How to tell if you’re in a toxic friendship
Are you friends with someone who leaves you feeling worse than you do without that person? Do you feel a sense of emptiness and disconnection when you are with your friend, but still feel almost addicted to being in their presence? Or perhaps your friendship has an undercurrent of competition and you stress about being better, more attractive, or more successful than your friend. If so, then you may be in a toxic friendship.
Toxic friendships tend to be based on superficial commonalities or a misplaced desire for belonging. For instance, you frequently hang out with Tina because your kids are the same age, but you don’t actually enjoy her company or like listening to her gossip about other moms in your kids’ school. But you worry that if you don’t hang out with her you won’t be “in the loop” anymore and will miss out on social activities. Or maybe you regularly golf with Adam to maintain professional appearances, but you feel stressed and competitive when you’re with him. A good litmus test is seeing how you feel after spending time with people like this: do you feel depleted and empty or happy and satisfied? Check in with your body as well. Do your shoulders tense up when you are with this person? Knot in your stomach? Somatic responses can let us know when something is off.
If one of your friends subtly puts you down, talks about you behind your back, or frequently competes with you, this person is not truly your friend. Real friends love each other for you they truly are, build each other up, celebrate each other’s accomplishments, and offer each other support during challenging times.
Why do we fall into toxic friendships?
We tend to fall into toxic friendships for a number of reasons. Oftentimes they (along with romantic partnerships) replicate relationship patterns we were exposed to during our upbringing. Unconsciously we seek out situations that feel familiar, whether they are healthy or not. Usually, we remain in toxic friendships because our self-worth is wounded. We feel deep down – often unconsciously – that we deserve to be treated this way. Frequently, our toxic friend is an unconscious stand-in for a parent or loved one whose approval we desperately wanted. The good news is that when these patterns come up we are able to heal them – once we recognize them and we decide it’s time for them to stop.
How to be free of toxic friendships
It ultimately boils down to self-love and self-worth. You deserve to have friends who love you for who you are, who lift you up, and who cheer you on rather than compete. But deep down do you believe that about yourself? Try to identify any older situations that this toxic friendship reminds you of (and schedule an appointment with a therapist if you need help!) Then work on loving yourself enough to cut toxic people – of all kinds -out of your life. When you love and
honor yourself by setting boundaries about who you surround yourself with, you send a message that toxic people aren’t welcome in your friend zone. Doing that also naturally attracts the kind of friends you DO want to be surrounded with.
It’s ok to break up with toxic friends. It’s also ok to actively seek out new friends, even if it feels awkward at first. This can be a bigger challenge for older adults, but it’s worth making the effort. Joining social organizations that revolve around activities you are interested in can be a great way to make new friends. Also, don’t forget to tend to the healthy friendships you do have. Reconnect with an old friend who you’ve lost touch with. Call up your bestie and let them know how much they mean to you, or better yet, go spend some quality time together. We humans are relational creatures, and our happiness and health depend on thriving connections with others.