The Mirror of Relationships
Nedra, one of my clients, was quite upset when she received an email from her friend, Roxanne, ending their friendship. The email was quite blaming, telling Nedra that she was narcissistic, selfish, and uncaring. Roxanne complained that Nedra just talked about herself and was never there for Roxanne. “You don’t listen to me. You don’t care about me. You are never there for me when I need you.”
Nedra was stunned. In her experience, this was not going on at all. “I just can’t understand how she could see me this way!” she told me in our counseling session.
Nedra’s inclination was to write it off as projection. In her mind, this had nothing to do with her.
“Nedra,” I said to her, “Let’s see if we can find the lesson here. There is always something to learn from a situation like this. While this might indeed be a projection, there is some way in which it has something to do with you. I’m wondering how you might have abandoned yourself in your friendship with Roxanne.”
“Well, often I didn’t speak up for myself. Roxanne wasn’t really open, so I would go along with things to avoid conflict.”
“So you didn’t really take care of yourself in this friendship?”
“I guess I didn’t. I let a lot of things go. And recently I started to feel distant from her. I think I could feel that she wanted me to take care of her feelings so I started to pull away. She is not open to learning and, while she talks a good talk about taking responsibility for her feelings, she doesn’t really do it.”
“But it sounds like you didn’t take care of your feelings either – that you ignored your own feelings to avoid conflict with her. So I would like you to try something with this email you received from her. I would like you to pretend that your Inner Child – your feeling self – wrote it to your Adult. Pretend that it is your Inner Child who is saying, ‘You don’t listen to me. You don’t care about me. You are never there for me when I need you.’ Does this make sense to you?”
“Oh yes! I can see this! I never would have thought of it this way, but I can see that she was not taking care of her feelings so she is blaming toward me for not taking care of her, and I was not taking care of my feelings so I was pulling away from her. In a way, her letter to me is a gift to me!”
“Right. You can see that you need to be going within more, paying more attention to your own feelings. It sounds like, at least in this relationship, your focus was outward instead of within.”
“Yes, I often do this. And I can see that it never works out well. I have done the same thing in my relationships with men, and the relationships have never worked out. Okay, I’m going to start to pay more attention to my own feelings. But I’m wondering what I should do about the email? I have no idea what to say to her. I feel that I don’t want to respond to her at all.”
“Yes, I think that is appropriate. I don’t see that there is anything to say. You can send her your love and your prayers and let it go. She has made it clear that she is ending the relationship and that she is not open to learning or exploring with you. So there is nothing for you to say or do. How does that feel?”
“I actually feel relieved! I’m excited to have learned this from the letter. All my resentment is gone and I feel complete with this.”