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!

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