This is part two of a two-part post about coping with toxic friendships. I previously discussed the formative relationship that led me to seek out toxic friendships, the anger connection that was the center of these friendships, how I chose to ignore the red flags, and my own toxic role in these friendships. What follows is a continuation of my self-reflection and how I’ve worked towards being healthier in my quest to remove toxic friendships out of my life.
Preventing Healthy Relationships
By engaging in toxic relationships, I prevented myself from being receptive to healthy friendships. I do have healthy relationships, but the ratio of toxic relationships outweighed the healthy ones since childhood.
I am lucky to know people who want to establish a healthy relationship with me. Unfortunately, in the past, I haven’t done enough to nurture these friendships though I am trying to do more as I change my friendship patterns. I am not quite there yet, but I am hoping I can reach out and do a better job reciprocating once I’ve healed.
There are three main reasons why I stifled healthy relationships: one, the toxic ones took up more time and energy so I couldn’t think about fostering another friendship; two, I didn’t think I deserved healthy friendships because of my own low self-esteem; and three, I was so uncomfortable with the healthy dynamic that I did not know how to handle it.
I found myself suspicious of any healthy relationship. Clearly, the other person wants something out of me and I was unwilling to give it to them. Ironically, I was willing to give a toxic person everything and more, but when the relationship had an equal dynamic I didn’t know how to handle myself. I found myself freezing and not pursuing the friendship hoping it would go away.
Emotionally healthy people scared me for the longest time. I resented that they highlighted my own inadequacies because I never measured up in comparison. I wanted to be where they were without doing the emotional legwork.
I sabotaged healthy relationships throughout my life, which I deeply regret. I don’t know how many awesome friendships I’ve missed out on in favor of the toxic ones. I am very lucky for the healthy ones I have today, and I recognize how patient these friends are with me and how they pursued my friendship with no expectations.
Failing & Failed Friendships
How and why do toxic relationships fail?
In all of my situations, it’s because of the following reason: I decided that I deserved better. When I insisted upon better treatment, the friendship either met with an abrupt ending, or they gradually stopped responding to my communications.
I do not know all the reasoning they had, nor can I speak for them, but I can make some inferences based on my analysis of the matter. What follows is pure speculation and I cannot be certain that I’ve evaluated the situation correctly.
Why I think the relationships failed:
- The anger connection. My desire to change the dynamic away from an anger-centric connection led to resentment. Our relationship was only about connecting over anger and I removed that common ground.
- Facing the truth. I reflected back something they weren’t willing to see in themselves and they resented me. I was stating, perhaps not in as many words, that I was tired of the anger dynamic and they weren’t ready to acknowledge its existence.
- Accountability. For some, I was holding them accountable for their actions towards others and myself. While I wasn’t demanding an apology in each scenario, I was demanding respect.
- Expecting better of them. What I mean is that I expected they treat themselves better which would lead to treating me better. On several occasions, I pushed the toxic friend to do something to improve their personal situation. This was met with resistance.
- No longer made them feel good about themselves. What they saw was an overweight, unhappy, MS-stricken person who struggled with her professional life, so they used me as a means to feel better about what was going on in their own life. When I sought to get better, I could no longer provide that comparison of “at least I’m not her.”
Note: I do not believe they consciously thought any of this stuff. I think they saw me as being defiant, rude, and combative (in some cases) and so they wanted to remove that headache from their life. In other cases, I think they lost interest because they weren’t getting what they wanted out of the relationship anymore.
Diagnosis: It’s Toxic
Proof of the toxic dynamic in these relationships is how they failed.
Like I stated in “Part 1,” healthy relationships die out in a natural way due to geography or some other unforeseen event. My most toxic relationships ended with bridges irreparably burned:
- The cause for the relationship to die: I asked the person I was dating to spend more time with me than a third person who was bad mouthing me behind my back. We broke up and they deleted me as a friend on all social media, refusing to have any contact with me for many years.
- The cause for the relationship to die: I asked the friend why they friended a third-party who bad-mouthed us, created unnecessary drama and stabbed us in the back any chance they got. They deleted me as a friend from all social media and when I asked them about it in person (also to apologize for any grievances to warrant such action) they made false accusations and blocked me altogether.
- The cause for the relationship to die: I disagreed repeatedly with their extreme approach to socio-political matters and advocated a more moderate/balanced approach. They deleted me as a friend on social media with no warning or explanation. We still have several mutual friends in common which have made for a very awkward dynamic that I am still unsure of how to properly navigate.
I have to acknowledge this: how I took these stands helped lead to these explosive outcomes (with the exception of the third example). Before Jai was born I was more confrontational in how I dealt with people. Having a child made me realize that choosing my battles and letting things go is more important than confronting someone for closure.
How I confronted the issue from the above examples:
- I got into a heated argument with this individual and demanded that if we were to continue dating, they treat me better and defend me to this third party who had it out for me. They decided I wasn’t worth the trouble and sided with this third party.
- I sent a message demanding to know why they were friends with this person who spent weeks making both of our lives miserable. I was extremely blunt, but I left the conversation thinking everything was fine between the two of us. I even apologized for my abruptness at the end of the text conversation.
- I can honestly say I approached this one with more maturity. Whenever I disagreed with this individual I would send carefully crafted private messages (out of respect and not to call them out publicly) that were ignored. I think the breaking point was when I provided solid examples disagreeing with their advocation of violence on a divisive topic. Granted, it was at this point I wasn’t hiding that I did not appreciate their angry approach to everything.
I put these people on the defensive and therefore their only approach was to be equally confrontational and shut down the entire friendship. Looking back, I really can’t blame them for that, though I don’t know if any approach would have gone well when I decided to change the overall dynamic.
If it wasn’t the scenario listed above, something else would have caused the destruction of the friendship eventually. As the third example shows, I could have approached all of them it in a mature manner and still gotten the same outcome. Any sort of disagreement was viewed as confrontational and put them on the defensive.
It should be noted that if these were healthy friendships, then even my bad behavior and confrontational approach would not have warranted a complete and utter destruction of the friendship. Rather, it would have caused an argument, we would have worked through it and the relationship would probably be stronger for it.
Fallout: Toxic Friendships become Tenants in the Mind
All my toxic friendships, from the highly toxic to the lone red-flag, had some space they rented in my mind. While in the middle of these friendships, they took up so much emotional and mental headspace that I couldn’t move forward in my own life.
When these relationships ended, I spent even more time thinking about them and what went wrong. I blamed the other party because I didn’t see the unhealthy dynamic I helped create, but I also blamed myself for the friendships ending the way they did. For each relationship that ended badly, I probably spent an average of 3 months thinking about the whole situation in some angry or bitter way on a daily basis.
While it was partially my fault that the relationships ended badly, I ended up taking full responsibility for how the other party reacted and blamed myself for pushing them to the point of cutting me out of their lives. I realized this: I was responsible only for my behaviors, they were responsible for theirs. How they responded was completely on them, not on me.
Until recently, if I thought about those friendships, even years after they died, I would spend an hour or so working myself into an agitated state over the situation. Those toxic relationships still had a hold on me years later because I hadn’t taken the time to deal with my feelings and I still allowed these people to live in my head.
I doubt these individuals were even aware of how much time and energy I spent on them after the friendship failed. In fact, I don’t think they’ve given a second thought about me since breaking off the friendship. This isn’t feeling sorry for myself, but being realistic about the role I had in their life: I wasn’t anyone important which was why it was so easy to toss the friendship away when I wanted to change the dynamic.
I created room in my headspace for each of these relationships and allowed their mental presence to take up as much space as possible with absolutely no benefit to myself. Because I wasn’t learning from these situations, I was repeating unhealthy behaviors by refocusing onto another one and dismissing the healthy friendships I had.
Evict Those Toxic Tenants
I recognized that I was allowing these people to continue their toxic behavior for years after we last saw each other with the emotional energy I spent thinking about them. They didn’t have to do anything, I kept replaying all the negative interactions in my head. I needed to stop allowing them to live rent-free in my mind and move forward with my life so I could stop the cycle of toxic friendships.
My goal was to remove the power these friendships still held in my mind and to insist on healthy friendships in the future.
In one of my therapy sessions, several years ago, the therapist brought up the term “Teflon mind” as a means for dealing with repetitive and negative thoughts. But it also applies to get rid of those toxic friendships that I thought about incessantly.
It takes a lot of work, but every time I think about a negative relationship, I imagine it’s an egg in a Teflon coated pan – I let it slide out of my mind like the egg slides out of the pan onto a plate. It isn’t about avoiding the issue, which I used to think this exercise was about, but it’s about no longer giving power to the thought.
The more time I indulged my negative thoughts, the more power they gained and the more stuck I became in not wanting to get better. I would spend hours in my anger which would need an outlet. Rarely did I find a healthy outlet for myself which led my emotions and depression to spiral out of control.
Utilizing Teflon mind doesn’t work every time, sometimes I forget myself and allow the thoughts to play out, but as I work through each toxic scenario and remove them from my mind, I find that I spend less and less time on the matter.
Until I decided to work on this post I hadn’t thought about several old friendships for many months. While working on this post I have found that when I close down the window, that’s the end of my thoughts on the matter. I no longer carry the toxic relationship around with me because I’ve recognized that they aren’t worth my time.
Seeing Positive Results
By beginning the process of evicting the toxic thoughts built up from these friendships, I have already begun to see positive results. When the toxic person from the third example removed me from their social media a few months ago, I spent maybe a day or two annoyed at how silly it was to remove me over advocating a balanced approach to a situation, but I moved on a lot faster.
I found that I didn’t care, and more importantly, I was relieved they removed me from their life. It took the pressure off of me to cater to their moods and modifying all interactions to avoid conflict. I also felt relief because I no longer had to worry about exposing Jai to this individual; their unpredictable anger was troublesome and I didn’t want Jai to witness one of their outbursts.
I am a lot happier in my daily life as well: I no longer engage in angry or stressful conversations; I limit my interaction with negative social media accounts; I no longer feel responsible for other people’s interactions with me, and I no longer feel responsible for other people. I still reach out to friends when they need support, but I no longer go to the extreme I once did.
I have put all relationships into their proper perspective and I feel less stress because of it.
The Reassessment and Healthy Adjustment
I am now able to assess all my current friendships from a healthier standpoint.
I have noticed that some of my friendships have toxic aspects, which I noted in my first post is separate from the negative aspects found in any friendship, and that toxicity doesn’t need to be a dealbreaker for me.
If a relationship has a toxic red flag, but I want to remain friends with them because I enjoy their company, I make an adjustment to the emphasis I place on the friendship. For example: if I have a friend who spends all their time talking about themselves and does not ask about me for the duration of our interaction, I will limit how often I interact with them and take a more passive role in the friendship (whereas before I was more active).
Where I used to consider myself good friends with the person, I may now only consider ourselves friends or acquaintances that have fun when we hang out together. I want to note that I do not expect perfection from any of my friendships, but rather, I expect to find my time with them enjoyable even if we are dealing with a heavy situation.
With all of my relationships, I no longer place expectations. I think this is important to any healthy relationship, but it’s extremely important if there is a toxic element. What this means:
- I used to spend a lot of time with this individual either in person or online. I pull back my interactions and only choose to interact when I am in the mood to deal with them. This is not cutting them out of my life, but interacting when I am healthy enough to do so which may be less often.
- I used to pursue the person or respond immediately to any communications. I no longer pursue the individual unless I want to check in with them. If they do not respond for a long time, I no longer get offended or apologize for a slight I think I might have caused. They are an adult and they can tell me if I need to apologize for something.
- I used to feel resentment when dealing with one-sided interactions. I now go into all interactions accepting the fact that I may not get to talk about my life and that’s okay. Before I meet up with the individual, I set a time limit for how much I am willing to handle and if I make it to that time feeling fine, then I will continue the interaction. If I am worn out I excuse myself.
- When frustrated, I would cycle a person up by mentioning something that I knew would be a trigger. This one needs some work because it’s a bad habit I picked up when I wasn’t sure what to talk about, but I now attempt to avoid all conversations about something that I know bothers them. If they bring it up, I honor their desire to discuss it, but I no longer engage with unhealthy intentions.
- Additionally, when frustrated I would confront the individual when I had enough of their behavior. I now take a passive role in the friendship so I no longer get to the point of frustration. If I don’t allow their behavior to bother me because I maintain boundaries, then there’s no need for confrontation.
I worry this makes me seem bland, but I would rather be a bland and positive friend than confrontational and known for my negativity. I want people to cut me out of their lives because I no longer engage in the negativity and not because I forced the issue by being toxic right back.
A Compassionate Conclusion
In writing this post I came to an important conclusion with my self-reflection: the importance of compassion. Compassion for myself because I will have days where I falter and allow toxicity to take hold in my mind longer than I wish (I am an imperfect being after all).
But compassion for the people in my previous toxic friendships.
I have to walk away feeling something for these people, as I am a very emotional person, so I used to feel resentment for them. But I made the very conscious decision to turn that resentment into compassion. I am recognizing that something hurts in people who embraced the toxicity, like myself, and while I used to say I pitied them, that pity is a bedfellow for resentment. Pity minimizes the pain they are feeling and is disrespectful to how they feel.
Many of these friendships could not be bothered to respect me as a person, but that does not mean I have to respond in kind. Rather, I show them kindness, even if it is only in my own head. The thought is this: if I ever interact with these individuals again, it won’t be marred with bitterness on my part but acceptance of who they are as they are.
The hope is that they have a similar breakthrough and while it is unlikely we will be friends again we might be able to recognize each other’s growth. I will also be open and able to apologize for my toxic role in the friendship if they need it to heal.
The same goes for my current relationships with toxic elements. These friends are deserving of my compassion not as a means to excuse their behavior but to understand their behavior and recognize it has nothing to do with me. I will no longer take the toxic signs personally but accept that that may be how they interact with other people.
It is not my job to fix anyone, something I have no plans to do, but I can place boundaries and no longer take responsibility for my relationships outside of what I personally do. I can nurture the healthy ones and engage with the unhealthy ones to the extent I am willing to handle.
Through this, I am cleaning out the clutter I’ve built up in my mental headspace, and freeing it up for a healthier future with my friendships.
If you want to share your thoughts with me in a private manner given the sensitivity of this post topic, please feel free to contact me through my form found here. I will try to respond in a timely manner.
Have you ever dealt with a toxic friendship in your life? How did you handle dealing with that individual? Were you able to move forward and recognize there was nothing wrong with you? Leave a comment with your thoughts and experiences below.
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