When Friends Leave; Top 3 Tips
by Dhyan Summers, MA, Licensed Psychotherapist
Almost all expats have had the experience of good friends leaving, unless of course, we leave first. Many times I see clients in my practice who have had one or several good friends leave and they express sentiments such as “what’s the point to even making friends?” They may feel that they don’t want to open up and make new friends if the friends are just going to leave. This brings up many interesting issues and is near and dear to my heart, as it is something that I’ve also had to deal with during my years as an expat.
As I am now an expat ‘old-timer’ in Delhi, (I’ve been here 3 ½ years) I have had to deal with the loss of several good friends. One friend in particular had become a kind of soul sister to me very quickly. I knew she was leaving shortly when we first became friends, but decided to allow our friendship to deepen because it was giving me so much, and to break off our friendship made no sense. So I went into it with my eyes wide open which didn’t help a bit when she left. I felt her loss profoundly and was deeply saddened by her departure.
TIP # 1: ACKNOWLEDGE YOUR FRIENDSHIP AND ENJOY IT WHILE IT LASTS
When a good friend tells you that he or she is leaving, it’s okay to acknowledge your sadness. Your friend is in all likelihood feeling some sadness as well. Although, having been both the leaver and the “leavee”, I would say that it is more difficult for me to be left behind than it is to leave.
Being left can bring up childhood feelings of loss and abandonment which is why it’s especially difficult for many people. Even anticipating a loss can be painful and there might be a tendency to withdraw from the relationship before your friend actually leaves. If you notice this happening, you might want to ask yourself what you are getting out of pulling away. Sometimes we have a belief that says if we leave first (emotionally) then the loss won’t be as painful. If you have this belief and examine it closely, I think you’ll find that there is a hole in the logic. If someone we care about leaves, it hurts.
It’s important to allow yourself to experience the bittersweet subtlety of feelings before your friend leaves. You may notice you have many feelings; warmth, tenderness, closeness, sadness and even anger. Surprisingly, these feelings can all exist side by side. You may want to go to a favorite restaurant, plan a special day or do something that you’ve never gotten around to doing before. It also helps to share your feelings with the person who is leaving and allow him to share his feelings as well. And again surprisingly, by dealing consciously with your feelings, it may help release some of the old, stored away pain left over from childhood.
Tip # 2: NOTHING VENTURED, NOTHING GAINED
When the friend I mentioned above left India, I knew then (and still know now) that I wouldn’t have given up our friendship, even if it meant not feeling sadness and loss. For one thing, I was a better person for the experience of knowing this friend. But more importantly, it would have gone against one of my core beliefs which is to experience life as fully as possible.
If we turned away from every experience that involved an element of risk or loss, our lives would be very shallow indeed. Athletes and adventure sports enthusiasts know that there is always a risk involved in what they do, but the joy of the experience weighs in heavier than the thought of loosing, or the element of danger involved.
So to answer my client’s question, ‘what’s the point of making new friends when they might leave,’ my answer is that it’s about the quality of life you want to have. If you want a ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained’ kind of life that’s risk adverse, than it might be better not to make new friends. You won’t have to deal with the sadness and loss of friends leaving, but you will also miss the joy and fun of having good friends.
I believe that everything that is of any value has a price. We might have worked hard on a particular project that we threw ourselves into completely and really enjoyed. Yet when it’s over we feel exhausted and let down. Does this mean that we don’t get actively involved in new projects? For me the answer is, of course not.
And while there is a greater emotional risk to making friends with people who may ultimately leave than investing time in a project, I believe the issue is the same. For me, to experience life as fully as I can is worth the price I have to pay, in this case feeling sad when a friend leaves.
Tip # 3: GET BACK ON THE HORSE...
If you’re an expat, and if you have friends, then dealing with a friend leaving is inevitable. You may not like it, but for me it beats the alternative.
At the same time, sadness and the wish to protect ourselves from feeling sad in the future is perfectly natural and understandable. We all want to enhance pleasure and minimize pain in our lives. Many have argued that these are the core ingredients of being human. And for a period of time, it might make sense to retreat and nurse your wounds, being kind and gentle toward yourself during this time. You are in all likelihood preparing the ground for new friendships to arise.
But soon it will be time to actively sow the seeds by getting involved either in the community, learning something new or volunteering your time. The one tip for getting involved is to be sure that the activity involves others as this is the best way to get back on the horse and make new friends. Remember that when an old friends leaves, it creates the space for new friends to come in!
Dhyan Summers, MA, LMFT is the Clinical Director and lead therapist at Expat Counseling and Coaching Services, an online counseling center for English speaking expats worldwide. Visit Protected content .