#SelfCareSunday: Why giving yourself space is so important after a friendship ends

Opinion: We have to feel comfortable giving ourselves permission to protect our space while we are grieving and healing. 

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A photo from Insecure, Season 4, Episode 6. (Credit: HBO)

Since riding up on Molly with a goon squad wasn’t an option, Issa did the next best thing — she gave herself the emotional space to re-center and recharge after her big fight with Molly. In Sunday’s episode of Insecure, #SelfCareSunday became a solo mission. Issa prioritized her feelings, her personal space, and the people (Hey Auntie Wendy!) who could best help her tend to her wounds.

To Issa’s credit, she did all of this without losing her cool. Most of us would’ve been ready to tag everyone on sight after the dine and dash incident. (Instead of looking for Latoya, they need to be looking for those chicks!). But Issa refused to take the Devil’s bait and pushed forward. This is just the type of energy Dr. Afiya Mbilishaka, a clinical psychologist based in Washington, D.C., suggested we can use to help initiate our own healing after an ugly fight with a friend.

“We have to be intentional about taking care of the emotional debris or residue from past relationships in order to form newer and healthier relationships,” she shared. “It’s almost like doing a detox.”

Issa definitely gave us “emotional detox” vibes on Sunday as she took time to focus on herself. Dr. Afiya Mbilishaka, who often goes by Dr. Afiya, encourages clients in her own therapeutic practice to use this time to look introspectively as they work through similar situations.

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“It’s important to go inward after a major conflict because a key to mental health is self knowledge,” she explained. “We all need to study ourselves when we become emotionally distressed to understand what’s really bothering us and why we feel the way we do.” 

Issa actually does this quite well in many ways during Sunday’s episode, and her self-care actions can ultimately help us understand why space is so important for our healing after a major fight with a friend. 

Protecting Your Space Can Allow You to Feel Like Yourself Again

Issa took a page out of Nathan’s old playbook and ignored every single voicemail she woke up to that next morning. Not a call, text, nor voicemail was returned until she was good and ready to give them her energy. Good for her. 

A photo from Insecure, Season 4, Episode 6. (Credit: HBO)

After a fight, everyone wants to talk. But talking can sometimes feel like added pressure when you haven’t even figured out how you feel yet. “It’s challenging to get into our thoughts if we are paying too much attention to what other people are saying.” Dr. Afiya shared. Grounding yourself by prioritizing your personal space is sometimes necessary she expressed. 

“If [Issa] had responded right away, it might not have been her most authentic self,” she added. “She may have used words that were untrue, angry, or anxious.” (Molly needed this advice at the block party!) Taking a moment before responding to friends gave Issa the space to get centered and begin to feel more like herself again. We don’t owe others our energy when we barely have enough for ourselves. 

Having Space to Self-Reflect Can Help You Get to the Root of Your Feelings

Even though ‘Mirror Issa’ couldn’t resist spitting a few bars, mirror time in Sunday’s episode was devoted to honesty and self-reflection. The Issas went back and forth about Issa’s feelings and what her next steps should be, ultimately agreeing that her only duty at that moment was to take care of self. (Look at Issa growing!) Having this type of inner dialogue is what Dr. Afiya shared can help us get to the bottom of our feelings. 

“Reflection is important because it makes us transition from how things happened to why things happened,” she explained. “The ‘why’ is very important because it redirects our thoughts from ruminating — the process of thinking about what happened over and over — to drawing a conclusion and developing a better understanding of ourselves and the situation as a whole.”

“You are your greatest relationship tool,” she emphasized. “Ultimately you need to understand how you work.” Self-reflection can give us the opportunity to learn about ourselves so we can approach healing being clearer about the source of our feelings. 


Cleaning Your Space Can Reduce Stress

The level of neglect at Issa’s apartment had gotten so bad, she needed a whole face mask and those faithful yellow gloves just to clean the fridge. And this was all pre-Covid. Granted, we’ve all had moments when life gets so busy that our household maintenance falls to the bottom of our to-do list. But Dr. Afiya advised that having all of this clutter around can actually increase our stress level. After a fight, that’s the opposite of what we need. 

“When there is excessive clutter, it triggers the release of cortisol, a stress hormone,” she explained. “Cleaning your space can reduce the amount of cortisol pumping through your system.” 

Issa’s decision to start the day off by cleaning was a wise one. There’s something about a clean space that just brightens our mood. Cleaning also serves as a distraction to take our minds off of our friendship troubles. 

By giving ourselves the time and space to get our physical surroundings in order, we can better prepare our minds to address the emotional unpacking that’s ahead of us. We may not be able to control the outside drama, but we can control our physical space. That can be comforting. 

Opening Your Space to Your Cheerleaders Can Pick You Up

Not everyone knows how to give you the pep talk you need after an emotional battle with a friend. If you have a supportive figure in your life, like the mother Wendy Raquel Robinson played for Issa, opening your space to them — and only them — may boost your mood. 

A photo from Insecure, Season 4, Episode 6. (Credit: HBO)

“Getting support from a close relationship mitigates social rejection by reminding us of our value,” Dr. Afiya said. “Talking to someone that loves you is like a ‘social snack’ because it can ease the social hunger that comes from feeling rejected or excluded in other relationships. Even looking at pictures of a loved one can help to stabilize our moods after a conflict.” 

But we have to know who our cheerleaders are. As necessary as it is to have a friend like Kelli who tries to bring everyone together, that energy wasn’t exactly what Issa needed so soon after the fight. And surprisingly, although Nathan has been questionable (at best) in the past, he actually showed himself to be a supportive figure that Issa could rely on. (Yay for growth?

Our cheerleaders are crucial. Words of affirmation can go a long way when we’ve been emotionally knocked down by a fight.  

Giving Yourself Space to Be Creative Balances Your Brain 

Although Issa and the grimy bride squad were hell-bent on painting questionable “cacti” at the paint & sip, being creative in any form is still something that Dr. Afiya believes is helpful for our brains, especially after we’ve spent a lot of time thinking about a problem. 

“Creativity allows you to operate from a different hemisphere of your brain. Our logic, reasoning and critical thinking tends to be the left hemisphere,” she explained. “The right hemisphere [is] creative. Often when we are constantly using one side, we need to do an activity that does the opposite.” 

While many of us may not have known the science behind it, we emotionally feel the effects of doing something creative. It can be calming and soothing in a way that feels therapeutic. Pulling out a paintbrush or clay or even a musical instrument can be a great way to give the overactive parts of our brain a break.

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While this is just the beginning of Issa’s healing, she started off on a great note. And even though the next episode seems to be Molly-centric, we may get a glimpse into whether or not Issa continues this self-care journey that she’s begun. 

Ultimately, Issa’s attention to self-care has highlighted why protecting our space can be beneficial both to our healing and our ability to get to know ourselves better. Dr. Afiya agreed. “One of the things I always talk about with my clients is that even if it’s a different person, sometimes we’re having the same relationship over and over again,” she concluded. 

Let’s begin to allow ourselves the space to heal after friendships end (or even after major fights) so that we can put an end to cycles and patterns of behavior that no longer serves us. Coping with a fractured friendship has its own grieving process. We have to feel comfortable giving ourselves permission to protect our space while we are grieving and healing.