Ask The Therapist: “I can’t seem to forget the friendship that we had…”

In 2016, the number of people estimated to be suffering from mental health issues like depression and anxiety amounted to roughly 1.1 billion. Since then, numbers have likely continued to rise. Moreover, studies have also shown women especially on average are a) more likely to suffer from mental health issues, and b) less likely to talk about them. The taboo in Pakistan surrounding depression and anxiety disorders only serve to aggravate the individuals suffering even more. For the women who cannot seek out full time therapy, or simply need advice about their problems, we’ve enlisted the help of a trained counsellor. You sent us in your questions – here are the answers!

“I am a 29-year-old living a great life. I have a great job and a wonderful family. But there is an issue I simply can’t get over. I met this person two years ago. We instantly became great friends, so much so that people started associating us together. I was always there for him and he was too. He became my closest friend. A few months back, he got married and we started to get extremely distant. He started saying nasty things about me to a mutual friend. He didn’t care for my feelings. It was like he changed into a completely different person. I tried talking to him. I wanted to know what was wrong with him or me but to no avail. He would just disregard my emotions and call me too dramatic. It was like he wasn’t even the friend I had started out with. Our friendship came to a very bad end and we have blocked each other everywhere. We have mutual friends but we don’t meet. My issue is that this incident has just closed me off to people. I have panic attacks. I can’t seem to forget the friendship that we had. Although I hate him intensely for what he did to me there is a part of me that loves him too. I try not thinking about him and on most days, I am successful in that, but some days the pain is so intense, I can’t even put it into words. Why has he affected me so much? Why does he still affect me? Will I ever get over the hurt?”

Shahrukh’s Response:

Dear Anon,

That sounds extremely painful and heart-breaking. I can really see some of the pain you’re experiencing while reading this. Let’s talk through this. We often believe that time heals all wounds, and while that might be true, it can also leave some scars. This is especially true if the trauma associated with those wounds are not addressed and tended to. From what I’ve read in your message, it seems that you’ve lost a person that meant a great deal to you. Though I don’t know the fine details of what exactly happened, I imagine this is something that one could categorise as a betrayal laced with loss and grief. Experiences like this can often impact us, and as a way of protecting ourselves, our minds unconsciously develop certain coping mechanisms that are meant to keep us safe. In a case like this one, developing a sense of mistrust, as a result of betrayal, is something that commonly emerges. In addition to this, it does sound like you are still grieving the loss of a relationship that held a great deal of importance to you. 

Understand what might be happening for you.

As stated before, experiences like this one can be quite powerful. Our environment and life events have a bigger impact than one might believe… 

The Brain and Neuro-plasticity: How our experiences re-wire our mind’s responses.

Our brains are constantly changing and forming new neural pathways as time and experiences progress. So, what does this mean? It simply means that the brain, at any point, can create a new way of thinking, or even a new way to protect itself or the body from any danger or harm – be it physical or emotional. It’s possible that this experience you had with your friend caused your brain to form a new neural pathway, one that responds in a different way to people. The idea of danger could now be associated with attachment to others, and thereby create a kind of aversion towards people and new connections. 

So, now that you know all this, what can you do for yourself? How can you move forward and heal from some of the trauma of this experience? 

Give yourself time to process and heal!

First thing’s first: give yourself some time to really sit with what happened. When it comes to experiences involving loss, or anything related to trauma and healing, there is no timeline. Take as long as you need to with this. 

Accepting the emotions that came with this experience!

I imagine that there were a lot of emotions that might have come up during this time and it’s important to recognise what they are; whether it’s anger, sadness or even fear. Make a note of what this brought on for you. Allow those feelings to really be and reflect on those feelings. Remember, whatever you feel during this time is completely valid. For this to be optimally effective, it’s important to be true to yourself and really accept the feelings that can be difficult to acknowledge. 

Talk it out!

Betrayal and loss are two elements that make up for a lot of feelings and thoughts. During this period, it helps to have someone you can confide in. A friend, a family member – whoever it is that makes you feel safe enough to help you experience what you’re feeling without any judgement or interjections about how you should be feeling. 

Write out a message/letter to the person in question.

I’ve often found this to be a really good way to just let out your feelings in a safe way. In times of loss, specifically those related to people, we are left with a multitude of feelings. In some cases, you may not always get the opportunity to express how you feel towards the person in question, or you simply might choose to not say anything to them directly. That being said, it might help to jot down what you might/could say to them if you could. This is simply for your own self-expression. This leaves room for exploration of emotions, getting out whatever might be left-over in a safe space. You could take it up a notch and even share/read this letter with someone who is willing to listen. If you really feel ready and able, you could find a way to even send this letter/message to that person. Whatever is within your realm of comfort. 

Work with a counsellor/therapist.

Working with a therapist would be best in terms of finding ways to work through the impact the experience may have had on you, and how to work through it. A therapist can guide you through the process and workings of grieving, as well as providing you with a safe space through the grieving process. 

Betrayal and loss are extremely painful experiences, Anon. I know it can be confusing sometimes, but grief is a process. A process that is different for everyone and takes time. You mentioned that you try not to think about it. While this is something that might seem helpful, things that are left unacknowledged will eventually come back to haunt us. Allow yourself to hurt, to be angry or sad. Be true to yourself and your feelings – and remember: take your time with it. I wish you all the best, Anon. Best of luck to you and stay in your power!

The above article is written by Shahrukh Shahbaz Malik who is trained in humanistic integrative counselling at CPDD in the UK and currently has her own private practice in Karachi. The views expressed in this article are those of one expert. They do not necessarily represent the views of Mashion, nor do they represent the complete picture of the topic at hand. This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical diagnosis or treatment.

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