When did friendships get so complicated?
When we were younger, it was much easier to make friends. In grade school, you simply walked up to someone else on the playground and asked, “Do you want to be my friend?” — and from then on, you were best friends. But as we get older, friendships become more complex and fostering healthy friendships takes a little more effort than it used to. And finding authentically good friends can be hard to find.
One of the reasons for this is that we seek something more from friendships than we did when we were younger. For example, having someone who is supportive is a key quality in adult friendships, as is someone who is respectful of your boundaries. Healthy friendships make life easier and more enjoyable.
So what do you do when you realize that a friendship may actually be toxic instead of healthy?
A toxic friendship is one in which there is an imbalance in the friendship. It’s one where one friend is benefitting from the relationship while the other friend is being negatively impacted. For example, while you always make an effort to help your friend out with rides to the airport or being available at all hours to talk through their latest crisis, your friend never seems to reciprocate, you might have a toxic friendship on your hands.
Recognize it for what it really is
Some signs of a toxic friendship:
- Your friend makes the friendship always about them and their needs;
- Your friend is focused on conflict or consistently creates their own drama;
- Your friend always seems to ask for favors from you but never reciprocates;
- Your friend doesn’t keep secret things you told them in confidence;
- Your friend seems more concerned about what benefits you bring to the friendship than what they can bring to the friendship;
- Your friend is really only around when they are in crisis and otherwise ignores you when the crisis is resolved;
These are just a few of the signs of a toxic friendship — other ones might surface.
How do you deal with a toxic friend? How do you respond to the unhealthy characteristics they bring to the friendship and keep them from negatively affecting you?
Boundaries are one of the most important things to be mindful of when dealing with toxic friends. Boundaries are essentially the parameters you use to identify what behaviors you are okay with and the ones you are not okay with. Think of them as a personal fence that lets others know what what’s acceptable behavior.
When you don’t enforce your boundaries, toxic friends can take advantage of you. (Think of this as having the gate open in your fence.) When you do enforce your boundaries, your friends learn that, even if they try to take advantage of your friendship, your boundaries make that extremely difficult to do.
Setting boundaries with a toxic friend might look like setting a time to talk when they call with a crisis instead of being available 24/7. It might also look like limiting the amount of time you spend with them since they tend to take advantage of your availability. It could also look like having a conversation with them to let them know that you feel like the friendship is one-sided and ask them (nicely) to step up their game.
If setting boundaries with a toxic friend proves to be too difficult, it may be time to let that friend go. After all, if they are taking advantage of your friendship, are they really being a good friend to you?
As hard as it may be, ending that friendship may be the best course of action for your own benefit and wellbeing. A friendship that is one-sided, with you as the person who always gives and never receives, is not fair to you or to your friend. When a friendship leaves you feeling emotionally drained rather than energized and supported, it’s not a good sign.
Whether you feel comfortable having a “we need to end this” conversation or you’d rather let the friendship slowly fade away, removing the toxic relationship from your life will bring you the sense of peace that was missing from that relationship from the beginning.