• Mental Health Focus: Finding Peace When Friendships Change as Young Adults

    The Mental Health Program at Nutley Family Service Bureau (NFSB) provides counseling and psychiatric services for individuals and families. New clients are welcome and immediate appointments are available. This article is part of an ongoing educational series focused on common mental health challenges, treatment techniques, and helpful tips.

    As high school and college students graduate and move to the next chapter, whether continuing their education, entering the workforce, or starting a family, life often takes them in a different direction than their friends. They may move to a new area or develop different values and priorities that don’t align with those of their friends.

    “When school or career takes friends to different places, it can cause a lot of sadness and confusion,” said Kelly Rivadeneyra, LCSW, Assistant Director of the Mental Health Center at NFSB. “Beyond changes in schedules and physical location, young people start to establish their own values that guide how they live their life. This may conflict with a close friend and cause a disconnect.”

    When friendships continue to weaken, people often experience grief and loss. They may feel anxious about what the state of a weakened friendship says about them and whether they’ll be able to replace that relationship. They tend to dwell on the past and how things used to be while worrying about what the future holds.

    “It can take time to process how you’ve grown apart,” Kelly said. “When you’re not clear about how to handle it or how to let it go, you may find yourself in an ambiguous space that doesn’t feel right. This blurriness causes feelings of anxiety and depression.”

    How Counseling at NFSB Can Help

    The client and therapist will typically have a conversation to clarify the client’s values and gain awareness of whether the friendship is encouraging or discouraging those values.
    “First and foremost, we’ll work on processing what you’re feeling,” Kelly said. “If you’re not processing these feelings outwardly, it can be a huge burden. It can also be hard to even recognize what’s happening in your friendship and how it’s affecting you. It’s important to gain perspective into exactly what you’re feeling and paint a clearer picture of what’s happening, both internally and externally.”

    The next step is to gain clarity about your needs and values. What are your values right now? What do you need from a friendship at this point in your life? What kind of relationship do you want? Do your needs and values align with what you’re experiencing from your friendship?

    Perhaps your friend needs space to figure out what they want from life and friendship. You may realize that you’re internalizing things that your friend is doing and taking it personally. A shift in perspective may show you that it’s not personal at all, and the friendship is evolving. This can also give you the space you need to meet new people.

    On the other hand, the friendship might have run its course. If a friendship no longer meets your needs or aligns with your values, it could be time to let go. Recognizing and accepting the reality of the situation will enable you to process feelings of grief and loss and find peace with where you are now.

    “We don’t really break up with friends, but you may feel more comfortable and refreshed if you have that kind of conversation,” Kelly said. “I’ve seen clients who met with friends to say they’ve valued the friendship, but they’ve grown apart. It’s time to say goodbye and wish each other well. They felt better because they ended the friendship with kindness.”

    Not Sure Where to Begin?

    If you’re experiencing changes in a close friendship as you progress through early adulthood, there are coping skills and resources that can help you process the situation, beginning with understanding your values.

    “In general, anyone will benefit from exploring their values in life,” Kelly said. “What are your core principles? How do you live with integrity? Some people will say they value family, friendships, honesty, or wealth. There are many books that can help you gain clarity by identifying and defining your values.”

    In addition to identifying your values, try to identify how you truly feel. If you can pinpoint what exactly is bothering you about a relationship, you’ll be in a better position to process those feelings and gain a sense of peace.

    “Most people haven’t been taught to clearly identify their emotions,” Kelly said. “There are downloadable tools, like an emotion wheel, that can help you see different emotions that you’re feeling but haven’t been able to verbalize.”

    Counseling can help you gain awareness and clarity about the state of your friendship, how you feel about it, and the best path forward. Whether you figure out a way to make the friendship work for both sides, end the friendship, or recognize that it will never be as strong as it once was, finding peace with the situation is generally the ultimate goal.

    If you’ve noticed a friendship has been weakened as a young adult, we’re here to help. Schedule an appointment at NFSB. New clients are welcome and immediate appointments for mental health counseling are available. Call 973-667-1884 extension 1.

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