Friendship, to forgive or not?

Our friends are like a mirror that enriches our own image. When, as a result of a lie or betrayal, he breaks, the narcissistic wound is immense. Time, a look back on oneself and on the other are necessary for forgiveness. But it is also possible that this does not occur …

Sometimes all it takes is a silence, a look of incomprehension or even a word to sign the end of a friendship. For Théo, 37 years old, it was this “good vacation” launched by Julie, close for twelve years, when he had just announced the death of her dog and life companion. “In his eyes, it was an object that broke down. To mine, it was a mourning. Not only did she not show any empathy, but she also revealed how much she did not know me and despised my attachment to this animal. For others, betrayal will take the face of the friend who did not come when they needed support, of the one who seduced his companion, of the one who lied or revealed a secret …

“Betrayal is much more violent than a simple disappointment,” explains Valérie Blanco, psychoanalyst. To betray means to lack faith in someone, not to be faithful to a given word. However, the word of the other tells us who we are, gives us a place in the world. »Betrayal affects our identity all the more strongly as it affects friendship, which gives us from childhood an indispensable narcissistic support. Friendship not only confirms to us that we exist, since we matter to someone, but it also proves to us what we are never sure of: that we are lovable. “Like any movement of love, it is made of a round trip: I love myself through the other, I like that he loves me and that he sends me back a beautiful image of me, develops the psychoanalyst. According to Lacan, friendship is also based on a relationship of the like to the same. We are friends with the one who looks like us, an alter ego. The other is a mirror, an ideal double, where I recognize my own image. “Psychoanalyst Nicole Fabre adds:” This look at us is nourishing, comforting, it enriches the image we have of ourselves. More than that of our parents, since the friend is not given to us: we have conquered him. ”


If we are to believe Aristotle, the friend is also the one who makes us better, who allows us to develop talents or qualities hitherto unsuspected. When the mirror breaks, we feel like we lose a bit of ourselves. Hélène, 37, had a strong ten-year friendship with a woman, her former mentor: “I was a trainee, six years her junior. His aura fascinated me. I needed to be reassured, supported, recognized. She brought this to me. Little by little, we became intimate and intellectual accomplices. Together, we had lots of ideas, we wrote books, started a business. When she betrayed me, I collapsed: I felt worthless, I had not lived up to our projects, I was unworthy. The narcissistic wound of friendly betrayal is then so deep, so violent, that it requires a first step back to oneself in order to see more clearly. Alone, with the help of those around him or a therapist. “Above all, do not rush to pretend that it is not serious, that it is forgotten, immediately forgiven”, warns Nicole Fabre, because the repressed could then reappear at an inappropriate moment. “I think it’s good to take your time, to respect the depth of our suffering, our anger, our regret,” she continues. To ask ourselves what hurt us: is it this friend’s betrayal? Or is it also the fact that it is added to others, experienced in family or with relatives?


Far from underestimating the present event, it is on the contrary a question of recognizing our faults and then asking the other to respect them. “The second movement of forgiveness requires a lot of courage,” continues Nicole Fabre. This is the time to say that we feel betrayed. For the psychoanalyst, “it is essential to dare to reproach the other. To name the fault, to speak of his pain. Because then we re-establish a dialogue ”. This is what then allows the possible third movement of forgiveness: the overcoming of betrayal, together. A step that is not systematic: we can also see, if the other denies our suffering, that the friendship is over or that we were wrong about him and about the shared feelings. Conversely, he can clear up any misunderstanding or express his remorse. If he has heard our fragility, the need for him to pay attention to us, then we can resume the journey together. “In both cases, shared word gives movement to the future. Whereas, when we remain on the unforgivable fault, we are frozen in the past, paralyzed ”, explains Nicole Fabre. Impossible then to project into new friendships. “Since this betrayal, I distance myself from strangers, I am wary. I can no longer make friends, ”admits Angélique, 27, scalded.

For further

TEST: Do you know how to forgive? To forgive would be like succeeding in turning the delicate or painful pages of the book of our relationships, without resentment or resentment … Not easy. Some indeed remain clinging to their resentment; others, on the contrary, have too easy forgiveness. And you ?

After such a betrayal, we suddenly remember how the friendship strengthens us and weakens us at the same time. “As in any link to another, she replays the initial request for love made to our mother,” explains Valérie Blanco. With, at bottom, the irresistible desire to find this intricate symbiosis with the threat of abandonment. “Betrayal reenacts something from the Oedipal scene, when we realize that this love is not exclusive”, adds Didier Juston, psychoanalyst and Gestalt therapist. When it happens, we blame ourselves for believing it. It is wrong, according to Valérie Blanco, who puts forward a paradoxical idea: “Betrayal is inherent in friendship when it is only based on the relationship of the like to the same. It is therefore almost desirable. It is the logical outcome of the alter ego relationship and it is then a healthy separation. In order for friendship to last, it is indeed essential to get out of this game of mirrors and this deadly fusion to recognize the other’s otherness. Like love, friendship is in fact made up of idealization of the other, of expectations that he will fill my gaps. As in love comes the time for disenchantment, which is also that of a greater authenticity of the relationship.

By forgiving, we thus come out of an infantile conception of friendship. By accepting the other in all his difference, we admit that there can coexist, with him as with us, magnificent traits and others less glorious. We recognize his humanity. We accept that our friend is fallible and come out of a utilitarian perspective which would be to consider him only by what he will bring us as satisfactions. “It may well have disappointed us, harmed us, we recognize that it has value,” recalls Nicole Fabre. Having overcome this betrayal together, our relationship grows in value and depth. “Hence the importance of keeping in mind, never claiming to erase what was and remains reality. It is part of our history, ”notes the psychoanalyst. “I understood that I could not blame Jean for his inadequacies forever. And that I didn’t want to do without him. Little by little, I forgave his betrayal … and, for his part, I know that he pays more attention to me, ”reveals Cathy, 33 years old.

“Act of faith, forgiveness is indeed impossible to decide. We can only bet on it based on a strong desire for friendship, ”says Valérie Blanco. Sometimes with the surprise of having forgiven without even having decided. Whether we have remained intimate or the ties have loosened, as for Hélène: “While I could not talk about it for a long time without crying, I no longer have resentment. I even have fond memories of our past friendship. I don’t regret it. The narcissistic wound has been healed, the betrayal crossed. “While I was previously lost in the other, in search of recognition and affection, she continues, I am now much more sure of myself, more solid. I try to please less and have more friends than before. I show what I am, with my faults and my qualities, without fear of being rejected, without fear of being betrayed. ”


Angélique, 27, secretary
I don’t wanna forgive her she hurt me too much

“I had known D. for eight years; she was my best friend. I saw in her a sister. I thought we would spend our lives side by side. As celibacy weighed on him, my partner and I devoted a lot of time to him, often to the detriment of our couple. We went on weekends with her, we cut our vacation short to see her, we had dinner with her at least twice a week … I didn’t dare tell her that was too much. I should never have been so involved. I should have set limits. Not only did she not see all the sacrifices made for her, but she did not live up to them. When she fell in love, I was happy for her. But her companion was sending me nasty things without ever having her come to my defense. I felt betrayed. Then she criticized me for being too present. I was depressed. I was crying, I didn’t want to go out anymore. I have experienced sentimental breakups that are much less difficult than this breakup of friendship! A few months later, she came back, telling me that she needed me, but it was over: I no longer trusted her. It has been five years and I am still injured. We have both had a baby since, and I regret that we did not go through our pregnancy together. I would have liked her to refer to an aunt. But I don’t want to forgive her or get back in touch with her. She hurt me too much. ”

Armelle, 45, unemployed
One day I realized that I didn’t blame them anymore

“I met Isabelle and Sébastien in 2009, when I was going through a difficult period. I had a precarious job, I was getting a divorce. They offered to come and settle near their village, five hundred kilometers from my home. My passion was an artistic profession: they convinced me that I had talent, that I would work with them, who were artists. In 2012, I left with my three children, full of ideas, desires, hope. And with the thought that my life would change. But they weren’t expecting me. They dodged my questions, no longer answered my calls. They were blowing hot and cold: one day, I was extraordinary; the next day, I had no talent, or some other friend was nicer, more cheerful. They blamed me for being depressed, made me feel guilty. Little by little, I lost confidence in myself. They were also very intrusive, asking me questions about the family patrimony, about my life. Thanks to the help of a psychologist, I took a step back, understood that they were unreliable and surely manipulative. I have expected too much of them; and I gave them too much. In 2013, I calmly told Sébastien that I had been disappointed by their friendship, that I had felt betrayed. This allowed me to return to Tours with peace of mind. From time to time, I have Isabelle on the phone, but her voice no longer has the same resonance. I listen, I answer, I no longer confide. From a friend, she has become an acquaintance. I took control of my life, found my true friends, the pleasure of sincere relationships, and I realized one day that I didn’t hold it against them anymore. I had forgiven them. I even want to thank them: thanks to them, I understood what true friendship is and the value it has. ”

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