A recent TODAY.com and SELF magazine survey revealed that 84 percent of women and 74 percent of men said they have had a toxic friend at some point; one in three admit this to be someone they considered to be a best friend.
Among survey respondents, 80 percent had a toxic female friend (48 percent men, 87 percent women) while 22 percent had a toxic male friend (57 percent men, 14 percent women). It seems men are more toxic to other men and women tend to be more toxic toward women. The fact that more women may have had toxic friendships than men could be because men may relate differently than women to other people. Men may express their emotional feelings less, and therefore, be less vulnerable.
There’s something in a toxic friendship that we find compelling or familiar, which makes it difficult to end the relationship.
But we should not spend valuable personal time, energy and money in a relationship unless it improves our lives, helps us become better people, encourages self-determination and is supportive in problem solving. Close friendships reduce stress, improve overall health, lessen risks of depression and even lengthen our lives. Toxic friendships can be harmful. We don’t like to end friendships, but sometimes we have little choice when the friendship is no longer tolerable.
How do you know if a friendship is toxic or unhealthy? Here are some points to consider:
- A true friend doesn’t betray a confidence. All secrets are not meant to be kept in perpetuity, but when a “friend” reveals something intimate and personal about you willfully or with malice that person has violated a vital principle of friendship.
- A true friend doesn’t defame you or deliberately hurt you. If this behavior exists, you are enabling someone to be a bully and they are using you to enhance their stature within the group.
- A true friend isn’t possessive and jealous of other relationships in your life. Power and control are malevolent manipulation. When someone does not consider your needs, interests and dreams, it can become abusive.
- You may have adverse physical reactions to that person. Do not ignore them. Getting headaches, stomach aches or sweating around someone is a sign. If it doesn’t feel good, it is not good.
- You may find yourself naturally withdrawing and distancing yourself from the relationship. Our autonomic emotional system operates to protect the psyche from unnecessary injury. Listen to it.
- You no longer are energized when you’re with the person. In healthy friendships, being with your friend feeds your energy; it doesn’t drain it.
- You put more into the relationship than the other person does. A simple business rule of return on investment should be applied to relationships. What is your ROI in this friendship? Does your return justify your investment? If you continue to travel on a one-way street, you are soon out of your neighborhood and comfort zone.
If you stay in a relationship that is not fulfilling, stimulating, or pleasing to you, you are being dishonest to yourself. Instead of enduring a toxic friendship, you can practice extreme self-care and terminate it. There are a couple of ways to do that:
- Slowly pull back, i.e., decline invitations and put less energy into it. Most people will accept these subtle clues, but not all will.
- Be direct using “I” messages. Talk about your needs and feelings and not the faults of the other person. No one can deny your genuine feelings or challenge you on them when you are honest and earnest in delivering a heartfelt message of ending a friendship.
Choose your friends carefully. They affect all aspects of your life, including health and happiness.