Dear Therapist:

Hi! I am a 22-year-old boy and I recently started reading The Couch and I really find it interesting and helpful. I think that even if a question is not directly related to me, I can still learn a lot from the answers.  I went through some struggles as a teenager but with awesome parents...I got through it, and I am doing really well. I was in a yeshiva in Israel the last two years and just got back to America. Before I went to Israel, I had a close group of friends that I hung out with all the time. We did everything together and always had each other's backs.  Now that I'm in town again they expect it to be like old times. They even offered to share an apartment with me (which I don't need). But I think I changed a lot over the last few years, and I'm not the same person that I was before, though I don't know if they realize this. I really like them and there is a very deep friendship, but I think that they are not healthy for me. (My rabbis from Israel have pretty much said the same thing, but they don't actually know them). They definitely have their issues but honestly so do I. I also don't want to hurt them or make it like I am better than them.  I don't think they would understand and will probably see it as a betrayal.  I guess I am not sure what to do and how to go about it in a way that doesn't disrespect them or cause a ton of drama. I would appreciate your advice on this! Thanks!

 

Response:

On the surface, your question is logistical. You’re asking for advice on the best way to “break the news” to your friends that your part in the relationship has changed. Perhaps your concern is simply—as you said—that you care about these friends and don’t want to cause them any pain.

I wonder, however, whether you are experiencing some sense of loss as well. You speak of the wonderfully close relationship that you had with this group of friends. I know that it would be difficult for me to withdraw from such a close relationship without feeling a sense of loss. If your concerns are being exacerbated and magnified by a sense of loss, it is important to acknowledge this and try to separate these feelings from any logistical concerns surrounding your method of detaching from the relationship. This is especially important if you have been using an unconscious defense mechanism (like denial, repression, or intellectualization) to avoid emotions related to the loss of your relationship.

Relationships are like people; there are no two that are exactly alike. Also, like people, relationships are dynamic—they constantly change. For these reasons, it can be extremely difficult for an outsider to advise on specific aspects of particular relationships. Not only is the group dynamic singular and ever-changing, but there are also intergroup relationships (comprised of two or more people). These intergroup relationships impact on other relationships within the group as well as on the group dynamic as a whole.

Since there are so many factors and moving parts inherent in your relationships, I cannot offer specific advice as to the method of approaching the situation. I can, however, discuss a general concept that can be helpful.

Your uncertainty may be partially due to the fact that you’re viewing the situation from too broad a perspective. In your question, you consistently referred to the group and to your relationship with the group. Without focusing on specific relationships, it can be easy to be overwhelmed by the possibilities. This is due to the inability to identify specific concerns within specific relationships.

For instance, within one of your “sub-relationships,” the friend(s) involved may be highly insulted if you were to tell them that you’re in a different place than they are, while other friends may appreciate your candor. Isolating specific relationships within the groups and focusing on your concerns within those relationships can help you to identify appropriate strategies with which to approach each individual situation. This can also help you to feel less overwhelmed and less like you are incapable of making your own decisions in this area.

-Yehuda Lieberman, LCSW

  psychotherapist in private practice

  Woodmere, NY

  adjunct professor at Touro College

  Graduate School of Social Work

  author of Self-Esteem: A Primer

  www.ylcsw.com / 516-218-4200