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Friends – How to deal with their negative responses to your academic projects

Note: This is the second of two posts on dealing with friends who may not understand your commitment to your academic project.

Friends are, well, friends, and we have every right to expect their support and encouragement. Most of the time they are for us, but sometimes, to our shock, they turn in the other direction after we share our academic aspirations, goals, accomplishments, and next projects.

Good friends will support you in your efforts; less good friends, or those secretly envious of your academic drive, will diminish your efforts and denigrate your goals. Don’t let them. If you encounter any such situation, here are some ways to retain your perspective and friendship with less-than-supportive reactions from friends.

Those Discomfiting Questions

When you’re neck-deep in your project, friends may ask prickly questions. “Aren’t you finished yet?” “Aren’t you published yet?” “Haven’t you gotten the promotion yet?”

When the questions start, put a stop to them by saying something like this: “Thanks for asking but I appreciate your not asking again. I’ll let you know about my milestones.”

If they voice hurt feelings and point out that they’re the exception to all your other friends, be warned. Real friends will respond with understanding and can take your forthrightness. You’ll know by the responses whether they’re friend or faux friend.

Handle Jealousies and Putdowns

Friends can be cruel in their disparagement, sarcasm, and sniping. Often their venom comes from grudging admiration and hidden jealousy that you’re actually doing what they may have always wanted to but haven’t had the courage even to start.

Your job is not to let anything they throw bother you. Keep telling yourself this: They needed to do that.

This statement may go against all your logic and the rage rising in your stomach. Realize, though, that your friends’ stabs are very likely not aimed at you personally but stem from something completely unrelated and probably very deep. Pardon me for playing virtual psychologist, but the causes could be lack of childhood love and support, wrath at an absent parent, frustration at a stalled career, jealousy of everyone perceived as more accomplished, or feelings of unworthiness and too-lateness.

In other words, they needed to do that.

When you realize that they needed to attack you for their own convoluted, unforgiving, transferential reasons, you realize that their level of maturity, although unfortunate, has prompted them to act as they have. In fact, given their current perspective, they could have acted no differently and were doing the very best they could.

You can respond to their barbs in one or more of several ways.

  • Answer with grace and consideration. “Marsha, you’ve accomplished a lot too—look at your influential contributions to the town council.”  “Doug, I’ll be the same person with those letters after my name. I will still want to watch the hockey playoffs together.”
  • Reply with boundary-setting. “Tim, I don’t appreciate those deprecating remarks. If you can’t support me, let’s not talk until my article is accepted.”
  • Respond with silent affirmations. “I see you now, Bernard, in perfect happiness and satisfaction with your life.” “I declare for you, Lois, all the good you wish for yourself.”

Assure Them You Still Love Them

A major and considerate strategy is to reassure your friends that your temporary sequestering has nothing to do with them but wholly with accomplishing your goal(s). Your plea for solitariness and refusal of invitations doesn’t mean rejection of them, and you can repeat this assurance as much as needed. Remind them they’re still loved, despite your unreturned phone calls and texts, ignored emails, walled-off late nights, and what may seem like gruff silences.

If you feel it will help, explain again why your uninterrupted concentration is crucial and give them your best estimated time frame. Tell them you’ll be in touch. You may need their encouragement along the way, or their ears and mind, or their dragging you out to the café when your brain is polysyllable-clogged. They’ll likely nod vigorously and will be very glad to hear your subliminal message: you’re not cutting them out of your life.

Reiterate your promises about resuming regular contact, and make a date for a week or month in the future. As you do so, your friends will see the force behind your words and accept them. They’ll recognize that the best thing they can do for you now is to stay away, and they’ll feel confident it won’t be forever. Both of you will then look forward to your next contact.

Know and Believe They Are For and With You

In an application of the quantum principle that external change begins in the mind of the observer, create your own self-fulfilling prophecies—positive ones. See and believe your friends are rooting for you.

A few prophecies:

  • I know you support me willingly as I continue and complete this project.
  • I see you understanding my needs now.
  • I look forward to getting together as I can.
  • I send you only love.

An academic colleague shared with me a wonderful email she received from a friend. Trudy was dejected at the slow progress on her dissertation and confided her feelings to a friend with whom she started the doctoral program. Her friend, now on the last two chapters of her own dissertation, wrote this to Trudy:

Hey, Dear,

Trust me, we’ve all been there. Press forward and continue on. I felt the same as you, and now I’m on the last part. Do not let it defeat you. It is our destiny to succeed! And keep me in touch.

Now that’s a friend.

When you’ve reached that milestone—degree awarded, article in journal, promotion—rejoice with your friends (and get drunk). You will appreciate your friends all the more for understanding and staying away, and they will appreciate you for your dedication and strength of mind (and may even gain the courage for a stand of their own). With your affirmative declarations, right attitudes, and expectations, you’ll keep your friends, they’ll understand why you must stay away for a time, and they’ll support you in the ways you need as you complete your all-important academic projects.

© 2017 Noelle Sterne

Adapted from Noelle Sterne, Challenges in Writing Your Dissertation: Coping With the Emotional, Interpersonal, and Spiritual Struggles (Rowman & Littlefield Education, 2015).

For reprinting, please contact Noelle Sterne through her site:

Noelle SterneDissertation coach, nurturer, bolsterer, handholder, and editor; scholarly and mainstream writing consultant; author of writing craft, spiritual, and academic articles; and spiritual and emotional counselor, Noelle has published over 400 pieces in print and online venues, including Author Magazine, Chicken Soup for the Soul, Children’s Book Insider, Graduate Schools Magazine, GradShare, InnerSelf, Inside Higher Ed, Inspire Me Today, Thesis Whisperer, Transformation Magazine, Unity Magazine, Women in Higher Education, Women on Writing, Writer’s Digest, and The Writer. With a Ph.D. from Columbia University, Noelle has for 30 years helped doctoral candidates wrestle their dissertations to completion (finally). Based on her practice, her Challenges in Writing Your Dissertation: Coping with the Emotional, Interpersonal, and Spiritual Struggles (Rowman & Littlefield Education, September 2015) addresses students’ often overlooked or ignored but crucial nonacademic difficulties that can seriously prolong their agony. See the PowerPoint teaser here. In Noelle`s Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams (Unity Books, 2011), she draws examples from her academic consulting and other aspects of life to help readers release regrets and reach lifelong yearnings. Visit Noelle at

The views and opinions expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect that of the Textbook & Academic Authors Association. Read more about TAA guest posts here.

See also Noelle’s other posts:

Friends – How to keep them but keep them away when you need academic immersion

For Academics: What to Do When Your Partner Wails, “I Never See You Anymore!”

For Academics: Are Your Kids Growing Up Without You?