Do you have friends who make you feel more negativity, distress, or trauma rather than having you feel happy, supported and loved unconditionally? If you do, then you are not alone with this.
Nearly all of us have probably had our experience with a friendship that was unhealthy or ‘toxic’. Some studies report that only about 50 percent of the average person's friendships go both ways. And yet in all areas and stages of our lives, we continue to persist in toxic friendships, no matter how young or old we may become. In this article, we will cover what makes a friendship toxic, and why so many friendships become toxic but we continue to keep them around as a friend, in addition to strategies for dealing with toxic friendships more effectively.
Understanding and recognizing that you are in a toxic relationship is imperatively significant for your overall psychological wellbeing. A friend can bring extraordinary bliss, solace, harmony and amusement to your life. We people are social creatures. Solid connections help us flourish. We need someone to share our great and terrible moments with or impart to. Friends who are going to take pleasure in our satisfaction and bolster us when we are hopeless. There is logical evidence that great connections expand life. A decade-long Australian study showed that people with stable friend groups were 22% bound to live longer than the individuals who didn't have such companions, or were in a dysfunctional relationship. Another study conducted by Harvard researchers over an 80-year period found that healthy, quality relationships were fundamental to good mental and physical health and healthy aging including living longer above all other factors. The key here is ‘healthy, quality’ relationships… not just any kind of relationship quality or even quantity. I.e., you could have many relationships with various people, however, if these relationships aren’t that healthy, then that’s not going to do wonders for your mental or physical health compared to having healthy relationships.
In the event that you presume that you may be in a toxic relationship, it is important that you take it seriously instead of dismissing it.
You or someone you know may be familiar with this situation in life where you know that one of your friends is toxic, but you continue to have them in you or their lives, even when you clearly know that having this person around is not doing you any favors at all. One of the reasons we sometimes keep a friend around whom we know is toxic for us, is that we just don’t know how to get ourselves out of the friendship. We may know that they’re unhealthy for us, but we just can’t seem to break off the connection. This may be because we may feel like we don’t really have many other friends or won’t have any friends left if we let that toxic friend go. Having low self-esteem can also make us much more vulnerable to keeping toxic friendships around, as we can lack the confidence and self-love to respect ourselves enough to deal with the toxic behaviors going on in the friendship. It may also be because we might actually be in a sense physiologically and psychologically ‘addicted’ to the drama or negativity that the toxic friend causes for us, where we know it’s unhealthy for us, but we just keep subconsciously or consciously want more and more of it. Another reason may be that we think their toxic behaviors might just be a phase; there are numerous situations where a toxic friend is simply somebody who needs a little assistance or is going through a rough patch, and if so, we don’t know how long this ‘rough patch’ should go on for and keep affecting us in negative ways. There are also some people that we maintain friendships with simply because we appreciate the solace of being socially associated with them. Maybe they have all the right connections you need for your job, or maybe they are an influential part of your culture. That is where you get to decide: does the benefit of being their friend outweigh the misery they bring into your life? There's also the situation that they may be part of your social networks, and you don't want to avoid being friends with them or else you might be creating an unpleasant, painful gap that would cause the rest of your friends to contend with.
On the other hand, sometimes we keep toxic friends around because we don’t know what makes a friendship toxic and thus don’t really realize that the friendship we have is an unhealthy one, which can occur if we’re used to be treated poorly by others. This can happen if we have grown up in a family or childhood environment where we were not valued, treated with love and respect, etc thus we may just be used to being treated poorly that we think it’s ‘normal’.
Before we get into signs of a toxic friendship, let us first go over a little bit about what a healthy relationship looks and feels like.
In a healthy relationship, there will often be many of the following present:
There will be many more signs of a healthy relationship than what is noted above, however these are a few key ones to keep in mind. Remember that no relationship is always ever going to be ‘perfect’ all of the time, so just because there may not be all of the above going on all of the time, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is not a healthy relationship, or that it is a ‘toxic’ relationship. There is a bit of a sticky line between healthy relationships and toxic relationships. I.e., if someone who normally offers a helping hand to you, just hasn’t for the last couple of times you’ve needed one, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re now an unhealthy or toxic friend; we need to look at the broader picture here and take all factors into consideration, because if we expect our friends to be ‘perfect’ all of the time, then we’re probably not going to have any friends left.
Thus, when we delve into the signs of a toxic friendship below, when deciding whether a friendship is actually toxic, we need to put each factor into context, including look at how frequent these behaviors are occurring, why they might be occurring, if the person is doing these behaviors intentionally even if they know it’s hurtful or disrespectful to you. In toxic friendships, typically the person will do such behaviors below whilst their values of ‘healthy friendships’ and being a ‘healthy friend’ is not so high on their values list.
Now let’s look at what are the signs of a toxic or unhealthy friendship so that we can identify these. After this, we will discuss some potential ways to go about dealing with these issues within the friendship, as not all ‘toxic’ friendships automatically need to be thrown to the curb to never be friends again. Some of these issues may be able to improve.
You are competing with her/his other friends. She seems to have fun with her other friends but not with you. Or your partner you live with is always in the dumps when they're home with you, but when they're out there, they're having a good time posting fun pics on Facebook, and they've forgotten your very existence. Can it be that they use you for their bad emotions as an outlet, and reserve the good ones for others?
You can’t get a word in edgewise. Talking to your friends should make you feel more connected but a toxic friendship might make you feel ignored instead. You call them, and they tell you how bad their day has been, or how awesome it was but when you're the one trying to say something about your day, they suddenly can’t talk and hang up in a hurry. This can also happen while you are trying to express your own thoughts or worries or you reach out to plan, but you're left out of group events and your messages go unanswered (unless they need something from you).
They are quick to criticize, and do so with a self-righteous attitude. There is no denying that in any relationship honesty is important but tact is no less significant. If honesty is delivered in a critical manner where you are often criticized and your flaws pointed out, rather than being given feedback in a constructive and supportive way, it can become overwhelming. Why are they doing that? Often, their hurtful words are projections of what they actually see within themselves and they might be criticizing you to make them feel better about themselves, rather than to genuinely support you.
Who reaches out more? You call them far more often than they call you, or perhaps they don’t really call at all? Do you feel like you're more interested in talking and spending time together than they are? Relationships get toxic when they are not as invested in them as you are, or visa versa. Yet the other side can be almost as bad — feeling stalked by the incessant requests of a friend or companion for your time can even be distressing. Also, if they call and just want to get together when something bad has happened to them and then once that’s over they’re gone again, it if often not a good sign. When things in their life are doing well, you don’t really hear from them, or they’re just not that interested in hanging out or don’t make it priority.
They want you to change. These friends can be quick to point out your flaws or what you need to change, without recognizing their own shortcomings, and even less change them. It's all about what your issues are. From their perspective, if you just changed, then things would be better. Your friend or partner only has an interest in pointing fingers at you and blaming you for everything.
You never know when lightning’s going to strike. It can be a lot of fun with them - laughing, crying, etc. But suddenly they started to act strange. They flip out so easily. They may be taking subtle digs on you or openly mocking you, leaving you uncertain whether they mean what they say. Their reactions or overreactions will unbalance you much more. Often they laugh things off, occasionally they scream. Not knowing what's going to happen can make you so confused you're not sure how to go about it leaving you in a state where you constantly watch your every move with care as if you’re walking on eggshells.
They often lie, and then turn it against you. Compulsive deceit can ruin a relationship especially if they use their lies against you. They're accusing you for example of being crazy or not remembering things properly. They do that in a toxic relationship to keep you off their trail of lies. They keep information from you, lie about it, and then accuse you of lying.
You’re on an emotional roller coaster with them. It was a great link. You have known this kind of connection. Now, they're all ups and downs, and they're on sensors. You feel scared, uncomfortable, worried ... then they are again suddenly full of appreciation for you and you are off the coaster. What were you worried about to begin with? Everything is fine. Then they snap again. The inconsistency makes you doubt everything you say or do. It can sound mind-numbing. It also starts to affect your self-esteem which mirrors an actual roller coaster's movement.
You’re getting physically sick. Emotional stress can manifest itself in physical sensations when it gets overwhelming. You begin feeling physically sick. Stress is beginning to affect your physical wellbeing. You get back pain, vomiting, and pain in the stomach. The friendship makes you feel poor. Your body keeps reacting. Your stomach is always upset, you feel anxious. Good, healthy relationships not only support your immune system but even help improve it while toxic ones have the inverse effect.
They discredit you. This person doubts whatever you're saying or doing. When you fail, they're happy, and they're displeased when you succeed. However they might not show this in an obvious way. They try to keep your self-esteem low, or they perpetuate rumors about you which they then may lieto you about having told such rumors to others, or if they admit it, they might not feel apologetic or empathetic for it. Your low self-esteem makes them feel better about themselves. They don't believe in you and they may lack empathy too. They never know the agony that you are in.
If you have come to realize that you might have a toxic friend or two in your life that and that that friendship needs to be addressed, consider some of the available strategies for dealing with these situations below.
Before looking at the strategies below, first come to identify your value and worth as a person and as a friend, and how you do deserve to be treated by your friends and how you don’t deserve to be treated by them. Also know what kind of real friends you really want in your life. Build up your self-esteem and self-confidence to back yourself on this when it comes to dealing with those unhealthy or toxic friendships in your life.
At first you might want to try to talk to your friend. They might not know exactly how upsetting, disrespectful or nasty their behavior is, especially if they lack self-awareness or if someone hasn’t really brought the issues up with them before. This might be a good first choice if you want to see if the relationship is worth saving. It is a bit tricky though because at one hand, you might think that actually getting a conversation with them can potentially change the relationship for the better. But there is also a possibility that that toxic friend of yours can be unresponsive to your efforts, causing your relationship irreversible harm. There is really only one way you will know how effective talking to them about your concerns will be, and that will be to talk with them about your concerns and what you feel will need to change in order for your relationship with them to keep moving forward. That way, you give them the option to make the decision about to improve in the relationship or lose the relationship. At the end of the day, you can’t force people to be what it is you need or want them to be as people have their own free will about this. Some unhealthy friends might be very receptive to your feedback, even if it is confronting for them to hear about it or they might get defensive. I am sure they have good reasons for why they are the way they are. Maybe they have some of their own psychological issues or past trauma etc. that they need to work through. If so, they’re going to need time to work through these issues so they can learn how to be in relationships in a healthier way. It’s really up to you how much of this and for how long you want to keep putting up with their attitude or behavior for. However, if they have personal issues going on that is causing the relationship to be unhealthy, then it could be suggested to make sure they work on improving on the issues, otherwise you’ll keep dealing with the same problems with them.
The other choice is to terminate the friendship without talking to them about it. Guilt is one of the toxins that can control the relationship. In friendships, toxic people can be manipulative, even subtly. You should have the liberty to be yourself and not be overburdened by drama, and making the decision to let this friendship go without feeling guilty about it. You may feel like you’re stuck but that doesn't mean that you really are. Don't let yourself be influenced by guilt or fear. You're free to walk away and move on, without feeling guilty about it. Such guilt could either be inherent in this relationship with this person, or it could be a life-long pattern for you from previous relationships in your earlier life such as with parents or caregivers.
The world we are living in can be daunting as it is. And being trapped in a toxic relationship can cause you to feel humiliated, confounded, or suspicious of others. If you've distanced yourself from other friends because of this person, you may find it difficult to reconnect with old friends again. You've probably got some good friends that really want to give support. Reaching out to them and describing the situation will help you restore the positive connections that can help you heal. Friends and relatives can also provide a refuge from stresses, defeats and daily contradictions. They can provide peace, comfort and help center your being.. Acknowledging and either dealing with or weeding out unhealthy or toxic friendships is crucial to mental health. In a world where you can be frustrated by so many issues, it's important to create a support net on which you can genuinely rely – one that is founded on shared interest, compassion and love. So, I guess it's time to bid farewell and move on to better, healthier relationships if your any of your current friendships are anything like this.
Stay happy, healthy and well!