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Attachment to Friends and Relationships

by Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW

I appreciate this service and wondered if any light could be shed on my problem. I find that in my life, I have often grown very attached and love my girlfriends dearly. I have always been the type of person who loves people and I am proud that I am kind, have great empathy, and am loving to all those around me. Many people love to be around me and I have never had a problem socially and can get along with just about anyone. I listen VERY well and am always absorbing what others say and I take everything seriously and really think about others when they speak to me. I have this personality because I value and take friendships very seriously.

When I call someone my friend, I really mean it and I would be there for them in a heartbeat. I always help my friends with any problems they have and listen to all of their concerns, likes, worries, wishes, I love getting to know them and feel very close to them and they often share their inner most thoughts with me. If I call someone my friend, it is for life.

I have noticed something however that may not be very healthy for me. I have lost some of these friends throughout the years and it truly hurts me a great deal. Because I love my friends, even when we are no longer friends, I think the world of them, I believe in them, and admire them. I also grow attached to them and when I have lost them, I feel very empty, sad, and lonely, as if I have lost part of myself. I almost set myself up by having very high expectations, and then always become disappointed when they don’t call or communicate or show the same interest that I have towards them to me. I get hurt when I hear something about them from someone else (as in they didn’t tell me something that I would have expected them to). For one friend that I lost in particular it took years for me to get over it. She was like a sister/aunt and I loved her so much and then after one argument she would no longer speak to me anymore. I remember being so distraught and so down over it. It was at that time that I developed thyroid issues and I am sure it had to do with the stress and grief that I experienced. I have somewhat moved on but can see my same attachment issues with others around me, I am afraid to lose close girl friends because of the emotional pain I experience.

Because of this dynamic, I feel that most of my relationships are unrequited. I feel that I am a friend to so many people, I know all sorts of things about them. I think about them often, I pray for them, I see things that they like and it reminds me of them, I always make an effort to call and say hello and that I miss them. However I don’t know anyone who feels that way about me. In other words I am a friend to so many, people always seek my advice and consolation. However no one has been able to do the same for me. Sometimes I feel like I am being used, but my need to give myself to others is almost like second nature.

Is there any way to get over this emotional dynamic? Can you see any explanation for it? I feel like it hurts me more than it helps me and leaves me a bit unsatisfied with the relationships that I create. I feel that I deserve love, attention, and kindness as I show that to others.

I should mention that I have a sister, but we are not close at all and are personality opposites. She was never there for me and we are somewhat distant now. My mom and I have a great relationship and I love her very much. My father and I don’t have much of a relationship and he is a very difficult person to get along with. Other than that I was hoping for some self help advice so that I stop crumbling when my friendships fail or don’t go as I see fit. I never show it outwardly, but on \inside I suffer a lot emotionally because of it. I find myself thinking of them or being reminded of them and I always end up crying again over the loss even after years have gone by. I miss and love these people who obviously don’t feel the same for me!

I hope you might have a word or two of advice. Thanks for listening and caring.

You are giving more than you are getting. You put a lot of time and effort into a relationship and in most cases, it seems like the effort is not matched. It is important that all relationships are balanced. This means that you should only give what the other person is giving. For instance, if your friend calls you, then you should call her the next time. If your friend asks you to go to the movies, then the next time you’re considering the movies you should ask her. If you’re going out to dinner and you ask your friend to go, then you should expect her to reciprocate your offer sometime in the future, and so on. It would be a mistake to continually ask your friends to go out to dinner when they never ask you. It would mean that you were putting more into the relationship than you were getting. It is psychologically unhealthy for you to continue this one-sided relationship dynamic. As I mentioned above, relationships require balance. This applies to both friendships and romantic relationships.

Something else to consider is that you may be choosing the wrong friends. You may be choosing individuals who do not have the same level of interest in friendship that you have. You may be misjudging people. You may think they’re more interested in the friendship than they are.

It’s also possible, as I have discussed above, that in the context of these relationships, you are over- giving your time and effort and this ultimately sabotages the relationship. At this time, you expect people to reciprocate, but they often don’t. The solution is to limit the time and effort you place into relationships. It’s important that you do this to protect yourself from the emotional distress that occurs when you lose a friend.

Please don’t misunderstand and think I’m saying that there is something inherently wrong with you. I’m saying that perhaps there is an issue with the way you interact with people and this dynamic negatively affects your relationships.

The general rule of thumb is to match the time and effort of the other individual in the relationship. If you’re not sure how to proceed and you need more guidance about how to behave in relationships, then consider therapy. The therapist could give you an objective opinion about how you’re interacting with people and guide you about how to change the relationship dynamic.

I think you would be an ideal candidate for therapy because you understand that there may be a problem with the way you interact with people and you’re open to changing it. You recognize that this ongoing dynamic hurts you and you want to change it. For these reasons, I believe therapy would be greatly beneficial for you. If you’d like to search for therapist in your community please search this directory.

Thank you for your question. Please consider writing back to letting me know how you’re doing. I look forward to your followup letter.

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