Learn how the yoga sutras can help you deal with the grieving process
I was talking to a very close friend of mine when she confessed one of her closest childhood friendships had ended untimely. What I also heard was a lot of unprocessed grief in her words followed by attachment to the ex-friend and the lack of closure. Hey, I have been there!
The world we live in doesn’t empower us to deal with loss of friendships when losing a close friend can feel like losing a loved one. Media and cinema is all about grieving the death of romantic relationships. But we don’t hear or read much about how to get over a friendship breakup. In some ways, losing a close friend can be even more painful than a romantic breakup because a close friend is your safe space for when the heart breaks.
As human beings, we have all made friends (at some point of our lives) and seen friendships die. Sometimes the suddenness takes us by surprise; other times, we have felt the heaviness, toxicity, distance, disagreements, disinterest, and the cancerous nature of it outgrow everything good that ever existed. But the truth is that ends almost always hurt. They make us look for reasons and explanations. They force us to ask big questions.
Living With Doubt
Reflections. Guilt. Shame. Embarrassment. Rumination. Did my friend take me for granted? How did I not see the signs? How could they hurt me? Why would they abandon me when I needed them most? I feel so stupid for not seeing through them. Did I just waste decades of my life on a friend who doesn’t care? I feel like such a failure.
Each of us approaches friendship in a very different way and every friendship requires its own ingredient. Some friends require a lot of maintenance. Others you see after years, and you reconnect in a heartbeat. Some friends like only lighter engagements while others want to discuss all the world issues over chai.
People’s life situations change and that reflects in their needs. Sometimes, there is a change in interests, and there is nothing in common to hold two people together. Breach of trust, misunderstandings, clashes with the friend’s partner or attraction to them, bullying, abusive and toxic behavior can all be reasons why friendships end.
One can’t ignore that life circumstances like marriage, divorce, birth of a child, career opportunities also impact friendships. How about when friends move away, pass away, drift away … and friendships die a natural death without any official breakup situation. Meaning, I wouldn’t say that the death of a friendship is always someone’s fault.
I once had to temporarily put a friendship on hiatus because this friend’s behavior was stealing my mental peace. Not a breakup, just a break. I cared deeply about this person and didn’t want to end the friendship. A few times, I communicated to them that their pessimism and glass-half-full attitude was draining me out. Their negativity kept hitting me at a time when I was recovering from a health issue. Any unwarranted stress would mean my illness could get triggered (mental health impacts physical well-being). I had no bandwidth to deal with it and finally conveyed my boundaries.
Today, we are fine. Our paths wandered back again, and we discovered a new friendship despite being old friends. The pause also taught this person that you can’t push friends and expect meaningful relationships to be one-sided.
But not all friendships can be or should be rescued. My friend Day, who is a therapist, says that “Some friendships have an expiration date.” Every friendship is sacred, and it holds a special meaning in our lives. But sometimes, when we allow them to take space past a certain period, they start to stink up like rotten meat.
When we make room for newer and better aligned relationships in our lives, new friends show up. But can we move past old friendships without acknowledging the grief? How does one navigate the choppy waters of friendships ending without accepting the sense of loss it creates? How can we not acknowledge that ends bring pain, impact our mental health, and create physical discomfort? People might suffer physical symptoms like insomnia, gastrointestinal pain, and chest tightness. It can feel like a literal heartache (Eisenberger, N. I. 2012). Some people battle anxiety or can spiral into depression. There is a sense of helplessness because you can’t control the situation. People might question their worth.
For my friendships that have ended, I am starting to find answers in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. I believe it helps to practice non-attachment — you read correctly; I don’t mean detachment. These concepts of attachment and non-attachment are mentioned several times in the Yoga Sutras. We’re attached to our families, our friends, our careers, our hobbies, our appearances, our home, our identities, and our belongings. That’s not a bad thing, but we need to keep our desire for attachment in check if we want to transcend the suffering of life.
If we try to detach ourselves from the loss and the pain, we fake our healing. What we end up doing is creating cold and callous impassiveness. Detachment could lead to lack of empathy, disconnection with others, aloofness, isolation, and depression. It’s rooted in ego and too much ego can’t be good for anyone, especially a person with a bruised heart. For example, people who say they have been burnt too many times and will never make the effort to meet new friends. Why bother? A new friend will also disappoint me.
Non-attachment means accepting that ends happen, and we might not have control over them. It’s remembering that we are not our relationships or friendships, or our success/failure as human beings. The friendships that end with a bang might need more inner cleansing, but even the ones that fade away with time, also leave an impact.
You go through grief with authenticity and a degree of acceptance instead of being in denial. You wish well to friends who have moved on, and you are open to meeting new people. There is faith that in the long term, things generally turn out as they should. This path feels more serene and emotionally sustainable. The role of the mind is one of the most important things to consider in your daily practice of life.
How do you handle the demise of a friendship?