Like your friends, but sometimes hate them, too? Or wonder if your friends are even good for you?
What are toxic friends, and what are the signs you need to know?
According to psychology, friends are something we all need. A recent abstract in the journal "Trends in Cognitive Science" goes so far as to state that , "friendship is the single most important factor influencing our health, well-being, and happiness".
We can have different types of friends. Friends we do activities with but don’t connect deeply with, others who we don’t share a lifestyle with but can really talk to. Or those who know us from childhood and we have a special bond with.
But in general, a healthy friendship has the same markers as a healthy relationship of any kind. It is a space we can trust enough to be ourselves in, and where the other person can feel safe to be themselves in (a two way street).
Good friendships that last tend to be based on shared personal values. That means that you share not just interests or other mutual friends, but believe the same things are important, whether that is kindness or adventure.
The problem with seeing others as toxic is that it means you might be guilty of the ‘good/bad’ dichotomy. The one where you are the good person but when others don’t please you, they become bad. And the one where you have a marked tendency to blame others when things go wrong.
True friendship means accepting people as they are, flaws and all. And it means taking your part of the responsibility for any issue.
If you start friendships with people you only like part of, or because you expect them to change in some way to match your expecations, and if everything is always everyone else’s fault? Then you might need to question if in fact it’s you who is the bad friend.
Instead of blaming others as ‘toxic’, a more healthy question might be, what makes a relationship unhealthy?
1. One person does all the talking.
Some of us are more naturally talkers than the other, and introverts are attracted to chatty extroverts. But if you do need to talk, is the other person able to shut up and listen? Of course listening is more than about words. Sometimes listening means a hug, or just sitting in silence together.
2. There is an unequal balance of giving/taking.
We all go through rough patches where we need a lot of support, so it’s normal for their to be periods where one friend does the taking and the other the giving. But if the taker is never available to be a giver, then there is a problem, or even a codependency issue.
3. There are no differences between you.
Think a good friendship means you are like ‘peas in a pod’? Not at all. No two people are alike, and if there is never any difference it’s likely that one person is working to please the other, or one is subtly controlling.
4. There is never any conflict.
Conflict is normal and healthy. We have differences of opinions that rise up. It’s only the way we deal with it that can be unhealthy. If there is never any disagreement between you, again, someone isn’t being honest or feeling able to be themselves.
5. There is a lot of criticism, or ‘jokes’ at one person’s expense.
Look, we all say things we regret now and then. But if one person is constantly putting the other down, even if it’s hidden in ‘jokes’, then its’ not friendship. It’s verbal abuse.
Also note that a friendship with any kind of abuse at all - slapping and hitting (physical abuse) extorting your money and not giving it back (financial abuse), lying and twisting things around and making you think you are crazy (psychological abuse)? It’s not friendship. If you feel unable to leave the relationship, seek support.
6. Boundaries aren’t respected -- or don’t exist.
Do you have some things your friend can’t or can’t do, that you’ve made clear, and that he or she respects? For example, no bringing up a difficult experience in your past, no talking abou you when you aren’t there? If you don’t have boundaries, or they are always stepped over, time to have a talk.
7. You are always on eggshells.
Can’t be yourself around the other person without causing upset? Feel you always have to be careful what you say or do? Anxious and stressed when around them? Tired and drained when you get home? Remember, friendship means you can relax and be yourself. If that isn't possible, then a friendship can’t work.
No, not all friendships are forever. We all grow and change in life. To stay friends we need to keep the same values, and grow in ways the other person can accept. If this isn’t possible, if one of you is taking a new direction that the other isn’t comfortable with, it might be time to wish each other well and let go.
Struggle to make real friends? It might be that you have relating issues, or even have a totally different way of seeing the world. Therapy helps. Book a therapist today and learn new ways to connect with others.