Sunday, April 29, 2012

Best Frenemies: What's the Deal With Toxic Friendships?

Once upon a time you had friends and you had enemies. Then somewhere along the line in the effort to get along with EVERYBODY, we got "frenemies": a cute pop culture term for people that, to be blunt, you really have no business socializing with in the first place.

Welcome to the wonderful world of toxic friendships, where you share private information with people you trust who then turn around and use it against you as soon as may be. Or who lie to you in order to get out of important arrangements, but will throw a hissy-fit if you're too sick with the flu to listen to them share about their day. Who smile too wide and too long at your husband, but not before "letting it slip" that you have a crush on a new male neighbor you've never even met.

A "toxic friendship" is more or less exactly what the phrase suggests: A poisonous connection to another person that you call a friend. But then it becomes a painful drain on your time, emotions, and even finances. According to one source, upwards of 84% of women and 75% of men had at least one toxic friendship during their lifetime.

Let's face facts: there is no such thing as a "friendly enemy". Some people may like keeping their enemies closer than their friends, but I'd rather keep my friends closer than my enemies. I want no one within stabbing distance if they're more inclined towards putting a knife in my back than patting me on it in congratulations.

I just never saw the point of keeping anyone around me that was going to do everything they can to drain me and even purposely hurt me. The logic behind this actually speaks to a level of sociopathic manipulation that says quite a bit about the person in question. I actually wonder how many persons polled in the link played both the part of victim AND toxic acquaintance keeping tabs on their "best frenemies forever". After all, some of the more self-absorbed toxic friends  rarely see themselves as to blame for their bad behavior. They also take great offense to having their narcissism pointed out.

In any case, after reading up on some real horror stories (one woman had a friend dump her for a new female friend and then refuse to speak to her for years. A decade or so later, the woman came back into her life and they are friends again. She was never given any apology or explanation), I wondered why on Earth so many people work to maintain connections to "frenemies" and other toxic persons.

One theory is the desire to be viewed to be as nice and amicable as possible. This may mean that some people avoid directly confronting others about their harmful and hurtful behavior. But rather than be moved by your forgiving and long-suffering gestures, the abuse grows worse. This should not be surprising. Damaged and toxic persons care less about you and your needs than their desire to continue their harmful behavior patterns. (Note: There are a lot of reasons why these people may be the way they are. Just so you know, understanding the behavior and the whys behind it does not mean continuing to be on the receiving end of their toxic nature. You can be very understanding at arm's length.)

I've seen this logic applied in the form of a tone argument, under the belief that the nicer you are to a person or group that is wronging you, the more likely they are to respect your "civility" and therefore respect your boundaries. This is a lie: It doesn't matter how nice you are about someone's toxicity, an enemy strikes whenever the opportunity presents itself. How "friendly" they are when they do it is irrelevant: the sole purpose is some sort of intended harm.

Another theory is that some people are just better friends than toxic persons deserve. They feel that because their problematic friend is their friend, they have to try and accept them for who they are. Take the good AND the bad. The problem with this is that you may be getting more bad than good. Even so, persons may rationalize away hurtful and embarrassing behavior for the sake of friendship, or think of a way to give back as good as they're getting rather than cut off the relationship ties.  

What can you do?

Well, I'd like to tell you to kick that person to the curb pronto. However, I can't pretend ending friendships, especially life-long friendships, is that easy. Some people have a lot of love and loyalty for people in their lives. Others have unsorted issues that make them feel they need something in that toxic connection that they can't get outside of that relationship. Or, maybe it's a situation that's actually salvageable.

Whatever the case, you need to stop and think about what you need and what you aren't getting and weigh whether or not that person and the friendship is worth the harm being caused to you. If you find the answer is no, it's time to pack up and move on.

So...who has had a toxic friendship or a "frenemy"? Are you still in that relationship? ...Are you a "toxic friend" or were you in the past? Share away!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Your Right to: Feel Angry


The angry black woman.

That word and that sentence is a headache and a half to many black women. To even be indignant and express it conjures up images of the neck-rolling, finger-waving Sapphire stereotype and the fear of not being taken seriously. Coupled with that fear, valid in some instances, is a feeling of being stifled. A feeling of being told you have nothing to be angry about (compared to how society treats black men). Of how your anger makes you unattractive and so you should hide it. And feeling that even when that anger is justified, the worst thing you can do is "look" angry.

Of all the emotions a human being could have, it seems that being able to express anger is the one that some black women cannot. And so it remains inside of them; a festering ticking time-bomb. Not a pretty picture, huh?

On the polar opposite end of the scale would be the very overtly hostile and angry black woman. Her dissatisfaction is an aura that sends people scrambling in a hurry. She yells, screams, cusses, threatens, even fights. But still her anger remains. If one dares to ask why this woman is so angry, there's no telling what answer you'd get. But it's very unlikely that the answer would come from the root of her troubles: The reason she's actually so upset and refusing to let go of such negative feelings.

One may tell you that, "Cause I feel like it! Now mind yo damn business!" What she won't tell you is that ever since she was very young, she had to raise and watch out for her younger siblings. Her father was never around and her mother is a drug-addict. Her youngest sister, seventeen and pregnant, turned up in tears on her doorstep a couple of years ago and has been living with her ever since. Now well into her thirties, she feels like she's never had a life, never had any freedom and had to always look out for other people. She's never in her life had time for herself. She's angry with her parents, even angry at her siblings for being a burden on her. And she's also angry with herself for feeling the way she does. She loves her family, but just wished her life had been different.

Another may tell you, "I'm just mad at people. I hate people. You try and be nice and they just walk all over you. So I don't. You can't trust anyone." She won't tell you that at age seven she was raped by an uncle. She told her mother what happened and was blamed for it, since she "wasn't where she was supposed to be". She had been sexually violated multiple times while growing up by relatives and older boys in her neighborhood. It was a common occurrence that was known, but not talked about. "Pedophiles are white people's problem and child molesters are usually white anyway " was all she heard, even as her innocence slipped away. She learned early on that she couldn't trust anyone, man or woman, to protect her. She had to look out for herself and she'd done well. But still the anger, resentment and broken-heartedness she felt over her family's betrayal remained.

Dealing with Anger

You may know women like the ones mentioned above. Whether they're afraid to show anger or they're always angry. Both categories of women have anger problems. Anger, whether hidden or overt, eats away at you. The key to anger isn't merely in being able to express it: It's dealing with the cause of your anger and allowing it to be resolved.
It's actually really easy to be angry. I'm sure if you sat right now and thought about it, you could think of a number of things that absolutely grind your gears and make you mental.

But being angry and resolving anger are two different things. When you work to resolve your anger, you approach the reason, the true reason you feel the way you do. You allow yourself to feel the full weight of the emotions. Regardless of whether you rage or weep, you allow yourself to feel the honest truth within yourself about that situation. What follows is the "moving on" aspect: You ask honest questions of yourself and form a plan of action.
You might choose to directly confront someone or write them a symbolic letter (if what makes you angry isn't a person but an event or idea, writing a letter to it works just as well I find). You may get therapy or join a support group. You might take up yoga, learn a martial art, or beat a stuffed animal with a plastic bat. The important thing is finding a way to let go and move on for your own sake.

Why Black Women Have The Right To Be Mad As Heck?

Because ladies, anger is a human emotion and the last time I checked, you are human. EVERYONE gets angry. And various persons are prone to carrying around feelings of resentment and hostility. Some people feel like only black women are angry or are not allowed to be angry. But if you really look around, you'll notice that the "A" word rears its hot-tempered head at all kinds of places having nothing to do with black women.

You are allowed to feel however you want about something and not let others stifle you. And don't stifle yourself: If you feel upset about something, be upset. Allow yourself that emotion.

But the key to anger isn't in its existence or its expression: It's in how you deal with that feeling and ultimately choose to resolve it. Anger can be a very paralyzing emotion. It can freeze every facet of your being and your connection to the world. It's like fear and doubt, other negative and limiting emotions. These feelings can stop you from living your life to the fullest. And NOTHING should be allowed to do that.

So black women, be angry. If you have something that bothers you, don't be shy about expressing it. But understand that anger is something you move *forward* from. You are entitled to feel it, but I wouldn't recommend holding onto it.

Book Announcement....

Hmm, seems like everyone and their brother is writing a book, huh? Well, that makes me too!

I've been thinking about my "Your right to" series a lot, and there are so many things I wanted to say in each article that I omitted for the sake of length. This is something I wouldn't have to do if I just went ahead and turned each article into full chapters.

There is actually one more "right" that will be discussed here, and then I move on to other things, but stay tuned, because the greater details of the book will be forthcoming.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Your Right To: Pride

Pride is "feeling or deep pleasure or satisfaction derived from one's own achievements, the achievements of those with whom one is closely associated, or from qualities or possessions that are widely admired". Pride only becomes evil when it becomes excessive. The sin of pride; the deadly sin that is vanity.

But if one's pride is not excessive, if it is in fact well deserved, what is wrong with it? The Answer: Nothing at all.

Head up, chest out, and WORK IT!

The better you feel about yourself, inside and out, the better you are inclined to carry yourself. I'm speaking from experience here.

Once upon a time, I did not bother. I told myself investing "too much" time in looking well was a waste. I wasn't dating or trying to look good for anyone. What did it matter? So I put very little effort into carrying myself very well. The absolute indifference I had regarding my overall outward appearance is startling in retrospect.

Black women, looking and feeling good is something you are absolutely allowed, no matter what anyone says. You don't need anyone's approval or permission to think that you're the cat's meow. A beautiful, powerful, self-assured black woman is a force of nature. Anyone that says otherwise has clearly never seen one.

And if that force of nature is you, then be doubly proud, because you are a representation of the culmination of everything a black woman is and should always be.

Why you have the right to be proud of yourself

You, my dear, are at the bottom of NO ONE'S totem pole or check-list. You do not need to wait in line in order to be patted on the head for existing. You, as your own individual, are beholden to your own happiness first, and if you feel good about your own self, then there is no waiting period for expressing it.

You have the right to be proud of yourself and whatever you have achieved because you did work for it and because you are seeing and feeling the fruits of your labors. A black woman who dares to express joy over having accomplished something (especially something she never dreamed of doing) is not wrong or obnoxious. What is it with people rushing to silence the black woman who is satisfied with herself?!

As stated, excessive pride is indeed a bad thing. But to tell a black woman that she is wrong to express any sort of pride in herself (or not the pre-approved amount) is a lie, fairy tale, and a fallacy. And I'm speaking to all black women everywhere on this: Don't let anyone steal your pride in yourself or try and knock you back into place. They aren't doing it on your behalf, that's for sure. It doesn't matter if the person is friend or stranger, step around them and stroll on with your head held high.

Be proud of yourself, even when it seems no one else is. If you have pride in yourself and all that you are, anything anyone else has to say on the matter of how good you are allowed to feel about yourself isn't even secondary.

So, are you proud of yourself? If not, then why and what has to happen for this to change?