On Being A Better Friend...To Yourself.
You write, I answer. We all benefit. Vulnerability is beautiful thing, sister.
I’m Andra. I grew up with you. My childhood best friend – “S”—had STACKS of Seventeen and CosmoGIRL! Magazines at her home. We’d lie on our bellies in her lofted bedroom, completely silent, reading magazines. I particularly loved reading other girls’ accounts of their embarrassing moments. I was embarrassed most of the time, feeling awkward, ignorant and ugly. It was a revelation to learn that other girls felt the same – the flushing cheeks, the shaking hands, the uncontrollable sweat…
There’s a larger reason I’m sharing this with you. The childhood best friend I mentioned…I’ve come to realize that she was abusive toward me. When we were around a group of girls, she would make fun of me. She’d tear me down. I was a quiet girl, and she was my only friend. I didn’t want to lose her, so I never stood up for myself. I told myself it was fine. I told myself I deserved it.
I’m describing events that occurred when I was a young teenager, and it’s amazing how those feelings are still embedded in my emotional memory. I’m very slow to trust, I hide my full self from friends, I isolate.
So Atoosa, this is a long-winded way of asking if you’ve ever been involved in a toxic female friendship, and how you healed from it.
I’m now 33 years old. S is an elementary school teacher. I don’t doubt her kind heart, and I don’t doubt that her treatment of me was born of her own insecurities. But still, I’ve never shared with her how much she hurt me. I’m afraid that she will deny it. Afraid that she will lash out. The abuse is still with me.
Sent with so much love,
I have to tell you…
I’m just floored by your depth and self-understanding. So beautiful. So powerful. All your strength is right there, my sister. It’s right there in your vulnerability. Please never change that. Most people are so armored up that they can’t get to the depths of both what you’re feeling and what you’re expressing. So, please let’s just start by celebrating that…and you.
I’m sorry you had this experience. Although I haven’t had quite the same experience with girlfriends, I have certainly had lots of complicated shit go down. Like my best friend from college (Hi, Melissa!) totally ditched me senior year. We worked through it the following year and continue to be very close friends and our daughters are as well. So the trauma that I kept replicating until my late 30s with friendships is the whole getting-ditched storyline. Abandonment. I’m sure that’s related to my particular mother wound but this is not about me, it’s about you. Sorry for the digression. (Just had to remind Melissa PUBLICLY about senior year in college – wink! – I love you!).
What I want you to do, Andra, is shift the focus away from your friend and back onto you. Who knows why she did what she did. And sure, if you wanted to have an honest conversation with her, you could. But honestly, at this point it doesn’t really matter. “S” was also a kid doing dumb kid shit. What you really needed was a grown up (ideally a parent) to be a safe place for your tender heart and I assume that like many of us, you didn’t feel comfortable confiding in your parents and getting emotional support about this – am I right? That’s why you’re carrying the wounding with you still. You haven’t healed yet.
In my opinion, “S” can’t help you heal. Only you can.
This is the unconditional self-love we’ve talked about in the past letters. When these hard feelings show up in your life today (like, you said you don’t show your full self or you isolate – or even in the mini-moments of self-consciousness that many of us experience a zillion times a day) – don’t tell yourself some version of, “Come on, Andra! Don’t be a fill-in-the-blank. That was the past. Get over it!”
Instead, pause and give yourself really, gentle love and comfort. Mark Wolynn, the world-renowned therapist and author of “It Didn’t Start With You,” is one of the many incredible people I’ve had the honor to work with one-on-one during my sabbatical from working. He taught me this practice and it changed my life. In his system, you do a 60 second Inner Child meditation 6 times a day. What I do is my own version of that. I call it Skin-to-Skin. Anytime I am feeling a hard emotion, I immediately put my hands on my bare belly or my neck - those are the places I like receiving comfort – yours may be different. (And I can just hear my guy friends reading this making crude jokes – Zip it, fellas!) and I just give myself the unconditional love and comfort that I didn’t get as a child from my mother. (A lot of times parents like to give coaching to get us out of the bad feelings which maybe makes them feel better that their child isn’t experiencing sadness but ultimately it invalidates our authentic emotions and keeps the feeling stuck inside us.) I like to say, “I’m here, Atoosa, and I’m going to stay until you feel safe,” or “I’m here, and I’m not going anywhere until you feel it’s safe to come back in your body.” Or “I love you, Atoosa. I got you.” (If you’re a parent – say these words to your child when they are sad instead of convincing them that whatever they are upset about isn’t that big a deal.) And it doesn’t take more than 30-60 seconds of this type of self-care to just establish a connection and feel your body, whoosh, just relax a bit. There’s a hurt little girl still stuck inside you and she needs to be taken care of tenderly.
Keep showing up for yourself in this way, and as often as it requires. In time, you’ll see, you will need to do it less and less. You need to get to the place where the little/young Andra inside of you knows that Big Andra has got her…that she’s not a target anymore – that you won’t allow it. You’re basically establishing trust with yourself. Little Andra doesn’t get the message by someone from the outside apologizing or anything. She gets it by knowing that her grown up (you!) has got her back.
I’m going to get a little esoteric, see if this resonates with you. In the mother-child relationship, your mother is the creator. You are the supplicant. She is your God in many ways and when she (for no real fault of her own) doesn’t have your back – you feel faithless. Alone in the world. Your opportunity today is to become the creator and the supplicant within your own holy self. That is the key to being able to walk through any obstacles that Earth School presents. You will never again depend on someone else to have your back. You can be in relationships without this level of attachment. You will be there because you want to be there – not because you need the person. And if they have your back, that’s great. But if they don’t or they let you down, you will have enough unconditional love for yourself to take care of yourself or walk away if that’s what is required. This is my own healing edge. I can recognize and walk away from a toxic relationship – but damn girl, I keep looking back. Work in progress. Work in progress.
I hope this all makes sense. You really touched me deeply today with your question and your courage. Thank you, my sister. If anything is not clear, please comment!
If you have questions or stories you would like to share with me, comment here or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The soundtrack of my 🤍🖤❤️ :