[This article was first written for and published on The Opinion Panel.]
Relationships in all forms can be unhealthy, and breakups are hard. Everyone always discusses the heartbreak and unhealthy aspects that can come with romantic relationships, but we never talk about the platonic ones. This article is about toxic (unhealthy) friendships; how to recognise them, what warning signs to look out for and when you should let them go.
It won’t be easy—you may reminisce on the memories, those days when you’d just hang out, blasting music and grabbing a bite to eat, the moments when you laughed so hard it hurt your stomach, the time you spent investing in this relationship.
How to spot a toxic friendship?
A toxic friend won’t bring out the best in you – they’ll bring out the worst – and this won’t fill you with peace or comfort, it’ll be draining and you may find yourself trying to keep up. Maybe when you’re with them you feel bad or make others feel bad, drink too much, gossip about other people, do things you know you shouldn’t or aren’t comfortable with. When it gets to this stage, it’s time to take a step back and rationalise your thoughts; separate them from emotion and think logically. Are you friends out of convenience or because they genuinely make you feel good?
If you’re constantly arguing with your friend, then there is a deeper underlying issue. Sure you can disagree on a few things, and arguing is natural, but if it’s constant and leads to arguments all the time, then it’s a problem.
Whatever the reasons are, when it comes to this point, it can lead to further issues—finger pointing, blame, belittling comments, projecting and repetition.
When the arguments don’t end and you can’t sort it out, you need to figure out if it’s really worth the stress of maintaining this relationship.
If they make everything about them, and don’t try to listen to you or let you speak, that’s a dark line. They’ll always revert the conversation back to themselves, link it back somehow because they don’t like the attention not being on them. This leads to the friendship being, and feeling, like it is one-sided.
Have you felt like you gave more than you received and like you would do more for them than they would for you?
Should that be the case, you should know that your feelings are valid. In friendships, and all other relationships, you need reciprocation and moral support. It should never feel like you’re being used for their own gain, or as if you’re the only one who gives more to the friendship.
No relationship is ever 50/50, on some days it can be 30/70 or 20/80, but that doesn’t mean it has to be like that all the time, and you should still feel loved, appreciated, respected and like they’ve still got your back and will give you support.
Warning signs to watch out for
Earlier I mentioned belittling comments.
If your ‘friend’ makes you feel bad about yourself through the comments they make either to you or to other people, you need to run.
A friend should never make you feel bad about yourself, ever. Noticing the comments they make, even if they try to brush it off as a joke, is important, especially if it hurts your feelings. Don’t let them invalidate how you feel.
Here are some red flags to watch out for:
- Pointing out your flaws
- Drawing attention to the things you’re insecure about/making fun of your insecurities
- Giving backhanded compliments
- Not being happy for you when something good happens
- Ignoring the things you’re excited about
- Saying (mean) things about you, or embarrassing you, in front of other people
Why do friendships become toxic?
There are many reasons why relationships can become unhealthy. It may stem from jealousy, competitiveness or one-upmanship, to attention-seeking, or because they’re simply a horrible person. If you’re not happy or relaxed around them, wonder why that is.
Staying in this type of friendship, will only hurt you more. This isn’t something you should settle for. Don’t let them, or anyone, make you feel bad about yourself, whether it’s about your appearance, mental health, any illnesses, your likes and interests, the career path you want to take, family, partners, anything.
If they try to compete with everything, you need to know that’s not normal. Whether its grades, classes, romantic relationships, job promotions etc., and has nothing to do with them, they will want to make it into a competition because they’re either envious that you have it, or because they want to be better than you.
These types of friends don’t want you to succeed. So what do you do?
Cut them off.
There are more signs of toxic friendships here.
When you feel like something is off and your energy is constantly drained, and you just don’t feel good around them, or about yourself when you’re with them, then you need to leave this friendship.
You can send them a message telling them you’ve grown apart and don’t deserve to be treated this way. Don’t let them undermine you or make you feel guilty for putting yourself first. Your needs and your mental health should be your top priority. It’s no easy feat to let go of a friendship, especially if it’s been one you’ve had for years, but the first step is recognising what it is and how it makes you feel.
The second step is putting you first and taking yourself out of the situation. Walk away. Leave. Cut them off.
The last step is knowing it may suck at first, breakups do, but ultimately it is the best decision for you and your mental health, and future. This way, you will flourish and become a better, healthier you.