Toxic Friendships by Natalie Schluper

At any age, it’s nice to have friends. You may prefer to have simple acquaintances or people who know you through and through. Hopefully, your friends fall somewhere in between. The friends you choose play a role in your story, and we often underestimate how much your story changes when someone new comes in it. We have to ask ourselves – is our story changing for the better?

Like many people, I have had my fair share of toxicity in friendships. Because I never set healthy boundaries, I let people take advantage of me, get away with nasty behavior towards me, and distract me from my own identity and self-worth. I was friends with the same person for several years. Yes, there were good moments (as there are in most toxic friendships), but they didn’t define the way that this friendship functioned at all. For one, they made everything about them. It wasn’t just that they talked about themself all the time. It was also that they invalidated my own feelings by convincing me that they had it worse. Basically, the message that I got was that I should be feeling bad for them instead of sharing my concerns. They also made excuses for everything that they did wrong, or they denied that they did anything at all. They would use words like “I was having a really hard day”, or “we were having so much fun, so why did you ruin it?”. They’d make it seem like their behavior was normal. This gave me a completely false sense of how you should feel around a group of friends, or around people in general. They were also untrustworthy. I felt like I had to be so reserved and guarded around them because I never knew when they would blow what I say out of proportion or discuss it with the wrong people. They were also selfish on a whole new level. They made plans, decisions, and conclusions without ever thinking about how they impacted me and everyone else. They liked to instigate silly things just for the sake of stirring up unwanted conflict. It was exhausting, and I don’t wish that reality upon anyone. Sadly these occurrences are common. Of course these tendencies were what cause the individual incidents that lead me to discover the nature of this person. I won’t discuss the individual incidents because I feel like that’s irrelevant.

The first step, as I’ve stated before, is to set boundaries. Setting boundaries means knowing what makes you uncomfortable and communicating that with whomever you’re with. Maybe they’re talking about something (or someone) that you don’t want to hear about, or they’re trying to ask you questions that you’re not ready to answer yet. Another way that someone could push a boundary is by discussing things about you with others that you wanted to keep private. Even when they’re manipulating you or invalidating your concerns, boundaries can be of use. I know from experience that communicating boundaries directly doesn’t feel right (it can be awkward), so instead you can do things to indicate to someone else that you’ve set a boundary and you don’t want them to cross it. Maybe changing the conversation topic, asking if you and them (or the group) can do something else, or subtly stating why something is making you uncomfortable. Whatever you choose to do, make sure that you sound confident and true to yourself. You’d be surprised how different people respond when you sound confident. If people don’t respect your boundaries even after communicating with them, then they aren’t worth your time. It’s important to remember that people who don’t care about your boundaries are only revealing to you that they’re completely self-absorbed.

A disregard for boundaries is a huge red flag, but there are definitely more things to look out for. Friends should be bringing you up by making you feel happy. It’s okay for friends to tease you and whatnot, but making you feel like you don’t belong is one of the biggest things to look out for. Yes, acknowledging everyone’s differences is a natural part of human interaction, but if they’re making you feel out of place then you know something is off. Friends that belittle you in a serious manner, judge you for little things, talk over you, tell you that you’re not good enough, and leave you feeling insecure aren’t good friends. Another thing to watch for is jealousy. Jealousy has no place in a friendship because it really just makes both people uncomfortable. If someone else is showing signs of jealousy then they’re probably going to treat you differently than everyone else. These are the types of people that make you feel out of place and unwanted. People with many insecurities also can make others feel this way. One common way that insecure people cope is by bringing other people down to make themselves feel better. I’ve observed this firsthand, and what I’ve learned is that any kind of emotional disturbance (including being extra insecure) is contagious. If your friend doesn’t like themselves, they will use you to make them feel better. In addition to this they will try to fish out encouragement from you that they don’t deserve. For example, they might fish for compliments and/or praise. Long story short, an insecure and/or jealous friend isn’t a genuine friend.

The sad thing is that someone else’s actions, or wrongdoings, can have a significant impact on your life. When I first got rid of my toxic friendship, I realized that my situation was worse than I thought it was. I don’t know how I ever thought that this person’s behavior was acceptable. This person was giving me the wrong messages, so all the things they said to me and about me were still fresh in my mind. I found that I had gotten so used to being fake around other people that I had lost my own sense of identity. These are all unfortunate things that I have had to spend the last year trying to fix, and I’m still trying to fix them. If I’m being honest, all of this can apply to more than friendships. Anyone you meet can be toxic, whether it’s a parent or significant other. In all cases, you need to look out for yourself. I know this sounds like a cliche, but life is too short for toxic friends. You’ll be more stable, happy, and content with your life if you take the right steps to avoid them.

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