On Handling Toxic Friendships

Do you know how to identify signs of a toxic friendship? Here are three signs to look out for.

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By Maysūn Ellington

In this life, we will encounter numerous people from different backgrounds and with different personalities. Some of these persons will attract us in more ways than one and create an eagerness within us to spark a friendship, whereas others may have rocky starts or no beginning at all. It is important to hold an awareness of the people that we let into our lives, especially those we refer to as friends. Lack of carefulness can result in the welcoming of negative energy into our lives in the form of toxic friends.

The term, “toxic” is often synonymous with destructive, venomous, poisonous, harmful, dangerous, unsafe, or even pernicious. According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, a friend is someone who is attached to another by affection and esteem. In many different ways, we define what a friend is by being a friend ourselves. The act of being kind, sociable, welcoming, understanding, and caring are all characteristics of what it means to be friendly. The terms “toxic” and “friend” are a direct contrast to each other but it is highly possible in friendship and it is important to be able to handle such a situation if it should ever occur.

When I had just begun High School, I never really understood the concept of toxic friends, and despite that, I remained careful about the bonds that I formed. Sad to say, but that never exactly helped me. Exercising caution when it comes to gaining new friends in an entirely new environment can be hard to do, especially in a school setting where you would not be able to avoid encounters with these persons.

Even so, I never recognized that they were toxic for me until later on. It is imperative in handling the struggle of dealing with toxic friendships that you, firstly, recognize the characteristics of a toxic friendship and then assess how to handle the next few steps that could either make or break the bond. Below are three of the most common characteristics of toxic friendships:

1. Walking On Eggshells

One of the main characteristics of a toxic friendship is the feeling of “walking on eggshells” meaning being in constant worry of saying something that might completely alter the dynamic of the friendship or even just cause a shift in the environment created by two friends, based on things that we can definitely deem as trivial. This is extremely unhealthy due to the psychological impact that being in constant worry can cause. One of the effects, which is actually directly associated with the term “toxic”, is pessimism.

Pessimism can be defined as a mental attitude which involves often believing or thinking of the worst aspects of an event, situation, even just yourself. It can have serious effects on your mindset as it takes on a toll on us both emotionally and mentally to always be thinking negatively. This could be considered one effect of a toxic friendship and may cause us ongoing stress to continuously be feeling this way.

2. Destructive Criticism

Yes, it is absolutely okay for your friends to provide you with criticism, but the underlying basis must have sincere validity. There are two types of criticisms I’m sure we’re all aware of at this point. These are destructive and constructive criticisms. Despite both being a way of bringing attention to someone’s faults, the method of doing so, as well as the intention creates the difference between the two.

Constructive criticism presents an idea of hope through the method of bringing awareness to one’s faults, whereas destructive criticism, which is usually said in a harsh tone, makes aware the intention of destroying or tearing down a person’s self-esteem, worth, or reliability.

Personally, I’ll admit, it is beyond hard to let your friends know they’re going about something the wrong way, especially if you know it may affect them in more ways than one. At some point, however, you have to stand up for yourself and feel comfortable making them aware of things they probably do not know, like how not to give destructive criticism.

People often equate destructive criticisms with the act of being blunt or “honest” but in honesty comes kindness and care. Destructive criticism openly contrasts those because the tone it is said it gives the idea that there is no care or kindness behind the act. This is a very common characteristic of a toxic friendship.

3. Emotional Manipulation

At some point in our lives, we will all encounter those friends who are a little harsher than others when it comes to joking around. The kind of friends who call you names in front of others or invests solely in jokes that will, without a doubt, tear down your self- esteem a little more each day. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the occasional harsh joke, but when it is the entire foundation of a conversation between two “friends” then there is an issue. Emotional Manipulation can be defined as “the exercise of undue influence through mental distortion and emotional exploitation, with the intention to seize power, control, benefits and/or privileges at the victim’s expense”.

Toxic friends often resort to emotional manipulation in order to maintain their power of the friendship simply because they can, since we let them. They use and abuse us whether by calling names, reflecting the blame for simple things, or even just being extremely defensive, while never apologizing for anything unless the friendships’ longevity is on the line. This can be extremely taxing on anyone and should never be tolerated because in reality, it is a form of abuse and no one deserves to experience anything remotely like this.

Toxicity Feeds Into Vulnerability

The most important thing to bear in mind at all times is that there is a close connection between both the body and the mind. This means that our thoughts, feelings, attitudes, and beliefs can affect our physical health either positively or negatively. An often used example, which is perfect to highlight the issue of toxic friendships, is how our body responds to stress whether by raising the blood pressure, causing migraines, or even inducing heart attacks.

Due to the vulnerability present within friendships, it is easy for us to become stressed especially within a bond that is toxic. It is also easy for our attitudes and personalities to be influenced by the people around us, especially those toxic friends who display attitudes of negativity and bad character. It is imperative that we handle situations like this immediately. It is also important for us to understand that we deserve a lot better, especially in friendships, considering they are meant to add to your lives, rather than take.

Despite the love and attraction we may feel towards a person, it is very important to love yourself as well and to remember just how much you are deserving of. The option of leaving a toxic friendship is always open but if it is that you fear to be alone, then the toxicity is not only present in your friend but also present in you. You need to allow yourself to embrace an environment of positivity in a world of negatives because you deserve it and you have all right to access it.

This article was originally published on Witted Roots.

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