausted themselves but love and obligation maintain the relationship. Professional helping relationships are different from patronizing relationships. Professional relationships are not friendship. Examples are relationships with nurses, social workers psychologists, or other health care workers. The terms of the relationship should be clear, including how and when the relationship will end. Any unrealistic expectations get cleared up quickly. A type of love may exist in professional relationships, but there are clear boundaries and expectations of what is acceptable and what is not. When what is supposed to be caregiving becomes patronizing caretaking, then the professional needs further training. One-‐Sided Romances and Friendships Another kind of one-‐sided relationship happens when one person projects romantic desires onto a person who is uninterested in a romance. There is no goodness of fit in terms of desires and expectations. Sometimes one person wants a friendship that the other person doesn’t want. In each case, whether romance or friendship, the person with the desire for a relationship would do well to test things out, to see if the other person shows any interest. If there are few or no signs of interest, it’s best to move on. No need for discussions or drama. Nothing happened. The other person has no obligation to have a long discussion with us. It might be kinder not to have a discussion if one person’s connection to another is not based on anything other than desire and projections. Better to deal with unrealistic wants and desires rather than to continue on with them. The movies the person has are not working in their favor. Better to know that and let go. Infatuation Sometimes the happy movies are unrealistic. We are infatuated. We think we are in love. We think that if this other person is in our lives in a special way, we will be fulfilled, happy forever. Being with the other person is thrilling. The movies are spinning. There can be mutual infatuations. If the relationship lasts and becomes a
friendship or a romance, the movies have faded and each person knows and loves the person in more realistic ways. Sometimes in infatuations, the other person doesn’t live up to our expectations or our expectations scare them away. Eventually, we see that there is a lack of fit. Sometimes we don’t live up to the expectations of others. Unless one or both change, we may get dumped or the other person will dump us. In time there will be a cutoff or a tapering off. When things work out and become mutual, the movies have stopped spinning and expectations are realistic and based upon experiences with each other. Befriending Making friends starts when both persons set off happy movies in each other, either right away or over time. We want to know each other better. As we get to know one another, the movies fade away. If a friendship develops, we like what we know, and we put up with each other’s flaws and quirks. We become friends based upon knowing each other and not based upon unrealistic expectations left over from the past. There is mutual acceptance and sometimes appreciation of quirks and flaws as well as appreciation of good qualities. There is a goodness of fit. We feel known and loved, not only for what is good in us but also for our flaws and quirks. We know and love the other and the other knows and loves us. Everyone has flaws. We can work on changing them, but we also have to accept them along with acceptance of our good points. In the meantime, we seek friendships where there is a goodness of fit. Other persons know us and love us and we reciprocate. Befriending and Self-‐Centeredness Accommodating to the flaws of others usually means we have to take a hard look at our own movies. These movies develop when we are very young when we don’t understand much of what goes on around us. The way our brains work leads us to develop explanations that center on us. Little kids are naturally centered on themselves. Each person’s movies are unique to them, but there are some commonalities in almost everyone’s movies. Here are some of the themes of our inner movies. Notice how many are self-‐centered. This means they developed when we were very young. • I’m a bad person. • The other person is a bad person. • I am bad. I deserve to be treated badly. • The other person is bad. It’s ok to treat the other person badly. • I feel bad. I can do whatever I want to feel better.
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I can do things without thinking how my actions affect others. I’m so unimportant, what I do doesn’t matter to anyone else. I feel bad. If I find someone who will be nice to me, I will feel better. Other people feel bad. It is my duty to do something to make the other person feel better. I can do whatever I want. I don’t have to seek the permission of others. No one can do anything better than me. I am better than anyone else. Big me. Little you.
These are examples of the themes of movies that play in many people’s heads. There may be lots of others. These movies are hard to deal with. Try as we might, we may not be able to get rid of them completely. In long-‐term friendships people put up with our flaws or don’t find them annoying or impossible. This doesn’t relieve us of our responsibilities to deal with our flaws, especially those who hurt others or ourselves. We have a firm obligation not to hurt others or ourselves, to think about the consequences of our actions, and to change any behaviors that harm ourselves and others. Love of others means we actively promote their well-‐being. Love of self means we promote our own well-‐being while we also the well-‐being of others into consideration. Simple Paths to Friendships Movies can be realistic and involve anticipations of an easy friendship that involves mutual respect, respect for boundaries, and good times with each other. There are bumps and snags even in realistic relationships. Somehow we work through them, often building stronger, more trusting relationships as a result. We accept each other as flawed human beings who also have good qualities. There is a goodness of fit. Befriending that leads to friendships follows a simple path. There are not a lot of variations. Temporary cut offs and tapering offs may occur, but the two people repair the breaks and the relationship becomes stronger. Research shows that satisfying relationships that last are built upon goodness of fit and capacities to repair breaks in relationships. Disagreements and conflict are inevitable. Repair keeps a relationship going and growing. Discussion Befriending starts with happy movies that run in our heads and that lead us to anticipate happy times with that person. As we get to know one another, we get to know each other’s quirks, flaws, and good qualities. If we accept them, there is hope that the befriending will move into a friendship and that any unrealistic movies will fade away. Goodness of fit and capacities to deal with misunderstandings result in
lasting relationships. We have an obligation to work on flaws that harm others and ourselves. When the other person can’t accept our quirks and flaws and doesn’t appreciate our good qualities, the friendship will not last. First, we have to accept our own quirks and flaws. When we don’t, we run the risk of feeling guilty for them and even feeling guilty when we didn’t do anything hurtful. When we are clear-‐headed about our imperfections, we can more clearly see when our actions can be hurtful and when they are not. We can take appropriate actions to repair the hurt, if the other person wants this. Otherwise, we are at risk not only for free-‐floating guilty but for imaginary transgression syndrome when we think we’ve done something wrong when we haven’t. Abusive, bullying relationships start as befriending based upon movies in our heads. It can take time for abuse to emerge, for the unrealistic movies to fade, and then for the abused person to identify behaviors as abuse. It can take longer still to figure out how to deal with people who are abusive. If the abuse doesn’t stop, then defriending may be the sensible course. To make decisions to defriend, it is best to have a clear head and be on a even keel. There are many things we can do to ensure we are clear-‐ headed when we defriend. Relationships where one person patronizes the other and sees the self as a rescuer are not mutual, although the receiver may not realize this. The receiver may think there is a friendship developing. Cut-‐offs or tapering off are inevitable unless mutual enjoyment and then friendship develops. The terms of professional helping relationships should be clear. This helps to prevent hurt, cutoffs and tapering off. Codes of ethics prevent professionals from becoming dear friends who go to movies, bingo, or other activities together, although mutual regard and a sense of love are common in these relationships. When family members and friends provide physical care for someone and the terms are clear, the possibility of mutuality is there. These acts of care are acts of love that both persons find satisfying, even as inevitable difficulties arise. When friendships last, there is a goodness of fit. Friendships are mutually affirming and are based on acceptance that may begin with unrealistic expectations but grow into relationships that both persons want and value. There is mutual regard and a satisfaction of knowing each other and being together. Life is full of goodness. Each of us is full of goodness. Sometimes we rub other people the wrong way. We set off unhappy movies in their heads. Other people bug us. Unhappy movies spin in our heads. If our friendships last, we find ways of working things out. We start by being honest with ourselves. References
Cicchetti, Dante, Fred A. Rogosch, & Sheree L. Toth (2006). Fostering secure attachment in infants in maltreating families through preventive interventions. Development and Psychopathology, 18(3), 623-‐650. Gearity, Anne (2009). Developmental repair: A training manual. Minneapolis, MN: Washburn Center for Children. http://www.washburn.org/pdf/WCCDevRepair-‐Grayscale-‐singlepages-‐ smallerfile.pdf Gilgun, Jane F. (2010). Case planning in services for children and their families. Amazon Kindle. http://www.amazon.com/Planning-‐Services-‐Children-‐ Families-‐ebook/dp/B00307S0L6/ref=sr_1_2?s=digital-‐ text&ie=UTF8&qid=1374954143&sr=1-‐ 2&keywords=case+planning+for+work+with+children+Gilgun Gilgun, Jane F. (2011). Imaginary transgression syndrome. Amazon. http://www.amazon.com/Imaginary-‐Transgression-‐Syndrome-‐ ebook/dp/B006VH1FEQ/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-‐ text&ie=UTF8&qid=1375258436&sr=1-‐ 1&keywords=imaginary+transgression Gilgun, Jane F. (2012). The 12 Tricks of subtle psychological torment. Amazon. Kindle. http://www.amazon.com/Psychological-‐Torment-‐Checklists-‐ Everyday-‐ebook/dp/B00AW7YOVM Gilgun, Jane F. (2011). The NEATS: A child and family assessment. Amazon. Gottman, John M., & Joan DecClaire (2001). The relationship cure. New York: Three Rivers Press. Maiter, Sarah, Sally Palmer, & Shehenaz Manji (2006). Strengthening social worker-‐ client relationships in child protective services: Addressing power relationships and “ruptured” relationships. Qualitative Social Work, 5(2), 167-‐186. Sanders, Mathew R. (2008). Triple P Positive Parenting as a public health approach to strengthening parenting. Journal of Family Psychology, 22(3), 506-‐517. About the Author Jane Gilgun is a professor, School of Social Work, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, USA. See Jane’s other articles, books, & children’s stories on Amazon, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, and other internet booksellers.
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