Let’s talk: toxic friendships

Lorna Lawless

Have you ever stopped and looked around at the people you hang out with on a daily basis? Who do you attract? Who is draining your energy or who is cheering you on during the daily grind?

Who is your tribe? The people who spark inspiration, the people you go to for advice. These people are individuals you associate yourself with, why are you friends? These are people, you choose to spend your time with every day therefore should add great value to your daily mindset. Do you look forward to seeing this person or is it a case whereby it’s just part of your daily routine?  It is important to recognise the difference between someone who just happens to be there and someone who is putting the effort in to see how you are actually feeling?

Sometimes friendships break down because it’s time for a new season. The ones that were once beneficial have turned toxic over the years. It is essential to remind yourself that good things end and it’s okay. Just appreciate what the friendship was and what you gained from it, but most importantly recognise the need to move on. Take it as a lesson, it was great in that season but you have grown and most people don’t grow in the same way or at the same rate. If you hang on to old ways you will never challenge yourself to become better.

Aristotle, a Greek philosopher, lined out the basis for friendships. He categorised three primary friendships: friends of utility, friends of pleasure, and friends of the good. If we were using examples utility friends would be your work friends whereby both people understand you have your friendship at work and don’t desire to spend time outside of that. You enjoy your time in work and that is the dynamic of the friendship. Then we examine friends of pleasure who may be the type of friend who is just fun to do fun things with, who is up for anything but maybe not the most reliable. Finally, we have a friend who is good for you in other words, they are by your side when you need them and the friendship is not based on conditions. Aristotle also states that friendships are fluid and subject to change over a period of time.

If you are sitting reading this and thinking how does somebody identify a toxic friendship? Firstly, you need to honestly ask yourself how do I feel when I am around this person, are you happy? According to ReachOut.com signs to show that someone is a toxic person in your life they will: constantly be reminding you of your past failures, have an angry attitude towards life, gossip about others and you, criticise you subtly or not, stress you out and try to manipulate you into a feeling a certain way or doing something you are not comfortable with. These signs indicate a toxic friendship that needs to slowly come to an end. As ReachOut.com clearly emphasises this is not about pointing at them or to try and make them feel bad but it is about meeting them where they are, explain how you’ve been feeling and if either of you gets angry, calmly remove yourself from the situation. The last point which is critical, leave the conversation as politely as you can, for their well-being and yours. This is especially important in a home or college environment because more than likely you will meet/see this person on a daily basis which makes the situation for both parties unbearably uncomfortable.

One important point to note however that it is a positive thing in a friendship to be challenged by each other. If a person challenges you it makes you learn to take another person’s opinion on board with regards to the topic of discussion. However, if this person is pushing you to your limit where you feel undervalued and that your opinion doesn’t matter then that’s a serious warning sign.

You may find yourself dragged into a situation which makes you uncomfortable and let peer pressure take over, ignoring your better judgement. You may see a pattern occur whereby you don’t have enough time to work on your own projects because you are constantly running around after everyone else. Some friends demand too much without giving anything or enough back. It is essential you invest in yourself and not burn out because of this. People in this social media-obsessed age, are trying too hard to impress their peers but are actually putting themselves on the line more often than they should physically and emotionally. If a person says “no” to someone, they fear they will endanger their relationship with that person so they passively comply but inwardly resent the decision. Healthy boundaries of being able to say “no” to close friends whether it’s no to the night out or rejecting being part of the group project with close friends because you will be left with the work. You need to exercise self-control in these instances to know what’s best for you.

One serious question to ask yourself is: Is it you that needs to change?

This is harder to realise than anything mentioned above, but sometimes it’s you who needs to change. You could be the person who causes other people to feel undervalued because you are so passionate about a topic, you ignore other people’s opinions. You may think small things like cutting across people while they speak isn’t a big deal but that can really knock somebody else’s confidence. On a different note, maybe you are the friend that needs to put in a small bit more effort, to make some of your friends feel valued. It may seem small to you but it could potentially be massive for them.

Friendships changing is inevitable but it’s a natural process every person has to go through, it is essential to learn the need for change in some areas in order to let yourself be challenged and grow.


Lorna Lawless

Image Credit: Amansquest.com