Written by Philippa Walsh
Friendships are important. Social interactions and feeling connected to our fellow humans are essential to our psychological and emotional wellbeing; but what happens when you realise that one of your friendships is causing you more harm than good?
Recognising the difference between a healthy and unhealthy friendship can be tricky. A toxic friend may be skilled at making you doubt your own judgement, which is why it's so important to heed any warning signs.
The Warning Signs of a Toxic Friend
True friends have our best interests at heart; not only do they want us to succeed in life, but they will support our personal and emotional growth by affording us the space and opportunity to progress. A toxic friend can manifest in many different guises - the critic, the gossip, the pessimist, the manipulator, the bully, the judge and the diva. Whatever the guise, the behaviours of a toxic friend can be emotionally damaging. Here we look at some of those behaviours:
As a realist, I would not expect or even wish my friends to agree with me all the time. The beauty of any relationship lies in being able to accept another person's opinions and decisions, even if they differ from our own. In a toxic friendship however, you may become aware that your alleged friend is deeply critical of you. Not only of your opinions, but of your decisions also. On the surface, it may feel fairly benign that they disagree with your taste in clothes or aren't so enthusiastic about your latest choice in partner - but if you face criticism every time you tell your friend something new, then there is an issue. Criticism when directed at us unfairly undermines our sense of self and can be belittling if done often enough.
You know what they say about gossips...if they're talking to you about someone, it'll be you they're talking about to someone tomorrow. Be very aware when entering into conversations about others with your gossipy friend. A gossip has few boundaries when it comes to talking about other people's business and that usually means that anyone on their gossip radar is fair game. Your reputation could easily be compromised with this sort of friend in your life.
...tell them your biggest hopes and dreams and you'll quickly be discouraged. There's usually always a down-side and a reason not to do what it is you plan to. It will be rare for you to garner a positive response from this particular individual, as they would not want to acknowledge that you might just succeed in your endeavours. The pessimist will find lots of reasons to deter you from applying for a new job or visiting a particular holiday destination. Life just couldn't go in your favour could it?! This friend is only happy when you are miserable.
This type of toxicity is close to narcissism...the manipulative 'friend' will use subtle but extremely powerful ways of undermining your self-confidence to the point that you actually believe that you are at fault within the friendship. Be very aware of seemingly harmless comments that are designed to make you question your decision making. Manipulative friends may display passive-aggressive behaviours, as deep down they feel bitter to see you doing well in life. Manipulators may use back-handed compliments which give in one sense, but very quickly undermine you in another.
Have you ever felt coerced into agreeing with your friend or going somewhere that you'd rather not? This may indicate that your friend is bullying you into submission. It is important to remember that a true friend would not have to bully others in order to retain a friendship. This is not acceptable behaviour and certainly not the kind of behaviour that will make for an equal friendship.
Similar to the critic, this type of toxic 'friend' is your harshest judge. They are usually never open to hearing your opinions or views on any topic and will make you feel incapable of voicing an opinion for fear of how it is received.
Have you got someone in your life where everything becomes a competition? It's all about THEM! You twisted your ankle and are telling your friend...you can bet they once broke theirs and if not, a family member might have and they needed surgery because it was so much worse! It is unlikely that your experience will even be acknowledged. With this type of toxicity, you may quickly realise that wherever your friend is, so is their drama. This individual has little interest in the events of your life, only in their own.
How to Let Go of Your Toxic Friend
Letting go of a toxic friend can be challenging; not least because your friend might have been someone you've had in your life for a long time. This is not to say that you can never go your separate ways. Remember that friendships must add value to our lives - not materially, but emotionally. If you have a friend that has only had a negative impact on your emotional wellbeing, why would you choose to continue being friends with this person? More to the point, should true friendship be defined by feeling powerless and unhappy?
When contemplating letting go of a friendship that no longer meets your emotional needs, it is really important to focus on what a healthy friendship looks like. If a healthy friendship is the opposite of the one you have with this particular person, then perhaps it's time to acknowledge this and start distancing yourself from the 'friendship'.
You may find it helpful to communicate less often if you are unable to confront your friend and tell them how you feel. More often than not, a toxic friend would not appreciate having their bad behaviours pointed out. If an open conversation would only result in a tirade of verbal abuse or further manipulative tactics including emotional blackmail; it would be more prudent to distance yourself by responding less to messages and declining to take calls. Eventually, your former friend will understand that you have no desire to maintain contact.
How to Heal and Move On
Allow yourself to mourn the loss of this friendship once you have sufficiently distanced yourself from it. After all, if this person was in your life for a significant part of it, it may well feel like a bereavement. It is okay to miss some aspects of the friendship, but don't allow low days to get the better of you. You ended this friendship for a reason. If you are contemplating allowing that person back in your life, ask yourself how likely it is that they have changed.
Try not to become bitter if you never receive any acknowledgement from your friend that your friendship is over. Resentment only prolongs the pain and waiting for some sort of acknowledgement or even an apology may be unrealistic given the type of person you have just eliminated from your life.
Surround yourself with those who genuinely care about you. Being with other friends and family can help you heal and move on from your experience.
And finally, if you are suffering from the fallout of a toxic friendship and feel unable to move on, reach out and tell me your story. Counselling in Manchester will give you space to process how you are feeling.