I remember Garfield the cat as a prominent figure in my childhood. I had a poster of him in front of a big toy car with a caption that said, “He who dies with the most toys wins.” I loved that darn poster.
This was the 80s. Life was all about “the rat race.” As a young adult, I was beginning to piece together the goals of life modeled by my culture.
Many of us were all racing to amass stuff.
Stuff was the way to be happy, safe, and secure. This made sense to me because I was a fairly unhappy child with no stuff.
Garfield the cat had shown me the way to be a winner and have a happy life.
This misaligned perception caused lots of stress for me and my relationships. I began to treat my friendships as means to an end, and the end was stuff.
I managed my relationships as pawns on a chess board. When I wanted something or didn’t know something, I knew who to call.
My humanity got lost in the race for stuff. I treated people and stuff as “things Dana manages.”
I suspect everyone knew that they were not as important to me as the status or the things they provided. I’ve now realized that objectifying people as a means to an end is the worst thing you can do to other humans.
I have been the worst friend at times, and I now realize that I’ve likely been a bad friend in far more circumstances than I can even remember.
Ouch. It’s the most painful thing I’ve discovered about myself.
Therapy taught me that the people who supported, loved, and helped me were players in my game, because it was a game that I hated.
Early on, I had many relationships that wounded me and had now decided there was a better way to be with people—manage them, please them, use them for what they can provide—but never let them in.
The reason we objectify people may have very little to do with them; it is often a choice to play a role so that we will not be hurt again. It’s safe and gross.
When we are trying to hide from the world because we’ve been hurt, the role we play is hustler and manipulator so that no one can’t hurt us anymore—everyone is the same and they all get managed as a director directs characters in a seriously messed up play.
People are managed like actors. The role they play and their performance are far more important to you than who they actually are. Many of us learned to be academy award winning directors—we are great fake friends. Yet we are the only one’s we are fooling.
Objectification and manipulation are unconscious behaviors—we don’t feel like we ever do this to people. They are also symptoms that part of you is suffering from big hurts inside. If this sounds familiar, you may need to talk to someone. You may be hurting and not even be aware of it.
As we awaken from our deep sleep of unconsciousness, we will learn to appreciate true friendship as we realize that people and relationships represent aspects of the unexplored self. They are gifts.
Getting to know the people you choose as friends is the best way to awaken and learn about yourself. How you treat them is how you are treating yourself, and, regrettably, we are often harsh and unkind to others. This controlling agenda often gets in the way of true connection with friends and authentic self.
Khalil Gibraun said it best: “And let your best be for your friend.”
When we align with this intention, our authentic selves will learn to show up for the people in our world. Friendship is our highest spiritual practice.
Friends are reflections of a self we never knew before—their words and love grow us in ways as unique as every friendship.
Here are a few questions I’ve learned to ask myself to check my own mental state before speaking to a friend. I hope they help you awaken in your friendships.
- Am I reaching out to my friend to fill a slot, promote an agenda, or vent frustration? What’s the agenda? Do I need a favor? Can I resolve this issue myself? Am I upset? Do I need comfort? If you feel upset or mentally stuck, friends are best at helping us through these moments! Yet, we must be honest in the moment and allow our friends to know our state, acknowledge their time and determine whether they are in a mental space to support us. Otherwise, phone-bombing someone’s life with an agenda is a form of objectification. Chronically showing up as an anxious, needy friend with an agenda tells your friends that your time and life are more important than theirs.
- Am I reaching out to my friend so they tell me I’m right about a situation? Do you call and vent about your life hoping for a “you’re right”? If so, I’m sure your friends feel the pressure of this expectation. We’ve all been a part of situations in which we know that there is only one answer people want to and are able to hear. This is a subtle form of objectification in which you are using your friends as though they are highly manipulated mirrors. The interactions cannot be real because you will not allow them to be thanks to your highly pressured energy. Your friends know there may be a social consequence for disagreeing with you. If you socially or passive-aggressively punish friends for disagreeing, this is objectification.
- Do I do all the talking in my friendships or tell people only what they want to hear? You would be surprised how most people will answer “no” when many of these people should say “yes.” If you don’t know the answer, the answer is probably yes. Most of us do this at times if we are catching up or struggling and need to vent. However, chronic talking/story-telling/performing in every conversation is a way to control the narrative and people. You are managing people as if their lives don’t matter. If you do this often, your friends are probably thinking of ways to manage you. It’s exhausting and suffocating to be in relationships with chronic talkers. I now require myself to look at my friends’ faces and make sure they are engaged with me. If not, I am overwhelming them. Then I know it’s time to breathe, apologize, release control, and check my agenda. Good conversations look like tennis matches; there is a healthy back and forth. Monologues are for actors and pretending.
- Do I say yes to everything with very little follow through? Do I schedule and then cancel frequently because I experience anxiety or illness? Do I schedule and then cancel on my friends because I struggle with poor time management? Am I usually late to events with friends? Do I only spend time with people when I am getting something else done that is important to me? It’s time to be nice to yourself and be honest. This behavior is as tiring for your friends as it is for you. It may be a sign you’re a people-pleaser, who are also people users. You are objectifying your friends—move the pieces(friends) around frequently and hope they don’t notice you’re lack of integrity. Friend pleasing is sneaky because we feel we truly want to do things with our friends, but if we constantly disappoint and cancel, then it’s unhealthy. It’s time to make some dramatic shifts into personal health, integrity, and self-care. It is much more caring to your friends to tell them you are experiencing tough times and will not be available to participate in some events than to shuffle them like their lives don’t matter.
Objectifying our friends means we are not allowing friendship because we are not showing up authentically. Your friends can feel this. If people have given you access to their lives, it’s important to be vigilant about the integrity of your interactions and get help and support if necessary.
Honestly is always better than perfection.
I hope this helps!