NVC is an abbreviation for Nonviolent Communication, a natural process of interpersonal connecting through compassion and understanding even amidst disagreement and conflict.
Here’s a letter I wrote to a dear, longtime friend. She had fallen on desperately hard times, and expressed a fear that I may abandon her and our friendship as other friends had done. At the time, I myself was familiar with the searing pain of seeing a few close friends leave me over the course of several years. I use the term “abandoners” several times. Despite it’s highly judgmental connotation, it serves to clarify when I’m referring to the friend who leaves, as opposed to the one who is left behind.
When you said you were afraid I may abandon you, I felt surprised and sad. You needed reassurance that I’d keep our friendship alive and well through a very trying time. I sincerely reassured you of that.
I was also puzzled when you used the word, abandoned. In NVC teachings, “abandoned” is one of those tricky words that mixes feelings with judgments. It carries an implication of wrongdoing. It implies that people may have some intention to hurt us by abandoning us (and of course some may, but many don’t). It suggests they have an implicit responsibility or duty to stay with us permanently which they are shirking.
One can abandon a child, a car or property; there may be costly legal penalties for those criminal acts. It’s strange that there are no such penalties for abandoning a friend. There’s only the penalty of an uneasy conscience.
My curiosity was sparked just hearing your concern about me leaving you. I wondered, “What’s really going on when a friend just ups and leaves someone they cared about for over ten years?” What might be going through their mind and heart? I’d hoped to find answers that would help me to have empathy for friends whom I’ve lost along the way, who left me quietly, with no harsh comments or major conflicts.
Of course it’s undeniably painful when a friend leaves without so much as a message or a note. It triggers intense feelings of confusion, loneliness and hurt. Sometimes anger, resentment or rage will arise. And it’s while we’re sizzling in hurt or anger that we tend to use a somewhat judgmental term like “abandon.” We believe we’re the victim when we accuse someone. “You abandoned me…how could you do such a cruel thing?” The choice of these judgey words only intensifies our suffering because it perpetuates years or decades of anger and resentment.
When people choose to exit a friend’s life, it may be for a few months, a few years, or even permanently. In any case, it’s very likely their needs are not being fulfilled in the friendship or relationship. They’re exercising their personal autonomy to seek other means to meet their needs.
Sometimes the friend who is left behind or abandoned is going through a rough patch in life. “Abandoners” could easily fear that their friend’s incapacitated condition may last for many years. When someone leaves us, s/he might feel concerned that if they stick around, their needs won’t be met by that incapacitated friend.
They may not be thinking only of themselves and their own needs not being met. They may also be thinking of the incapacitated friend who is struggling. Even during a rough patch, friends still have a natural need to contribute to the well-being of their friends. Abandoners may know very well when a friend feels frustrated by not being able to contribute as s/he would like to.
Some abandoners will address the issue; they will talk about their feelings and needs for freedom or space. They’ll acknowledge that it’s painful for them to leave, and they will say they know it’s painful to be left behind.
But it’s not just the one person who is left alone “in the lurch.” The one who chooses to leave may also be feeling that alone-ness, the sadness, the pain of the loss of connection. Unless of course they were feeling so angry and disgusted that they left with the clear knowledge that the one they leave behind will be in excruciating pain. When someone wants the other person to suffer emotional or physical pain, that’s the dark side of empathy. When someone doesn’t know how to ask for empathy in a nonviolent, vulnerable way, they sometimes may try to see the other person in pain. That way they know the other person feels some of their pain.
Sometimes abandoners are choosing to meet other needs… needs for space, for relief from worry about the one who is struggling. They could be unwilling to witness the intense sadness of seeing a dearly loved one in such a painful and difficult state. Sometimes they are choosing to focus their time and energy on other strategies for meeting their needs. They feel frustrated when they see themselves trying to get their needs met from someone who is hard pressed just to meet their own needs. So they turn in other directions, mobilizing resources of time and attention to places where they hope the needs are more likely to be met.
I’ve written all of this because I want to contribute to our understanding of what is really going on behind the mixed judgment of the word “abandonment” and fear of abandonment. If we slip into jackal thinking, we point the finger of blame at someone for abandoning us. This leads to that toxic victim consciousness, and paves the way for years of anger and resentment. All because we forget to look at the needs of someone who leaves us. We forget to receive the gift of a “no” which is a person’s way of silently saying they have other needs not being met.
You may have seen the old aphorism, “People come into our life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime.” I’m hopeful that we entered each other’s lives for a lifetime. And by that I don’t mean a cable TV channel ; )
What’s alive in you on reading all of this? I’m curious to know what feelings may come up for you, what needs may be met or unmet. I hope we’ll have a chance soon to discuss soon. .