Monday, November 2, 2015

In Grief: Feeling Let Down By Closest Friends

[Reviewed and updated December 15, 2023]

I can't tell you the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everyone. ~ Ed Sheeran

A reader writes: I've grown up as a people pleaser and a pretty much a doormat, taking care of others' needs always before my own. As one of my dad's primary caretakers, I became overwhelmed with burnout as I was given a great deal of the responsibility of taking care of him as he was bedridden as well as running errands, doing chores, etc.

Now my father's gone. I'm on the edge of depression and my closest friends are not only, NOT supporting me but also being judgmental and critical about how long I stayed to take care of family matters until I flew home.

My best friend is actually ignoring me right now because she disagrees with how I handled certain situations with my family—aka judging. She's even convinced my other friends that I was wrong. "Disappointment" is a term they all have used—even though everything was worked out and agreed upon by all my family members.

Always being there for my friends, I was counting on their sympathy and support, which they’ve only given to my mom and sister and couldn’t care less about my feelings. Feeling this abandonment after always being there for people, as I'm really looking at who I am after this situation, really makes me not trust people anymore and I feel like I'm losing my interest in being nice to others and caring for them. Do you have any advice for me?

My response: My dear, I understand that you are hurt and angry and feel completely misjudged and betrayed by this long-time friend of yours. It also sounds as if she may have played a part in turning some of your other so-called friends against you. If you truly do believe that this "friend" is totally wrong about how you've dealt with both your parents in the face of your father's illness and death, and if she still has little or no interest in seeing it from your point of view, then maybe it's time to call an end to your friendship with this person, at least for the time being. What is more, you may want to ask yourself why this friend's opinion of you ~ an opinion that you believe is totally off-base and wrong ~ matters so much to you.

I cannot answer for you why your friends have failed to offer you the support and understanding you need so much right now, except to say that if they’ve never experienced significant loss, they may not know what to do or say. I’m sorry to say that in our society, this is not unusual. Sadly enough, we live in a death-denying culture, and unless they've encountered death in a very personal way, most people really don't know what grief feels like, and they don't know what, if anything, they can do to help a person in mourning. (See, for example, my article, Helping Another in Grief.)

I can only feel for you and encourage you to find and turn to those who will "be there" for you in a kind and loving way. As a good first step, you might try joining our online Grief Healing Discussion Groups, which I think will demonstrate to you the profound difference it makes when you're among fellow mourners. (See especially our forum for Loss of a Parent or Grandparent.) This is why grief support groups are such a powerful source of help for the bereaved: everyone there is bound by the common experience of loss.

You say you've "grown up as a people pleaser and a pretty much a doormat." In some ways, your story reminded me of a "Q and A" I read on the Health Journeys website. Although the details in this young woman's story differ somewhat from your own, you might find something useful here that speaks to you as well: When Identity Is Locked Into Resentful, Dutiful Caretaking.

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