What are the Signs of a Toxic Friendship?
Spencer Northey recently spoke with Huffington Post about how to recognize when you are in a toxic friendship. The full text of her answer follows.
They are not a “Friend of Your Relationship”
I first heard the term “friend of the relationship” used in the book Not “Just Friends” by Jean Coppock Staeheli and Shirley Glass, Ph.D. A “friend of the relationship” is someone who is supportive as your friend, and also supportive of your relationship with your significant other. The opposite is someone who may be friendly to you, but their behavior undermines an important relationship in your life. In Not “Just Friends” the authors are specifically writing about “friends” who cross boundaries that could lead to affairs. But this term can be used even more broadly. Even strictly platonic friends can undermine your relationship. They can instigate reactivity during a conflict and advocate for behaviors that damage your relationship. Someone who is your friend and also a friend of your relationship will make an effort to support both you and the vitality of your relationship. A true friend of your relationship can be a sympathetic ear if you and your partner are having conflict, but they also encourage healthy perspective taking and reconciliation. A true friend wants to see you thrive in a happy relationship. A toxic friend, on the other hand, may fan the flames when you are venting, encouraging your negative thoughts and feelings to escalate and endure. A toxic friend may even encourage behaviors that harm your relationship.
You can ask yourself: Does your friend listen with a balanced perspective when you are venting, or do they match or even exceed your intensity? Do they follow your lead when you have let go of a conflict your significant other, or do they hold on to the memory and drama of a conflict with that person longer than you do? Does your “friend” support your commitment to your significant other, or do they seem to be pushing you to distance from or break up with them without real consideration for the devastation it might cause? If you answer the later to any of these questions, you may be experience toxic pattern with someone who is not supporting relationships that matter deeply to you.
They use gossip for personal gain
Just being a gossip in general might make this list, and that may be fair. I went a step further, however, to specify the form of gossiping that dehumanizes its subjects. Sometimes people gossip in a well-meaning way. They genuinely care about people. They are trying to get information, or make sense of the information they had. It’s not a good look, but I if the behavior is coming from a place of caring, I wouldn’t immediately end a friendship over a few incidents. The pattern turns toxic, however, when it demonstrates a lack of empathy. The type of gossip that uses its subjects as tools to serve the gossiper’s agenda.
It can be hard to discern motives behind gossiping because most people who spread information will say they are doing so because they care, whether or not that is true.
When determining whether or not someone talking about you is toxic, explore how it makes you feel. Do you trust that they were talking about you with genuine concern and curiosity? Do you still feel cared for even if they said something they shouldn’t? Or do you feel disregarded and disempowered by the way they talk about you and others?
They emotionally drain you
Healthy friendships should make life feel easier and life stressors more manageable. While I don’t recommend keeping score, you should feel a sense of reciprocity in which you are exchanging energy and getting out what you are putting in. There are certainly situations in which someone needs to lean on you temporarily, for example, if they experience a major loss or trauma. Toxic friendships, however, can cross boundaries and sink into a pattern of taking more energy than they give.
Are you feeling like you are helping your friend more than they are helping themselves? Do you feel like their therapist, where the emotional support only goes one way? Does this friendship support you maintaining your boundaries so that you can take care of yourself and not give from your emotional reserves? These are some questions that may help you determine whether or not this relationship is worth the effort.