When we were little, we never gave making friends a second thought. We kicked a ball back to its owner and found ourselves included in the game seconds later. We splashed about with whoever happened to be playing at the pool. If our parents caught up with a friend who had kids the same age, we built stuff with their Lego, brushed their Barbie’s hair and took all the cushions off the sofas to make a den together. Making friends was as regular a habit as brushing our teeth, only way more fun.
Then, the inevitable happens. We grow up – and making friends suddenly becomes hard work. In fact, it can be so daunting that we give up on it entirely, holding onto some toxic friendships because we feel it’s better to have some pals – even if they are rotten – than none at all. After all, no one wants to be a ‘Billy no mates’ and while some of us crave and relish some alone time, most of us fear being lonely.
Toxic Friends Audit
If you’re feeling cynical about the relationships you have with your friends, it’s only because you have evolved, which is normal. Your old friends might be preventing your growth or creating a negative environment. Maybe you’ve suggested going on a beach clean up and they’ve sneered at you or laughed when you said you were going vegan. Perhaps they don’t believe the climate crisis is real and say that ‘recycling is for losers’.
If you’ve been hearing alarm bells, but out of loyalty you’ve refused to act on them it might be that you’ve outgrown your friendship circle. Or it might be time to face up to the fact that your so called BFF is actually a frenemy. But how do you know of you have toxic friends? If you can answer yes to one or more of these questions, it could be time to break free and find some new ones:
1. Does your friend compete with you? Are they eager to ‘one-up’ you?
2. Do they only call or want to hang out when they need something from you?
3. Do you dread seeing their name pop up on your phone?
4. Do they disrespect or violate your boundaries or ever say: ‘You’re too sensitive’?
5. Are you forever making excuses to get out of spending time with them?
6. Is your personal growth affected by this friendship?
7. Do conversations feel forced?
8. Are they possessive or jealous? Does your friend control you?
9. Do you feel drained after hanging out together?
We all need friends. To celebrate the good times and provide support during bad times, to prevent isolation, loneliness, to be silly with, laugh and cry with. Or to just indulge in the latest celebrity gossip with. This doesn’t mean you need to have known them for 20 years. What’s more, it doesn’t mean you should put up with feeling less than who you are every time you hang out together. As Elizabeth Day, author of Friendaholic: Confessions of a Friendship Addict (4th Estate) said: ‘People you considered the closest, most loyal, most intimate allies, will drift away from you and quite often you won’t know why.’
In her book, detailing why she would cling on to ‘any friend who would have her’ Elizabeth mined research literature on friendships and discovered that four to five close friends is the ideal number. More than seven is exhausting trying to juggle everyone’s needs and apparently studies show that we all replace half of our friends every seven years.
Break The Cycle of Toxicity
This ‘pruning’ is, according to the experts, natural, healthy and necessary. So why would you hang on to every friendship you’ve ever had, no matter how toxic? Good friendships can boost your happiness and sense of belong, so they’re worth maintaining, but toxic friendships – ones that make us feel worse about ourselves and confused and can destroy your mental health.
Toxic friends are arch manipulators so they’re hard to identify and purge . Often a toxic friend will gossip with you and about you behind your back. They’ll want to be the centre of attention, will point our your (real and perceived) flaws, and then will turn on the charm when you get upset. Their repeated, calculated behaviour will leave you stressed and with a deflated negative image and low self-esteem.
So how can you branch out and meet people who will nourish your soul rather than dampen it and who can offer a fresh perspective on your life? It’s never too late to reconnect to your inner child and open yourself up to new relationships. You never know, your new best friend might be waiting just around the corner. Here’s how to break the cycle of toxicity…
It’s OK To Part Ways
Once upon a time, you believed you’d be friends forever. Nothing could break your bond. But like a relationship with a partner, people change and life moves on. Just as partners break up, so do friends. Author Louise Jensen has said: ‘The friendship may have come to its natural end and that’s OK. If you’re going to grow, you’re going to lose people along the way.’
Focus On Healthy Relationships
Sometimes we can push loyal friends aside because we’re so focused on making wrongs into a right with a toxic friend. But good people are gold dust. Hang onto the good ’uns, those that lift you up. If you’ve met people through work or the gym that you get a great feeling about, reach out and invite them into your life. And that mum at the school gate who you always have a giggle with? Ask them over for coffee!
Feel All The (Sad) Feels
Just as we shed tears over lost loves, leaving a friendship is heartbreaking. It’s OK to be upset. So feel those emotions and take time to reflect on what you learned from the time you spent together. If you’re able to understand what made you feel so bad, this will help you to not put up with such toxicity in the future.
Forgive, But Don’t Forget
Accept who someone has revealed themselves to be. Let go of trying to impress or win the affection of the fake person they portrayed. By forgiving them, you will be free and won’t feel the necessity to act on the boundaries that they continue to bust.
Open Your Heart And Life
And let new friendships in. Challenge your way of thinking. Learn something new. The fun and laughter doesn’t stop in the playground. The deep-and-meaningfuls aren’t restricted to your college years. Sure, you might not fancy getting out of your comfort zone, right now but is it comforting to have toxic friends, or no friends at all? Of course not.
True friendship makes us happy and lets us appreciate life. You just need to take a deep breath and dive back in to find new friends. There will be people desperate to be your pal and get to know all the wonderful things about you. Just get yourself out there and make a plan. It can start with a coffee. And imagine how you’ll both laugh about all of this in 20 years’ time.
For more eco relationship articles visit our HEALTH AND WELLBEING section