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Toxic Friendships: Am I one?

“Look around you at the people you spend the most time with and realise that your life can’t rise any higher than your friendships.”

Mandy Hale

Although I value my relationship with my family, I would not be where I am today if it wasn't for the love and support of my friends. I left the UK over 30 years ago to come to a new land, leaving family and friends behind. I could not replace my family, but I was fortunate to form new friendships in my new home.

Friendships have many of the characteristics of a family, but unlike family, we get to choose the people we are friends with.

A friend is a person with whom you share mutual affection and enjoy spending your time. A friend is also someone we trust with sensitive information about ourselves that we may not necessarily share with others. Friendship is characterised by mutual respect and mutual agreement. We are willing to compromise with friends in a way we may not with our family or romantic relationships.

In most cases, friendships feel unconditional because, with no marital or blood ties, we can end them or leave them at any time.

Also, in a healthy friendship, we are willing to have difficult conversations that will deepen the connection.

Finally, there is reciprocity, and both people are invested in maintaining the friendship.

One of the hallmarks of toxic or unhealthy friendship dynamics is when the friendship is one-sided. Crystal Raypole, writer at GoodTherapy reminds us that friends can offer support in so many ways: bringing soup when you’re sick, words of comfort or distraction after a bad day, or a spare bedroom when you need to get away.

Strong friendships are based on mutual support. However, in a one-sided friendship, the communication, time, and effort needed to sustain the connection may fall to just one person. When that friend needs something, they seek you out right away. But when you’re in need, you can’t seem to reach them. You demonstrate an interest in their well-being, but they show little interest in you and your needs unless you are insistent and point out your need.

One-sided friendships can become toxic and they can leave you confused and hurt.

In addition, if your friendship has one of these two imbalances, you're probably in a toxic friendship dynamic.

Power imbalance

  • One person is more dominant

  • One person is controlling

  • One person calls all the shots

Investment imbalance

  • One person is more invested in the friendship

  • May put more resources into the friendship - always pays for activities and buys gifts for the other

  • One person initiates all the contact and plans the get-togethers.

  • One person puts all the effort into keeping the friendship going.

It takes time and effort to build and maintain good friendships and to be sustaining both parties have to commit to investing in the friendship. If you are the only one doing so, it may be time to reassess whether this is a good friend for you.

Some red flags to look out for:

If your friend hurts you and you call them out, their response will tell you if the friendship is healthy or toxic.

If they have hurt you and respond with "I’m sorry you feel that way" - this is them not taking responsibility for their action but instead making it about your reaction to their behaviour. This is deflecting from their behaviour and focusing on your response. This can be a form of gaslighting.

A healthy response would be - "I’m sorry I hurt your feelings/or what I said hurt your feelings or what I did hurt your feeling". A healthy friend will then seek a way to make amends or repair the damage.

There is no doubt that friendships can be challenging but I believe in most cases, the positive outweighs the negative.

At the beginning of working with a client, I often ask them to list 5 people in their support networks. This is a crucial part of therapy because healthy friendships have protective factors for healing. Risk factors are negative influences in the lives of individuals that may hinder their healing process. On the other hand, protective factors which include social support, are positive influences that can improve and aid the healing process. People with strong healthy friendships have someone to turn to when the healing journey becomes challenging or painful. A healthy friendship may decrease the likelihood that the person will engage in numbing or avoidant behaviour as a coping mechanism when the going gets tough.

To continue your work on boundaries, join my self-paced Navigating Frienships Course

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