We’ve all heard the old adage, “You are the combination of the 5 people you spend the most time with.” There is mighty wisdom in this simple truth. We become who we spend our time around. This can make or break us.
As human beings, we all want to be surrounded with friends, and we want to be loved. We were made to give and receive love. But, sometimes, our need for validation and our need for approval can be a downfall. We might end up surrounding ourselves with people just because we want to avoid our feelings of loneliness. This is when it’s possible to get embroiled in a toxic friendship that affects your mental health.
The difficulty is that we may not even know we are in a toxic friendship! Thankfully, every experience is an opportunity for growth.
What is a Toxic Friendship?
Let’s first start off with defining what a toxic friendship is. A toxic friendship is one that is mentally, emotionally, or spiritually damaging. This might not be obvious at first, but, over time, we get a greater awareness that something just isn’t right. The first sign is often that a friendship stops bringing you joy.
This might seem obvious, but here are signs a friendship is off.
- Depressed whenever you’re around someone.
- Trapped, like you cannot voice your opinion.
- Drained of energy around the person.
Types of toxic friendships
Overall, toxic friendships are generally built on maladaptive ways of bonding. However, there are different levels and varying degrees of toxic friendships.
An example of a passive-aggressive friendship is the co-worker who does the bare minimum and leaves all the work to you. Or the friend who compliments you but then turns to laugh. Or the girlfriend who leaves an argument seemingly agreeable and then keys your car on her way out. You may feel like it’s not their fault, or maybe you feel their actions are understandable because of something you’ve done. This is a type of friendship you may not even realize is toxic, but it most certainly is.
These friends blatantly and chronically lie. They are bad friends, but some people still stick with them since many chronic liars are also charismatic. Sure, a little white lie to keep you from being hurt may have to end in total exile, but consistent lies will weigh you down, create an environment of mistrust, and cause pain. A relationship that is founded on lies can never be satisfying or stable.
One-sided friendships can also be a huge energy drain. It feels like you are always putting in an effort to see the other person, but they don’t care to call you or reach out. Or, it could be that you go out of your way to accommodate and help the other person, while they rarely do anything for you. I find that these types of relationships are often based in fear, specifically, you fear losing the other person. It will be important for you to get support for yourself as you cut ties with these relationships. It may feel like you are tearing part of yourself away. Find help to work through your fear of abandonment and your low sense of self-worth.
Guilt is a form of manipulation that can be used by someone to get you to do what they want. They will often pull at your sense of responsibility or loyalty and will take advantage of your kind-heartedness. It’s important to be mindful of what is happening and to see it for what it is. Someone who uses guilt to manipulate is not functioning out of a place of love. It’s good to know when and how to put in boundaries and when to cut ties.
Spotting a Toxic Friendship
Spotting a toxic friendship might seem easy at first, but sometimes we can be so used to hanging around toxic people that we become accustomed to their behaviour and can’t imagine a reality without them.
Patterns of victimhood occur when you continually use the past to excuse and justify your behaviour in the present. If you are in a relationship with someone who views themselves as a victim, that person will continually feel emotionally draining and exhausting to you. You may feel you are required to solve all of their problems.
Envy and jealousy also play a part: some people cannot be happy for your success. They exhibit jealousy when you come up with an idea or have a dream/vision/goal. Their criticism plays on your insecurity to make you feel incapable so that you don’t take steps forward, when, all the while, they just didn’t want you to succeed.
Endless drama is also a telltale sign that a person is not someone you want to be in a friendship with. This can be very hard to deal with as the focus must constantly be on them and what is happening in their lives. 9 times out of 10 they are stirring up their own drama because they are bored with themselves.
How Do Toxic Friendships Affect Your Health?
You might be wondering how toxic friendships affect our mental health. Well, this type of influence is more covert than anything. Sometimes, we might not know how we are being affected mentally. But, over time, we may find our energy and resources are being drained.
We can be in a friendship for years and then suddenly feel like it isn’t for our highest good. These kinds of friendships are not offering us inspiration, but feel like they are weighing us down. This is when it is time to re-evaluate our friendships. Many people I work with take this one piece of advice shocking: there is no need to continue to be in a friendship where we don’t feel like we are thriving.
I'm in a Toxic friendship. What Do I Do?
Now that you have identified a toxic friendship and you know that it’s not the best for your mental health, what do you do? You may feel bummed, sad, lost and angry. This friendship started off so healthy and now has come to turmoil. Although the ultimate conclusion will be up to you to decide, below I recommend some options based on how I approached my toxic relationships growing up and throughout my adulthood.
Unfortunately, I had to do this with a few of my family members. Because of their inability to function in a healthy manner, I had to slowly make myself unavailable to some of my family members. Limiting contact with toxic people in your life means that, while you love them and will do what you can (within limits) to help them, you need to keep them at a distance emotionally and, sometimes, physically. Your mental health declines when you are with them.
So, you tactfully disengage and phase out the relationship slowly. Depending on the level of commitment you have to them, you may only see them once in a blue moon or not at all. Sometimes, the relationship is so unhealthy that you cannot keep up contact at all. This doesn’t mean that you never text them back or that you dodge their phone calls. This means that you let them know you need your space and that you will continue to love them from afar.
Setting boundaries is a lot like limiting contact, but through a different tactic. You can say to yourself, “I will grab dinner with this person, but I need to set the amount of time to 1 hour.” Or, if a coworker is asking too much from you or pawning their work off on you, you can create that boundary by letting them know that you can only take on one of their tasks per month, instead of one per week.
Setting boundaries can be very difficult, especially in more established relationships, since the other person is accustomed to interacting with you and accessing you a certain way. Putting in healthy boundaries will require some strength of will and you should really seek the support of a healthy relationship. Practice saying “no” in a polite way and staying consistent with your “no”. Remember, if you can’t say “no”, your “yes” means nothing.
If your friend is the guilt-tripping type, they may make it harder on you as you try to put in boundaries or limit contact. They may call you names and talk poorly behind your back. Completely severing a friendship is incredibly difficult and can feel like a real heart-break. However, it’s important for you to remember that your mental health is on the line. Letting the friendship go completely will require an in-person conversation, or at least a conversation where you are speaking live. Have someone healthy nearby for support.
Everyone will have experienced a toxic friendship at one point or another – they are a part of life. How we choose to respond and how we choose to walk away from the friendship is most important. We need to cultivate our skill for recognizing when our friendships in our lives are hindering us or helping us. The healthier we are emotionally and mentally, the more easily we will recognize when a relationship is toxic.
There is something to be said for being there for people, but, unless we are going into a relationship to pour into them or minister to them, it’s equally important that we make sure that it is a reciprocal agreement. We should be uplifting one another. During the most crucial times, we need to reevaluate why this person is in our lives, and if it’s ultimately for the highest good.
Choosing to end a toxic friendship will require strength and support. Gather a healthy support system around you and hold yourself accountable. It will take strength to not bend to the possible manipulation of the person you are putting boundaries in with.
For emotional support, there are a number of essential oils you can use. You cannot move on from a relationship or past until you forgive the person. DoTERRA Forgive Essential Oil is a blend that can help you heal as you relax and make room for the good in your life. Another beautiful essential oil blend is the doTERRA Console Essential Oil. These can be wonderful support as you end a toxic friendship. Journaling can pose an incredible tool to help you make sense of what is happening and to get your feelings in order.
Remember, at the end of the day, the most important friendship you’ll ever have is with yourself and ultimately with God. It’s important you spend the time and have the courage to get honest with how you are feeling so you can live your life in a way that ensures the highest good for you and all those you will impact!
Want to learn more?
Learn how to support your health with essential oils in this comprehensive eBook.
When you purchase through me, you get 25% off, plus education, support & free product!
If you’ve got a health challenge you’d like a natural option for, let me share my experience!