When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

Society

When Friends "Break Up" — The Psychological Damage After Friendships End

Society sees friendships as far less important than love and life partnerships. But psychologists warn that the end of a close friendship can leave the "grieving" side in need of therapy.

When Friends "Break Up" — The Psychological Damage After Friendships End

The end of friendships can lead to heartbreak and grief like with any other relationship.

Paula Galinsky

BUENOS AIRES — It was Wednesday and Sofía, a 31-year-old woman living in Buenos Aires, was having a good day. She'd had a productive work meeting in the morning and her usual gym class in the afternoon. But as she walked home listening to music in her earphones, she felt an acute pain, first in her chest, then throat.

It wasn't a heart attack, but she panicked and began to cry. What prompted the reaction, she realized later, was the music she had just heard: a song that brought back teenage memories of a former friend. Sofía told her therapist the next day that the end of the friendship had upset her greatly, and until that moment had suppressed the grief.

The friend hadn't died, there had been no fight or exchange of ugly words, but the two had drifted apart, irreversibly, Sofía felt. None of this, she told the psychologist, made it any less troubling or hurtful.

The song that had triggered her anxiety was 11 y 6 by Argentine Fito Páez. It took Sofía back to her 16th birthday, which she spent with her friend. That girl "was" her teenage years, she explained and without her "a big part of what we lived together now is gone."

The end of a strong friendship causes bona fide grief, even if it is often ignored. More and more specialists believe that it needs to be processed, and perhaps treated, like one would the end of a love affair or partnership.


Friends are "the family we choose," says Claudia Borensztejn, a psychiatrist and Latin American representative for the International Psychoanalytical Association.

At times, she adds, estrangement from "certain friends can be like falling out with a brother." People tend to suppress all types of grief, she says, but with friends and especially if there is no dispute, "you'll very probably go through it unconsciously." For some people, Borensztejn says, the loss of a friend is like "losing a part of themselves."

Pandemic's role

She says relations blow hot and cold over time and "become less intense or important, either because you change locations or are at a different stage in life (one has children, the other doesn't)," or end in a fight, "which is normal."

But people rarely give these changes the same weight as events inside a couple.

The COVID-19 has had an notable effect on all kind of relations, says Borensztejn. "I think that famous essence of friendship, of standing by someone in tough times, became real" during the pandemic, she says, and even fortified "the significant relationships."

This happened in myriad ways, like delivering groceries to friends in confinement or even handing them a thermometer, as "less relevant relations were paused."

Borensztejn compares the pandemic to moving into a smaller flat. "We had to keep what we thought was more essential. Overall, the best friends stayed." Ideological differences also pushed people apart in this time, she says, though "that's nothing new, it always happened."

People rarely give these changes the same weight as events inside a couple.

Alejandro Schujman, a psychologist specializing in interpersonal relations, says the pandemic widened friendships as it gave people time to "reconnect and recover ties." People may get closer in difficult times, he says, and through lockdowns "people thought up ways of keeping in touch and even reinforcing some relations" online.

Bench with a view

Friendships strengthened during the pandemic but many people also grew apart.

Christian Lue/Unsplash

Friends therapy

Schujman says broken friendships don't get the attention they deserve, often because of the calculation that one has many friends, but just one romantic partner. In all his years of providing therapy, often for couples, he's "never had a request for relations therapy concerning friends."

Something always happens to us when we lose a significant relationship.

And yet, Schujman concludes: "friendship is as necessary, essential and valuable as having a partner."

Psychologist, sociologist and lecturer at the University of Buenos Aires Martín Wainstein puts it this way: "Something always happens to us when we lose a significant relationship. There is always a gap, whatever you might say." People can overcome this with ease or suffer "the rest of their lives," as they would the end of love.

For Gastón, a 30-year-old living in Buenos Aires, he remains baffled as to why a very close friend decided to shut him out of his life.

"The last times I wrote several times to see him... but got a 'No' every time." He recalls no incident or conversation that might have offended the friend.

"I imagine I'll give him a hug if I see him on the street," he says, adding, "I feel bad. I don't know if I can speak of grieving, but I miss him and hope we can see each other again."

You've reached your monthly limit of free articles.
To read the full article, please subscribe.
Get unlimited access. Support Worldcrunch's unique mission:
  • Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.
  • Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries
  • $2.90/month or $19.90/year. No hidden charges. Cancel anytime.
Already a subscriber? Log in

When the world gets closer, we help you see farther

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
Economy

Europe's Winter Energy Crisis Has Already Begun

in the face of Russia's stranglehold over supplies, the European Commission has proposed support packages and price caps. But across Europe, fears about the cost of living are spreading – and with it, doubts about support for Ukraine.

Protesters on Thursday in the German state of Thuringia carried Russian flags and signs: 'First our country! Life must be affordable.'

Martin Schutt/dpa via ZUMA
Stefanie Bolzen, Philipp Fritz, Virginia Kirst, Martina Meister, Mandoline Rutkowski, Stefan Schocher, Claus, Christian Malzahn and Nikolaus Doll

-Analysis-

In her State of the Union address on September 14, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen, issued an urgent appeal for solidarity between EU member states in tackling the energy crisis, and towards Ukraine. Von der Leyen need only look out her window to see that tensions are growing in capital cities across Europe due to the sharp rise in energy prices.

Stay up-to-date with the latest on the Russia-Ukraine war, with our exclusive international coverage.

Sign up to our free daily newsletter.

In the Czech Republic, people are already taking to the streets, while opposition politicians elsewhere are looking to score points — and some countries' support for Ukraine may start to buckle.

With winter approaching, Europe is facing a true test of both its mettle, and imagination.

Keep reading...Show less

When the world gets closer, we help you see farther

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
You've reached your monthly limit of free articles.
To read the full article, please subscribe.
Get unlimited access. Support Worldcrunch's unique mission:
  • Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.
  • Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries
  • $2.90/month or $19.90/year. No hidden charges. Cancel anytime.
Already a subscriber? Log in
Writing contest - My pandemic story
THE LATEST
FOCUS
TRENDING TOPICS

Central to the tragic absurdity of this war is the question of language. Vladimir Putin has repeated that protecting ethnic Russians and the Russian-speaking populations of Ukraine was a driving motivation for his invasion.

Yet one month on, a quick look at the map shows that many of the worst-hit cities are those where Russian is the predominant language: Kharkiv, Odesa, Kherson.

Watch VideoShow less
MOST READ