One of the most devastating things I’ve ever experienced was a miscarriage. Whenever my mind finds the courage to remember that event, the most poignant memory I have is loneliness. Most times, I can’t successfully get through talking about that ordeal without waterworks because the disappointment I felt when my friends didn’t show up for me still stings. Sometimes, the devastation of that loneliness overpowers the grief of losing my baby. When I was going through my divorce, I had a similar experience.
I think many of us can relate to going through a life-altering experience and feeling surprised by the lack of support we receive from loved ones. Some emotional themes that showed up for me during these times included abandonment, resentment, and rejection. All of these feelings are normal, says Nashira Funn Kayode, PhD, LCSW, an expert mental health media consultant in Eastvale, Calif.
“It’s normal to feel disappointed, sad, and even angry when friends do not show up for us in our time of need,” says Kayode. “These situations may even trigger even stronger feelings such as resentment, abandonment, or rejection.”
Feeling the Feelings and Communicating
The disappointment I experienced when friends didn’t show up for me changed who I was. I watched as the extroverted, supportive, and outgoing girl I admired became introverted, isolated, and pensive. For many of us who lack the tools needed to deal with that pain, we can default to unhealthy responses like becoming passive aggressive, cutting friends off without communicating or becoming distant. I have done all three.
Kayode says there are healthier ways to deal with the dismay. People should start by giving themselves time to process their feelings, be it anger or sadness, she explains. The next step is potentially talking to your friend about how you feel, which could provide an opportunity to deepen and strengthen your bond.
“Communicating your feelings to your friend directly provides the opportunity for you to practice your communication skills such as verbalizing your thoughts, feelings, and needs,” Kayode says. “It also provides your friend the opportunity to do the same. The process also allows for healing from the current incident.”
That said, distancing yourself, being passive aggressive, or suddenly cutting your friends off doesn’t provide an opportunity for growth or healing, she adds.
Honestly speaking, I’m only now learning how to manage disappointment and communicate my way through the hurt. Most recently, I was upset because I didn’t feel my friends and family showed up for my birthday in ways I expected. Instead of being distant or passive aggressive, I shared my feelings and expectations. They were empathetic and receptive. Shout out to my therapist and the healing work I’ve been doing that made that communication possible.
Even though I didn’t have the tools or knowledge of healthy coping mechanisms when I was disappointed with friends, I did have empathy. I always tried to look at the bigger picture and remember the times my friends did show up for me. I also remembered they have their own challenges and there have been times I haven’t had the capacity to show up for friends too.
If you’re struggling to show your friends empathy, Kayode suggests judging them as a whole person versus doing so based on one isolated incident.
“The first step is to separate the person’s actions from how we feel about them as an overall person. Separating the person from their actions allows us to empathize with the person we genuinely care for while simultaneously disliking their action of not being there for us,” she explains.
Also, remember it can be difficult to show friends empathy if you haven’t first shown yourself some. Kayode says it’s essential that you extend empathy to yourself and validate all the feelings that come up because your loved ones weren’t there when you needed them. I have lost several good friends because I wasn’t able to show them empathy and look past one offense. That said, focusing on the one time a friend didn’t show up instead of the many times they did can cost you a solid relationship.
Setting and Managing Expectations
It can be unfair to condemn someone for not meeting expectations you haven’t communicated. And no, they shouldn’t “just know.” Talk to your friends about how you need and expect them to show up for you during important moments. Kayode suggests communicating both how and when you’d like them to be there for you.
“For example, telling a friend, ‘Hey, I‘ve had a really rough week. It would mean a lot to me if we could get together for coffee over the weekend. I could use someone to talk to.’ With this simple phrase I have communicated how I would like my friend to show up for me–spend time with me, talking, having coffee–and when I need my friend to show up for me—this weekend,” she says.
She adds that after you’ve done your part and communicated, your friend can choose to show up for you or not. If they choose not to do so and you notice this becomes a pattern, Kayode says it may be time to re-evaluate the friendship. Sometimes during the re-evaluation, you end up having to let people you love go because the love isn’t reciprocated and it can be a painful event. This can result in much of what we see today—people being terrified of being vulnerable with and relying on friends. While only depending on yourself is a safe option, it’s also a lonely one I’m all too familiar with.
Studies show that truly, fewer people are turning to friends for personal support. A 2021 American Perspectives survey found that only 16 percent of Americans went to friends when faced with personal issues. However, a 1990 Gallup survey found 26 percent of Americans turned to a friend when they had personal problems.
For the past three years, I have dedicated myself to healing from past disappointments and developing healthy coping mechanisms to deal with future ones. I’m so committed to doing this because I no longer want to go through emotionally debilitating times alone. I want to lean on people who love me. More importantly, I now understand you cannot have true and deep love without vulnerability and I deserve to experience true love within my friendships.
What if you still struggle to be vulnerable and trust friends to show up for you after you’ve been disappointed? Remember the good.
“It’s important to remind ourselves of the times when reaching out to others was successful and others were able to be there for us in our time of need,” says Kayode. “It’s easy to focus on the negative. Reminding ourselves of the positive times can be rewarding and provide us with the courage to try again.”