I looked in the mirror at myself and spoke out loud, “I’m pissed at you.”
This wasn’t a comment directed at myself, but at a close friend of mine — the person I had started to resent a few weeks prior, but instead of bringing it up at the time, I remained silent, distant, passive.
So there I was, alone at home practicing the very words I wanted to utter that afternoon over lunch, uncertain that I'd have the courage to make it happen. I am always struggling with finding the right way to let the people I care about know that I’m upset, disappointed or simply pissed off. Except for my boyfriend of three and a half years. When he makes me the slightest bit rattled, he knows it — immediately. I have no problem voicing my concerns with an assertive — and sometimes borderline aggressive — tone. But why is that so hard to do with my friends?
Shannon Kalberg, a licensed marriage and family therapist, explains that addressing difficult issues in friendships can be tricky.
“It’s hard to be honest without hurting other people’s feelings or fearing that they may end the friendship,” says Kalberg. “With a romantic or familial relationship, there have been more opportunities for intensified emotional or physical attachment and vulnerability. However, being vulnerable and honest with a friend about their flaws can create a stronger bond if it is done with care and respect.”
It can be hard to do, especially if we’ve been hurt by friends before or vice versa.
Elena Jackson, a licensed professional counselor and a licensed mental health counselor, says that people usually have a long history of pain related to friendships.
“Our earliest rejection or abandonment can happen in friendship. Some pain starting as early as rejection in day care, which we may not remember,” says Jackson. “Children are taught to keep the peace. Consider the repetition of the advice 'play nicely with your friends.'”
Because of that, Jackson says that friendships are often more sensitive to anger than romantic and familial relationships.
“Friendships require fun, lightheartedness and feeling valued. These feel absent to us when anger is present,” says Jackson.
Because friendships are centered around being with people we have a good time with, it’s easy to brush certain feelings or conversations off our shoulders, which can lead to future resentment.
I knew I needed a game plan to confront this friend without things getting awkward, aggressive or fueled by pure anger. That’s why I turned to a handful of experts for advice and came up with the following strategy.
Take a step back and identify what’s really wrong
It’s easy to rush in with finger pointing, but if we’re going to bring up issues to our friends, we have to get our facts straight and our emotions in line.
Ibinye Osibodu-Onyali, a licensed marriage and family therapist, recommends that before communicating with your friend, you ask yourself what exactly he/she did to upset you.
“Was it something that was said? Was it something that was done? Ask yourself why it triggers you so much,” says Osibodu-Onyali. “Perhaps it reminds you of a time when someone else treated you badly. Or maybe your friend keeps doing this over and over again. It's important to be very specific and address only one incident at a time so that your friend has clarity.”