Counselling, Mental Health, Psychotherapy, Social

How would you define ‘tough love’? Tough love can be described as presenting a friend with a well thought out overview of their behaviour, where that behaviour is perceived as harmful to self or others. Using examples is useful to underline the problems and not have it misconstrued as just a telling off. To get that point across, those engaging in ‘tough love’ would benefit from using personal experiences and speak on their own behalf. We need our friends and our friends need us, keeping this in mind can be a challenge when someone feels we need their tough love. The friendships we make will reflect the type of person we are now and the person we are becoming. Each decade offers us new insights, new challenges and new opportunities for friendships. Being our best self is the gift we can give ourselves and those around us. For our best lives, we continue to grow through fortunate circumstances and adversity. Is it always beneficial/does it always work? Though not always beneficial or successful, the key to successful tough love lies in the ability to articulate the ‘perceived behavioural problems’ and the receiver’s willingness to hear it. A friend who has the capacity to witness their blindside through a friend’s intervention will most likely make use of the information. What can cause difficulty is when a ‘friend’ uses tough love to get a personal grudge message across. This can happen at a time when the friendship may be waning and this last -ditch attempt to open up a dialogue can have a negative outcome. Do you think it can be a good thing to have a friend that can be a little domineering/bluntly tells you the truth? (e.g. does it encourage you to push yourself?) Having friends who challenge us is good if we’re open to it. The level of self- esteem at which we operate will determine the level of commentary we can withstand from friends. Those of us who were reared by parents who had difficulty attuning to our early needs may suffer from confidence issues which will affect all future relationships. When this is the case, a person who has a poor relationship with self will find that mirrored in friendships. On the other hand, those who are self-aware will recognise the difference between a well- meaning challenge and plain old grudges. In these situations, we may find the blunt observations helpful and take action. However, for a person who is living with issues such as anxiety or depression it can be difficult to fully open up to others and so friendships may falter or be left to die out. Is it all about the intention? Our intentions underlie everything we do. Be they good intentions or bad. Unconsciously we may be sabotaging a friendship through bad behaviour which is a bad intention. A good intention could be wishing for better for our friends even if we cannot articulate it. Good intentions can be identified when we trust that what we’re hearing from friends is beneficial and we are not compromised or demeaned. Any feeling of negativity or hurt could be an indication that bad intentions are coming your way through a friend’s words. A friend who can see our blindside can be a big help in exploring what may be going on for us. However, many of us live in a ‘reactive’ state where we have little space for self-reflection. When a friend then tells us that we’re behaving in a negative way it can be extremely challenging to remain open and responsive. Socrates offered this – “to know thyself is the beginning of wisdom”, thus encouraging the cultivation of awareness of our emotions and feelings as they occur. What a strong cornerstone for us to build friendships with others while becoming our own best friend. How can you identify the intent behind a friend’s behaviour? (For example, are they being forceful because they have your best interests at heart or are they trying to undermine you because they’re worried you’ll leave them behind or outgrow them?) As we grow and become attuned in our friendships the ‘lead’ role can shift and this is healthy. From decisions about things to do, to offering support when needed, each party will play to their strengths. However, a toxic relationship or friendship can cause one party to be ‘put upon’ by the other far too often. Beware the friend who subtly puts you down to elevate themselves. It may not be obvious at first, because when we make new friends we put our best version of ourselves out there and want and need to be liked. We are social animals and need our friends so it can be hard to put a stop to bad behaviour for fear of losing the ‘friend’.  When we’ve outgrown our friends, it is a tough conversation to have and some people prefer to engage in ‘ghosting’. The art of the difficult conversation has been lost to technological break ups and the wilful ignoring of the situation, and this can be anxiety provoking. How can you tell if a friendship is slipping into something more toxic? (The warning signs of a frenemy!) For long -term friendships there will be an ‘unknown known’ that exists, having been built up over years. If there is dissatisfaction it will come across in comments, a change in the frequency of contact or silences. For the person who can’t tolerate the ‘difficult conversation’ another means of communicating their discontent will be found. Lack of direct conversation means silences or ghosting or toxic and cryptic messages being delivered through a third party. These are the hallmarks of a spent friendship where one or both parties have difficulty dealing with the truth of it and cannot face the end of it in a mature manner. Bear in mind that silence is still communication of a very negative kind. Do you have any advice on making the break from a bad friendship or one that you feel you’ve outgrown? Especially as, for most of us, friendships and relationships in our lives can be intertwined… If a relationship or friendship has become toxic, we will be aware that our self- esteem may have been suffering. There may have been situations where we have felt compromised or left out. The ‘difficult conversation ‘is required here. Why not state your issues with ‘I am’ statements, e.g. “I am aware that our friendship is changing and I would like to talk about it” or “I am hurt when you treat me that way”. Statements such as these do not lay blame but instead are an opportunity for a two-way discussion, face to face with the health of the friendship and each individual’s feelings and well-being catered for. The person who is interested in retaining friendships and values themselves first, may find this easier than those who live with a deficit of self-esteem or sense of self-worth. The loss of a friendship, depending on either how long we’re in it or how deeply we’ve become attached can cause immense pain. Feelings of loss, an almost living grief, can leave us feeling abandoned and hurt. If a friendship has simply been outgrown by both parties, it will probably not be as difficult to cope with the easing off of contact. Again, self-awareness and a sense of self-worth will help us to navigate the friend landscape.

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