More than a frenemy, but less than a friend. A “toxic friend” is a generational term to describe a type of friendship that’s been around forever. Everyone has had a friend that’s bad for them- you, your grandma, your sister, your neighbor. Whether it’s a friend that relentlessly criticizes, takes more than you’re willing to give, causes more stress than happiness, or influences you in a bad way, you end up keeping this friend around because, well, you’re friends.
“A friendship is between two peers,” says Florence Isaacs, author of Toxic Friends/True Friends. “There has to be balance in a friendship for it to be healthy — not one person whose needs get met and another whose needs are overlooked.”
This sounds simple enough. A story of person meets person: they find common ground and boom! Friendship. So how do some friendships turn sour? Why would we want to surround ourselves with people who only tear us down? The thing to remember about a toxic friendship is that it’s still technically a friendship. Because you see this hurtful person as a friend, it’s difficult to see them as anything else. This is why so few people even realize that they’re in toxic friendships.
In Florence Isaacs’s words, “a friendship is toxic if it’s regularly unsupportive, unrewarding, unsatisfying, draining, stifling and/or unequal.” Think back to when you were in middle school and your “friends” told you not to wear overalls because you “looked fat” in them, and they said they only told you this because “they didn’t want you to embarrass yourself.” Trust them, they’re “only looking out for you.”
This is a classic example of a toxic friendship, and unfortunately, I’ve seen worse behavior in college. That one friend who talks over you in conversations so she can complain about her life? Toxic. That one friend who forces you to sketchy parties even though you’ve told her you just need time alone? Toxic. That one friend who has become clingier than your boyfriend? Toxic. That one friend who always seems to need a shoulder to cry on but is never there for you? Toxic. That one friend who posts subtweets and talks behind your back to everyone? Toxic. Life is too short and our college years are too precious to waste on toxic people, so the question stands: how do we know when a friendship has become so toxic, it must end?
“I think you have to draw a balance sheet,” Florence Isaacs suggests. “If the minuses outweigh the plusses for a long time, why continue the relationship? What are you getting out of it?”
When a friendship is affecting your health and happiness, it’s time to reevaluate why you want to maintain the friendship. Maybe you’ve known this person since you were in kindergarten. Maybe you’ve been best friends for years. Maybe you hang out in the same circle of friends and so socializing is unavoidable. Cutting people off from our lives is insanely tough, but toxic friendships are one of the few times in our lives where we must think of ourselves before others. Our well-being is more important than social niceties.
As Florence Isaacs says, “Friendships are supposed to be positives in your life. There’s only so much time, and time spent in a negative friendship is time you could be spending on a more rewarding experience.”
Image via Cara DiFabio