Do you feel like you never ‘fit in’? That you’re always the outsider, looking in. No one gets to know the real you. How could they? They’d never get it anyway. And what’s the point? Because everyone who comes into your life leaves you in the end anyway…
Friendships are one of the most important pillars in life. They make up our support system; a sanctuary where we can share the good and the bad, and really feel understood.
Or at least they should feel like that.
But for some people these kinds of connections don’t come so easy. If you relate to any of the above statements, you might even feel very anxious about your friendships, and hesitant about forming new ones. If you feel like you’re constantly let down by people, what’s the point?
But all humans have the capacity (and need) for friendship. And if this is something you’re struggling with at the moment, then it might point to something deeper.
Why is this happening to me?
What do all the above statement have in common? They are all self-defeating thoughts. But they’re true, you might say. Perhaps all your friends do end up leaving you.
Here’s the thing: these self-defeating thoughts might be playing a larger part in this than you think.
Let’s take a closer look.
These thoughts or ‘beliefs’ are perhaps best seen through the lens of Schema Therapy. Schemas are essentially coping strategies or beliefs about the world (or ourselves) that we adopt in response to the difficulties we experience in life. Our schemas can be traced all the way back to our experiences in childhood, and they develop according to our how our emotional needs were met – or unmet.
If we grew up in a stable, supportive environment then we’re likely to grow up with a healthy, positive outlook on life. And if we’ve seen good, healthy relationships and friendships around us then we’re probably going to be more adept at recreating something like that when we grow up.
If, on the other hand, we grew up with a lot of instability around us – whether that be through divorce, the death of a family member, abuse (physical, mental or emotional) or neglect – we’re going to grow up with a very different view of the world.
Let’s start by looking at three of the main schemas that might be contributing to your situation.
You feel like there is something inherently different or wrong with you (defectiveness schema)
If you have the defectiveness schema, you will have an underlying feeling like there’s something inferior, flawed or wrong with you. Even when people tell you what a great person you are, you never believe them. After all, how would they know? They don’t know what you really think or all the terrible things you’ve done.
If you have this schema your thoughts about yourself are likely to be grossly exaggerated.
This schema usually stems from neglect, rejection or abuse in childhood. As children we don’t have the capacity yet to differentiate right from wrong in others and instead internalise negativity, believing that it must be because there’s something wrong with us.
Because you move through life feeling flawed, you probably also feel a lot of shame. You might go to great lengths to keep people from discovering the ‘real’ you because you’re worried that you’ll get ‘found out’. You’ll probably also be especially sensitive to criticism, and suffer social anxiety in groups of people.
You might carry thoughts around like, “I don’t deserve friends” or “If I get too close to them, I’ll be found out and they’ll abandon me”.
But by thinking like this, you will never arrive to a friendship on equal terms. You will always be placing the other person on a higher pedestal. And that means you open the door to being walked over. We set the terms for how we allow people to treat us.
In therapy, healing this schema will come with the realisation that you are not flawed, and that you are worthy of the same love and care that you offer to other people.
You feel like everyone always leaves you (abandonment schema)
If you have the abandonment schema, you will have an overriding sense that no one ever sticks around – that ultimately, everyone always leaves you. Although you yearn for connection, you can’t help but anticipate the worst.
This schema usually develops when a parent or caregiver left when you were young – either literally or figuratively. Maybe a parent died or your parents divorced, which meant that one parent was absent when you were growing up. You carry this fear of being abandoned into your future friendships and relationships.
Always anticipating rejection, you’re likely to behave in a rather erratic fashion. Maybe you become clingy and needy in your friendships – or at the other extreme, you might pull away completely. If you faced a lot of loneliness growing up, you might not fear being alone as such but the risk of losing someone again is simply too much to bear. So perhaps you avoid friendships altogether.
You might also be subconsciously choosing friends that reinforce this belief i.e. people that offer some kind of abandonment potential e.g. someone known to be unreliable or someone headed to university in a different country.
By doing this, you confirm your deepest conviction – that no one ever sticks around for the long haul.
You feel like a “lone wolf”, as though you’re always on the outside of groups looking in (social isolation schema)
If you have the social isolation schema, you’re going to feel like you never fit in because you’re different to other people. You might struggle connecting in social situations because you believe that you are fundamentally separate to other people.
This schema usually stems from having grown up in a family that was somehow different to other families (ethnically, financially etc) or if you moved around a lot growing up and you were always the “new kid on the block”. Because of this, as a child, you will have naturally struggled to form the same level of depth in your friendships.
But if you always feel like an outsider you’re probably going to act like you are too. Maybe you over-identify with this image of yourself and make a conscious effort to play up your differences. Or perhaps you accept your fate and withdraw into your own private world. Whatever the case, you subconsciously separate yourself from other people which can leave you feeling isolated and alone.
The important thing here is to realise that you are not weird or different. In fact, we’re actually all much more alike than we like to admit. You simply have this conception of yourself because of the experiences you had growing up. When you work to identify where this stems from you will no longer feel this sense of isolation.
Not everyone is meant to stay in our lives forever. Some friendships naturally grow apart. As the saying goes, friends come into your life either for a reason, a season or a lifetime.
So let’s start by throwing all the ones that haven’t worked out into the ‘reason’ pile. Why? Because they illuminated this pattern. And that’s the first, most important step. Once you identify the pattern, you have the power to heal it and stop the once and for all.
The best relationship we will ever have is the one we have with ourselves. Therapy provides a safe, non-judgemental space to work on that relationship and heal the wounds of our past so that they stop dragging us down. When that happens, we start attracting the right kind of people into our life – the ones who show up for us and stick around.