Shit. I’m just getting to write about all sorts of fun stuff these days. Woo frickin’ hoo, life, thanks. I’m not an expert on this subject, just somebody going through this pain right now.

When to unfriend somebody you love – pre-contempt

When you see that the next step you’re most likely to take together will be feeling contempt for one another, and you don’t want to go there, because you love each other, it’s time to part ways for a while. You’ll sense that if you don’t step back now, take time to process pain and heal separately, that it’s possible your relationship will never recover. Trust your intuition on this. Allow your heart/body intuition to override your guilt and your desire to fix things. The time to fix things is over. For now.

Signs that it’s time to unfriend a loved one

  • You are going through a drawn out, painful, heart-wrenching life transition. So are they.
  • For them to survive and begin to heal, they need one story to be true right now. For you to survive and heal, you need a very different story to be true right now.
  • When you share what you’re feeling, you inadvertently hurt them, repeatedly. When they share what they’re feeling, they inadvertently hurt you, repeatedly.
  • That hurt begins to feel like it’s on purpose. You begin regularly hearing meanness in what they say. And they hear it in what you say. Things that a stranger listening in on your conversation would never jump to such pain-fueled conclusions about. Your mutual pain is deep enough that you all begin to imagine slights that don’t necessarily actually exist.
  • Instead of two (or more) equally valid perspectives, their truths become your lies, and vice versa.
  • Every time you try to support one another, you fail miserably. It keeps getting worse, not better.
  • When you speak your real, lived experience and perspective, you are told that you are wrong again and again and again. You never feel truly listened to or really heard.
  • There is a wall of pain between you. You try repeatedly to holler over the wall that you really do see their side of things—and should be allowed yours—but it becomes clear that they’re having the exact same experience that you’re having (feeling that they’re being told that they’re wrong, feeling not listened to, not heard, hurt by you).
  • The existence of your story is too much for them to bear right now, and vice versa.
  • You create and/or share something—a drawing, a painting, a poem, a song, a saying, a video, etc.—to help you and your closest others get even closer and move through your loss and grief together, and you learn that they were devastated by what you created/shared.
  • You stop sharing your whole self, your true self, your real feelings—to protect them or yourself—to the point that you become exhausted, or get physically sick, because right now you really need to be able to share your whole self and your real feelings. And Facebook is a place that you want to/used to be able to do that.
  • You realize that time spent trying to hold up your old world/story/family together is unhealthy for everyone in your family. It is interfering with all of you finding and surrounding yourselves with the people you desperately need right now to create new worlds/stories/families for yourselves. Your heart breaks as you realize it’s no longer each other that will help you heal.

My story

I wrote and shared a long poem about our family’s struggle with Alzheimer’s Disease this week. This poem. We’ve lived with Alzheimer’s in our family for 9 years now, and for the first time as a poet and a writer and a human, I felt ready to talk about it. More than that, I need to share about it now because my immediate family needs boatloads of new ideas, stories, help, support, and heart comfort right now as my mom moves into the middle stages of the disease, and my dad crumbles completely under the weight of being a full-time caregiver.

And it worked. I got what I needed. Friends and strangers alike showed up to share their stories, offer their support, and surround my breaking heart with love, light, understanding. I felt less alone. Less helpless.

And then I learned from my aunt that what I’d written was devastating for her and my uncles. My story too much for them to bear. A story out of alignment with theirs. My truths are their lies. These are people I love to my deepest depths. People who helped raise me and played with me and who have loved me every day of my life. I adore them. And they live thousands of miles away, so Facebook has been the primary place where we’ve connected and shared for years now.

This aunt told me that she loves me but can’t take any more of our pain, and she unfriended me. Letting me know that she’d reconnect later. I sat with that for a minute. Breathed it in. I, too, had “hidden” relatives this year that have been causing me chronic pain. But it had never dawned on me to unfriend them. But when she did that, she freed both herself and me. I felt lighter and freer. I actually thought “Why didn’t I think of that? Why did I stay in this masochistic situation for a year? She’s is a bloody genius!” I was reminded how much I love her. I followed her lead and unfriended my uncles and her daughter—those who are being hurt by me and my story. Now, suddenly, after a year of trying to fix our family, I can just share my experiences without fear, and they can share theirs without fear! Hooray! I am at a point where I have to write about Alzheimer’s Disease and my experience of it. They’re likely at that place too. I want them to heal. I don’t want to cause these loved ones one more second of inadvertent pain. That’s not me. That’s not them. Not us.

Example: how to unfriend a loved one

This is not advice. This is way too individual, personal, and painful a task for advice. This is simply what my aunt did for me and what I, in turn, did for the family members I unfriended. I’m sharing it because although this was painful, in how we did it I also found a needed sense of closure (for now), peace, and a surprising freedom and lightness of spirit (in realizing that I can, for the first time in a year, share my whole self again on FB). And I want the rest of my family to be able to do this too, for themselves, as needed. And know that I’m 100% ok with them unfriending whomever they need to unfriend now, including me, to heal.

In a private message or call (wherever you feel safest):

  1. Remind them that you love them.
  2. Tell them you are sorry for their loss and pain.
  3. In one sentence, explain that you need to step away from them on Facebook right now so that you don’t inadvertently cause them pain again.
  4. Don’t try to explain anything about your story/side, causing both of you more pain. The time for trying to be heard over the wall of pain has passed.
  5. Optional steps:
    • If it’s not forever, tell them it’s not forever. In my aunt’s case, she left it open ended. We’ll be back in touch again someday. And she reminded me that she’s always still there if we really need her. I decided to give my uncles and cousin a time span. I’m disconnecting for one year, while we go our separate ways to heal, and I hope to reconnect with them a year from now.
    • If you want to, give them another way to connect with you if they really need you or want to talk further: your phone number, email address, Skype details, etc. If you don’t want to do this, don’t do it.
    • If you want to, give them the option to reengage as Facebook friends. If you don’t, don’t. You may want to say, for example, “I know what I’m going through, my experience, is too hard for you to hear right now, so I’m unfriending you for a year. If, in the coming months you’d like to try reconnecting here, just send me a friend request and we’ll try again if we’re both ready.” Whether or not you make this offer depends on your heart, not theirs. The state of your heart, and what you want, matters most here. If you want to be apart for a whole year (or more, or forever), don’t make the offer to connect sooner.
  6. Remind them that you love them. So that the last words they receive from you are words of love.
  7. Unfriend them.

What next?

Give yourself a long time to heal. For me, this feels like cutting off my own hand. How kind to myself would I be if I lost my hand? How long would I allow myself to heal and recover? That’s how long I will be extra good to myself and surround myself with the best of the best heart healers for me right now. That’s how I came up with a year apart. I need at least that much healing time.

After you unfriend people you love (which happens in one second and so could be mistaken for a little thing when it’s not), sit and breathe deeply for a while, go for a walk, hug someone or some furry beast who loves you, create something, or do something else that brings you peace. Spoil yourself for a few days. Take comfort in the fact that you’ll all have more energy and time to connect with people who will truly help you mend your broken hearts without simultaneously also stomping on them.

In a workshop about fearless writing that I attended a while back, we began talking about memoirs. A memoirist in the class (sorry, I don’t recall his name) said something so profound that I can’t shake it. He said (and I’m paraphrasing) that the only pure, lasting truth in any family story is how people felt. To write fearlessly about your family, in a way that people will accept and connect with, you have to write and write, through many drafts, about how you felt. Don’t allow yourself to stop and publish when you are the victim in the story. Keep going. You must write and write and write until you become the protagonist – a spirit who others can relate to, see themselves in. Not a victim, not a braggart, but a life traveler, a story teller, a learner, a broken-heart survivor, a seeker of higher understanding. The things we all are. If you are writing yourself as a victim, keep writing, your story’s not done.

When we make the decision to unfriend beloved family members on Facebook so that we can all heal, we’re creating the opportunity for all parties to be able to come back again to that story one day on their own terms, with new found strength and abilities to stay with it longer next time, listen more closely next time, dig a little deeper next time, until we’re able to craft and live a new story together. Or part as cherished friends. The people we love deserve nothing less. Social media hasn’t changed that.