Is Friendship a Battlefield? plus Grow a Pair.
Dear Dr. Hurd,
This seems sort of trivial now that I’m writing about it, but here goes: I spend a lot of time regretting how I react to people who even mildly criticize me. I get defensive over the slightest thing, and I can tell, even as I respond, that I am hurting feelings when I overreact to suggestions, no matter how well-meaning. It happens almost automatically and I don’t know how to control it.
Dr. Hurd replies,
To be defensive means you have something to defend. What is that, exactly? Maybe someone is pointing out something to improve because they care about you. Is that such a bad thing? Maybe you agree with what they’re saying, or maybe you don’t. If it’s the former, they’ve done you a favor. It it’s the latter, well, you’re not thrilled, but you still have someone who cares enough to take the time.
Sometimes people are critical not because they care, but simply because they’re mean and insecure. That’s no fun, but why defend yourself against such a person? They don’t matter. Defensiveness is an attempt at self-protection, and that’s a good motive. But being defensive is the wrong way to go about it. Maybe subconsciously you have come to view relationships as battles. It could have started in your childhood, but to me, that’s not what matters. What matters is that you have internalized the purely emotional view that, “I’m under attack. I’ve got to defend myself!”…even when you don’t.
This may also stem from a poor sense of self-esteem. People who feel insecure about themselves worry about being attacked. They’re worried that maybe the attacks are valid. Or they worry that if another criticizes them, nobody loves them and it’s a catastrophe. Not likely. If you must engage in battle, then at least put the other person on the defensive. Train yourself to say, “I don’t quite understand. Can you explain, please?” This is a good tactic whether you’re trying to push somebody’s criticism away or if you actually wish to understand it.
Knowledge is power. It really is. When someone criticizes you constructively: “You’ve got broccoli in your teeth” or “There’s a multi-legged creature on your shoulder,” then they’ve done you a favor. When someone criticizes you just to put you down, then you’ve learned something important about them. ‘Nuff said. Either way, it’s new knowledge and a win-win for you.
Dear Dr. Hurd,
I moved in with a guy about a year ago and all of my friends accepted him immediately. The problem is that I have met somebody else, and now I feel trapped. I know if I break up with him it will be shocking to many of the friends we have in common and will create awkward social situations in the future. But on the other hand I’m sick of sneaking around behind his back and my new friend feels the same way. I feel like if I break up with my current boyfriend that I will be breaking up with my current friends too.
Dr. Hurd replies,
You’re not in a romantic relationship with your friends. I’m sure you don’t expect them to choose their relationship partners based on your social needs. So why would you ask that of yourself? It sounds to me like you’re trying to avoid discomfort. Maybe this hyper-concern about your friends is a distraction; a way to avoid the difficult process you’re facing. If that’s true, at least be honest with yourself about it.
I see this with people who have been in relationships or marriages for a long time. Simply because of its longevity, they cannot bring themselves to end an unhappy relationship. It’s hard for people to accept that just because something might have been right for its time, it might not be right for all time. I don’t mean to be casual about long-term commitments, but living a lie is worse than breaking up. Gays and lesbians should understand that better than a lot of people.
Why do you care so much about what other people think? If you’re worried they’ll judge you harshly for sneaking around on your boyfriend—particularly someone they like—well, let’s face it: They probably will. All I can say here is that the damage is done. Don’t add to a bad situation by living a lie.
You don’t owe anyone an explanation other than yourself and your present boyfriend with whom you’re living. A relationship is between the two people involved. Others who think they can guess what’s going on between two other people have an inflated opinion of their own insight. There are enough cases where the two parties in a relationship don’t see things the same way; so how can someone outside the relationship hope to know what’s actually going on?
Stop faltering in indecision. It’s not fair to you, your present partner, or your new partner. And your friends? They’ll get over it. And if they don’t? Then they weren’t your friends to begin with. There is no perfect solution, so just take responsibility and do what has to be done.
Michael J. Hurd, Ph.D., LCSW is a psychotherapist and author. His office can be reached at 302-227-2829. Email questions or comments to Dr. Hurd.