By Claire Alexander, Freelance Editor & Writer, Guest Blogger
At first blush, this topic may seem absurd – why on earth would a person keep a toxic friendship in their life? Who has time to deal with friendships that are mired in fear, anger or resentment? Certainly no one thinks that they want to have a friendship with someone who may damage them.
The reality, however, is that all of us at some time or other, perhaps many times, enter into friendships with toxic people. Toxic people can be tantalizing. Perhaps you’ve been charmed by someone who makes you the centre of his or her universe for a time, only to turn on you and make all kinds of excessive demands on your time and energy. Maybe you have a good friend who is bubbly and fun when you are out and about, but morose and needy in private. Or perhaps you know someone who acts with kindness and consideration one-on-one, but then bullies you in a group.
Toxic people can show up anywhere – in our families, at school, at work. There is no real way to know whether someone is toxic without getting to know them a little bit, by which time you may suddenly realize you have a problem on your hands. Sometimes years can pass before you realize or accept that a friendship is toxic. Do you stick around or do you end the friendship?
One aspect that can be very difficult is that toxic friendships may fulfill some need in ourselves: to feel superior, to feel under control, even to feel needed, loved or attended to. Facing the fact that we have needed a friendship that turns out to be toxic can be incredibly difficult and painful.
Here are a few questions to consider:
How long have you been friends? Sometimes, friends we’ve had since childhood become like family. They are part of our history, a connection to our past. With these people, we may want to see whether we can manage the friendship, setting up our boundaries and adhering to them strictly. We may want to stay in regular but limited contact.
What are you getting out of the friendship? Is the friendship fun in some ways? Are you learning something from the person? Is the person fulfilling some need of yours that could be fulfilled in a healthier way? Does the relationship energize you?
Do you have a legitimate reason to stay in the friendship? if we have a healthy reason to be in the relationship, again, we may choose to stay in it, but in a considered, deliberate manner. Can you realistically keep your boundaries with the toxic person?
Once you figure out that you’re in a friendship with a toxic person, what can you do?
Discern. You might be in-between. You have not decided what you want to do. You are still sorting through your experiences in and of this friendship.
Stay. Create and keep boundaries while staying in friendship. Sometimes a toxic relationship is manageable, and there are reasons for staying in it. In this case you’ll need to think through how to deal with the toxic person so that you can feel happy with the friendship. Limiting your time exposure to that person, building up connections outside of that person, and increasing activities with other people are some ideas to help with maintaining boundaries.
Go. Walking away from a friendship with a toxic person can be very difficult, but it may be necessary. If you feel like you can’t keep your own boundaries, or if you feel drained by the person all the time, it may be necessary to move on.
Knowing that you have choices when you are experiencing a toxic friendship can be freeing. What options will you choose to exercise in your friendships? What is next for you?
Claire Alexander can be reached at email@example.com.