how to stop ruminating about an ex-friendship
October 8, 2017 5:35 PM   Subscribe

I keep having intrusive thoughts about how a friendship ended several years ago in my life. I don't want to rekindle the friendship and I feel like I did more than my share to keep the friendship afloat, but I'm having trouble letting go of it and coming to peace. I think about it several times per week and I wish that I would no longer ruminate about it. Outside of therapy, is there anything I can do on my own?
posted by Gosha_Dog to Human Relations (8 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe allocate a 10 minute period when you'll think about it once a week? Then you can tell your brain 'no, not time yet'
posted by Sebmojo at 6:16 PM on October 8 [2 favorites]

I've experienced this type of post-friendship rumination. I can really get rolling! For me, it only happens with complicated relationships as opposed to the types that just naturally peter out. I think it's the complication itself that makes the rumination linger in my case. It's like I'm still trying to resolve the issues that ended the friendship, by going over and over them. Ugh! It's exhausting and useless.

What's helped me a lot is interrupting the process in a very intentional way. When I become aware that I'm ruminating, I give myself a few seconds to allow the thought to play out and then I redirect my thoughts. I use very specific language to end the ruminating: "That's all done now. It's all in the past." I try to stay non-judgmental in tone with myself. Being matter-of-fact helps keeps me from beating up on myself for having the thoughts. Because attaching guilt, shame or frustration to the experience of ruminating just feeds the fire. The trick is be neutral, recognize the thoughts, acknowledge them and then move along. And repeat. And repeat. And repeat. You can't quiet this type of mental experience without patience and practice.

A physical action to accompany the neutral thought is also really helpful. Maybe you could shrug your shoulders or roll your eyes. These are physical actions I connect with not taking something or someone seriously. You may have your own action that conveys that sentiment. The idea is to reinforce the belief that you're all done with something. In this case, the something is the thoughts that are disturbing you.

I've also noticed that the friendships that seem to haunt me are those where I felt judged, misunderstood or treated unfairly. Those are emotions that trigger helplessness and sometimes shame in me. My ruminating is an attempt to undo those feelings. That's where the awareness and acceptance of the thoughts is really helpful. I can be more gentle with myself when I realize that I'm trying to work something out. But, I've picked a method that a) doesn't work and b) is actually having the opposite effect.

Finally, for me, rumination usually flares up when I'm under stress or in a situation that reminds me of the previous friendship in which I felt judged or mistreated. It's helpful to be aware of what the stressors are and try to reduce them as much as possible.

Good luck!
posted by MissPitts at 6:23 PM on October 8 [31 favorites]

Sorta-paradoxically, one thing that really helps is accepting that feelings like this are perfectly normal and don't have to "mean" anything.

Thinking back with wistfulness or even regret on an old friend isn't proof that you're handling things wrong now, or that you handled them wrong then, or that your friendship never should have ended, or anything like that.

Regret is just a feeling that happens sometimes even if you're making all the right choices and don't need to change anything. If you treat regret as A Sign of Something Incredibly Important, you end up putting old, regret-inducing situations up on a pedestal as Incredibly Important Things — and your brain doesn't like to let go of things you've labeled as Incredibly Important, so it clings to those feelings and memories like a motherfucker. If you can label the regret instead as Just One Of Those Damn Random Thoughts, your brain may cling less.
posted by nebulawindphone at 6:23 PM on October 8 [11 favorites]

I'm so sorry you're dealing with this. It can be especially hard when you feel like you invested so much in a friendship and the friend didn't reciprocate fully. Lopsidedness in our personal lives registers as a kind of injustice when we recognize it, and it hits our lizard-brains hard.

If the friendship was a close one and lasted for a considerable amount of time, one thing that might be making this harder is the various reminders that crop up in your daily life -- scents, songs, or places you can't avoid; foods, books, or inside jokes other people don't even realize they're touching on.

You have every right to reclaim those things as your own, assigning them new significance with others you love, especially if avoiding them is unrealistic. I've had to do this myself, recently, after a once-wonderful 15-year friendship rotted out from under me. I hope someday to reach the point where I can just wish her well and be grateful for the good times, but because of how things ended I just need to NOT THINK ABOUT HER in connection with so many of my own favourite things, for a while.

I call the process "ghostbusting." It does require building new memories and associations, which is easier if you're a naturally social person, but not impossible otherwise. If you can't hear "Bohemian Rhapsody" without thinking of this person, and you KNOW it's impossible to go through life avoiding that song, spend some time on YouTube and find weird covers or parodies. If it isn't working by the time you get to "I see a little silhouette-o..." then you can move on to some interesting unrelated thing.

Do give yourself permission, when practical, not to go to those old places (literal and otherwise). Think about ways you can change the "background" of your life so these thoughts won't be so easily invoked -- paint colours, playlists, haunts around town, your car air freshener, blogs, your Netflix queue. Identify the slates that could do with a cleaning, and wipe them down.

When the intrusive thoughts creep in despite you, try to seal them off quickly with a mantra, like "Thank goodness those days are behind me" or "OK, time to think about (new hobby or interest)."

I hope some of this is useful. No matter what, don't get down on yourself about the intrusive thoughts. They are unpleasant and painful, but they really are not your fault.
posted by armeowda at 6:26 PM on October 8 [11 favorites]

That may depend what exactly you're thinking and feeling when it occurs to you. Perhaps you're simply trying to keep the memory of it alive until such a point that you find something as good in real life to replace that which is now missing for you. Or perhaps there's something about it unresolved in you that will come with new understandings and experiences to come. I think you shouldn't put yourself out or down in not being able to control your thoughts, just accept them as they come and let them go.
posted by OnefortheLast at 6:54 PM on October 8

I've had this issue also -- very close friend, helped him through a lot of stuff, and he just stopped talking to me. Was even the best man at his wedding.

More hurt that people can sort of use you and lose you and, really, it makes you feel better for the good people in your life and the ones who truly care and view friendship as a mutual effort.

It just shocks me that someone who goes through so much with you -- talking -- backing when people did that instead of messaging -- hours per week about anything. Getting to know their family, getting to know their dreams.

It's so tough. I'm a physician as I've mentioned here before and I often see good friends at the bedside through tough times in people's lives -- sadly near the end. I always thought this guy was going to be that for me (or I'd be that for him) but alas, it's not going to happen.

And, it's a shame, because when you think about it -- few people, like really few people, know you as a child and as an adult. Perhaps your parents, perhaps close in age siblings -- but it's different. Close friends from youth are the only ones who knew you then in similar shoes you were in.

At any rate, I am lucky I still have 1-2 friends of that sort left. And, really, that's enough. The hole left from his ghosting is starting to lapse. And, really, if he ever wants to make an effort to make it something more, all that time put into the friendship was not for nothing -- I'm sure we could work it out.

You get to a stage in living -- esp after marriage and children -- this stuff matters less and it's a more fleeting sadness.

Plus, again, it makes you appreciate what you have and I hope that it works out different for my kids also.
posted by skepticallypleased at 7:03 PM on October 8 [6 favorites]

Whenever I find myself reliving some bullshit, I've trained myself to just say, "I love you." Meaning me, I love me. I am the sum of everything that's happened to me and that I've done, good, bad or acutely embarrassing, and I'm indivisible. It felt really awkward and dumb at first, but I have found it does shut that kind of self-torture right down.

Me: "Then she said, then I said, but she thought I was being, but I really meant..."
Me: "I love you."
Me: "Alright then, let's get some sleep."
posted by pH Indicating Socks at 8:10 PM on October 8 [15 favorites]

I have had a few past friendships or relationships where even if a decade or three has passed, I still mull the ending of them more than I feel I ought to. The number one thing that has helped me has been the passage of time. The number two thing has been asking myself loving questions like: "What is it that I still have to learn from that friendship/relationship that makes me think about it?" and "What reminded you of them today?". Most of the time, when I have been nudged into thinking about those past relationships/friendships, it has been a result of my either actively pursuing knowledge about that person or being reminded of them through something sensory - a smell, a sound, the look on someone's face.

One other thing is that I haven't yet replaced them. Whatever the reasons were for their loss of friendship, it left a hole in my social sphere that I haven't adequately filled. That's another thing to work on.
posted by missh at 8:20 PM on October 8 [3 favorites]

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