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Toxic Friendships

I love the saying, if it doesn’t feel good than it’s probably not right for you. This is true for many things, including dating, work, social media, or the types of people you associate with. An ideal friendship is supportive and exists on equal footing. However, often times unhealthy bonding takes place, and the signs can be difficult to identify at first. What once felt fun and exciting is replaced with an array of undesirable feelings. These type of friendships create an imbalance in dynamics, as well as an energetic breakdown of spirit. To notice something is out of alignment, requires us to look at our own patterns in relationships.

I have often found myself drawn to others for all the wrong reasons. I’ve always had this internal need to be the fixer, or the more competent one within the relationship. If only I could force you to see your potential, or rather my value, than maybe things would be different. Always preoccupied with helping others, I failed to pay attention to what I wasn’t getting, and was more than happy to be the friend who listened to the melodrama. I became the needed one, leading to a significant relational imbalance, which caused feelings of resentment, disappointment, and at times anger because eventually I began to feel overwhelmed by my role. What once felt good, began to stress me out. Recognizing this power struggle was the first step toward rediscovering my worth, and identifying my ideals within a friendship.

One of my core attributes is loyalty, and this doesn’t always serve me well. I am loyal to a fault. Always quick to stand by your side and offer support, at any cost. For years, I prided myself on being the person who would always be there for a friend, despite them never showing up for me in return. And then I began to feel disconnected, unappreciated and alone.

Having a friendship based around the needs of one person cannot withstand the imbalance or inequality it creates. For me, I will give until I have nothing left, having all my energy sources tapped out. I’m not saying there isn’t a time and place for offering love and support, but there needs to be some give and take between the two. Realizing my needs weren’t getting met, and that the foundation for our interactions were based solely on the other person, gave me a much needed wake up call. I began looking at my part, and ways to either re-establish my friendships or end these toxic cycles.

After some introspection this is what I discovered. How I was feeling dictated who I spent time with, and in turn how I responded in connection to this person was my responsibility. If I was feeling shitty about myself, then I acted out, participating fully in the drama, which left me feeling even worse than I had before. In these instances, I didn’t like the person I was, especially when I would engage in gossip or any other disheartening behavior. When I stepped away and saw my part, I realized how unhealthy the dynamic was, and that I needed to make a change. This process required time and patience, which lead to an energetic shift in both myself and my interpersonal relationships.

I’ve always been fascinated with human connection, particularly the interactions of women. I often see such disappointing behavior, which if I’m being honest, I have definitely participated in. Those experiences bring up a number of uncomfortable feelings, often reminding me that engaging in “catty behavior” does not support my highest self, and instead hinders the woman I aspire to be. I use these now rare moments to explore what is going on internally. The first step is to acknowledge any feelings that need tending to (usually a wounded bit that requires some love). Followed by removing myself from the situation, making any amends necessary, and finally addressing my humanness. I am the first to admit my faults. When I am spiritually depleted, I fall into this pattern of self-hatred and negative self-talk, which if I don’t address, can seep into my interactions with others. This I know about myself, and because of the work I’ve done, and continue to do, I can learn how to tolerate emotional discomfort and rise above the superficiality of self.

When my friendships are out of alignment, I notice I behave in a manner that doesn’t feel congruent with my values. If I don’t like how I’m feeling in relation to another person, that’s a good indicator that I either have some personal work to do or that this friendship is not conducive to becoming my best self (and vice versa). But here’s the beautiful part, I am only responsible for myself. I have a choice to engage and I have a choice to disengage, and that contributes greatly to my wellbeing.

Recently I’ve had the opportunity to reflect on the bonds I’ve shared with people over the years. Some friends I see often, others are an infrequent phone call along the way, yet we choose to be a part of each others lives. For many of us, our friendships span over 30 years, and we continue to offer unconditional support through thick and thin. As we grow as individuals, our bond becomes stronger. I consider myself lucky to know love like this. Even though our lives have taken us to different parts of the country, and we get busy with the daily grind, when we’re together, it’s as if no time has passed. We choose to leave drama or competition at the door and we value the meaning of friendship. We inspire, hold each other up, and carry a great deal of admiration for the people we are in this moment, evidenced by our actions. Above all else, our commitment is pure, and we have the ability to show up without expectation. We aren’t reliant on one another in order to get our personal needs met, nor are we self-absorbed in our interactions. It’s a real and honest connection.

I recognize everyone evolves at their own pace, and I also identify strongly with personal faults. However, if a friendship is one-sided, and fueled by selfishness or a lack of insight, there is no room for growth. For me, I had to learn that it’s okay to walk away. People come into your life to serve a purpose, and sometimes that purpose is to show you your own deficits, opening up the path for transformation. Other times, you meet people who are meant to open your heart and show you the true meaning of love. In instances when it’s time to walk away, thank the person and move on, especially if you know that this isn’t the friendship for you. You are not required to stay stuck in situations that smother your light. And for the one who sees your truest self, hold on tight.

Today, I make a conscious effort to cultivate connections with people I have shared interests with. A tribe of women (and a few men) that give me the freedom to express myself fully and without fault. The ones who have done their own work, which embodies the sentiment of self-love. We all benefit from our experiences, even the ones that leave us emotionally exhausted. Acknowledge each beginning and ending as the great lessons they are. For if you learn from them, your opportunity for growth and true kinship will be paramount to living your best life.

I end with a series of questions to jump start your own introspective process. Take some time to reflect and start creating meaningful relationships today. The work begins with you!

I feel connected with others when…

Friendship means…

My ideal friendship looks like...

The type of friend I wish to be is…

Where am I too giving in my friendships…

Where can I be more tolerant in my friendships…