Sometimes it's Okay to Walk Away

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I have many memories of my walk to school in the mornings.

Some days, I’d go to school with a smile on my face, excited to see my friends, some of my favourite people in the world.

Other days …

Other days were different.

My heart would race as I walked slow. I’d walk through the gates, eyes to the floor. Desperate not to see them. I’d hide in the toilets until the bell rang. When I took my seat at the back, I’d chance a look at them.

A small group of girls who were my friends the very day before.

A group of friends who were treating me differently now.

So how does this happen? How is it that one day, you can be best friends with a person – you can love spending time with them, and know their deepest secrets, share their dreams and hopes for the future – and then then it starts to unravel, to fall apart?

Sometimes it’s short arguments, a quick row, and then you’re friends again by the end of the day. Other times, the issues with a friendship are more subtle, slow-burning. It builds and builds through small incidents, like a comment taken the wrong way. Bit by bit, you begin to resent each other. And slowly, it infects the friendship group, spreading to more people. Rumours are spread, and things are misunderstood. People begin to cut off communication with you. Or maybe, people begin to pressure you into doing or saying things you don’t want to. Suddenly it’s hard to come to school. Suddenly people are looking at you differently.

The problem I had is that I couldn’t recognise the signs of an unhealthy friendship – and I didn’t know when to walk away.

***

Friendships, like people, are complicated. Sometimes, as we grow, and our interests and ideas and beliefs change, we naturally grow apart. Other times, however, friendships can become unhealthy for us, even toxic.

I remember those days that I wrote about at the start – those heart-pounding, heart-wrenching days. It took over everything. The pain of losing a friend – and then more friends, because of it. Eventually, we made up. But until we did, every single day was a struggle. To have arguments, to lose people – it truly hurts.

When you’re at school, you see your friends a lot. They see you at your best and your worst – when you’re upset, when you’re moody, when you’re tired, when you’re happy, when you’re funny and carefree. It’s a bit like family – you spend so much time with them, that sometimes, you end up winding each other up. You might snap at each other, or gossip about each other, or have a disagreement. Even as a bystander, it’s so easy to get sucked into an argument, to feel the tension and the stress coming from mutual friends.

Friendships are one of the many relationships we all build during our lifetimes. Like any relationship, you need to have boundaries. The question is, how can you do that? How can you be a good friend, and look after yourself and your needs at the same time?

1.       Think about what you need from a friend. What makes a good friend? Someone who listens, someone who is kind, someone who remembers your birthday? What’s important to you? Maybe consider talking about this with your closest friends, coming up with ideas together. That way, you can tell when someone isn’t being a good friend to you, and you can know how to be a good friend to others, too.

2.       Be honest. Don’t spread lies or rumours, because it can do damage to people’s lives. Think about the consequences and consider how you’d feel if someone did the same to you.

3.       Be yourself. Good friends shouldn’t pressure you to change who you are, what you wear, what you believe, how you behave. Good friends should accept and love you for who you are. At the same time, don’t think you can’t be friends with someone very different from you. Sometimes opposites attract – some of my closest friends are so different from me, but I wouldn’t know what to do without them!

4.       Know when to walk away. If you need a bit of space from a friend, that’s okay. If someone is being mean to you, picking arguments, or spreading rumours about you, you have every right to take a step back from that friendship, and perhaps spend time with different people.

5.       Try to be kind, even when it’s hard. Even in the heat of the moment – try and remember to be kind to people. Remember, words cannot be unsaid – so use them wisely. If you need to vent, then talk to a family member, write your feelings in a diary, make sure that you are able to express yourself – but don’t say words that you will regret later.

The truth is, you can’t prevent arguments. They just happen – it’s human nature. But by thinking about the points above and reflecting on what your own boundaries are in terms of friendships and what you need, you can help to protect yourself and be a good friend to other people, and it can help school life go a bit more smoothly.

Revealed Projects run workshops around self-esteem and healthy relationships. Click here to see more of what we do.

Megan BidmeadComment