Updated: Aug 11, 2019
If you’re anything like me then you probably hang on to many things longer than you should. Whether it be that T-shirt you bought on holiday 5 years ago or that cuddly toy your ex gave you during the first year you dated, when it comes to detaching ourselves from anything that holds sentimentality or involves moving out of our comfort zones it can be a real struggle to let go. The same can be said of certain relationships. We all know that many couples stay together for this very reason, so it makes perfect sense that some us can also fall into this trap with friendships that have run their course.
Toxic, but that's another word for poisonous right?
Correct, and it's a term that‘s bandied around a lot these days to mean more than just someone you don’t get along with, it refers to a person you care about and value who systematically poisons you against yourself by undermining your confidence, capabilities and self-belief.
"In a close, enduring friendship, jealousy, envy, anger and the entire range of difficult emotions will rear their heads. One has to decide whether the best thing is to consider it a phase in a long friendship or say this is bad for my health and I'm disbanding it."
- Dr. Harriet Lerner, psychologist and author of The Dance Of Connection.
So when is it time to move on? The checklist:
Started a new job? Meeting new people? You are so excited about everything that is happening that naturally you want to share it. You meet/call up your friend and spill everything that's new and eagerly tell her all about the great people who've recently come into your life, only to be met with 'oooh be careful, that one sounds a little needy' or "he sounds a bit unprofessional." That's just enough to plant some seeds of doubt in your mind that your new friends or job might not be all you'd hope they would be. Suddenly your new colleagues have lost a bit of their shine and that new boss isn't so great, and why? Because your friend is just "looking out for you"... as they always do.
Now this is a tricky one, partly because admitting to any kind of jealousy involves the acknowledgment that part of you isn't what you would like it to be. At some point in our lives most of us have sat back, looked at someone and thought hmmmm I could do that! Or I wish I had her figure, and this is ok, after all it's normal and indeed healthy to be surrounded by people whose achievements inspire us to fulfil our own dreams. But this can take a much darker turn when rather than doing something pro-active with this feeling it's allowed to manifest into more sinister, destructive and often downright irrational behaviour. Acknowledging that someone may be jealous of us is also an uncomfortable feeling, it feels boastful and egotistical. It may even be hard for us to understand why anyone would envy us, given our personal struggles and our hangups.
As mentioned before, it's important to realise that jealousy can be hard to fathom as it doesn't always have its roots in reality, it's all about what you're perceived to be. So if you're not quite sure if you're falling victim to someone else's green eyed monster, it may help to ask yourself the following: While you are striving to improve your life does your friend continually bring up your past mistakes? Do you get a sense that they are happy with you to do well, as long as it isn’t better than them? Do they make you feel that without them you can’t achieve anything? If the answer to any of those questions is yes, then you may have a problem.
4. Competes for attention:
We all have those times when we have something special to share. Everybody needs their time to shine and in a healthy friendship a good friend will want to celebrate your victories with you. On the other hand, a toxic friend will never really get this, in fact you may sometimes feel hurt and wonder if they realise how important something is to you as they go about their everyday life as if nothing has happened at all. Then there are those multiple occasions when they have to go one better than you (or worse). You pass your driving test, they brag about their new car. You get a new boyfriend, they get a "stalker." You enrol for a new course, they tell you they were going to do it but didn't think much of it or they've booked a better one....and so it goes on. Like a five year child vying for everyone's attention in the playground, it's classic "me, me, me" syndrome and it almost sounds comical when described like that, until you remember that this person is meant to be a friend.
5. Expects you to lie for them:
There are times when we may need to step in and tell a white lie to help a friend save face, perhaps they forgot to buy a gift for a mutual friend's birthday, so you both go to the party and cover it by saying it's on the sofa at home, or you’re out alone and bump into their ex and you tell them that your friend is living her best life since he cheated and broke up with her, when in fact you know she's at home crying... again!
But what about when it gets more serious? What about when the lies become bigger and the potential for fall out and hurt becomes greater? Covering for days missed at work, illegal activities and illicit affairs etc, can test the limits of any friendship. If the lie you are being asked to tell is something that makes you feel uncomfortable, involves sacrificing your reputation or losing your inner peace then it needs to stop. It's time to back away from the friendship, for what you allow will continue.
6. You change when you are with them (think Mean Girls)
Hold a mirror up to yourself, do you like what you've become?
Clique behaviour, gossiping and back stabbing, are only a few of the types of behaviour you may recognise in yourself when hanging out with a toxic friend. It's a private club, you and them against the world and anyone who doesn't fit the clique or know who's boss doesn't get in. Toxic friends like to be in control, they compartmentalise their friends so that none of them ever get too close, they may even pit you against each other, after all they are masters at the game of divide and rule. If this sounds like a certain someone you know then it's time to get a back bone and break away.
7. Their antics embarrass you:
We are all unique, and most of us understand that. True friends allow for differences, hell great friendships can thrive on them! But when those little things they do start to grate on you, make you cringe, nervous, or simply stress you out, then you know it is time to step back. Now, I'm not talking about superficial things, i.e they snort when they laugh kind of stuff, no I mean when they go out of their way to behave inappropriately in front of your boss, colleagues or parents. Airing their dirty laundry in front of your colleagues, talking about their sex life, or worse still discussing yours in front of family members and other such behaviour is not likely to win you or them any brownie points. Everyone has a different breaking point, but anything that is potentially damaging to your way of life, whether it be work related, financial or other relationships, is not acceptable behaviour!
8. The Emotional Vampire:
Emotional Vampires suffer from a lack of self worth and poor self-esteem hence, in order to fill this void they feed off the time, attention and emotions of those around them. They tend to gravitate towards sensitive souls, as those with empathy will almost certainly indulge them as they need.
If you are unfortunate enough to be one of the compassionate souls privy to their extreme highs and devastating lows then expect to be taken along for a ride on an emotional roller-coaster. Emotionally draining and physically exhausting, malignant friendships can take a toll on our physical and mental health. Those headaches, that upset stomach, the overwhelming tiredness, it’s no coincidence that these symptoms are appearing before or after a catch up with that friend. If you're not sure if they are to blame for your symptoms then try taking a little break from the relationship. Step back for a few days, weeks or in fact how ever long it takes and if those ailments start to magically improve, well...you have your answer!
Making That Break:
If you've taken the time out of your day to read our blog post then the chances are that at some point you were or still are concerned about the state of a friendship. In every relationship there are good times and bad, and when going through the process of breaking away from anyone it is tempting now and then to reminisce about the good and fun times you once had, after all there must have been some. It can be incredibly painful and difficult walking away from a friendship that has run its course, for this person may know you like no other, they've probably been there when you were at your lowest and wiped away your tears a good few times too. It's therefore only natural that sometimes you may miss them, but when the great times become a distant memory and you find yourself clinging to the past in order to justify being in a relationship in the present, then it is definitely time to move on.
Making New Connections:
In this digital age it gets harder and harder to form lasting bonds. In addition, as we grow older our lives become busier and there's less time and fewer opportunities to get to know new people. It's times like this that you need to reach out a little more, take those colleagues up on that offer of Friday night drinks. Join the other mums for that quick coffee after the school run, and make time to call up friends you've been meaning to reconnect with. More importantly, spend time on you. Get to know yourself, and remember never be in too much of a rush to find lasting connections, a solid friendship is a valuable gift, be careful who you give yours to.
Our true friends are those who are with us when good things happen. They cheer us on and are pleased for our triumphs." Paolo Coelho.
Until next time,