How to Deal With a Toxic Friendship
With all that we’ve been going through this year, one of the things I’m most grateful for are my friendships. You probably feel the same way! Knowing that you have special people in your life to share both good times and bad, who inspire you and make you laugh can make all the difference!
But, what happens when some of those friendships that we develop throughout our life turn toxic? When the people we trust start to act disrespectfully, manipulative or become abusive?
It may start slowly over time. You may not notice the behavior right off the bat or if you do, you may initially dismiss it, telling yourself the person was just having a bad day.
But, often, that ‘bad day’ excuse is simply masking the reality that you are really just seeing the truer and darker part of your friend’s personality that’s been there all along.
If you suspect you may have one of these types of friends in your life, it’s time to ask yourself two questions:
First, how do you know if you’re really IN a toxic friendship?
Every relationship, including friendship, is going to have some rough patches. That’s just life, right? None of us are perfect little angels. We have our disagreements, get our feelings hurt or have difficulty communicating to one another from time to time.
The difference is, in a truly toxic friendship, whether it’s intentional or unconscious, the toxic party will consistently chisel away at their friend’s feelings with little or no regard for their well-being.
Here are some examples of what I mean:
1. Do they try to emotionally manipulate you to do things you wouldn’t normally do?
2. Do they make disparaging comments about you, some aspect of your life or about others you hang out with just to make themselves look better or more in control?
3. Do they try to monopolize or dominate your free time to the exclusion of your other friends?
4. Is it their way or the highway when a decision is required?
5. Do they consistently take advantage of your generosity, become demanding or keep asking for more without making any effort to give back?
Healthy friendships are about sharing where BOTH parties are giving love, support and acceptance. No one’s keeping score. It’s natural that giving ebbs and flows from one side to the other. But, the line gets crossed when it primarily becomes a one-way street and you’re the only one making an effort.
These types of “friends” can need a lot of attention and struggle with low self-esteem issues. Their coping mechanisms can include forms of intimidation or manipulation just so they feel they are in control of the relationship.
They can also confuse you with sporadic acts of generosity or attention, making you question any thoughts or concerns you have about their more consistent and darker actions.
When I’m feeling confused or conflicted about someone’s red flag behavior, I like to use the “percentage test” to get a clearer picture of what’s really happening. That is, you look at the overall pattern of behavior in a person, without judgment or excuse, and compare the percentage of unhealthy actions against the positive ones.
Is it 80% positive and 20% cringe-worthy? Or is it the other way around?
When you think of your toxic friend, have you ever used the excuse “Oh, but he isn’t that bad! He’s really a good person at heart” or “that’s ok, she’s going through a tough time right now”. Another excuse is to keep crediting them with a positive action that may have occurred years ago, while ignoring their current disrespectful or unloving behavior.
People who have a difficult time accepting that a toxic relationship in their life is personally detrimental usually struggles with one, or more, of the following factors:
1) They consider loyalty as one of their most important values.
If a toxic friend has done even the most minimal helpful, supportive or positive act in the past, it’s extremely hard for a person that values loyalty to acknowledge the negative behavior, even when it’s been toxic for a while.
2) It goes against their core personality traits to think badly of, or judge, another person.
They instinctively want to think the best of others and tend to excuse the toxic behavior outright.
That’s a very giving and loving thing to do, but unfortunately, they aren’t doing any favors for their friend by giving bad behavior a pass. A healthier way to see it is that they may be missing a great opportunity for their friend to learn and grow by making them aware their actions are hurting others.
3) They are uncomfortable with confrontation and will avoid any possibility of unpleasantness like the plague.
Yes, being straightforward with a friend who has either hurt or disrespected you isn’t always pleasant or easy. But, there are certainly ways to speak your truth that don’t require argument or unpleasantness. A true friend is always willing to hear you out. If they aren’t willing to do that, are they truly a friend after all?
4) Their compassionate nature makes them think they can help.
They may feel their friend has just gotten a raw deal in life and they think they can help them change. As a coach, I can understand that instinct to want to reach out and help others. But, I’ve also learned, the hard way I might add, that people won’t change unless they accept responsibility for their actions and truly want to improve their life. You can’t do it for them without those components.
Over the years, I’ve come to understand that there are different types of friends that come into our lives. Not every friend is meant to stay with us for life.
There are life-long friends who are truly connected at the soul level, who know you best, are there for you through thick and thin and accept you on every level.
There are situational friends who have enriched your life during certain seasons, then fade away once that life season has ended because the source of the connection that brought you together, has changed or ended.
The last type of friendship are acquaintances who you enjoy spending time with, but for whatever reason, they lack the connection that stronger friendships have, that you implicitly trust and can lean on long term.
All of these friendships, though, are teachers in one way or the other, even the toxic friendships.
You can’t change the past, but you can certainly stop and take a good look at the people that surround you now. Are they positive influences? Are they respectful and supportive, people you can share and grow with who truly have your back?
It’s not selfish to want to surround yourself with people who support your well-being and share positive energy. It’s your life! YOU get to choose what and who you bring into your life! If a toxic friendship isn’t helping you get there, then maybe it’s finally time to address your concerns with them. If they aren’t willing to meet you halfway and hear what you have to say, then maybe it’s time to finally move on.
So, my friend, as I always say….stay safe, stay healthy and stay strong!