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Is the Pandemic Revealing Who Your True Friends Are?

friends comforting illustration
Seth J. Gillihan, PhD - Blogs
By Seth J. Gillihan, PhDClinical psychologistMay 28, 2020

When I think back to the hardest times in my life, I remember the people who were really there for me. Tough times often reveal who you can count on for support. I learned through my extended illness, for example, that my wife had meant it when she vowed to stay with me “in sickness and in health.”

You might be finding that you’re getting more support from some friends than others during the coronavirus pandemic. Maybe some are checking in on you regularly, while others can’t even seem to return your text messages. You might be feeling disillusioned with some of your friendships, and even considering ending the relationships.

While it’s understandable you’d be upset when friends aren’t there for you, think carefully before breaking off these friendships. .

For example, the person might be feeling a lot more stress than you realize. This is a difficult time for everyone—different from the times you’ve been going through your own personal crisis while others’ lives are stable. And even though we’re all swimming in the same soup, it’s triggering different things for each of us. Your friend might be dealing with depression, or the activation of a past trauma, or just a profound struggle to get things done. 

“But They Have So Much Free Time!”

It can be especially hurtful when you don’t hear from friends who seem to have extra time on their hands because their work situation has changed or they’re home from school. Maybe they’ve even complained to you about being bored, and yet they don’t seem to have time for you. It can feel like confirmation that they don’t really care about you.

However, it takes more than time to reach out to those we care about. It requires some degree of initiative and energy, which your friend might be struggling with during this pandemic. And when we have a lot of time on our hands, it’s easy to put off things like calling a friend because we tell ourselves we can always do it later.

It’s also possible that they have less time than you think—maybe they’re super inefficient when working from home, for example, and are barely keeping up with even a reduced work load. If they have school-aged kids, they may be spending an ungodly amount of time trying to navigate online learning. Or perhaps they’ve been sucked into a bingeable Netflix series and can’t pull themselves away.

“But They’re Posting on Social Media!”

Maybe you wonder why your friend can’t seem to find the time to talk with you or message you, but somehow they have time to create Instagram stories about their quarantine experience and retweet the latest memes. I can definitely understand self-righteous anger at feeling like a supposedly good friend has time for Facebook but not for you. Doesn’t that mean they don’t really care about you?

Not necessarily. If they’re struggling with boredom, depression, or loneliness, it may be all they can do to reach out through social media. For many people, Likes and Shares trigger a highly rewarding hit of dopamine that actual communication with loved ones just can’t provide.

“If They Really Cared They Would Connect with Me”

But aren’t all these “reasons” just excuses? After all, you probably have friends who manage to reach out to you despite having busy schedules, struggling with stress and anxiety, or any of the other reasons mentioned here. Wouldn’t you be letting your bad friends off the hook too easily by accepting these rationalizations?

Perhaps. But it’s possible that your friend cares deeply about you, and yet isn’t able to be in touch with you as often as you’d like—or as much as they would like. It might not actually be personal. They might even be thinking about you all the time, and may feel guilty about their lack of communication (which paradoxically can make it even harder to reach out).

The truth is, even your friend might not know why they’re out of touch with you. This pandemic quarantine is a very strange time, and it’s affecting us in ways we don’t fully understand. We’ll be trying to make sense of this surreal chapter in our lives for years to come. Countless research studies, movies, and books will explore what we’re experiencing right now.

If you’re wondering if your friends really care about you, it may be worth asking yourself another question: What is their lack of communication triggering in me? Whatever their actions toward you might be, there’s something to learn in the meaning you give it.

To better understand your reaction, start by adopting a sense of compassion—for yourself. Make space for whatever you’re feeling during this time, without judging it as right or wrong. Then ask yourself, What is coming up for me in my relationship with this person?

Is it a sense of abandonment? A feeling of unfairness, since you’ve been the more thoughtful friend? Perhaps even questions about what your friend’s behavior says about your own worth? Take some time to become aware of what you’re thinking and feeling.

Next, think for a few moments about this friendship. What has the quality of it been over the length of time you’ve known the person? Do they tend to be a good friend to you? Are there things about their quarantine situation that you might have overlooked? Are there times when they’ve really been there for you? Are they generally kind and thoughtful? Or does this seem like more of the same from them? Try to appraise the history of your friendship as honestly as possible, so that their pandemic behavior doesn’t completely eclipse a longer relationship.

Finally, extend some loving kindness. Take a full, gentle breath in and as you slowly exhale silently say to yourself, “May I be joyful.” Breathe in, breathe out, and say, “May I find peace.” Repeat as you say, “May I be free from suffering,” and end with, “May I know love.”

Repeat this exercise for your friend if you like, one wish per breath: “May you be joyful…. May you find peace …. May you be free from suffering …. May you know love.”



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About the Author
Seth J. Gillihan, PhD

Seth J. Gillihan, PhD, is a licensed psychologist and host of the weekly Think Act Be podcast. He is author of The CBT Deck, Retrain Your Brain, and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Made Simple, and co-author with Dr. Aria Campbell-Danesh of A Mindful Year: 365 Ways to Find Connection and the Sacred in Everyday Life. Dr. Gillihan provides resources for managing stress, anxiety, and other conditions on the Think Act Be website.

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