When you can run with the river…
It’s the same Door, but we’re making more changes this month. Why don’t you walk through it again with me?
You’ve changed your diet. You’ve changed your lifestyle. You’ve changed your habits. Maybe you’ve even changed your clothing selections. Your life is still a mess. So what’s left?
Maybe, just maybe, it’s time to change your friends. I’m sure you have some good ones, maybe even great ones… but what about that one (or more) that always leaves you feeling worse than before you met with him/her?
There are many kinds of toxic friendships. Here are nine basic types:
The User: This person only has friends as long as he/she can use them for some purpose or goal of his/her own.
The Betrayer: Nothing hurts more than a friend who breaks your trust.
The Controller: This person is a friend as long as she/he is in control. They want you to think that they are “helping” you, but refuse that help or break that control and find out what toxic friendship really means.
The Judge: Judgming and criticizing, this person can erode your self-esteem. The judge is a fault finder. You can rarely do anything completely right with this person.
The Promise Breaker: This person rarely does what s/he says s/he will do. If you have a date, they are often a no-show.
The Gossip: Remember, if they will gossip to you about others, they will gossip about you to others. This is actually a subset of “The Betrayer”.
The Self-Centered Person: This person can’t think of you and your needs, they are too busy thinking of themselves.
The Competitor: This person has to do everything better than you (or anyone else) or die trying. Although some competitiveness is normal in friendships, too much competition makes a toxic friend.
The Leaner: This includes all the very needy friends who cling and may be at your doorstep every day. He/she usually wants all of your time and jealousy often enters the picture in this friendship. (Another form of “The Controller”, but they just don’t see it that way…)
Is your friendship toxic? Here are some questions you can ask yourself:
How do I feel after spending time with my friend? Sad, angry, depressed, drained, stressed out, pissed off, etc.
Is there reciprocity in the friendship?
Is there truth and honesty in my friendship?
Is there a mutual respect for one another?
Is my friend loyal to me and I to her?
Can I freely express my true feelings about the friendship?
Does my friend criticize and belittle me?
Does my friend abuse the friendship and take advantage of me?
Do I feel like I always get the short end of the stick?
Do I ever have to ask myself the question, “Why do I allow him/her to treat me this way?”
Do I have uncomfortable/negative feelings about my friend and his/her behavior?
Why do I continue to put up with my friend’s selfishness?
Does my friend consistently lie to me, do I trust my friend, is he/she loyal to me?
There are, of course, many more questions you could ask, but this covers a lot of the territory.
So what can you do about a toxic friendship? Doing nothing continues the drain on your energy resources. Talking about it can result in a huge outburst, but usually results in your feeling better at least about yourself, and could start a healing process in your friend. But don’t expect it to get better soon, and it could be worse for a while.
Toxic friendships are abuse. Don’t sugar-coat it, there is nothing else you can call them. The longer you allow yourself to be abused, the more of your personal power you are giving both the friend and the relationship itself, and the less you have for yourself. A friendship is between two equals. Anything else does not truly constitute a friendship.
You can repair your friendships, but only as equals. Nothing else counts as a true “fix”. Sorry to lay it on the line like that, but there it is. Taking control of your friendships (not your friends) is a positive move for both of you, and you should do so in the most loving way possible, without becoming toxic yourself.
“One of the characteristics of a toxic friendship is that the good friend feels she can’t extricate herself from the relationship,” says Charles Figley, PhD, professor and director of the Psychological Stress Research Program at Florida State University. “Whether it’s on the phone, in person, or from the friendship entirely, you feel like you are trapped, you’re being taken advantage of and you can’t resolve the problem one way or another.”
Whether the feeling of entrapment has to do with history — you’ve been friends with the person since a young age, like Roberts — or you feel she has no one else to turn to and you need to stand by her through thick or thin, you need to take action to help your friend, and yourself.
Recognize the toxicity. “The first step is to recognize that the person is toxic,” Figley tells WebMD, “or at least that the relationship is toxic. They might not be a toxic friend to others but they are to you.”
Take responsibility. By continuing a toxic friendship, you’re allowing your friend to hurt you, but you’re also hurting yourself. “You have to take some degree of responsibility for the situation,” says Figley, a spokesman for the American Psychological Association. “It’s a pleaser personality — you want people to like you, you want to get along, and it’s hard to say no. But you can pay the price in one way by having toxic friends.” So even though we want to help our friends and have them rely on us in troubling times, take responsibility for toxic friendships and how they make you feel.
Talk to your nontoxic friends. “Talk to other people who may not have a vested interest in your toxic friendship,” says Figley. “People who can give you an objective opinion regarding whether the friendship is salvageable and whether you can manage the toxic friend to neutralize the toxicity, or if you need to end the relationship.”
Suggest professional help. A toxic friend might need professional help at some point to help her get her career, emotions, or family back on track. How do you approach such a touchy subject? If you point out to your friend how she is treating you and ask her to stop, and she continues to do it, you need to take it to the next level. Say to her, ‘I know you are a good person, but maybe you want to seek help.’ (Of course, this includes talking to your, or her, High Priestess or other Elders, assuming they are not part of the toxic friendship.) But keep in mind that if it has gone to that level, and a friendship is that toxic, it’s going to be destroyed at some point anyway. Better you make an effort to help your friend address her issues.
End the friendship. “It’s difficult to end a friendship,” says Figley. “Breaking up with anyone, whether it’s a spouse, love relationship, or a friend, is not fun. It’s even more important in this kind of context. In contrast to a love relationship in which you recognize you aren’t compatible, this type of relationships is hurting you.”
It’s bad enough when a person has to deal with a toxic friend firsthand but when the toxicity is impacting not you personally, but someone you love, like a spouse or a friend, it can be even harder. How do you handle it? As much as you want to jump in and help, sometimes patience is key.
“The person who is affected by the toxic friend has to approach you,” says Figley. “Then, you have every right to provide your observations. But you need to be honest, be objective, avoid criticism, and listen more than you talk. And the worst thing you can do is put down the toxic friend.”
Negativity, explains Figley, will have your loved one defending their toxic friend. The focus should be on how you perceive the situation is impacting your loved one, and how you can help.
As you can see, dealing with toxic friendships is a major part of your life, and a major project in reclaiming your energy.
As Ferron says in one of her songs, “When you can run with the river, why run with the river rat?”
OK, take a deep breath, think about what you need to do (or don’t need to do, and really relax). And please meet me back here next month, for another walk through the Door.
Sources: Cyberparent.com, toxicfriendships.org, CBS News article about WebMD, AssociatedContent.com, and the song “Indian Dreams” by Ferron