Making amends after a falling out is hard. But it might be the healthiest thing you do, according to science.
Kavika was the first friend I made in college. She and I were roommates for two years before we had a falling out. I said some rude words I wish I could take back. She did pretty much the same. And then, for a reason I don’t even remember now, we stopped talking for the rest of our college days.
The human brain is skilled at hiding stressful or fear-related memories. Mine did something similar. It erased Kavika and all the memories we had in the first two years of college. For all the years after, it was almost as if she didn’t exist. I got to live in pretend-happiness, comfortably in denial of everything that I’d done wrong.
This changed a few days ago, when a friend got engaged, and a few mutual friends created a WhatsApp group. Kavika was in there too, and for a moment, I felt slightly uncomfortable — as if she had wronged me, and now I had to face her. But slowly, as if they had been there all along, but simply been inaccessible to me, the old memories surfaced.
The hurt was replaced by shame. I couldn’t believe how I’d let such a minor dispute get in the way of our friendship. I reached out to Kavika over a personal message and apologized for all the stupid things I’d done. She told me she never expected me to relent, but said she was sorry too. We ended up talking on a voice call a few hours later, sobbing uncontrollably and lamenting over all the lost time.
As a young adult, I’d often let my ego cloud my vision, controlling most of my actions. I don’t do that anymore. When I get into arguments with people, I try and get to the root of the issue, rather than taking the easy way out and blocking them. As I consciously started making efforts to attack the issue rather than the person, I’ve had certain epiphanies. A thorough study has helped me understand that most people go through the same stages of acceptance and mental peace as they take the mature way out of an interpersonal tussle.
In this post, I’ve discussed the three major realizations you’ll have once you stop cutting people out of your life. I’ve also discussed the science behind each, and how you can apply them to your life if you still struggle with ego being in control of your emotions.
Cutting Ties Immediately Will Make You Blind to Your Fault
There’s a difference between immediately cutting someone off, and mindfully considering what your part may be in the tussle. As psychotherapist Martina Palombi puts it, “Humans are often very insightful when it comes to describing other people’s weaknesses through our own subjective lens. We rarely observe reality as is. What we see is tainted by our reactions to another person’s reactions. The more agitated we get, the further away we find ourselves from facts.”
To prevent your worldview from being distorted by your bias, it’s important not to give in to your first impulse of blocking the other person. As Dr. Bryan E. Robinson, Professor Emeritus at the University of North Carolina, puts it, here are some ways to not manage your knee-jerk reaction of blaming everything on the other person and discarding their point of view:
- Don’t believe your automatic negative thoughts and react to them simply because you think they are justified.
- Welcome and observe the simmering reaction of anger with curiosity. Let it come and go without personalizing, resisting, or identifying with it. Eventually, it floats away.
- Pause. Take a moment off from your survival mind and leave the decision to your heart. A few deep breaths and calming thoughts will make something inside shift and neutralize your misery.
If Your First Reaction Is To Cut Someone Off, You’ll Never Improve Your Relationship Skills
It’s easy to block the person with which you had an argument. It’s difficult to admit you’re wrong. It’s even harder to be compassionate to someone when you’ve knowingly hurt them. Cutting someone off is passive-aggressive and overly self-protective at the expense of the other person’s feelings. If you make it a habit, you might never develop relationship skills.
Psychologist Jennice Vilhauer Ph.D. argues that the people who choose to instantly cut off all ties are the ones who are primarily focused on avoiding their own emotional discomfort. They rarely ever consider how it makes the other person feel.
Author and podcast host Anna Sale puts it best: “As people have gotten less and less comfortable talking face to face about hard things, it’s become easier to move on, let time pass, and forget to tell the person you’re never talking to them again.”
You Might End Up Irrevocably Hurting the Other Person
In a 2012 study published in the Journal of Research in Personality, researchers found that “avoidance” was one of the worst ways to end an argument. It led to feelings of anger, hurt, and a deep sense of rejection for those on the receiving end.
According to the psychologist, Loren Soeiro, Ph.D. ABPP, here’s what happens when you cut someone off immediately without tackling the issue at hand:
- There’s a profound lack of closure to the relationship, an ambiguity that makes it impossible for the other person to interpret what went wrong.
- If what one person believed was a substantial relationship ends suddenly — without even the effort it would take to have a traditional goodbye — the results can produce a traumatic reaction.
- It deprives them of any chance to work through what went wrong in the relationship. It might be similar to the silent treatment, which has been described as a form of emotional cruelty.
I wish I could tell you Kavika and I put all the dirt in the past behind us and became best friends again. But sadly, that didn’t happen. There was way too much history to resume our friendship where we left it. We connected on Facebook and we send each other the occasional message, but I don’t share my secrets with her like I used to.
The damage is done. I probably won’t ever make all of it go away. But at least, I said sorry. At least, she accepted my apology and agreed to give our friendship a chance.
At least, I learned the lesson that no matter what happens, it never pays to cut people out of your life. You can hate them, hurl abuses at them, and make them cry. But you should always get to the bottom of the issue and tackle the problem, rather than converting it into a power play and see who emerges as the “winner”.
“You don’t owe anyone anything, but it’s not about that. It’s about treating others how you want to be treated.”