Toxic Friends: Recognising them & Dealing with them
I’d never heard of the term “Toxic Friend” until a couple of years ago, but I understood it immediately.
If you know me at all you’ll know that I’m a happy-go-lucky kind of person, I’m positive and optimistic with a glass that is always at least half full. I also have lots of self-confidence BUT even I have got knocked down by toxic friends before, and the pain of being hurt this way can be quite unbearable at times.
I have tried to explain it to Ben (my sounding partner for pretty much everything), but he struggles to get it as it is very much a girl thing.
I have spent many a sleepless night turning conversations with toxic friends round in my head, wondering how I could change myself to make things better, wondering why I wasn’t good enough. Wondering why I didn’t have a life that I loved.
Recognising Toxic Friends
One of the hardest things is recognising a toxic friend. Maybe that person was once your best friend. Maybe that person has helped you and been kind to you in the past. Maybe that person is a family member or in-law. It is hard to recognise and accept that someone doesn’t want the best for us if they are family or have been a good friend to us in the past. But that person can still be a toxic friend, for all sorts of reasons.
Maybe your best friend was always someone who had your back, who helped you through hard times, so it’s difficult to imagine her not doing that for you now. But times change, and maybe you have moved too far ahead of your friend, maybe she is jealous of your career success, your financial success, your happy marriage, your weight loss, or something else that sets you apart from her. And maybe her only way of dealing with this is through snide comments, through blanking you, through putting you down.
Well this is your wake-up call right here. Someone who puts you down, who treats you badly, who blanks you systematically is not your friend.
Maybe you have been best friends for 20 years. Maybe she’s a close family member. It doesn’t matter. This person is not your friend and you need to remember that.
Just to clarify, I am talking about someone who does these things systematically. If someone treats you badly one day or who blanks you once, or makes one snide comment, keep an eye out for this behaviour repeating, but don’t label her a toxic friend just yet. After all we all have bad days, and maybe it’s a one-off. It’s when this behaviour is standard that you know you’re in the company of a toxic friend.
If you struggle to work out if your friend is toxic, ask yourself this question: Is she a radiator or a drain?
I think it was Oprah Winfrey who first talked about classing people into these two categories, but what does it mean?
Does your friend bring you warmth and make you feel better about yourself, and happier after you’ve spent time with or talking to her? If that’s a yes, then she’s a radiator and you’ll want to keep her close.
On the other hand does she drain all the happiness, strength, warmth, love and positivity from you? Do you leave her feeling worse than when you arrived? If so, she’s a drain and you really need to keep your distance to keep your happiness intact.
That might sound a bit harsh but when it comes down to it you need to look out for your own personal happiness, it’s only as a happy and fulfilled person that you can help others. It’s only as a happy mum that you can be the best mum. Only a happy wife can be a great wife. Only a happy friend can be a good friend. You can’t give from an empty cup, so you have to look out for yourself first, no matter how selfish this sounds.
Dealing with Toxic Friends
So you’ve recognised that you’ve got a toxic friend in your life, but how do you deal with her?
That depends a great deal on your relationship with her; if you are part of a big group of friends, she is a member of your family, she is a colleague or someone you can’t avoid seeing like a school mum then it will be more complicated than with someone you see infrequently, or someone you have to make the effort to see. So let’s see how you can handle each different situation…
There will be some toxic friends that you can just cut out of your life because you don’t see them on a daily basis, they don’t form part of your group of friends and they are not in your family or in-laws. In this case, stop calling, stop texting, stop arranging to meet up, and remove them from social media. It will feel strange and you will feel bad about it, but no matter what age you are at you do not need shitty people in your life, bringing you down. It doesn’t matter what history you have with that person, if they are bringing you down systematically now then your old relationship is already dead anyway.
On the other hand, the people who have to stay in your life, for whatever reason, need to be dealt with differently. Whether your toxic friend is a school mum, a colleague, a family member, an in-law or someone from your big group of friends, you’re going to keep seeing them, so here are some ways to handle that:
1) Hide them on social media
First of all, no matter which type of person your toxic friend is you need to make her less of a presence in your life, so start by not seeing her online. If this person is a Facebook friend (or any other social media friend) you need to make sure she does not appear in your timeline. Maybe you don’t want to unfriend her completely, so instead you can unfollow her. That way she won’t know you’re not seeing her posts, but equally you take back control of your online space. The last thing you want is a toxic friend invading you in your own home!
2) Change your reaction
Another thing that is important for all toxic friends, no matter which category they fall into, is to remember that you cannot and will not change them: you have to change your reaction to what they do and what they say.
I remember the first time I learnt this and it was such a light bulb moment for me – I was at a session, learning about NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) and the teacher explained, in very clear words, that we cannot change other people’s behaviour or actions HOWEVER what we can change is how we react to them. So imagine your mum constantly criticises your parenting skills, you are not going to change that and I’m guessing you don’t want to remove your mum from your life either, so you have to change your reaction to what she says.
Maybe next time she says “you mollycoddle him too much” about the way you raise your son, you can say “thanks for the advice, but this is the way I/we have chosen to raise our children”. In a calm voice, and say to yourself “this is her view on my parenting, and I know I’m doing the best for my son so I don’t need to worry”.
It is an incredibly difficult thing to do because obviously those words hurt, but with practice it does get easier. Believe me.
There used to be someone in my life when I lived in France who would either directly – through words – or indirectly – through looks or blanking – put me down every time I saw her. It made me feel so small and unworthy. It was around this time that I did that NLP training and I realised that I was allowing her to make me feel this way. So I decided to stop. I never said anything to her at all, but every time she criticised or shot me a disapproving look I said to myself “the problem is her, not you, the problem is her, not you, the problem is her, not you”.
It took time, but over the course of several months she lost all power over me, and by the time we went our different ways she had no effect on me whatsoever, despite not changing what she said or did.
3) Change how / when you see them
Can you see that person any less frequently? Is there any way to avoid having to be in the same room as her? If you’re going to be at the same family party, be with people in another room. If you’re at work with her, have lunch at a different time or with different people. If you’re in a big group of friends, position yourself away from her.
Is this toxic friend more poisonous when it’s just the two of you or does she prefer to play up to a crowd? I used to have someone in my life who would love to put me down in front of others; when we were alone she would rarely say anything bad, but if there was even one other person there she would be a complete bitch. So I started to walk away if I was in a group with her, and I stopped showing that her barbs hurt, or I’d come back with a calm, non-aggressive response which turned the snide comment back on her. It didn’t take long, but she stopped attacking me as she got nothing from it anymore.
Maybe your toxic friend is actually a group of toxic friends? Like the mean girls of the playground from your school days. I know so many mummy friends who, funnily enough, have experienced the playground days again with school mums, when they’re back in the playground but with their own kids this time.
This is a horrible situation, because it’s not just one person, and if it’s in front of your kids you have to act a certain way. So what do you do?
Spend as little time with the toxic group as you can. Instead move towards your real friends and book in dinner dates, drinks, set up a girls’ night, spend time with your radiator friends. When you get caught up in the toxic group remember the problem is them, not you, and that you can change your reaction. Think about the role model you want to set for your kids if they are there, and walk away rather than stoop to nasty comments.
There are some people who will always have the power to hurt – our parents in particular – as we want to please them and receive compliments and praise from them. (Little disclosure here – I have the best parents in the world ever, who have never made me feel bad, but have sooooooo many friends who have parents that bring them down.) If you are feeling hurt by any toxic relationship, make a list of everything that is good about you, your achievements, what others love about you. Better still, ask a good friend or your partner to tell you all the things that are fab about you. Write them down. Laminate them if need be. Pull that list out when you’re being pushed down by the drains that you can’t escape. You are better than them as you don’t put others down.
Why do toxic friends act this way?
Finally I think it’s important to understand why so-called friends act this way, and to understand that 99% of the time it is their issue and nothing to do with you. In general it comes down to one simple reason: Jealousy.
This is the most common reason why someone, who is supposed to be a friend, is mean to you. They are jealous of you. It could be your lovely, bubbly personality that has people flocking to you. It could be your big house and nice car. It could be your gorgeous husband who dotes on you. It could be the fact you’ve got kids. It could be your job. It could be for any number of reasons, but for each one it is THEIR problem, not yours. You deserve to be happy, you deserve your husband/kids/house/car/job etc.
I found that once I understood why that person was being mean to me that I was better able to handle it. These are the reasons I’ve experienced friends turning toxic on me in the past:
- When I lost weight and started to attract interest from men.
- When I met the man of my dreams and got married.
- When I had my first baby.
- When I made the decision to sell my forever house (friends can get very jealous of your big decisions, more on that another day).
- When I got a good job.
- When I set up my own business.
- When I moved house (each time).
- When I announced I was moving to Mauritius.
It hurt and still hurts every time. But you know what? It’s my life and my happiness that counts here. Feeling jealous about someone else’s achievements or happiness is understandable if your life isn’t going quite the way you’d like it to, but that jealousy should be saved for when you’re at home. A true friend should celebrate your winnings and commiserate your losings, not the other way round. Remember that and make sure you are always your number 1 priority. You are told to fit your own oxygen mask for a reason after all.
This is a subject that touches (and hurts) so many of us, and I’d love to hear from you.
Have you ever had to deal with toxic friends before, how did you handle it? Are you in the middle of a toxic friend problem now, and don’t know what to do?
I’d love to hear your story in the comments below.
I have a huge amount of readers, and hearing your story might just help them with their own toxic friend situation.
Toxic friends have been known to cause depression and, in extreme cases, suicide. It’s important that we share and help each other. Thank you all for being my radiators and for coming along to read my blog posts every Tuesday 🙂
P.S. If you’ve got a friend, family member or colleague who’s struggling with toxic friends at the moment — share this post. It could really help them find a light at the end of what can be a horribly dark tunnel.
Oh I know this well!!!!! Literally as we plan to leave London after 16 years I’ve realised I’m leaving with pretty much the same friends I arrived with. I have spent years attracting people who used me as a way to feel better about themselves. It served something in me for a while, I must have been slightly masochistic! And then I saw the light and had enough. I’m so much more careful of how I spend my time, I think my children have taught me that. I had one friend who would repeatedly be late for me and spend hours discussing her dramas, after the boys were born she sent me an email telling me what a terrible friend I’d become (they were 7 weeks early, had been in special care and one had been hospitalised along the way). I regretted for 3 years after this that I didn’t take the opportunity to walk away from her. Instead I was devastated and threw myself into being a better friend.
Great post! Thank you.
How many of us have done what you did? Been badly treated by a friend and then tried harder to be a better friend?!? We are masochists at times I think, the good news is as you get older you get more selective about who you are friends with so it’s far more fun 🙂 Good luck with the move from London xx
Excellent post! Sadly, I have been through this too both in the UK and France and it was really hurtful. It had a huge effect on me but actually, it was a huge life lesson. It’s not easy to deal with these toxic people but I can now confidently cut toxic people out of my life no problem, which is very liberating!
I think age helps a lot, as I’ve got older I’ve actively decided to put up with less shit. Life’s much better that way 🙂 xx
My mum.The person who should be the most supportive and give me unconditional love. It took me 36 years to realise that it wasn’t me, but her. I’m not free yet but I’m working on appropriate ways to reply, instead of emotional reactions.
I’m so sorry. The very person who should have been your go-to. I really hope that you have someone who can fulfil the mother’s role for you in her place and go you for realising it’s not you x