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Ask Sahaj: I was ghosted by a lifelong friend. How do I move on?

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Sahaj Kaur Kohli, creator of Brown Girl Therapy and an MA.Ed, will be answering questions about identity, relationships, mental health, work-life balance, family dynamics and more. If you have a question for her, please submit it here.

Dear Sahaj: I have just experienced a “ghosting” experience with a dear friend — a friend with whom I shared the deepest emotions, yearly holiday traditions, weekly phone calls. She and her husband have been there for me at every twist and turn of life.

We are both psychotherapists. She and her husband often make unsolicited comments. I have accepted that as a part of who they are amid all the other lovely things. My husband does not like that and finds it judgmental.

In December, we were all out to dinner. At one point, her husband said to mine, “It is too bad that your handsome son is married to such an unattractive woman.” My husband said that this was an obnoxious comment, and he felt we all kind of agreed with it. I apologized to my husband. My friend said I had thrown her under the bus, and has not been willing to see or talk to me since.

She did say that she hates my husband and never wants to see him again. They have clashed over these things before. I have shared with them the troubles I used to have with my husband, though we have resolved our differences. But my siding with him obviously triggered something in her.

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I have sent loving emails to them and practically begged her to tell me what she thinks was so horrible. She knows that I am a trauma survivor with lifelong abandonment vulnerabilities. She knows that this hurts me at a core level.

For months, I have been grieving, having obsessive conversations with them in my head, difficulty sleeping, depression. I’ve had to take medication, which is finally helping.

I have stopped trying to contact her. This has felt deliberately cruel. I have never, in 50 years, seen this cruel side of my friend.

— Hurt friend

Hurt friend: It can be unsettling to find out the people we love and have been loved by are no longer the people we thought they were.

Ghosting can erode self-esteem and increase feelings of self-doubt. It makes sense that your feelings of abandonment have been triggered, and that you may be resorting to learned behavior of self-blaming. I applaud you for seeking professional support to help you through this; it will be essential as you navigate the impact this has caused.

Although you feel blindsided, I wonder if the ghosting has been predated by other painful and hurtful behavior. It’s apparent that your husband and your friend don’t get along, and while you’ve tried to separate these two important relationships, it has caused you to live a bifurcated existence.

I would challenge you to really confront the reality of your friendship over the years. How much of the relationship has required you to make excuses, compromises or adjustments? In what ways has she shown some of her truer colors that you chose to ignore?

Friendships naturally evolve, but by taking a more objective view of your friendship, you may be able to combat the tendency to internalize that this is your fault.

I also sense shame in your question. You mention “practically begging” her in hopes she will allow you to take responsibility and mend the relationship, and you make it a point to share that you are a psychotherapist. You are human, and this is an incredibly painful experience you are navigating. From one mental health professional to another, I wonder: What would you say to a client or a loved one navigating this? I hope this will give you permission to give yourself the same compassion you would likely give someone else.

Of course, given the history you have with this friend, this is painful. You’ve lived life longer with her in it than you know how to live a life without her in it, and grief is inevitable. However, you can start to create a life around the grief that makes it less paralyzing. What does it look like for you to take care of yourself on a foundational level? How can you make new friends or invest in other relationships that feel mutually supportive?

When someone ghosts another person, it’s usually an indication that they have an inability to tolerate difficult emotions or conversations, so they avoid the relationship altogether. It sounds like you have tried to fight for this friendship, but it won’t change the fact that this is a two-way street. We just can’t force people to interact with us.

There will come a point where you will have to create closure for yourself, and when you do, I hope you will find ways to honor who you are: both because of this friendship, and also who you can — and want — to be without it.