How to spot and handle a toxic friendship

The people you’re surrounded with directly impact you.  They’re people who you’ll look to for support when you’re having trouble.  Sure, friends bicker and sometimes you hit low points, but you care about how each other feels, and you want to work to resolve it, even if you need a second or two to cool off.

A good friendship is one where you feel you can be completely yourself.  A not-so-good one is where you’re constantly being judged by them, you can’t be yourself, or you just don’t feel good about yourself when you’re around them.  Relationships like these aren’t in your best interest, and I want to show you how to spot a toxic friendship.

This isn’t to say that the person you have a toxic relationship with is always a bad person.  Differences in maturity, sensitivity, and insecurity can temporarily mold someone into a poisonous version of themselves, and sometimes, you’re just not the best person to be around them during that time.  That isn’t to say that the friendship has to be dead forever; maybe your personalities will mix better in a year or two, or maybe you blended best in the past.  But, either way, knowing how to recognize a relationship that isn’t good for you is important—in a way, letting a toxic relationship control how you feel controls a part of you.  And, to be clear, I’m not talking about physical abuse in this post.  So, here we go, let’s talk about how to spot a toxic friendship:

1.  You’re drained or angry when you’re done hanging out with them:  If you have a healthy friendship with someone, after your average get-together, you should feel energized, at peace, or happy that you got to see them.  If you often come back feeling emotionally exhausted or happy to have left, chances are, there’s something wrong.  You have friends for a reason, and one of those reasons is to have someone you can genuinely connect with and enjoy their company.  If you feel like you need to take up kickboxing when you’re done, that could be a problem.  If you have a countdown on your phone until you have to leave, that’s not enjoyment.  Personally, I use countdowns for chores, not things I enjoy—I don’t want to be there any longer than I have to.

2. S/he’s the focus:  Fun conversation goes back and forth.  You ask about him/her, s/he asks about you, and both people feel like they can talk and be heard.  One-sided conversation is where one person is constantly talking or the focus of every conversation and the other isn’t talking or being engaged.  A friendship works two ways: there should be a balance in focus, listening, and contribution from each side.  It’s exhausting to just listen to someone talk about themselves, or constantly turn a conversation about neither of you towards themselves (or worse, a conversation about your problems into one about their problems).  Put bluntly, a relationship where it’s all about one person is meant for a therapist, not a friend.  When someone turns it around to end up talking about themselves, it feels like s/he isn’t there to listen to you.  Instead, you’re there to listen to him/her.  Remember when I said that friendship is about support?  Yeah… this isn’t that.

3.  S/he tries to control you or monopolize your time:  Now, you have to take this advice with realism.  It isn’t right of a friend to expect you to drop something that’s really important to you just because s/he has a problem.  It’s indirectly saying that what you’re doing isn’t as important as what s/he needs, it conveys disrespect, and this is totally different from an actual emergency or serious situation.  This also goes with you wanting to spend time with other people: you are your own person who can spend your time as you want.  Having someone babysit your time or feel you need their permission to do something isn’t okay.  You’re just as much of a person as s/he is, and you can make your own decisions, period.

4.  All s/he does is point out your flaws:  We already know what’s wrong with us… we don’t need someone to keep telling us over and over.  It’s destructive for our self-esteem, and it doesn’t get us towards that place of self-betterment.  Telling us our flaws and helping us better ourselves are one thing; telling us our flaws just to keep it in our heads is different.  A great friend does the first; a toxic friend does the second.  Intention really matters here, and it shows through actions.

5.  S/he enjoys saying bad things about you when you’re not around: There is a difference between venting out of confusion and concern and trying to figure something out and gossiping out of spite.  You need someone who isn’t going to tear you down whenever your name comes up in conversation.

I think you have the idea—chances are, a toxic friend prioritizes their interests much more than that balance we talked about earlier.  S/he might not hesitate to tear you down, or s/he might try to control you.  So, now let’s talk about what you can do, and it’s actually very simple: mend or end.

First, start out by talking to your friend about what bothers you.  Be honest and genuine, and don’t attack them.  Instead, seek to understand and fix the problem.  You became friends for a reason, and you probably have a history with them.  Remind them that you care about him/her and your friendship, and that’s why you’re being open about what bothers you.  You want to fix it instead of watching it worsen.

Having said this, you’re important.  If the friendship is something you don’t believe can be fixed, the friend wouldn’t be a good influence even if it were fixed, or the friendship is too much, then you can begin distancing yourself from the person and gravitate towards good friends.  If you don’t have good friends, then you begin to search for them: through work, in clubs, at your church, or anywhere you think you’ll find people who want to support you and who you want to support.



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