Nothing puts a person’s support system to the test quite like a crisis. When the clouds of hardship dull the glare of more happy and carefree times, a person often sees their support system accurately for the very first time. For some people, this is a reassuring experience, as they find their support system is similar to what they had assumed it would be. For others, it's a bit, shall we say, disconcerting.
Many grieving people find that changes and disappointments within their support system become a secondary loss. They had assumed a certain type of support would be given, and they feel hurt and angry when it isn't. People can let you down in all sorts of ways during times of hardship. Take, for example, these especially frustrating culprits:
In case you aren’t hip like me, I should explain that ghosting is when a person suddenly ceases communication with someone out of nowhere, seemingly without warning or provocation. This term is usually applied to dating scenarios, but it’s a concept that translates to all those friends and family members who told you they'd be there for you and then vanished into thin air.
The name says it all here. The know-it-all acts like your loss is their opportunity to shine. They have all the answers, they know exactly how you should feel and exactly what you should do. Some people are know-it-alls in every facet of their lives, others are only know-it-alls when it comes to trauma and loss because they've experienced it themselves. Although a know-it-all can be helpful at times, often they come off as pushy and self-centered.
The no-show is the friend or family member who never showed up in the way you expected them to. These people may be completely absent. They may be physically present, but refuse to acknowledge your loss or your ongoing grief. Or they may shirk their duty to support you as you believe a best friend, parent, sibling, etc. should.
Of course, we can't assume these people are all bad. As we've said in past articles, most people lie somewhere in the middle of the amazing/terrible grief support continuum. Good people give bad grief support every day!
The trouble is, grieving people don't always have the bandwidth to think about all the reasons why someone has let them down. I mean, consider the fact that, on good days, we as humans tend to attribute people's actions to good and bad internal traits because it's easier than considering outside situational influences. So giving people the benefit of the doubt or engaging in radical empathy when we're grieving? Forget about it.
Oh, wait, no, I take that back.
We actually don't want you to forget about it. The links between social support, health, and healing—both physical and emotional—are too compelling for us to let you write off all of your family and friends. Instead, we acknowledge that, in some frustrating instances, the burden falls on you as the grieving person to be the bigger, more patient person. Which is why we've written all of the following articles to help you navigate these scenarios:
- Utilizing your Support System: Support System Superlatives
- Making Amends in Grief
- Keep in Touch: How to Maintain Relationships After a Death
- Family Misunderstanding After a Death
- An Open Letter From a Grieving Friend
- What They Meant to Say: Looking Beyond Hurtful Comments in Grief
- Hey Old Friend: Reconnecting with People Who Matter
THAT SAID, the next logical question is, inevitably and understandably: When is enough enough? What if a person isn't worthy of a second chance? What if I don't want that person back in my life? What if I've given the person too many chances? When is a relationship not worth holding onto?
Unfortunately, decisions like these are very personal, so we can't answer these questions for you. Nevertheless, we've put together a few guidelines to help you decide if it's time to start drawing boundaries and/or cutting your losses with certain people in your life.
These are just a few things to take into consideration. That said, interpersonal relationships are so complicated and nuanced that we couldn't possibly cover everything. At the end of this article, feel free to add to these guidelines in the comments section.
Is the person toxic?
If you get the sense that someone in your life is manipulating you, taking advantage of you, and/or exploiting your grief-related feelings of vulnerability, then they may be a toxic person. For further information, please read this post on spotting emotional manipulation in your support system.
Generally speaking, we recommend distancing yourself from toxic people as soon as you've identified them as such. Second chances and benefit of the doubt do not apply to toxic people, although they'll try and convince you otherwise.
Is the person a threat to your healing?
Some people aren't toxic, but they are draining, demanding, and/or have a bad influence on your healing. A very explicit example is a friend who knows you are trying to give up the negative coping skill of alcohol use, yet who continues to pressure you to go out drinking with them.
Other threats to healing may be more difficult to spot. For example, if you are trying to focus on having a more positive and constructive outlook, but your negative friend always sucks you into commiserating and complaining. Or if you realize that your friend or family member is a chronic taker.
Once you believe that a person is a threat to your healing, you should draw boundaries around how much time and energy you give to them. Many people find that, once they are allowed to grow, recover, and heal, they outgrow these particular relationships. If not, you can reconnect with them later on when you're feeling stronger.
Have you communicated with the person about how they make you feel?
I know this is a difficult thing to do. Trust me, I am well versed in the perils of interpersonal awkwardness. I, like many of you, would rather have a root canal than tell someone they are being a crappy friend, but we all know that stuffed feelings quickly lead to hurt, damaged relationships, and destructive outbursts.
If you believe that someone who has hurt you genuinely means well, then it's worth speaking up about how they made (or how they're making) you feel. If they don't know, they can't apologize or change. If you do communicate with them and they make no effort to fix the problem, then at least you have peace of mind of knowing that you gave them a chance before quitting the relationship.
Need tips on how to communicate your needs? Check out this article about how you can use a dialectical behavior therapy skill—DEAR MAN—to do so.
Are you seeking support that the person is not equipped to give?
Sometimes people disappoint you because they are flakey, selfish, and uncaring. Other times, they disappoint you because they aren't good at giving you what you need. This is why we think it's so important for grieving people to actively acknowledge the strengths and weaknesses of the people in their support system. It feels weird to think about your family and friends in such a deliberate way, but a little thought can go along way in ensuring you don't set your loved ones up for failure.
Some people are good listeners, others are good at giving advice, others are good for comic relief... the list goes on. So, for example, if you want someone to listen to you without judgment, then don't turn to your most opinionated friend. Sometimes their candor is exactly what you need, but it's off-putting when all you want is a little acceptance and nurturing. For further discussion of assessing your needs and seeking help from the right person, head here.
How many chances have you given them?
Isn't it funny how we're willing to give some people a hundred chances and others just one? Pay attention to the number of chances you've given people. If it's one, then maybe give them a second. If it's ninety-nine, then maybe it's time to move on.
What guidelines would you offer your fellow readers? Share in the comments below. And, as always, subscribe
We wrote a book!
After writing online articles for What’s Your Grief
for over a decade, we finally wrote a tangible,
What’s Your Grief? Lists to Help you Through Any Loss is for people experiencing any type of loss. This book discusses some of the most common grief experiences and breaks down psychological concepts to help you understand your thoughts and emotions. It also shares useful coping tools, and helps the reader reflect on their unique relationship with grief and loss.
You can find What’s Your Grief? Lists to Help you Through Any Loss wherever you buy books: