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Escaping Toxic Expectations in Friendship

Makeena Rivers | Jan 16, 2020

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

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Makeena Rivers | Jan 16, 2020

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

As a young kid I always felt sensitive to being left out. I paid close attention to the way social groups formed, who was valued, and who got left in the shadows. 

I’m not sure how this became something I worried so much about. Maybe it happened because I naturally found myself joining small groups of three friends, or because I felt hyper-aware of finding a sense of belonging. Whatever the root reasons, like most tendencies that we have in our younger years, it carried into my adult life. 

As I’ve grown up and become more reflective, it’s become increasingly clear that my hyper-awareness and sensitivity to being excluded has a counterproductive side – I’ve gradually learned that it doesn’t help me move through my life more happily or successfully. 

In order to reroute my thoughts, I have had to address the root cause of them. The first step: to try to understand where the emotions tied to this phenomena come from. The second: to recognize the underlying beliefs that support those emotions. In my quest to get to those root causes through these steps, the Baha’i teachings have helped me:

… man should know his own self and recognize that which leadeth unto loftiness or lowliness, glory or abasement, wealth or poverty … – Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 35. 

Through paying close attention to my internal reality, to knowing my own self, I have discovered a few possible roots for my tendency to worry about being left out. 

Early friendships in elementary school planted seeds of worry within me. I had a friend going through difficult stress at home, and she often took it out on me and one other girl. When she prioritized me over another friend, I began to think about my social life as a hierarchy. To make matters worse, the social worlds I observed around me were chock-full of hierarchy. Celebrity culture was alive and well, and even the adults in my school seemed to separate into small exclusive cliques. 

The belief that I should always be included and that friends should seek me out propped up my sensitivity to being left out. I believed that when people really care about you, they’ll want you around all the time, they won’t make plans with other people, and they’ll prefer you over others. My ego was tightly tied into my stress about acceptance and what I perceived as social comfort. Sometimes I would forget the role I played in my friendships, and focus solely on what I expected or wanted from others. 

In order to debunk these thoughts and feelings, I had to find a way to get out of my own head. Recognizing the faulty logic of my own beliefs felt crucial. Gradually, I learned that true friendship does not consist of one pursuing another, or perpetuating or creating strange power dynamics. Choosing to engage in friendships that allow me to look outward required that I change my own attitudes – and also choose to spend more time with people who had outward-facing mindsets, rather than simply focusing on themselves. 

Rather than focusing on the times or the situations where I did not feel fully included, I decided it would be better to focus on the good I had with people I cared about. It became clear that if I held an abnormal expectation for others, that did not benefit either of us. 

The Baha’i writings discuss focusing on the good within others, rather than on the shortcomings. Trying to apply this mentality has been profoundly helpful for me. It has allowed me to see others as humans who have both good and bad qualities, rather than putting them on a pedestal or overshadowing their good features with the bad. Abdu’l-Baha advised Baha’is:

To be silent concerning the faults of others, to pray for them, and to help them, through kindness, to correct their faults.

To look always at the good and not at the bad. If a man has ten good qualities and one bad one, to look at the ten and forget the one; and if a man has ten bad qualities and one good one, to look at the one and forget the ten.

Never to allow ourselves to speak one unkind word about another, even though that other be our enemy. – Abdu’l-Baha, quoted by J.E. Esselmont in Baha’u’llah and the New Era, p. 82.

One must see in every human being only that which is worthy of praise. When this is done, one can be a friend to the whole human race. If, however, we look at people from the standpoint of their faults, then being a friend to them is a formidable task. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 169.

The most effective way to interfere with my feelings of being left out, I have found, is by logically accepting that a friendship will not always take a particular course. Some people will be closer to me, and some won’t. If I feel particularly drawn to someone, I can simply reach out to them and seek to spend time with them. The force of humility allows me to function in friendships and social groups with more grace and detachment, while also benefiting from the love and joy others can potentially contribute to my life:

Humility exalteth man to the heaven of glory and power, whilst pride abaseth him to the depths of wretchedness and degradation. – Baha’u’llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 29.

When pride seeps into our friendships, it becomes difficult to detach from these toxic patterns of measuring ourselves against one another or competing for attention and power. If we operate with humility, we can open our hearts and experience friendships that do not put others down or perpetuate exclusion and false notions about self-importance. If we can interact and reflect more humbly, I’ve learned, we can more easily develop joyous and stable friendships.

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  • Iléane Faille
    Mar 31, 2020
    So warming thoughts!!!Thank you shinning heart for your sharings!
  • Mae Carmel Walters
    Jan 27, 2020
    great article, Makeena. thanks for opening up and sharing your self reflections.
  • Mary Chiang
    Jan 16, 2020
    Thank you for this article, Makeena. I love reading your articles because I always resonate so strongly with many of your thoughts and experiences. I totally also am dealing with feelings of "FOMO" and not feeling "wanted" by others or my friends, so I appreciate this timely article with it's suggestions and quotes.
  • Jan 16, 2020
    This was really well written Makeena. You have great writing talent. I read all of your articles and admire your wisdom at such a young age. Thank you.
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