Dealing With an Abusive Friendship

Question

I have been friends with this person for 10 years, and she is almost like a sister to me. However, I just realized how verbally abusive she is to me, and I cannot stand the emotional and spiritual strain anymore. I still care about her, but I want to have healthy friendships. How do I end a long friendship smoothly and without conflict?

—Natalie, USA

Answer

Dear Natalie,

Let’s approach this from several points of view. Yes, of course, it’s hurtful to be treated that way. But it’s also hurtful to her own soul, her own self-respect to behave in that way. A friend would want to help that person. And a friend, in response, would (eventually) appreciate that help.

Without wanting to shift the blame from her to you, let me at least point out that, unintentionally, your acceptance of her treatment of you is, in its own way, enabling her. I say this to set the stage for what follows:

So let’s shift this around in the direction of a possible WIN-WIN. I don’t get the sense that you no longer want her friendship; rather, it seems that you no longer can tolerate her abuse. But maybe there’s a way, “one way or another,” that a positive outcome can take place for both.

For starters, we have to approach this with calmness and a certain degree of non-attachment to the outcome, okay? If you are willing to experiment for a time, consider these suggestions:

1. Abuser-abused takes two. If the abused person is not even aware of the abuse (e.g., sarcasm), the abuse still isn’t right, but it is one-sided, and the abused feels “no pain.” What I am saying is that the push-you, pull-me back and forth of verbal abuse takes, in some measure, two people: one to abuse, the other to feel abused. So, what if, as an experiment, and before making a decision to leave the friendship, you tried for a while simply remaining calm when verbally attacked; look calmly into her eyes without reaction. Imagine your face and eyes and entire being are a full-length mirror. In the mirror of your consciousness, your friend may, after some time and practice, begin to see herself.

2. This experiment presupposes that you both are truly friends and do, in fact, care for one another. If there’s no psychic or spiritual connection (like being robbed by a random burglar), then this won’t work. It’s important that you not stare her down or “look daggers” when you do this. You can even smile just a little, almost sadly, as you reflect and observe her abusive behavior. You know that little thing we do where we cock the head just slightly to one side with a questioning look on our face? Like a clinician examining a specimen!

3. What this is doing is you pulling out of the game. “You have the right to remain silent!” After a while, the abuser may look, well, bemused. By ending whatever little part you’ve played, it creates a space, a vacuum that can sometimes allow the abuser the space to stop the unconscious habit. You might even both have a good laugh. Hopefully, given enough time and practice, your friend will gradually and steadily dial down her aggressive tone.

4. This experiment doesn’t preclude or doesn’t require that you never address the issue or discuss your feelings. I don’t know either of you but there may be other times (not often in the moment of the abuse), where you can say, “Jean, there’s something I’d like to talk to you about. We’ve been friends for a long time and I’d like to keep it that way. But I find that your habit of talking to me sarcastically or critically is increasingly intolerable. So whaddya say you dial this stuff back? Maybe it’s just an old habit you got from childhood but real friends don’t do that. Hmm?”

5. Now maybe, just maybe, what you are really saying to us is that the friendship is over and that it has no spiritual value, so far as you can see. Of course, I cannot “see” that one way or another. So if THAT’S really what you are saying, then let me offer some suggestions about going in THAT direction:

6. I’d begin by bringing into my prayers and meditations gratitude for the friendship and appreciation for my friend’s finer qualities; even spiritual qualities. I’d certainly pray for guidance in ending or withdrawing from the friendship. You don’t want to leave the friendship on a negative note if you can help it.

7. I might suggest you take the tack and attitude that by ending (regular) contact it’s not so much that you want to see the friendship end but that it is just needing to take a break or take another form. This is not unlike a friend who has died. They are no longer physically present but they still live in your memory and in your heart. Thus don’t see it as a rejection, condemnation, or judgment. In fact, since it’s not good for her to behave this way, by ceasing contact, you do her a favor!

Remind yourself that we are ALL children of God. We just have unique paths to take and all the “time in the world” to take it. Think: “We will meet again for we are friends eternally in our one Father-Mother, Beloved-Friend, God.”

7.5 Be sure to pray daily for your friend. Hold her image in your mind’s eye (spiritual eye) surrounded by joy and light, with the Divine Image of God, guru, or Divine Mother behind her AS her.

8. Outwardly, rather than make an abrupt break which will surely cause hurt feelings, I would suggest you see how to ease out by fewer and fewer contacts. Ideally, you won’t want to resort to excuses or “white lies.” Ask Divine Mother to show you or give you the natural and right opportunities.

9. A shift of your energy and interests can make all the difference. Spend more time getting involved with people whose consciousness and behavior support your spiritual aspirations. Take meditation or yoga classes (online these days). Ananda has a “Virtual Community” online. Re-direct your own creative initiative and energies (and time) in the directions you wish to go. This changes the vibration of your consciousness and your aura and even your friend may find, subtly, that she’s not calling or contacting you as often. (It’s like having a divine virus!) Be sure you are reading spiritual books or watching videos from Ananda on YouTube. CHANGE YOUR CONSCIOUSNESS — CHANGE YOUR FRIENDS!

In fact, you can do BOTH of these things: experimenting with not reacting to your friend’s abusive words AND re-directing your own energies. An obvious incompatibility of vibration and consciousness would subtly guide each of you in new and different directions. Patience, perhaps, may be all that is needed.

I’m sure this will work out, as your intention seems sincere and not vengeful.

Blessings and may the divine Light show you the way through this!
Nayaswami Hriman