disappointed in friends? here’s what to do

Friendship is one of the most important things in life. The quality of your friends will determine the quality of your life more than almost anything—except your health and your family, your romantic partner, and the family you build (if you do so). That’s why being disappointed in friends is deeply hurtful. In fact, it can be among the hardest things to deal with and seriously affect your mental health. I once was disappointed by my best friend, and it crushed my sense of self-esteem, and raised painful questions about myself:

  • How could he do this to me?
  • How could he think this about me?
  • What did I do to deserve this?
  • Should I try to fix this, or just walk away?
  • Do I have any true friends?
  • Who are my closest friends?
  • Did I have too high expectations of my friend? And if so, what does that say about me? I would have done the exact same thing I expected of him for him.
  • Was he lying to me?
  • Was I foolishly naïve?

Through many difficult conversations, we got to a point where we understood each other, and I discovered that a lot of the responsibility lay with me—as you often do in such situations. It wasn’t a pleasant process, but I learned a lot, and some of it I want to share with you now, hoping that it’ll be as of much help to you as it was for me when you feel disappointed in a friend.

Calm down

The first thing to do when you’re disappointed in friends is to get that initial shock out of your system. You’re probably being hyper-emotional right now, and that’s a good thing. Emotions will be your guide on this journey. But especially if the wound is fresh, your emotions can be too overwhelming for you to process them properly.

Take some time to let things settle a bit. You don’t want to react to that first wave of emotions that hits you.

  • Head to the gym.
  • Go for a run in the park.
  • Dance like no one’s watching.
  • Have sex.
  • Any physical activity that helps you break a sweat and gets your heart pumping.

A lot of stress hormones have built up in your system, and vigorous physical activity can help you get it out of your system. Reset your physiology before you deal with your psychology.

Let some time pass. It’s better to wait an extra day, or even an extra week, rather than going into the situation hotheaded after your friends let you down.

Warning: While you should take all the time you need, use the time wisely. Binge-watching Netflix or distracting yourself mindlessly scrolling through social media are not helpful. Yes, those things will get your mind off whatever upset or disappointed you for a while, but they won’t help you process things.

Gain clarity

Next, it’s time to do some introspection. Find out why you’re disappointed. What you feel most strongly about in the moment might not always be the core of the issue. Sometimes what it is on the surface is also what it is at the center, but often it’s something different altogether. Often it’s more a “the straw that broke the camel’s back”-situation, where a particular incident brought an issue to the surface that’s been simmering for a much longer time already.

There are different techniques that can help you gain inner clarity:

  • Journaling or writing things down on paper. It can help you disassociate yourself from your hurt feelings and evaluate the situation more objectively.
  • Talking it out to yourself. Sometimes, simply talking to yourself out loud can help you gain more mental clarity and process emotions. You can even record yourself doing so.
  • Talking with other friends. But beware to not be too tainted by their opinion. What you want most at this stage is a friend who will listen to you, rather than a friend who will tell you their opinion or give you advice. (Tell this to your friend before you talk to them. That you just need someone to listen, and at this point aren’t ready yet to hear advice, and ask them if they’re okay with only listening for now, rather than providing a different perspective.)
  • Meditate. Meditation can help to settle the mind into a calmer state and reduce mental clutter.
  • Somatic experiencing. Focus on your physiological feelings. Be aware of the sensations you feel in your body. Does your belly tighten up? The muscles in your neck? How does your face feel? Everyone is different. Do you feel a heaviness on your shoulders? A pinching sensation in your chest? Whatever it is, just take note and be aware. Peter A Levine has done fantastic work in this area, and if you’re curious to explore this method more, I recommend reading his book Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma.

Use whichever method works best for you. You want to get to a point where you understand yourself, so you can stop asking yourself: “Why am I so disappointed in my friends?”

Listen to your friends

Once you’ve calmed down, and gained clarity, reach out to your friend and have a conversation with them. Don’t do this via text message. Ideally, get together in person, but at the very least do this on a phone call.

Tell them you feel let down and disappointed, but that you want to hear their side. Use phrases like

  • “Help me understand how it came to this.”
  • “I want to see things from your perspective.”
  • “Tell me what happened from your point of view.”

And then, when they talk, shut up and listen. Make sure you understand what they’re telling you. Don’t think about rebuttals to things they said while they’re still talking. Ask follow up questions if you’re not clear about something, or want to understand a particular point they made in more detail.

Now, really listen to your friends

Yes, this point is so important that I address it twice. You really need to listen to your friends. Hear them out. Listen to understand them, not to come up with arguments or justifications for you’re right and they’re wrong. (They might be wrong or not, but at this point that’s now what it’s about.)

Muster up all your empathy and listen humbly to hear your friend’s perspective. Really try to put yourself in their shoes. If they’re your friends, they’re good people at heart—even if they’ve done something shitty and might have hurt you or done you wrong. We’re all fallible, we all have weaknesses and shortcomings, and sometimes we fail our friends because we didn’t know better. You might hear things you don’t want to hear—truths you’ve been avoiding, and have a difficult time accepting, about yourself or your friends.

Let it sink in

Reflect on what your friends shared with you. You can almost go through a similar exercise like in the “gain clarity” step, where you either write things out, or talk with someone else about it, or practice somatic experiencing. The important thing is to take your ego out of it. Give yourself a night to sleep over this and reexamine it on the following day.

You might also want to do a self-awareness exercise to gauge how much truth there is to what you’ve learned from your friends, as well as your own introspection.

Own it

How did you contribute to this? What’s your responsibility for all of this? Did you have different expectations from each other? Most likely, multiple people were involved in this, but if they’re your friends, you’ve made them a part of your life, and you have—consciously or not—done your part in creating the situation where your friends disappointed you. It’s a tough pill to swallow, but it’s the inner work that needs to be done.

This is the part that you can truly work with. This is where you focus on what you can control, rather than feeling upset or disappointed about the things you can’t. Ask yourself: How do you handle being disappointed in a friend?

Say what you have to say

Just like you have to hear out your friends, you also have to share how you feel, and how you experienced the entire thing. And that part can be just as, if not more, frightening.

What to say to a friend who disappointed you?

Maybe your feelings are justified, maybe they’re not. They’re still your feelings. Share them. Be vulnerable and communicate your whole emotional experience. This will help them understand you, and maybe it will even help you understand yourself better.

This requires a lot of trust, but again, as long as you consider them to be your friends, and still want them to be your friends, then you have to trust them.

They’ll see things you might have overlooked and point them out to you. This, too, can be difficult to accept. Your friends might realize things they were unaware of and apologize to you. This is where a lot hard emotional labor is required.

Decide: Do you want to fix this or not?

At this point, you have to decide. Do you still want this friendship, or do you want to end things and make new friends?

Sometimes ending a friendship is the right move—people change, they have different priorities and values in life, and there’s no point in hanging on to old ties if they’re holding either of you back. They might not be the right person anymore.

Separating from friends hurts, and it’s scary, but if the friendship doesn’t serve any other purpose than providing you with emotional comfort, then that’s a good sign it’s time to part ways.

Letting go of a friend can trigger fears of being alone, of losing your tribe, and that can be frightening. But it can also be a real opportunity to evolve: the opportunity to get to know yourself better, to define yourself anew, to make important life changes that might have been long overdue, and find a new social circle.

And what if you decide that this friendship is worth fighting for, and that you want to keep this good friend in your life?

Do what’s necessary

How do you repair a friendship after disappointment? In the first place, you realize that this disappointment could be the birth of a new stage in your friendship. You can use this as an opportunity to grow together, to forge even stronger bonds between yourself and your friends.

If you’ve gone through the above steps, you’ve already done a lot of the hard work. The next step is to actually bring the insights and lessons into your interactions with each other, to make the behavioral changes that can give both sides the confidence that you can count on each other, and better meet the previously unmet needs. Most likely this will mean that you’ll have to communicate more openly and honestly with each other. No more fake happiness. And while that can be challenging, it’s also what can unlock the next level of your friendship, because now you’re both sharing even more of your true selves.

How you deal with disappointment in a friendship says a lot about the kind of friend you are.

Does this happen again and again to you?

Do you feel disappointed in your close friends again and again? Is this something that occurred in your life repeatedly? Is there a visible pattern?

It’s in the nature of friendships that we sometimes feel let down, and those things we can work out between each other if we feel it’s necessary. But if throughout your life you felt let down by many friends, then you have to accept that you are the common denominator. This too is a hard pill to swallow, but if you do, you’ll find that this is a bitter medicine worth taking. Because it’s a true opportunity for personal growth and learning.

Go through this list and evaluate if anything here resonates as potentially true to you:

  • “I feel like a victim.”
    What do you gain by seeing yourself as a victim? Many people choose the victim role because it justifies abdicating responsibility, making excuses, and placing blame elsewhere. It frees you of the burden of finding solutions to the problems you face.
  • “I always end up with the wrong people.”
    Is it a certain type of wrong that you end up with again and again? Do you ever ask yourself, “How do I stop being disappointed in people?” If so, who is the first person who made you feel this way that you can remember? Often, we try to replay a past, unresolved, unhealthy relationship dynamic to find emotional closure. (Most commonly, the roots of these kinds of relationships go all the way back to experiences we’ve had in childhood or adolescence.)
  • “I do so much for my friends, but they never do anything for me.”
    Examine why you do so much for someone who does nothing for you. Is it possible that you do so much for them so that they then accrue a “social debt”, and you expect them to pay you back for it by doing things that make you feel good about yourself and boost your sense of self-worth? This is much more common than you’d think, and it’s very hard to admit this to yourself. But if it is the case, then all the kindness you extend to your friends is actually not an act of friendship, but an act of using them to fulfill your own needs without having to admit (most of all to yourself) that you’re playing a selfish game.
  • “My friends use me and walk over me. I feel like a doormat.”
    When your friends ask you to do something for them, do you do it because you want to, or do you do it because you’re afraid of saying “no”? If you feel obliged to please your friends, because you don’t want to hurt their feelings or disappoint them? Stop overgiving and learn to set proper boundaries. If you always say “yes” to your friends because you’re afraid of saying “no”, then your “yes” means nothing.

Not every disappointment in a friendship is necessarily a sign of a deeper underlying issue. But if it is, then—as painful as it can be—you can transform it into a valuable personal growth experience. It takes deep inner work, a lot of self-awareness, and honesty with yourself to do this.

Hopefully, you have a clearer sense of what to do if you’re disappointed in a friend, and how to see it as an opportunity to build healthy relationships. If you have questions, just leave a comment below.

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