Dear Life Matters,
I am struggling to understand why the friends I have had for years, and some family, who have always professed their love and support for me are suddenly pulling away from me. I never hear from them or at least not very often. I am no longer invited to many of the same social gatherings, but even worse, when I do see them they seem to make critical comments every chance they get. These comments are usually in the form of a joke, but they are no joke and they are always sarcastic, which really stings.
Some of my other friends say that it is because they are embarrassed or ashamed of their own bad habits and my quitting mine just highlights theirs.
Whatever the case may be, I feel very hurt and rejected.
Confused and Sad
Well, this definitely begs the question of, “What bad habits?”
Given that you have written to me, I am thinking that they might have been some unhealthy addictive behaviors. Whether it is drinking, smoking, doing drugs, gambling, or a shopping or sexual addiction, what else could be so bad for you that would, at the same time, cause your longtime friends to back off or change their view of you? If this has been the case, the obvious answer would be that they did these things with you and while you have stopped, they are still doing them.
Your “other” friends may very well be correct. It’s a good guess that some of your friends are distancing themselves from you because they are ashamed or embarrassed by their own destructive behaviors and your quitting makes them more aware of what their bad habits are.
With addictive behaviors, when someone stops or gets clean, their partners in crime really feel uncomfortable and will either try to sabotage the new behavior or get away from that person. Usually, they try to sabotage them by pointing out how silly or lame the person is while making fun of the newly found sobriety. If and when that doesn’t work, then they will back off because the newly clean person becomes like a mirror, making them look at themselves, which can be difficult. While this rejection might hurt you, in the end you will be better off without them and you will not miss them.
Beyond addictions, it is also true that a group’s cohesiveness is dependent on a common bond. So anyone who begins to deviate from the group’s norm becomes a threat to the group and they will be made to feel like they are doing something wrong. If they cannot be persuaded to come back into the fold, they will be rejected. It is necessary for the group’s survival and is not necessarily a conscious kind of thing.
An example of this might be that you decide to go back to school and all your other friends are dropouts and make fun of school. Or perhaps you decide that you want to become part of a religious group and you and your friends have always been atheists. Or maybe you have been a workaholic and decide you are going to try to take it easy for a while. Anything that goes against the group norm will be considered deviant and the person doing it will be made to feel it.
So, whether you are going against your family’s values and are being judged or you decide that you want to do or be something different from what your group is about, you will be deviating from that group and they will try to pull you back in or, if that doesn’t work, reject you. It’s just the way it is.
It really isn’t even personal and if you can step back from it far enough, you will see it for what it is worth.
I don’t know what your case entails, but what I have said here is true. So if you are taking better care of yourself and your old friends don’t like it, so be it. Don’t let them drag you down.
Hopefully, this sheds a little bit of light on this and makes you feel better.
Dr. JoAnne Barge is a licensed psychologist and licensed marriage and family therapist with offices in Brentwood. Visit her at www.drbarge.com or send your anonymous questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Got something on your mind? Let me help you with your life matters, because it does!