As I reflect on my journey through adulthood, one of the biggest challenges I faced was learning how to navigate toxic friendships. It’s a topic that often goes unspoken, yet it can have a profound impact on our mental and emotional well-being. In this article, I want to share my personal story of how I learned to identify and handle toxic friendships and offer some advice for others who may be facing similar challenges.
The Early Years: Low Self-Esteem and Toxic Bonds
During my teens and early twenties, I really struggled with low self-esteem. I was the classic people-pleaser, always eager to please others in an attempt to gain their approval. My lack of self-worth made me particularly vulnerable to toxic friendships. I often found myself in the company of individuals who took advantage of my desire to please, leaving me feeling drained and unfulfilled.
One particular friendship stands out from those years. I had a friend, let’s call her Sarah, who regularly belittled me and was highly manipulative. At the time I brushed off her comments, chalking them up to harmless teasing, and made excuses for the rest of her behaviour. But as time went on, I noticed that when I hung out with her, I’d feel worse about myself. I didn’t have the words to describe it back then, but now I understand that she was using my low self-esteem as a way of boosting her own ego.
What Can Toxic Friendships Look Like?
Before delving into how I navigated my own toxic friendships, it’s crucial to understand what they might look like. Toxic friendships can take various forms, including:
- Constant Criticism: Friends who consistently criticise you, your appearance, your choices, your relationships, or other areas of your life, without offering constructive feedback. Note: This isn’t just teasing in fun; this is the kind of talk that puts you down, in a way that makes you question yourself.
- Jealousy and Competition: Friends who are jealous of your achievements, other relationships, appearance etc. and withhold praise or recognition when things go well for you or try to one-up you. You’ll likely not really trust that they have your best interests at heart.
- One-Sided Relationships: Friendships where you’re always the one giving, and the other person is always taking without reciprocating.
- Manipulation: Friends who use guilt, manipulation, or emotional blackmail to get their way or control your decisions.
- Lack of Support: When you’re going through a tough time, and your friend is unsupportive, dismissive, or even judgmental.
A Turning Point For Me
As I approached my mid-twenties I had begun to grow in confidence. I’d been seeing a therapist for a while, and I was better able to prioritise my own mental and emotional well-being. This shift in perspective was crucial in helping me identify and address the toxic friendships in my life. Here are a few steps I took that helped me on my journey:
- Self-Reflection: I took the time to reflect on all of my friendships and their impact on my life. This introspection helped me see that some relationships were more detrimental than positive.
- Creating Physical & Emotional Distance: After reflecting on which of my friendships were more detrimental than positive, I set about creating distance with certain people, Sarah included. Creating physical distance can be as simple as not making plans to meet up as frequently or declining invitations to social gatherings where the toxic friend will be present. By spending less time together, you reduce the opportunities for negativity and toxicity to affect you. Creating emotional distance involves detaching yourself emotionally from their negative behaviours or comments. This can be tricky at first but just keep reminding yourself that their toxicity is not a reflection of your worth or value.
- Setting Boundaries: I began to learn to set boundaries which was a game-changer. It’s not easy at first, especially if you’ve set a precedent in a friendship where you don’t communicate your own needs because you have people-pleasing tendencies. Often you may find that there is some pushback when you first start setting boundaries because the other person isn’t used to not getting their way. However, it’s one of the healthiest things you can do for your self-esteem and self-worth. Essentially you are starting to communicate to yourself that your own needs are important and that you are worth prioritising.
- Seeking Support: I confided in other friends and their support and guidance were invaluable. They shared their own stories and offered advice on how to navigate these challenging situations. If you’re not sure whether you should end the friendship then I would always suggest going to an objective third-party as an outsider’s opinion can provide a bit of a reality check.
Navigating toxic friendships in adulthood can be challenging, but it’s a vital aspect of personal growth and well-being. My life is significantly more enjoyable now that I have distanced myself from anyone who I didn’t believe had my best interests at heart. By recognising the signs of toxicity, setting boundaries, or ending friendships where necessary, you can cultivate healthier and more fulfilling relationships. Remember, your happiness and well-being are worth it, and you deserve friends who uplift and support you on your journey through life.
- Boundaries: When to Say Yes, When to Say No, To Take Control of Your Life: When to Say Yes, How to Say No, to Take Control of Your Life: Amazon.co.uk: Henry Cloud: 0025986247454: Books
- Is my friendship toxic? Short online quiz