“Ended a friendship of over 10 years because the person turned out to be against everything I believed in. Couldn’t justify supporting such vile ideas,” read a recent tweet.
Reports show that friendships are increasingly being formed and broken based on ideology — political, social and economic beliefs. Major socio-political events like the #MeToo movement in 2018, the Indian general elections in 2019, the U.S. presidential elections in 2020 and Brexit in 2019-20, has led to a striking increase in polarization across the globe. In fact, a Pew survey from last year showed that 40% of American voters said they didn’t have friends who held different political beliefs.
While we see this as a more common phenomenon now, what’s missing is a conversation on how to deal with such a loss. Coping with the loss of a long time friend over ideology can be a confusing and unsettling experience, often leading to feelings of doubt, sadness, anger, and betrayal. According to Delhi-based psychoanalytic psychotherapist Asmita Sharma, there are many layers when a relationship ends. “For many, as socio-political beliefs are so personal, it becomes a personal attack to them when a friend disagrees with them,” she told Re:Set.
Attack seems to be an appropriate term, as many discover that their friend isn’t who they thought they were. “There is a sense of ‘this isn’t how it’s supposed to be,’” said Korah Abraham, a freelance journalist from India, who cut off ties with a childhood friend over clashing political beliefs. “I think the boiling point was the terror attack in Pulwama, Jammu and Kashmir in 2019. Indian media was full of anti-Pakistan and anti-Muslim rhetoric, and my friend was supporting it. I tried to explain to him the other point of view, but he was very dismissive and not open to listening,” he told Re:Set.
For others like Jay Thar, it went a step further, where his friends not only refused an open discussion, they also took to social media to abuse him. “I would post my opinions on politics on social media regularly, and I found that childhood friends of mine would take serious offence and started abusing me on Facebook for it,” said the India-based human resources professional, who has lost multiple friendships over the past few years because of politics. “I found it unsettling that friends I’ve known for such a long time can take to abusing me on a public platform,” he said.
The unsettling feeling can grow into a stronger, more traumatic experience when it becomes a lot more personal than politics, as a 26-year-old cybersecurity consultant discovered. The young woman, who requested anonymity, fell out with a friend of seven years over his views on gender and sexual abuse. “He shamed me for not reporting my case of childhood sexual abuse or for bringing my abuser to justice,” she told Re:Set. “When I narrated my ordeal, he mentioned his own, and how he and his father went to beat up his abuser, and how I should have done something similar.” Any conversation was futile in discussing this issue as she realized.
Differences that lead to a triggering experience are a major red flag, Sharma said. “When you see that conversations with a friend are leading to you feeling extremely bad or triggered about your experiences, it’s time to stop and evaluate the relationship,” she said. An increase in toxicity and inability to be open to conversation are also indicators that the relationship has reached an impasse.
“I decided to stop because it was getting too much to actually explain basic concepts like humanity to an adult,” Abraham said.
The most practical way to address the end to the friendship is to have a clear conversation about it, Sharma told Re:Set. “We often tend to just fall apart in silence, and not really talk about what led to the friendship ending. Sometimes that helps, but sometimes it’s necessary to address the trauma in order to make your boundaries clear to the other person,” she said. Sharma also points out that it’s important to be ready for an unsatisfactory response from the other person. In case the end of the friendship also affects a group of friends, Sharma suggests treating it like a break up, where the group discusses how best to navigate maintaining their friendships with both people involved.