It isn’t always an obvious thing. Rarely do we ever want to hurt anyone — especially those closest to us? When a friendship becomes to feel toxic, it can be natural to assume that you’re on the receiving end and played no part in it becoming that way.
Have you ever looked back at a conversation with a friend and felt guilty? Perhaps, an icky feeling of: ‘I shouldn’t have brought that up’ or ‘Maybe I emphasized how well I’m doing a little too much’. We’re all susceptible to letting clumsiness and ego take over — it’s what makes us human.
The official definition of a toxic friend is ‘Less Friend, More Foe’. While this seems like a bit of a hyperbole, there are many subtle ways in which we can go about pushing our nearest and dearest away from us. We, too, can be the villains of other people’s stories.
Here are ways in which you can identify how the breakdown of a friendship could’ve been just as much on you as it was on them:
1.) You’re Over-Competitive
As we grow alongside our friends, our lives evolve in different directions. Perhaps, at times we admire choices that our friends make or wish we had the same courage they possess. It can be easy to compare ourselves to others, especially those we know the most about.
Competitiveness is sometimes driven by envy. When we consider jealousy in the most conventional sense, we often struggle to see how it could apply to mature friendships. We tend to grow out of superficial jealousy such as a longing for the same outfit or haircut and replace it with a more mature type of (sometimes subconscious) envy. This could range from perhaps, a perceived healthy romantic relationship to more successful work life.
In 2017, I moved from London to Los Angeles, leaving my friendship group behind. This was daunting for my friends as they dealt with my forthcoming absence. I went to great lengths to ensure that I met with them as much as I could. Some came to visit, others I’d meet halfway — after all, the impossibility of long-distance is a thing of the past. However, things got sour quickly. I returned to London to find bitter comments passed off as jokes and an elephant forever looming over our seemingly innocent brunches. I was utterly confused as to what had changed and grew angrier — which didn’t help.
What I had done without noticing, was added to the already rose-colored spectacles that my friends were observing my new life through. The blue skies of Hollywood that would feature on my Instagram daily were hard to make look bad. Clinical psychologist Andrea Bonior, Ph.D. says ‘if you feel like you’re in a constant fight that you want to win over and over again — that is toxic.’ Feeling so rejected upon my return caused me to become even more arrogant and their bitterness drove me to flaunt my new life even more.
As my friends sat miserably at their desks, day in day out, working jobs they didn’t enjoy, they grew resentful at my beaming smile and constant reminders of when I was “getting the hell out of here again”. Their feelings accumulated into an irreversible rage — one that was impossible to hide.
Of course, I was proud of myself. I had made a bold move, alone, across 5,437 miles of ocean and I wanted it to be perceived as a success. However, all my friends saw was perfection and they began to find me unrelatable which distanced us. As much as our friends support us, we must remember that they are only human. Only now when I reflect on these friendships can I identify my own wrongdoing.
It wasn’t personal and often it isn’t. However, it can still ultimately lead to the end of a friendship. Growing apart isn’t anyone’s fault but there are ways to prevent it from being detrimental to your relationship.
Friends are the people that should make us feel most comfortable in sharing struggles. “When one shows up with vulnerability, it invites the other to share their own, and when we share this way, we transform, grow, and deepen our connection,” says Therapist Dr. Kalanit Ben-AriIf. If you feel as though you’re having to paint a false image of your life or only share highs then it may be best to rethink what about this friend is making you act this way. Perhaps, it is a defense mechanism to their toxic ego or a standard that you have created because of your own.
2.) You’re Inconsiderate
Being inconsiderate in a friendship includes not returning phone calls and not replying to messages weeks later.
This has been difficult to understand as I’m someone who seldom picks up phone calls and this is with absolutely no malicious intent. “If you’re late a lot, don’t return phone calls, or drop plans with your friend because you’ve been asked on a date, you’re a toxic friend,” says Dr. Tessina Ph.D. “Being inconsiderate shows that you don’t value your friend as a person.”
Constant phone calls are an overbearing factor that I have always interpreted as a need for superficial communication. There is an internal conflict for me in justifying time to be dedicated to a phone call rather than something that I consider to be ‘real’. However, with this year’s lockdown, it has meant that I have neglected friends who I would have otherwise seen in person at least once a fortnight.
What I had seen was a personal choice and perhaps a quirky and ‘different’ aspect of my personality was interpreted by certain friends as a lack of effort. It created a slight resentment and made them believe I wouldn’t be there for them when they needed me. This year has been one to adjust to the concept of being only ‘a phone-call away’. Facetime, Zoom, and WhatsApp defined our social interactions.
It’s healthy to evaluate our relationships and we shouldn’t feel wrong in doing so. At times, our values might be represented in different ways and without confronting this, we leave them to be misconstrued.
We often think that because our friends are those who know us best, they should be aware of the reasons behind our actions but this isn’t always the case. Having a healthy conversation and owning up to actions that could have been hurtful is a mature way to prevent those around you from taking your thoughtlessness as something that it isn’t.
We tend to associate the word ‘needy’ more with romantic relationships and yet it can still very much be an issue that exists within platonic relationships.
As we get older, we begin to more codependent on partners rather than friends however, there tends to always be loyalty towards friendship which survives any romantic relationship. A lot of the time, our lives can overwhelm us to point of placing friendships at the bottom of our list of priorities.
I had a friend who expected a great deal from me in our friendship. She was always the one breaking up with boyfriends and calling for emergency Ben & Jerry nights on weekdays. Clinical Psychologist Joshua Klapow, Ph.D. says that friends who are unhealthily needy, “Latch on and constantly seem to have problems and needs for you to solve”. I did so until I could no longer justify living my life around her needs. She ended our friendship over this.
At the time, I found it to be pathetic. I pitied her. I considered just how irrational she must have been to expect so much of a person. How selfish it was of her to assume that it was acceptable to demand this much dedication around an average adult’s working and family life.
However, it was something that I had provided until I got into a relationship. Had I had gotten her used to this standard of dependency? Did it only begin to feel like an unreasonable burden because I had someone to love and she didn’t? There was a clear feeling of neglect — in her eyes, she was now second-best. This newfound understanding allowed me to let go of the warped negative perception I had of her. After all, she was shortly to be the one to pick me up from my impending heartbreak.
It can feel abrupt and somewhat cruel for a friend who is used to having you be dedicated to your friendship suddenly feel as though you’re reluctant to answer every beckoned call. When things go well for us, we’re prone to be consumed by them.
For most people, a healthy option is slowly distancing yourself. It will allow your friend to come to terms with life, less reliant on you, and give you time to implement boundaries to accommodate your new circumstances. This is much more effective than a drastic change which can feel like a dramatic shift in the friendship.
The great thing about recognizing toxic qualities in yourself is having the opportunity to repair them and transform them into a healthy alternative. It can show great maturity to admit mistakes and perhaps, ways in which you contributed to your friends’ negative feelings towards you.
Motivational speaker Jim Rohn famously said that we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with. So ensure that you’re spending it with people who bring out the best in you.
This post was previously published on medium.com.
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