I’ve spoken to so many people who still wrestle with grief over the end of a friendship. As I explained in my friendship series of podcast episodes, we imagine that our friendships will last forever and take it to heart when we outgrow them or we experience a fallout. When they don’t last, we harbour hurt and anger alongside what might be a secret hope that they’ll reach out and make amends. But when we do hear from the friend we’ve been out of touch with, it can leave us feeling conflicted. We don’t know how to respond to our old friend and also fear looking like we’re bearing grudges. So what can we do when a friend we fell out with attempts to reconnect?

Part of what can create conflicted feelings about reconnecting with a friend is feeling as though they’re pressing the Reset Button. Maybe the friend reaches out after an extended silence and acts as though there hasn’t been the awkwardness and fallout. They attempt to pick up where they feel they left off or brush the issue under the carpet. Even though it might be because they’ve calmed and feel ready to move on, it can trigger feelings of resentment. Depending on how and why we fell out, their reconnecting without acknowledgement of the conflict might feel emblematic of a general pattern of behaviour.

Sometimes, though, our conflicted feelings about our friend’s attempt to reconnect are about the anger, hurt and judgement we’ve harboured against ourselves (and possibly them) since the conflict events that led to the fallout or distance.

Our conflicted feelings point to the emotional baggage we need to confront.

Whether or not our friend reaches out post-fallout, we’ll have to address forgiveness with ourselves. The alternative is harbouring anger over a medium to long-term basis, which is not only a block to intimate relationships but can take a toll on our wellbeing.

We are all energy and we don’t have infinite capacity. Our ’emotional suitcase’ has the space for the good as well as the not-so-good stuff in our life. This means that harbouring anger towards people over an extended period hogs that space and overflows into our system. It’s like bursting at the seams. Harboured, unprocessed, anger taints our sense of self, our interpersonal relationships and our overall health. 

It’s right that things piss us off and create anger—that’s part of the human experience. We must, though, process our emotions and experiences so that they don’t poison our life and wellbeing. 

It’s right that things piss us off and create anger—that’s part of the human experience. We must, though, process our emotions and experiences so that they don’t poison our life and wellbeing. 

We’ve all held onto emotions, stories and judgements about past experiences, and some date right back to childhood–our emotional baggage. As a result, it’s crucial to recognise when it’s time to update our perspective on something and let go of some of the emotional baggage.

How do we know that we need to process and tidy up our emotional baggage?

When, for instance, we don’t feel particularly good about ourselves or our life. It’s when we are triggered, and when the person or the situation comes around again.

So let’s take our friend. They’ve popped back up into our life. Maybe it’s a milestone birthday, a reunion, or some other event has happened. Maybe it’s that nothing major happened but we’ve been on their mind. Their email or text (or whatever) brought up our feelings about the friendship. Regardless of whether we do or don’t reconnect with our friend, we will still need to deal with these feelings.

But this opportunity to confront and handle our feelings about this situation could have also come up via a run-in with a different friend or even another loved one. It could have come up through a combination of situations. Whatever happened, it would have revealed to us that we still harbour anger towards our friend. This is fine. It’s normal and part of the human experience.

What we need to connect with is who we are and what we want.

If we focus on who’s right versus who’s wrong, or who’s the winner or loser, that’s our ego. But if this is how we feel, aside from revealing more of our anger and our desire to control the situation, we can connect with the baggage behind our response. Why is it important for this person, for example, to say that they were wrong? Who or what else does this situation remind us of?

It might be that part of our anger is recognising that it wasn’t a healthy friendship and also that we still care about this person. But we can be kind to ourselves and also recognise how we’ve grown since those days of the friendship. If we have doubts about having this friend back in our life or fear, for instance, that they’ll overstep boundaries again, this is okay. We need to trust ourselves instead of feeling compelled to give the benefit of our doubts. Fear of someone overstepping boundaries again also represents fear of us not trusting ourselves to have boundaries. This doesn’t mean that we need to become bezzie mates again; it’s about making a decision from a place of trusting, not dismissing, ourselves.

After a fallout, forgiveness doesn’t mean we have to reconnect with our friend.

It doesn’t. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that we need to let this person back into our life to the same extent as before or at all; it just means letting go through better boundaries for us. What can be incredibly useful is to acknowledge what each of the assigned ‘roles’ were in the friendship and endeavouring not to play to our role. So, if we were always The Listener or The One Who Backed Down, we need to be mindful of falling into that pattern.

We also need to have reasonable expectations. It’s a lot to go from silence to, for instance, us sending a long-ass email or text reply. But we could send a short reply acknowledging their contact and wishing them well.

e.g. That’s brilliant that you’ve X for your 40th. I’m doing good {insert short example of something that’s going on in your life or mention that you’re looking forward to your own birthday}. It’s nice to hear from you. I hope you’re having a wonderful birthday and take care. That would be our current-age self replying, and that’s the place we need to engage with this person from, not the past.

If, after the reply, the friend continues to attempt to maintain contact or even suggests speaking or hanging out, these might be the opportunities, if need be, to broach a bigger conversation. It might be that we maintain contact or meet up with our friend, and if the same patterns show, we speak up then. Or, we opt out.

Do we really need to have that big-ass conversation about the old conflict, though?

It’s crucial to note that there might not be a need for a big conversation about the old conflict. Yes, really. If it’s effectively us rehashing or trying to prove that we’re right, etc., we need to halt. When we (and they) already said all that we need to say, it’s really about action. That doesn’t mean that they’re getting away with something; we need to reflect who we are in our current boundaries.

Sure, we can acknowledge that there a fallout, after all, pretending it didn’t happen creates a reconnection based on dishonesty and pussyfooting. However, it’s also important to know when to move on; to know when we’ve said our piece. Obviously, if the conflict was never discussed, then hell yeah to talking about it. There’s no point in reconnecting if we’re going to pick up from where we unhealthily were before. That’s a setback that violates our boundaries.

Whatever we choose to do, it has to be from a more evolved, boundaried place, not about trying to right the wrongs of the past.

Something we often forget after we experience distant or a fallout with a friendship is that we were friends for a time and that any resentment is from being in outdated roles. An old friend attempting to reconnect after a fallout isn’t an invitation to ‘go back’. Of course, if we don’t want to reconnect, then we shouldn’t, but we need to do so without anger and be resolute in having a bygones attitude to what happened so that we move forward with love, care, trust and respect.

Are you ready to stop silencing and hiding yourself in an attempt to ‘please’ or protect yourself from others? My book, The Joy of Saying No: A Simple Plan to Stop People Pleasing, Reclaim Boundaries, and Say Yes to the Life You Want (Harper Horizon), is out now.

The Joy of Saying No by Natalie Lue book cover. Subtitle: A simple plan to stop people pleasing, reclaim boundaries, and say yes to the life you want.
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