“How could he just disappear like that? He promised to marry me,” my client said, as she wiped her tears. Most of us are familiar with betrayal. Partners, friends, and even family members can make a commitment and then disappear.
I had a very close, longtime friend, and eventually our relationship extended into work. I became part of her business team. She constantly made commitments and broke them on a whim. I often ignored it, justifying that maybe she was keeping the bigger picture in mind.
One day, our work relationship ended, with no warning on my end. I confronted her about the broken commitments. She insisted it was all in my head and continued to assure me that she would be there as a friend, no matter what. And then she stopped responding.
When people with whom we share a deep bond with disappear, the immediate reaction is confusion and doubt. We start questioning where we went wrong and whether we should continue to pursue the relationship. Left unexplored, these thoughts can fester into anger, depression, and resentment in the long run.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Here are the strategies I've learned to employ when someone I care about pulls a disappearing act.
1. Don’t take it personally.
While relating this story to another friend, she laughed and said, "You, too?" That got me out of my head, reminding me this happens to everyone. Rejection hurts, but it often has nothing to do with our how worthy of love we are. People’s behavior is a reflection of their own beliefs, values, feelings, and thought patterns. When we personalize their behavior, we start to spiral into self-blame and unworthiness. Viewing it as a choice made independently of your behavior or nature allows you to address it from an objective perspective.
2. Avoid the impulse to start thinking of them as "other."
It’s very natural to want to develop a sense of otherness from people in your life. It's differentiating them from you. But when we actively separate ourselves from people as a response to pain they've caused, we sacrifice our empathy for them. We can no longer relate to them.
On the other hand, identifying similarities between ourselves and others, we reconnect to our shared humanity. The Buddhist Loving-Kindness Meditation involves sending goodwill to ourselves and all those who have hurt us. As I began to practice this, saying “just like me, you want love,” I found a space where I could identify with and feel compassion for both myself and my friend.
3. Take responsibility.
Brené Brown said, "Love and belonging are irreducible needs of all men, women, and children. We'
Deep down, we just want love, and we get so afraid of losing that person that we ignore the reality of the situation. By owning what we did or did not do, we share the responsibility of creating that reality. This empowers us to make better choices in the future rather than just being a victim of someone else's choices.
4. Focus on wholeness.
“What a jerk!” another friend remarked. “Don’t say that," I squealed. “She’s really supported me, too." My friend muttered something about me being crazy. But there’s logic to this. When relationships go sour, our bad moments become the focal point. In truth, there is good and bad in every relationship.
Acknowledge the hurtful events, but remember the laughter and joy, too. Seeing the whole picture neutralizes the negative and creates an equilibrium in our minds. It keeps us from stewing on old wounds and letting resentment grow.
5. Set an internal standard.
We all have to love and honor ourselves. That starts with recognizing our own values and acknowledging our priorities. If we don’t set internal standards for what we want and don't want, what we will or won't accept, we unconsciously give people permission to treat us according to their own standards. Once we set and enforce our own boundaries, people will treat us accordingly.
Clinging to memories, doubts, or questions about the people who have abandoned us won’t bring us peace. Certain questions might never be answered. The most loving thing you can do — for both the person who left and for yourself — is to move on. Moving on affirms your worth and your choice to treat yourself as you deserve to be treated.