As the Cambridge Dictionary defines, a friend is “a person who you know well and who you like a lot, but who is usually not a member of your family”. Friendship is the relationship you have with your friend(s), and no friendship is perfect. We are all just human and we make mistakes. But we are (hopefully) trying our best. Be that as it may, there is such a thing as a toxic friendship. It’s weird to think that a friend, someone who is supposed to be on your side and have your best interest at heart, could be bad for you.
Unfortunately, toxic friendships are much more common than we think. Chances are that you have had to deal with at least one already. I’ve had my fair share and it does get easier to recognise the signs. It’s not always possible to completely avoid them, but you will learn to recognise them earlier on and know how to handle the situation better. Keep in mind that you deserve to have good friends and people that truly support and love you. So if there is someone in your life that isn’t doing you any good and, on the contrary, is harming you, let them go.
Because toxic friendships are difficult to recognise and accept, I decided to share some things I have learned from past experiences and things that I have read on this topic. Do keep in mind that every friendship is different and everything that follows is more of a guide rather than a one-size-fits-all. A lot of info in this post was inspired by Lily Pebbles’ book The F Word – A personal exploration of modern female friendship which I strongly encourage anyone, but especially girls, to read.
Negative traits in friendships
First and foremost, it’s important to remember that no friendship is perfect. In fact, most friendships go through somewhat negative phases. This, however, is different than a toxic friendship. In healthy friendships, you will argue at some point. What is important though, is how you address the issue at hand and how you resolve it. In a healthy friendship, I have often found that a disagreement can actually lead to important conversations being had. And most of the time, these have brought me and my friends closer together.
When you become friends with someone, the friendship should be equally divided, meaning that you should both more or less give and receive the same amount. You will bring your qualities as well as your faults into this friendship, and so will the other person. Just make sure that these faults don’t take over and turn the friendship into something negative. For example, if you both enjoy gossiping, try not to have your friendship revolve around that as it could cause problems later down the line (trust issues for instance).
In her book, Lily Pebbles explains how there are “toxic topics” that can divide opinions and bring out the worst in people – these are often controversial topics such as religion or politics. These topics can cause arguments and awkwardness. Usually, a silent agreement is made that these topics will not be brought up again because they are not worth fighting over. And it is absolutely okay to have those, just as long as you make sure there aren’t so many taboo subjects that you end up not having anything to discuss.
Recognising a toxic friendship
One of, if not the most tell-tale sign of a toxic friendship is the way you feel before and after seeing them. If you feel drained, sad, nervous, anxious, down or any other negative feeling every single time leading up to or following meeting up with your friend, something isn’t right. We often ignore it, but our gut feeling tells us much more than we think. We can sense things that we can’t always explain, hence why people say: “I just have this gut feeling”. So if you have a bad feeling about someone, about a friendship or about a situation, listen to it. Chances are your gut is trying to warn you.
Most toxic friendships will also feel unequal. One person, the toxic friend, usually puts in way less effort than the other and makes the friendship revolve mostly around them, their successes or their problems. It does happen in healthy relationships as well when one person is going through a difficult time for example, and the other has to put in slightly more effort for some time while they are going through a hard time. However, this must be reciprocal. And that is usually what toxic friendships aren’t.
So if you have a bad gut feeling, are emotionally drained and down after seeing them or don’t feel like the friendship is equal, you might be in a toxic friendship. The way you feel will be different from person to person, but the bottom line is that something doesn’t feel right and you should think about what steps to take next. You can find a very detailed post on recognising toxic patterns in friendships here, as well as loads of other useful info regarding toxic friendships.
Types of toxic friendships
There are many types of toxic relationships. Lily Pebbles lists many in her book and I think they are the main ones so I will be listing hers. One of the main culprits you fill find is jealousy, mainly a jealous friend that will project their insecurities onto you and make themselves feel better by putting you down. Similarly, a toxic friend can make mean, hurtful comments all the time. This is often masked by humour or “honesty” and can also be due to insecurities on their part. There is no harm in a friend being honest when you need to hear it, but they should also support you and build you up, not hurt you to make themselves feel better.
Another toxic friendship you might find yourself intertwined in is one that drains you of your energy. Some people are like vampires and just suck all of your energy up. You will likely always feel drained and needing time to recover after spending time with this friend – which, once again, isn’t how a friendship should make you feel. Certain people will only be there for the good times, and not the bad. Those aren’t real friends and you should not give them any more of your valuable time and love. Period.
Finally, there is a type of toxic friend that can be compared to the leader of the popular group in school. These people are bullies that are looked up to but, mostly, feared. They function by intimidating people as a way to keep them around. They’ll always give you something when they feel you pulling away, but once they have you back, they go back to their old ways. They are usually very good manipulators. There are probably toxic friendships that fall into multiple categories as well as some that aren’t listed here. Figuring out in what ways your friendship is toxic will help you address these issues down the line.
Why do we keep toxic friends around?
When you think about it, it doesn’t make sense to keep someone around who is toxic for you. But all too often, we will give these people the benefit of the doubt. “They’re just having a bad day” or “they’re not normally like this” are excuses you may also have made up for them. I have found that the biggest reason I found to keep these people around was how long we had known each other for. I had a friend that I grew up with from the age of 3 all the way up to when I was 18. And our friendship ended abruptly when I decided that I had enough of her toxicity. You might also have a lot of history with someone and may be finding it hard to let go of the fond memories you have with them.
You might start seeing some issues in your friendship but just brush them off at first. How could someone that you have known and been friends with for years, or that you have been through so much with, suddenly be toxic for you? Usually, it can be that you have just grown apart and don’t share the same values or you have may have grown as a person and realised that the friendship was toxic. Either way, it’s never easy to accept that someone dear to you isn’t good for you. But addressing these issues and deciding how to move forward is part of life.
Addressing the issues
If you have found issues that make your friendship toxic, you have a few options on how to proceed. The first would be to discuss them with your toxic friend. Sometimes, people are in a bad place themselves which is why they aren’t able to be a good friend. Directly addressing a problem will force them to think about their actions and see how they affect you. If the friendship is strong, you will be able to work through the issues you’re dealing with. You just have to make sure that the friendship is worth your time and effort.
Things don’t always turn out that way though. Bringing up the problems with your relationship to that toxic friend might end up bringing out the worst in them. They might not feel remorse at all, not see that they are at fault and even go as far as blaming you. However, if that is the case, the only advice I have for you is to leave that friendship behind. Clearly, they don’t care enough about you or your feelings to pause for a moment and think that maybe they have hurt your feelings. This is exactly what happened with my life-long friend mentioned previously. And letting her go was the best decision I ever made.
Letting go of a toxic friendship
More often than not, a toxic friendship will not be saveable. Ending a friendship can be really difficult and painful. I’ve been there myself and it’s shit. But I cannot stress enough how much better you will be off in the long run. After some time away from them, once you’ve processed things, you will realise just how much they were negatively impacting your life. And you will feel like a weight has been lifted off your shoulders.
There is no easy way out. And for your own sanity and wellbeing, I suggest that you find a way that will bring you closure. This could be a conversation – ideally in person or on the phone, but through text messages if they don’t deserve any better, – you could write them an email or a letter. A letter is very personal and sealing the letter will feel like turning the page on your friendship, helping you move on. Not going to lie, I ended that friendship through text message because it was what felt right to me.
What matters most isn’t which method you use but rather that you use what feels right for you and your friendship. If you want to give them a chance to explain themselves, have a conversation with them or make sure you write that to them. However, if you do not want to, which is totally acceptable, make it clear. I gave my ex-friend the option to reply to the message if she wanted to but made very clear that after that I didn’t want to have any more contact with her. Her reply just confirmed why I had ended the friendship and I removed her from my contacts and social media. It’s also important you have that cleanse because you don’t want to find yourself stalking their feeds to see what they’ve been up to or who they’ve been hanging out with. Cutting the tie and moving on with your life is the healthiest thing you could do.
One last point I want to make: you are allowed to still look back at old photos and memories with fondness. I’m sure you had some lovely moments together and just because there aren’t going to be more with them in the future does not mean you cannot enjoy old ones every once in a while.
This is the longest post I have written in a while but I felt like this subject needed to have its moment. And with the lockdown, most of us have some extra time on our hands anyway! If you have gone through a toxic friendship, or even a few, don’t feel like you are a bad friend. Sometimes the problem is just that you are too nice. Don’t let people walk all over you and take you for granted. You deserve to be appreciated and treated well. If you have read this far, thank you so much. I really appreciate it. I hope you enjoyed this post and I will see you here next Sunday!