I have experience with extremely toxic friendship and I wanted to write a post that could offer advice and support to anyone who is in a toxic friendship or has been previously. I’ve put together a list of my top tips for those in a situation like I was (or those who think they might be), and a couple of clues that I picked up on which confirmed the friendship’s toxicity.
If I could sum up what I’ve learned from the experience, it would be to remember that if someone intentionally makes you feel bad about yourself in any way whatsoever, they do not deserve your time – you owe them nothing. No matter how good your memories are together, they are no longer putting your best interests first.
Around two years ago I stopped a toxic friendship that I’d found myself in. We’d been friends for a couple of years but it had slowly grown unhealthy. The speed of the deterioration, however, meant that I didn’t notice quite how much it was affecting me until one night I found myself crying uncontrollably after realising that I’d lost the confidence to wear my favourite pair of jeans.
As you’ve probably guessed, the pair of jeans itself wasn’t the root of the problem (they were pretty damn cool) – it was my newfound insecurity that seemed, at the time, to be out of the blue.
(Totally predictable in hindsight) plot twist: I felt insecure about my body because I’d been repeatedly told I should be in a range of creative and cutting comments by one of my closest friends at the time, who would constantly do everything she could do bring up my body weight in front of people to make them laugh at me for being ‘too skinny’.
Now, I am 100% one for roasting (as the kids say) my close friends to prove my love for them, but these comments were not made in an affectionate manner and nor were we laughing together – they were made with the intention to belittle me to boost her own ego.
Regularly I was ridiculed for ‘not being able to’ wear that dress or this top. I had a party at my house in my final year of school it was so exciting, in fact, that the aforementioned pair of jeans had been bought for the occasion. Invited was my large group of friends and, as the room was filling with guests, I offered to make drinks. As I stood up to pour glasses – lo and behold – my ‘best friend’ barked across the room, ‘Do you purposely buy jeans that you can’t fill?’ The room fell silent with giggles that say I’m living for this drama. She continued, laughing, saying ‘I’m not trying to be mean, I’m just asking. Like, they’re clearly meant for women with actual curves.’ Everyone laughed and I joined in because the fact is that as an arts student if you get upset about anything you’re branded a ‘drama queen’; so as usual, I played along.
Repeatedly fake-laughing at a joke that makes you feel insecure about things you’d never even considered before isn’t much fun, trust me.
Having concluded from a continuous range of exchanges (this was school – we’d hang out every single day), I came to the conclusion that my body simply wasn’t what it should be.
Naturally, I came up with a plan.
I began eating multiple packets of chocolate biscuits, crisps, and anything I could find that I knew was unhealthy every day (sometimes before) and after school. Bread was a particular favourite. I found myself obsessively checking my body every time I got showered and dressed in the morning in the hope that I’d put on enough weight to have bigger boobs or a bigger bum (turns out it doesn’t work like that).
As my (completely unproductive, 0/10 would not recommend) plan continued, so too did the comments. Finally I
did what I should have done much earlier contacted her directly, explaining I’d been hurt by her words and asked for these jokes to stop.
This is the point at which you decide whether or not the friendship is worth continuing. If your friend apologises and stops hurting you, you have the chance to work together to rebuild what you had before things got ugly. If not, and they continue to belittle you at every opportunity, you have to get out.
As you have probably gathered, I experienced the latter.
No friendship is worth losing your self esteem over.
If you think you might be in a toxic friendship, or you have found yourself in one, here are my top tips for resolving/escaping the situation:
– make an honest list of the times that your friend has hurt you (feel free to add therapeutic angry doodles)
– make an honest list of the pros and cons of your friendship
– consider what you get out of your friendship, and what they get out of your friendship – is it equal? Do they laugh at you more often than they laugh with you? Is there an imbalance in terms of day-to-day respect?
PLAN A: Resolving the Situation
Ask them if you can speak to them about your friendship in person (if you don’t feel this is what you’re most comfortable with, it’s okay to do it over the phone or even by letter – the most important thing here is that you’re doing what’s best for you)
1. Ask how they feel about your friendship at the moment
2. Explain how you’re feeling about your friendship
3. Make clear that you care about the friendship, which is why you felt it important enough to talk through
4. Explain to them what they could do moving forwards to rebuild your friendship
5. Ask them if there’s anything you can do to fix the friendship from their point of view
6. Make a plan for in a couple of days’ time to do something together that you always enjoy – go for a walk to your favourite area, visit your favourite cafe together, etc.
PLAN B: Escaping the Situation
If you were unsuccessful in resolving the situation and they did not reciprocate your determination to fix your friendship, you are likely keen to end the friendship.
1. Make your boundaries clear
2. Limit contact
3. Disconnect on social media
4. Speak to friends you trust (ideally those furthest from the situation) at times when you might feel guilty (even though you made the best decision for you) or simply to vent about how proud you are that you’ve moved on!
5. Surround yourself with people that make you feel good about yourself and notice how this affects your mental wellbeing and self confidence – you deserve it!
6. Treat yourself from time to time as a reminder of your strength to cut ties with those who influence you negatively in order to live your best life.
I hope you found this post helpful – please remember that if you’re in a position like the one I was in, you deserve so, so much better. I’m very proud to say that I now regularly wear the sh*t out of those jeans.