Office hour with Prof. Beav 3.0

by Prof Beav

Hey Prof Beav,

Something has been stuck on my mind recently, and I was wondering if you could help. I sort of broke up with my closest friend around December last year. It still hurts seeing her pop up on social media now and again, hanging out with our mutual friends. I miss her but I’m also angry at her – I don’t wanna reach out only to get rejected again. How do you handle a friendship breakup? Any advice?

 – A heartbroken bean

Dear Bean,

First of all, I’m so sorry. Friendship breakups suck, and we don’t talk about them anywhere near enough. I think it’s really tragic that we are expected to value friendships less than relationships. Your heartbreak is valid! 

It sounds to me like you’re in a very classic breakup phase. The hurt that caused the breakup is pretty fresh, but it wasn’t too long ago that you valued this person’s friendship. The habit of being close to somebody is a hard one to break, even when rationally you know that they’ve been bad to you. I’m by no means a psychiatrist, but I think the science of it goes something like this… Our relationships with other humans, especially close friends, give us big doses of happy chemicals in our brains. This stuff is, like, real good. It’s basically a legal subtle high. Our brains get used to this reliable source of good feelings, and become reliant on it. Humans are social animals, and everybody needs at least some external source of love and support and dopamine and serotonin. 

This reliance, however, means that when one of our reliable sources of happiness suddenly goes, or actively upsets us and then leaves, we go through a type of withdrawal. We’ve built entire neural pathways to think about this person. After the breakup, when our mind tries to go there because we need a boost of joy, we remember the hurt and betrayal. Not only do we not get our quick fix, we also get actively upset – the opposite of a quick fix.

So, how to deal with the pain of a breakup, friendship or otherwise?

Well, it’s important to give yourself time and kindness when you find yourself mourning. Getting angry at yourself for being upset will only deepen the low you’ve found yourself in, and that helps nobody. It’s going to take time to break those mental patterns and form new ones, especially if you keep beating yourself up for not moving on. That’ll only cause you to think more about it. You need to break that neural pathway so you’re going to have to do something very hard: give yourself space away from them. Unfollow, unfriend, block, mute. Do what you have to, to stop having thoughts about them. Talk to your other friends more, and remember that you can, and do have more people around than that one person!

I think that the most helpful way for me to manage all kinds of breakups in the past has been to express what I’m thinking and feeling when I’m thinking or feeling it, so that I can get it out and move on rather than spiral. You can do this by journaling, venting to somebody you trust, or chaotically posting it on your close friends list (which, um, I definitely don’t do).

It’s important that you respect the reasons for the breakup. Maybe you broke up with them, in which case you stood up for yourself – something which is very difficult and respectable. Maybe they cut you off, which tells you a lot about whether they are capable of being a good friend to you. Developing the habit of making responsible decisions about the people you keep around is important for maturity and a happy healthy social life. Who knows, you might even find that once the emotions subside, you weren’t actually that invested in the friendship to begin with.

I hope you feel better soon, and I wish you a future of secure and reliable friendships!

Yours,

Prof. Beav.

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