This Is One Of The Most Damaging Phrases In A Friendship

If you’re the anxious type, you’ve probably needlessly asked yourself if people you’re close to are mad at you when you haven’t heard from them in a bit.

Every plan that falls through, every text that goes unanswered for a few hours or days, is cause for alarm, even when things are otherwise great between you and the other person. You jump to conclusions, wondering: “Did I do something wrong? Is he mad at me?

Your normally chatty sister-in-law leaves you on “read” a few times and your imagination goes into overdrive. While she’s busy living her own life, you’re rummaging through your head and your text messages, looking for proof that you misspoke or offended her in some way. She must be mad at me, you figure, or else she would have responded.

Inevitably, this kind of guesswork and relationship catastrophizing hurts the bonds you share with family and friends. Ask someone if they’re mad at you for the umpteenth time, and they may very well end up mad at you, or at least severely annoyed by your neediness.

“It can be stressful for friends to feel that they have to second-guess every communication to ensure you don’t worry,” said Anna Poss, a Chicago-based therapist and owner of Modern Solutions Counseling. “Resentment can grow in relationships where one person is constantly having to reassure another person ― that type of emotional labor can be exhausting.”

Then there’s the other negative alternative: You irrationally assume a friend is peeved, you keep your distance, that distance grows, and you end up squandering a perfectly good friendship.

“Assuming that a person’s changed behavior is your fault is personalizing something that potentially has nothing to do with you,” Poss told HuffPost.

This line of thinking is also a tad narcissistic. Not everything in your friend’s life revolves around you. Add in a pandemic, and people are just unprecedentedly busy, not usually mad at you.

“Life can sometimes get the best of us especially during these challenging times,” said Kristin Davin, a therapist and host of Ask Dr. D, a YouTube channel dedicated to answering people’s relationship questions.

“We’re not socializing in ways we did pre COVID, when conversation and connecting was much more organic and natural,” Davin told HuffPost in an email. “What happens is situations like this take on a different meaning.”

When you’ve got little to no bandwidth at the end of the day, even texting a friend can feel daunting. But if you’re anxiety-prone, your friend’s lack of communication might seem to you like ill will, when in reality they’re just exhausted.

Instead of letting your suspicious mind get the best of you, Davin said a simpler approach is to reach out and casually say: “Hey, I noticed we haven’t connected as of late. How are you doing? I have been wanting to reach out to you and I hope all is well. I feel like I have dropped the ball, too!”

There may be a deeper reason why we baselessly assume someone is mad at us

If you’re always worried that you’ve upset people, it’s worth trying to figure out why that assumption makes the most sense to you. Ultimately, you’re the one who has to deprogram those negative thoughts; it’s not fair to put the onus on your friends and family to quell your concerns and reassure you over and over that everything is fine.

It could be that you have an anxious attachment style. Our attachment style, usually formed in childhood, is the way we emotionally bond and relate to others in the context of close relationships. (Read more about attachment theory and the three major types of attachment styles here.)

People with anxious attachment styles need more reassurance about their relationships. They’re often prone to reading too deeply into any given situation, said Brittany Bouffard, a psychotherapist in Denver.

“If you had a parent or caregiver where you had to worry a lot about whether things were OK or if you were doing something wrong, you might still worry like this in close relationships today,” she said.

An anxious attachment style could also lead you to self-blame.

“Unless you know of something tough that happened with you and the friend, try to convince yourself and your anxiety that it’s probably OK,” Bouffard said. “Go with the assumption that things are OK, then bring it up to the friend if you can’t get past it.”

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“Many times, when it feels like someone is drifting away, it may not actually have anything to do with you,” said Irene S. Levine, the author of “Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup with Your Best Friend.”

Another possible reason for your outsized worry? You’re approaching the situation from a place of insecurity or a place of projection because you feel guilty for letting the friendship slip through the cracks.

“Perhaps you’ve been feeling overwhelmed with life, anxious, or just feeling ‘meh,’” Davin said. “When we recognize that maybe we have been remiss in reaching out, we tend to think the same of the other person ― for example, they are insecure or anxious.”

Of course, there are times when a friend’s absence over texts could be a sign that something is amiss, said Irene S. Levine, a freelance journalist and author of “Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup with Your Best Friend.”

“Sometimes, a relationship may have been nearing its expiration date anyway, and a hiatus in communication gives one or both parties a chance to opt out,” she said.

That said, phasing out a friend via ghosting (like some common Tinder match!) is rarely the best way to un-friend a former bestie.

Depending on how close you are, a slow fade, where you gradually contact them less and hang out less, may be acceptable. But as friendship expert and psychologist Andrea Bonior previously told HuffPost, that only works when there’s mutuality.

“Don’t leave the person hanging if they don’t seem to be backing off as well,” she said. “In that case, you owe it to them to have a more direct (if awkward!) conversation about how you see your life moving in a different direction.”

Maybe your friend doesn’t necessarily want to end your relationship, but ― shocker of all shockers! ― they are mad at you and are expecting an apology. If you suspect that you said or did something wrong (or there was something you left unsaid or didn’t do), take ownership of it and apologize sooner rather than later.

“Otherwise you run the risk of your friend getting increasingly angry, upset, and disappointed with you,” Levine said.

What to do instead of wondering “Is so-and-so mad at me?”

Instead of needlessly blaming yourself, Poss said to take a step back and approach the situation with curiosity: Has something potentially changed for your friend that you don’t know about? Are they just really busy?

If there’s been a notable change in communication or dynamics in a friendship, it’s more helpful to reach out than stew in anxiety. It may be a simple misunderstanding that can easily be cleared up, Levine said.

“Many times, when it feels like someone is drifting away, it may not actually have anything to do with you,” she said. “Your friend may be having personal problems or problems with other people that she’s reluctant or embarrassed to talk about.”

Levine noted that during the pandemic, many people are experiencing incalculable losses and invisible struggles: COVID-related deaths in their families, job loss, depression, anxiety and other health-related problems. It also may just be that your friend has little social energy or time to connect with friends at the end of the day. That’s common these days.

The lesson here is to be proactive and lean into whatever conversation you need to have, even if it makes you feel a little vulnerable.

Start by simply asking your friend how they are, Poss said.

“You can mention that you’ve noticed a certain change and wanted to check on them. Let them know you are available to listen and support if there is an issue,” she said. “And if the other person is upset with you, this provides them an opportunity to let you know and gives you the information you need to address the issue.”

Friendships ebb and flow throughout our lives, but these days, it may feel like all they do is ebb. Friend Zone is a HuffPost series that features reflections on the nature of our friendships and what we can do to maintain and strengthen them — plus, how to know when it’s time to let them go.

Read the author’s full story here

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