I once heard someone say best friends are the siblings God forgot to give us. How disgustingly sweet. Yet, what happens when the friendship turns more into a drain than a source of energy? You don’t get to choose your family, but you do get to choose your friends. And sometimes there are friends that need to go.
To start, let’s get on the same page about what I mean by friendships. I’m not referring to people with whom you comingle on social media, people with whom you share similar views but have never interacted outside the Internet. What I’m about to share could apply to these acquaintances, but one advantage to online interactions is that stopping these interactions is generally one click away.
Genuine friendships are harder to disengage. In some cases I would argue they are even harder to break up than romantic relationships, because while guys and girls may come and go, good friends are supposed to be a healthy constant.
But, consider these scenarios. Have you ever had a friend who:
- Excessively loves telling you what to do?
- Only reached out when they wanted to complain about life?
- Always wanted to prove how much smarter they were?
- Routinely made a point to show how their troubles were worse than yours?
- Constantly made you second guess your convictions?
- Made a pattern of treating you one way alone but completely different in front of others?
- Habitually shoved their needs ahead of your own?
- Made an art of playing the victim?
- Used vulnerability as a weapon to demand more than you’re comfortable sharing?
- Seized every opportunity to make the conversation about themselves?
I intentionally used absolutes to paint a picture of a toxic friendship. Sadly, the conditions themselves are no exaggeration. In some cases these behaviors are simply outer manifestations of social awkwardness. In other cases, these characteristics could be classic signs of emotional manipulation.
How can you tell the difference?
Sometimes, you can’t.
Everyone copes with challenge in their own way. That’s the operating word though: cope. If a person chooses not to deal with the root of their issues, they could end up taking it out on others as a way to avoid working on a solution. A person who is always defining what is good for you, for example, is probably doing so from a place of insecurity.
So where does this leave you?
Well, you have at least two choices. You can choose to stay and put up with it, or you can choose to end the friendship.
Staying and putting up with it might seem bizarre to anyone who has never lived through an abusive relationship. Society has normalized certain behaviors, making the person on the receiving end question themselves. Abusive relationships deteriorates self-esteem and makes it that much harder to start fresh, and in some cases, the perpetrator has created such a manipulative environment that the victim actually starts feeling responsible for the other person’s behavior.
If you decide you might want to end the friendship, do these things before calling it quits. If you do not, you will have reservations about leaving and may never work up the courage to take that crucial step. Or, just as detrimental, you will leave and beat yourself up for feeling as though you did not do everything in your power to help the friendship survive.
First, have a candid conversation with the friend. Explain what they are doing specifically to upset you. Lay out the very real possibility that if things do not change, you may need to part ways. You can’t get upset at them for something they may not be aware they are doing. If they are aware, have the conversation anyway as a last ditch effort to express what you need. The critical step here is understanding that if the behavior does not change, you really need to follow through on your promise to end the friendship.
For this post, I am writing strictly in the context of friendships. If you are using this post as a means of evaluating whether or not you should leave an abusive relationship, the fact you are reading this likely means there is good cause to walk away. If you are a victim of domestic violence, please consider connecting with the National Domestic Violence Hotline, 1-800-799-7233.
Second, make a suggestion to them that they widen their social circle. No one should rely on any one person to be everything. Everyone has a unique perspective. Different people will make different contributions and could give them a new solution to ponder. The more they spread, the harder it will be for any one individual to feel crushed by the unburdening.
Finally, if you know, or suspect, the issues could run deep, ask them to consider counseling. I know, the advice feels trite, but sometimes it takes a professional to methodically walk a person through the challenge and help them come out stronger on the other side. Psychology Today and WebMD are just two starting points for identifying a therapist in your area.
Libraries have been written on the subject of the proper care and feeding of romantic relationships. I don’t know that I’ve seen as many resources devoted to the maintenance of friendships. Maybe it’s a matter of adjusting my own perspective on the advice. Regardless, unhealthy friendships can inspire feelings of fatigue, stress, and depression if left unchecked.
Nothing says you are a bad person for ending a friendship. Nor does it make the other person an evil culprit. As Harris O’Malley would point out, some relationships simply come to a natural conclusion. Not every BFF was meant to be forever, dismal though that may sound.
It’s not up to you to make a diagnosis of the other person. It is up to you to look out for yourself. If there are people in your life who only succeed at bringing you down and keeping you down, it’s time to ask yourself if keeping them in your life is the healthiest choice for your well-being. The energy you are using up to hold up your end of a fractured friendship is energy you could be pouring into a friendship that builds you up, fills you up, and makes you feel confident they can lean on you just as easily as you can lean on them.
How have you dealt with unhealthy friendships in your life? What steps did you follow before taking the nuclear option?
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