You thought she was your friend. You didn’t have to explain yourself to her because she ‘got’ you. You were ‘there’ for her when she needed you, and she’s been ‘there’ for you: you shared your troubles and cheered each other on.

Now, however, after you’ve finally had the breakthrough you’ve been working towards, your friendship seems to have changed. You thought she’d be happy for you, but you sense she isn’t. While it’s hard to explain how you know this, you’ve begun to notice changes in her – the little things she does or doesn’t do.

What happened? Why has she backed away?

Surely she can’t be jealous … can she?

Your Reaction?

Before we have a look at why this might be happening, let’s deal with how this may be affecting you.

If you’re experiencing this type of thing, it’s likely your inner critic has started giving you a hard time. Listen to her: is she scolding you with lines like these:

Stop being so oversensitive!

Have you been bragging?

You must have done something you idiot!?

Ouch! I bet her finger wagged judgementally at you when she said it.

Maybe she’s right? Personally, I’ve never found her to be helpful. All she’s done is make me feel bad and drag me down. Let’s deal with her first.

Take a few moments and listen to what your inner critic has to say.

Did you hear her? Okay, now label the thought. For example, the first one in the list above could be labelled the ‘oversensitive thought’. Once you’ve done this, tell you inner critic, ‘Thanks, I’ve heard the oversensitive thought’, and then imagine the thought floating away on the breeze. If your inner critic is a Busy Miss Lizzie, you might have to do this a few times. If it helps you, write these down or say them out aloud.

The purpose of this exercise is to emotionally detach from these thoughts and clear your head. If you find yourself getting tricked into an argument with your Busy Miss Lizzie – STOP and let it go. She can think what she likes, but you’re going to do what’s right for you.

Finished? Okay, let’s see if we can understand what’s happening here.

Remember The Sisterhood Rules?

In my earlier posts ‘The Sisterhood Rules’ and The Sisterhood Rules Revealed I talked about the nature of female friendships and the invisible rules that apply. They’re part of the fabric of female friendships: but one teeny little snag and the whole cloth can be ruined.

In case you missed it, or have forgotten, here’s a refresher.

We’re Feel’n It

Compared to men, women tend to have closer friendships with stronger emotional bonds. In short, we feel our friendships more deeply. We also have higher expectations of each other, which means we can be more easily disappointed.

When we’re disappointed in a friend it stings – deeply. It’s why some female friendships hit the rocks.

Complicated huh! Well … yeah, kinda … but what makes it complicated is the emotional intensity of our friendships. Mostly that’s an advantage; it’s what makes our friendships so great. Sometimes that emotional intensity clouds our vision.

We Keep a Friendship Account

Women build relationships by bonding. We share confidences, solve problems together and help each other. These act like bank deposits, and we earn relationship credits with each other.

According to Dr Pat Heim, women have an internal relationship balance calculator, and we subconsciously monitor the balance. If a friend draws down on their relationship credits too far without making a deposit, the friendship bank may foreclose on them.

The important thing to note is that it’s subconscious. We’re not all writing down a catalogue of credits and debits. I hope you’re not … are you?

We’re All Equal

There’s a delicate balance between power and self-esteem in female relationships. Women tend to be socialised into a flat gender culture, and we’re all meant to be equal and to ‘get along’. This differs for men; they’re socialised into a hierarchical gender culture in which it’s normal to compete to be ‘top dog’.

I refer to this as a delicate balance because it’s like beauty … largely in the eye of the beholder, and this makes it tricky. If a female friend breaks the rules and things start to feel out of balance, the instinct to bring things back to a level playing field kicks in. Dr Pat Heim calls this need for power and self-esteem balance ‘The Power Dead Even Rule’.

The graphic on the right demonstrates the type of things our subconscious weighs up when deciding if the power’s in balance.

The self-esteem side contains relating and nurturing behaviours. It’s also influenced by the individual’s sense of self-worth.

The power balance is judged by assessing relative status, including physical attractiveness and success.

In Summary

Balance is the key word to explain the dynamics of female friendships.

Your friendship bank needs to have a positive balance and the perception of power in your relationship needs to be in balance.

If the balance is out, there’s trouble on the horizon.

When The Balance Is Out

You know when the balance is out because you’ve experienced it. Here’s what might happening in your friend’s mind:

  • Her subconscious has calculated the friendship or power balance is lop-sided, and it probably hasn’t had the courtesy to let her conscious know.
  • There’s been a triggering event.
  • A little voice in her head says, ‘Hey! Wait a minute, this doesn’t seem fair.’
  • She reacts, trying to restore the balance.
  • If her subconscious hasn’t warned her, she may be surprised by her reaction.
  • If you didn’t know there was an issue, it’s likely you’re surprised too.
  • You’re hurt, so you strike back at her.

If this cycle gets triggered, your friendship could get caught up in a game of emotional tit for tat.

It’s like when you hold up a mirror to another mirror: you get reflections going on into infinity. Unless one of the mirrors is taken away, the reflections will keep bouncing back and forth forever.

If it goes on too long you may lose sight of how things started, or never resolve why they’ve fallen apart.

Is She Jealous?

The answer is still ‘maybe’.

She’s your friend, so this relationship is important to you. Take the time to step back and reflect on the Sisterhood Rules.

Is she hurt and striking out?

Can you see why?

Is there something you can and want to do about it?

If so, do it – but make sure you’re honouring yourself and not making excuses for her.

If you’re not sure, get some help. Or wait for my next post, where I’ll walk you through it.

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Have you experienced a sudden chilling of a friendship? What happened? Please share your thoughts and any constructive comments section below.