• Dana Butler

When the Critics Are Your Dearest Friends

From January 1, 2021

Stan reminded me this morning that at the end of Daring Greatly, Brene Brown yells at her notes, “If the critics’ opinions don’t count, why do they hurt so bad?!”

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She says her notes don’t answer. If only they did.

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Three-ish years ago a friendship ended for me — someone who was a close, close friend for many years. Our families were like family, and really there’s no way to fully describe the closeness of the friendship so I won’t even try.

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I mentioned the @brenebrown story because these dear ones suddenly (well, it was sudden to me — I’m sure it was a process for them) had developed a number of judgments against me, my character, my marriage. Things they thought about me that they had not shared with me, had not gotten curious and asked me questions about. They had instead come to conclusions about my character and my approach to all of life and decided: they’d lost respect for me. How do I know? She told me, verbatim.

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When she laid out for me all the reasons she no longer respected me, we were sitting across a Starbucks table from one another and by this point, the conversation had gone so far off the rails that I wasn’t going to try and defend myself, my marriage, or my character. I sat silently and let her say her piece. I didn’t correct anything she said—just let her words hang there, piercingly painful.

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My awareness they weren’t true didn’t take the poison out of the barbs. And they hit their marks, make no mistake. The conclusions she’d drawn about me — many of them were things I deeply *feared* being true of me.

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I went home to Stan and wept. He was livid. Did I want him to call? Email? Follow up? Explain how this was completely NOT who I was?

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Stan and I decided not to send a follow up email correcting their wrong assumptions about me. We didn’t want to further extend the already-traumatic conversations, my trust was demolished and they were clearly the opposite of committed to the friendship... anymore. She’d outright told me that.

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After well over a decade of deep connection & unconditional trust, we let the friendship die.


I grieved in relative silence. Developed PTSD symptoms from my conversations with her, many of which I still have, quite acutely.


Here’s my question: why, three plus years later, do they still hurt so badly, the things she said? I nearly threw up as recently as last night, thinking about them (or trying to keep myself from thinking about them), even though I know they’re not true.


“If the critics’ opinions don’t count, why do they hurt so bad?”


When the critics are formerly your dearest friends, they’ve been given access to violate your trust the most deeply.


In this case, maybe that’s why.


And why, with them, did I not see this coming? Maybe I didn’t want to see it. And maybe it’s the deepest wounds that take the longest to heal.


And while I’m asking questions, why in the actual you-know-where do I still. miss. them?! Even though my trust is obliterated, I miss them with a longing fiercer than a thousand storms. A longing I know will have to simply lie open, unmet. Maybe forever. I’ve forgiven her—them—hundreds of times over. I’ve asked Jesus for abundance of blessing and healing and sweetness over their lives. I’ve tried so hard to let go of the questions of “with whom might they have shared their opinions of me?” But I can’t find that magic “letting go” button, as Stan would put it, and holy moly, those questions can be real and tormenting.


But also, Stan and I — we are loving again. We are letting friends close to our hearts again. Somehow, (read: by God’s kindness alone) this betrayal hasn’t broken us. For that, oh, I am grateful. There’s that measure of healing there. Of preservation.


I don’t know exactly why I’m writing this, except that I’ve not yet shared any of this publicly. And I’m tired of believing that I can’t, or shouldn’t. I am still a writer, as much as I’ve tried to believe I’m mostly not — it’s what I do, how I process life. I try not to write while I’m “still bleeding everywhere,” but also, I’m arriving at a place of being done shutting up for fear of people’s opinions. Yeah. I’m DONE with people’s opinions. Heck, it’s January 1. Feels like a good new leaf to flip.


And who knows — maybe I’ll be timid again and delete this tomorrow.


But for this moment anyway, I’m shaking off some shame and saying something real.


And actually, maybe this year I’ll try living this way a little bit more. Because maybe stories without perfect, neatly-tied-up endings and lessons do deserve telling. Maybe so we can find our voices. Maybe so we can live a little more free. ♥️



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