Working Through Tough Emotions: Saying Goodbye To A Friend

By: Joanna Smykowski

Updated May 12, 2021

Medically Reviewed By: Lauren Fawley


Friendships are a unique form of relationships. While often considered less important than family or romantic partners, they are still distinctly important because we choose to enter and maintain these connections beyond any true obligation other than kinship. Social connections are found to be incredibly important in a person's wellbeing and emotional health.

As they are voluntary connections, they can more easily fall to the wayside when times get hectic, especially when you find yourself strategizing around less free time, or are considering major moves or other changes in your life. You may feel the permanence of family and will likely make more concrete steps to prioritize a significant other, while friends have their own lives, as well. Friendships do tend to come and go, and sometimes they end when you do not want them to. No matter the reason for the length of time, saying goodbye to a friend can be hard.

Saying Goodbye to a Friend

Throughout our lives, friendships with others have both mental and physical health benefits. We disclose some of our most complex and deeply running characteristics to friends. Early in our lives, this can serve to help us discover our identity, as well as to mutually discover the road toward how to be intimate with others. With friendships, come shared discoveries and opportunities, and also an opportunity to lean on others when you need a friend to help pick you up.

You may lose friends from relocation, disagreements, growing apart, or unfortunately through death. We miss that person and we tend to miss some of who we are with them around, too. Part of why this can be so difficult is that we plant roots of ourselves in the friendships that we nurture, and when a friend is suddenly no longer around, we may experience this as a loss of a part of our own identity. It can help to know that the memories and experiences you shared do not go away just because the person is no longer around. You are still just as much you.

However, as we age, especially in today's world where long-distance moves are more functionally common, we find our social networks spreading across the country, or even the throughout the globe. Not having friendships that are as long-lasting and convenient geographically is more and more common. You may not have to say good-bye totally, as you may still be able to talk or see one another from time to time. It could be that your friendship is just majorly changing. Try to make some space for the change that needs to happen, and keep yourself open to new friendships in your life. The Girl Scouts say, "Make new friends, but keep the old, one is silver and the other gold.” Maybe it is a way to say that all friends add great value, but the longer the friendship, the more valuable it seems.

It is okay to end friendships if, over time, you come to realize that the person is not really a friend or if you find that you just do not have a lot in common anymore. Both of you are valuable, and it is good to spend your time with people that you truly want to be around. Exiting these situations gracefully can be hard, too, almost like a break-up with a romantic partner. If you find yourself needing to end a friendship for some reason, it is best to have an honest talk with that person. You may feel concerned about hurting their feelings, but "ghosting" someone is usually much more confusing and painful. At least if you communicate, that person can understand where you are coming from, and maybe they can learn something valuable about keeping future friendships.


Opportunity and Innovation

With our current fast-paced culture of infinite choices and the easy access to long-distance moves, we may find ourselves leaving behind people, as well as being left behind ourselves. It is more common now for people to leave where they grew up to pursue school or jobs in different locations, and even then relocate after that, leaving several nests of connections in different places. Again, change can be hard, but when faced with opportunities and sometimes necessities, that loss is a part of life, right?

Prioritizing friends can make the difference when maintaining relationships. Whether your priorities are a new job, choosing to have kids, or whatever it may be that contributes to deciding how to spend your time, friendships are often the first thing that is put to the side. Even if having a friend leave your life is what is best for you, as some friendships can be toxic and emotionally damaging, it can still be hard to cut ties, and losing that person from your life is still somewhat of a loss. Try not to personalize too much when a friend drifts away. Their life choices do not mean that you do not mean anything to them, they simply have to make choices based on their own separate goals, wants, needs, dreams, hopes, etc.


Swallowing the Pill of Change

Change is hard, and for some people, it is harder for than others. But change is inevitable. We can feel very comfortable with where we are, and have a strong desire for everything just to stay the same. But the world just keeps on turning, and we are always in flux somehow. Sometimes we have to say goodbye to important people, but knowing that does not mean it will not be hard when it comes. You may find yourself face to face with some difficult emotions when you start to think of the friends you have lost or those that you may lose in the future.

Sometimes feeling the pain of loss make people want to keep more to themselves to try to prevent the hurt of losing someone again. It is natural to feel this momentarily, but in the long-term, when you choose not to get close to people, that is a much greater loss. Remember that feeling sadness in response to change or missing someone is normal and that the feeling cannot last forever.

Change also means opportunity—to try new things, meet new people (some of whom might have entirely new things to teach or share with you). If you are having a difficult time adjusting to a major change in your life, speaking with a mental health professional may be able to help you put things into perspective. A counselor may be able to help you problem-solve during a challenging time, along with introducing potential coping mechanisms to guide you in your moments of darkness.

Navigating Friendships With BetterHelp

Studies show that online therapy platforms are useful when helping those who have trouble fostering healthy relationships. In a study published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Family Therapy, researchers found that online therapy was successful in helping alleviate problems in distressed relationships. This can be added to an existing body of research showing that online therapy is an accessible and effective alternative to face-to-face therapy when managing symptoms that arise out of a variety of mental health concerns. Online platforms are generally considered more flexible, cost-efficient, and private than traditional therapy. Through group webinars, exercises, and counseling, individuals can learn more about how they can grow, while building stronger connections with friends.

Through BetterHelp, you can meet with a counselor online when in-person therapy isn’t necessarily convenient for you. Sessions can be attended from wherever you have an internet connection, so you won’t have to make long drives, or train or bus rides. You will also have the option of messaging with your counselor outside of sessions. If you’re having trouble with a certain relationship, send a message any time, and your therapist will get back to as soon as they can. Online communities like BetterHelp have made it easier than ever to better connect with current friends, or reconnect with old ones. Read below for reviews of BetterHelp counselors, from those who have experienced similar issues.

Counselor Reviews

“Pamela Heyman is outstanding. She listens extremely well, has excellent follow up, recommends constructive feedback with a positive outlook, and she challenges me to strive for my goal of better family/friend/workplace relationships. Thank you, Pamela, for working with me to understand myself and how my life experiences mold me. This is helping me prosper with interactions I have with personalities/people in my life.”

“Cynthia offers a kind, patient, non judgmental approach to helping. She is an incredible listener able to sort through the details and minutia of conflict to arrive at the ultimate issue all while validating my feelings and thoughts. Cynthia offered practical skills for me to use in my relationships and checked in on me frequently. Cynthia is a counselor who truly cares and it’s obvious it comes from the center of who she is as a person. I am grateful to have engaged with her.” 


Going through a transitional period with a friend can be difficult, especially if you’ve had a long friendship. Remember that you’re not alone, and you can always reach out for help if you need someone to talk to.

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