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Dr. Jan Yager is a sociologist, friendship and business expert, coach, speaker, and author of 26 books translated into 24 languages including When Friendship Hurts: How to Deal with Friends Who Betray, Abandon, or Wound You (Simon & Schuster/Fireside, 6th printing, 2009); Friendshifts: The Power of Friendship and How It Shapes Our Lives; Who’s That Sitting at My Desk? Workship, Friendship, or Foe? and the Friendship Journal (a blank lined journal with selected quotes from Friendshifts). Dr. Yager has been interviewed about friendship on Oprah, the View, the Today Show, Good Morning America, The Early Show, Nightline, Sunday Morning, BBC radio, NPR, and other major programs. For more information, go to: www.whenfriendshiphurts.com. Dr. Yager is finishing up a new popular book on friendship, based on her friendship coaching and workshops.
FORGIVENESS IN FRIENDSHIP
Jan Yager, Ph.D.
As someone who has been researching, writing, coaching, and speaking about friendship for more than two decades, I’ve also received numerous e-mails from people upset about what their friends have done to them. This can involve an action that has disappointed them or an end to the friendship that they do not understand. What I have rarely received, however, is someone admitting that he is not as good a friend as she would like to be. What does this have to do with the topic of forgiveness in friendship? Well, to feel that you are not as good a friend as you should be or could be opens up an awareness that perhaps whatever it was that your friend said, or did that slighted you wasn’t done out of malice. For example, the friend who cancels dinner with you because she has just fallen in love and would rather go out with him. It would take a lot more self-awareness than most people have for that friend to also add, “I know I’m being selfish and insecure and even thoughtless, but I hope you’ll understand and forgive me.” No, instead someone will just say, “I’m sorry but so-and-so asked me out to dinner and I told him “yes” because I knew you’d understand. We’ll make it another time.” You may say, “Of course I understand,” but inside you’re seething, angry, hurt, carrying a grudge that might even be the reason the friendship is waning or even ending. Putting yourself in your friend’s shoes and seeing the situation from her points of view doesn’t always work. Sometimes it actually backfires since you tell yourself this really bothers you and that you would never do something like that. So how could your friend? A more aware person would realize that you and your friend are different and that it could be just those differences that might make your friendship so strong. Yes, there are those who believe that old adage that “birds of a feather flock together” but there are those in the opposite camp who disagree and say: “opposites attract.” Basically, this column is a plea for forgiveness in friendship. I’m not talking about forgiving those really horrific “crossing the line” type of actions that are so over the top that almost everyone would understand if you did get upset. Like helping your friend plan her wedding but being left off the guest list. Or being used by your friend for opportunistic reasons – what your friend can get out of your friendship – rather than just for being each other’s friends. Or flirting or, worse yet, having an affair with your date or loved one. Forgiveness in those situations is certainly possible but that’s asking a lot. I’m suggesting, for starters, that you begin forgiving yourself, or your friend for the little annoyances that can eat away at a friendship. I’m referring to things like the phone call that doesn’t get returned right away. (It turns out your friend was out of town and didn’t remember to tell you.) Or the birthday that’s missed this year. (Your friend is preoccupied with lots of career and personal challenges and it literally slipped her mind.) Letting too much time pass between phone calls or get togethers. (You, or your friend, are just plain overwhelmed by everyone and everything you have to do. Fitting in your friendship just doesn’t seem feasible for now.) If you are lucky enough to have a close or best friend that goes back to your schooldays or even your childhood, you are fortunate indeed. That friendship is what I call a “nostalgic” friendship and you have to cut those nostalgic friends the most slack because they have known you in a way that no one else could ever know you again. They knew you at five or ten or in your teen years. Even the newer friends you meet at work or through your Mom activities. Those are newer friends but they are there for you at another time in your life when you needed them, and they needed you. Friendship requires that two people who are equally committed to making their unique and powerful relationship last. It is based on trust, honesty, mutual liking, and sometimes even shared activities, but most of all shared values. One of those shared values that will take you very far with each and every friendship, including the friendship with yourself, is recognizing and agreeing on the value of forgiveness. That doesn’t mean you let a friend walk all over you if they are mistreating you or ignoring you to a point that is unacceptable. But the next time you want to criticize or express your condemnation at your friend because she let you down, at least try to find out just what was going on in her life that was behind her actions and see if you can forgive her. So many people today have to put up with bosses or co-workers they would prefer to leave behind but the tough job market and economy forces them to stay put at least for longer than they would like. Friends and friendship, more than ever, needs to be that safe place where we can be ourselves, where we are appreciated and understood and we are cut some slack. Copyright © 2010 by Jan Yager, Ph.D. All rights reserved. This essay cannot be edited or changted in anyway nor may it be duplicated or reposted without written permission of its copyright holder, Dr. Jan Yager. (Contact information is at Dr. Yager’s website: http://www.whenfriendshiphurts.com or http://www.drjanyager.com)