3 Helpful Thoughts for When Your Hurting Friend Hides
A friend of mine was hurting deeply, and I reached out. But every time I reached his way, it seemed my friend pushed me away.
Yes, he made a few efforts to reciprocate. For months, we tried getting together for coffee. But every time we set a date, he needed to cancel at the last minute and reschedule.
I felt frustrated. I second-guessed myself. I didn’t want to lose this friend. He was too valuable, and we had much history together. I wanted to help, and I wondered what I could be doing differently. Or if I could do anything at all.
How about you? I bet you can point to a handful of friends who have gone through hurting seasons and chosen to hide.
E-mails or texts aren’t answered. Phone calls aren’t returned. Invitations to coffee or lunch are declined or ignored. Your friend doesn’t show his face at familiar places, events, or gatherings.
The friend has simply disappeared.
What do you do?
A nuanced, tricky season
Each of us can probably also point to a different grieving friend who went the other way and surrounded herself with support. This friend dived into a swimming pool of family and friends. She grieved in a group. Or at least chose to respond favorably to her closer circles of friendship.
So our temptation is to compare the “supported” friend with the “hiding” friend, even to see the surrounded friend as the norm.
When we make that mistake, we look at our hiding friend and say, “Something must be desperately broken in our friendship.” We feel like writing off the hidden friend. We argue with ourselves between being persistent and just letting it go. We reason: “I’m reaching out to her. But she’s not reciprocating. Our friendship is finished.”
Here’s where life gets nuanced, even tricky. Yes, it’s okay to acknowledge the reality of an unreciprocated friendship. It hurts to stick your neck out. You feel cut off. Spurned. Scorned. Sometimes you need to know when enough is enough. You need to take the hint and walk away. You have to trust your gut to know when this is the right thing to do.
But at other times your call is not to leave. Not to walk away. Sometimes the “hiding” friend actually needs you desperately, and more than the “supported” friend. Sometimes, even though a friend pushes you away, you need to keep pressing in. Your best instincts tell you to press in with even more resolve, albeit a wiser, more intricate resolve.
Here’s what I’ve learned that can help:
1. Know that people grieve in different ways.
Experts point to 5 stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance, and say that people typically follow the 5 stages.
Yet experts also acknowledge there is no single “right” way to grieve. Stages of grief may overlap. People don’t always go through the stages sequentially. Grief can be a messy, muddled process.
So it’s best to let your friend grieve in whatever way he chooses to grieve. Resist the urge to impose recognized pathways on your friend.
Send the basics: a sympathy card, a casserole, or flowers. Reach out once or twice, if it feels okay.
During that time of waiting, extend much space and grace. It might feel okay to follow up with an encouragement card, another invitation.
But keep your expectations very low.
Your friend is choosing to grieve in the way he wants to grieve. Respect his choice.
2. Realize you can help your friend learn the awesome value of closeness.
You might be the first person in your friend’s life who, when the going gets tough, has chosen not to walk out the side door. Plenty of other people have hurt your friend. What’s to say you won’t do the same?
See, your friend might be so pained at the thought of losing you that your presence actually hurts her. Your friend doesn’t want to lose you and risk compounding her grief, so that possibility causes her to distance herself. The only way she knows to protect herself is through what appears to be coldness, aloofness, or detachment.
Yet here’s the twist: while she is pushing you away, she is also silently begging for your support, acceptance, and reassurance.
Your task is to somehow communicate to your friend that you won’t leave. Your friend might need to learn this about you through your gentle reassurance.
Through your gracious persistence.
Through you still being there, and still showing up, and still not walking away, and still being there, and still being there, and still being there.
Maybe you support only from a distance. Through a thoughtful gift perhaps. Once, I sent a hidden friend a book that I thought he might like. The book had no overt connection to his grief. It was simply a novel by an author I knew he liked. I hope it reminded my friend I was still thinking about him. He didn’t need to reciprocate. I just wanted him to know he wasn’t forgotten.
A friendship might feel one-sided for a season. It might feel extremely difficult. Your friend might slam a door in your face. Your friend might be hard to like during that season. She may spew emotional vomit your direction if you try to get too close.
Yet your blessed doggedness can emerge and make all the difference in such a difficult season. Your lovingly stubborn diligence.
Can we see this beauty? That there’s so much value in carefully saying …
“Hey friend, I love you no matter what. No matter how ugly it gets. No matter how low you go. … I WILL NOT LEAVE YOU.”
3. Appreciate that a silent friendship isn’t always a finished friendship.
Your friend might shut you out for months.
But then your friend will show up again. And your friend will want to go to coffee and talk. You will be happy then that you didn’t burn the bridge.
Even though a friend hides for a season, it doesn’t always mean that the friendship is over. Sometimes, that’s just the way he processes difficult experiences. In absolute solitude.
He will need to go away for a while.
And then he will come back.
Yes, there might be some repair work that needs to be done.
But the roots of your friendship will still be there, still ready to produce shoots and leaves that are healthy and green. Still open to renewal. Still eager to branch out into the sunlight.
Your friendship is worth that to you.
It’s up to you to stick around, wait, and see.
QUESTION: how about you? In what ways have you experienced friends who hide? What did you do or not do to help? What did you learn during the process? How have things turned out?