• Resolving Problems

Reader Wisdom: On Handling a Toxic Friendship

Published: February 22, 2014 | Last Updated: August 19, 2022 By | 9 Replies Continue Reading

A reader explains why she hung on to a toxic friendship.

Many times, posters write me long after their initial post or add a comment to a very old thread. Below are recent comments from Marlee (edited very lightly), who posed a question on the blog more than a year ago entitled, An Unsettling Blow-up With a Passive-Aggressive Friend. I think they are worth reading because her experience and suggestions may be helpful to others. 

From Marlee:

I decided to come back to this blog after some lengthy and long work I’ve done on myself, which included seeing a therapist who proved very beneficial. I’ve learned a great deal and thought I’d share it.

I didn’t understand the comments from so many of you that said I kept this friendship going because I needed something. That was the part that confused me for a while. To “need” something from such a toxic friendship suggested it was beneficial and that was what perplexed me.

Turns out it represented something very different.  I come from a mother who is an alcoholic and from an abusive family. Because of this, my mom lacks the ability to do two things: She doesn’t know how to empathize with me and she doesn’t know how to communicate her pain without trying to inflict it on me (take it out on me.) She’s also a full-blown narcissist. This part of the lesson was easy.  The harder part was recognizing this: She has no idea she’s hurting me because she’s a damaged person herself. Nothing I do will turn her into the mother I needed/wanted as a child or now as an adult and she will never, never, never change.

Recognizing this, I realized that my friend was EXACTLY like my mother and I was repeating patterns.  I don’t know if I wanted to be with her because she reminded me of my mother or because if I could figure out how to change her, I could change my mother. I lean more towards the latter on this one.

So with all of this in mind, I can give a few bits of advice:

1. If you have a friend who talks down to you, walk away. If you keep finding friends who hurt you for no reason, walk away and get a therapist. These friends will never EVER change no matter what you do.

2. If toxic people surround you and you try to change for the better, they are going to do their damnedest to stop you. YOU represent a release for them or a scapegoat for their own pain that they have become very comfortable with for as long as you’ve let them. You are not responsible for healing someone else by suffering. Ignore them and realize they don’t know what they’re doing. Cut them off and don’t look back. Don’t fight. Just become apathetic.

3. Realize that being attracted to cruel friends has an underlying issue. If you grew up in an abusive family, it can still affect you way into adulthood. If you can be attracted to abusive lovers, you can be attracted to abusive friends as well.

Books that helped me:

And if necessary, look up “Adult Children of Alcoholics.”  I’m putting this up because I’ve seen so many responses like mine. My therapist recommended these books. It’s been eye-opening, to say the least when you find out you’re attracted to narcissists. Cutting toxic friends, let alone family out of my life has been terrifying as well as cathartic. And I’m beginning to heal.  I hope someone out there finds this beneficial. Good luck.

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Category: Toxic friends

Comments (9)

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  1. Daria says:

    Agree wholeheartedly with all of the above and particularly the bit about giving trinkets!! Or offering money/ offering to “help”. Be careful of those people as for some reason this makes them feel they have control over you and is often a cover for stabbing you in the back, whilst making you grateful to them and having you stroke their ego, plus a reason/ event for them to go around bragging to everybody pretending they are a “nice person”. This is the most common pattern of conflicting qualities I have found in people I know. Another is objectification – though they do in fact treat everyone like an object and not just you.
    My personal feelings are, don’t ever put anyone on a pedestal and assume they’re nice, because they just aren’t. And if they start trying to blow up the day with idiotic behaviours, either don’t react/ answer, or be as patronizing as possible, that soon gets rid of them. All they want is someone to give them the time of day and make them feel important. Focus on your own life and goals and being the best you can be.

    • Kelly says:

      “Or offering money/ offering to “help”. Be careful of those people as for some reason this makes them feel they have control over you”

      So true. Be careful of friends who suddenly show up giving you food and gifts. There will be an impending favor you suddenly can’t resist.

  2. WJS says:

    You are correct. Codependency is a big part of what happens to adult children from abusive or addictive homes, too. You end up everyone’s caretaker because that is what you were raised to do from birth for your whacked out parents. In order to be even reasonably happy as an adult, you have to separate yourself, see this manipulation and creepiness for what it is, and get away from people who remind you of it It may seem harsh to walk away or learn to say “no,” but self-preservation is the right of every human being. Once I had some therapy and help with this one, I lost half of the people in my life. Many of them had been suffocating me and dragging me down for nearly 30 years. It’s a good life lesson. Thanks for sharing your experience.

    • Alberta says:

      Thank you Marlee Jane Lauren and WJSfor this – it has been the most miraculous thing to read at this time in life – you are angels for talking about this so honestly. Your posts have saved me because, after a couple of bad experiences, am not comfortable talking with therapists and feel so much anger and humilation over a present relationship that the feelings became unbearable. I chose a partner who hates me just as much as my parents did and it is really hard because he is sick and I want to have compassion yet I have so much anger from the constant humilation and feeling like an inadequate partner. Your timely post brought clarity.
      It is manipulation and creepiness that adults want to suck other adults into being their ‘parent’ I realize I was a parent to most of my friend and just got out of what I thought was a healthy relationship because it was the same old pattern. They start out nice – give little trinkets and those trinkets are what they use to make you their ‘parent’ so you care take their never ending needs. I don’t trust myself anymore to have friends because of repeating the same pattern.

      • Lauren says:

        You are welcome, Alberta. I see that we are works in progress, and the wise ones, including you Alberta, will see through the dark, confusing mists of relationships to gain clear vision. This clarity is a saving grace, to help us to stop allowing toxic, hurtful “friends” into our lives. And so, we are able to proceed, albeit proceeding with caution, but proceeding and progressing nonetheless.

        Thanks for sharing, Alberta, and thanks for your kind and wise words.
        Best,
        Lauren

  3. Jane says:

    Hey Marlee and all the other wonderful people who’ve posted on this thread,

    I want to say that all of your comments have been helpful to me. I’ve recently “broken up” with a toxic friend who I’ve only known for a year and a half and, first of all, your comments have made me so glad that I have come out of this relationship so soon. It’s a complicated relationship as she was volunteering in my business and is also now friends with a lot of my business associates, so I can’t get away completely.

    I saw her this weekend at a business event and she tried to throw her arms around me – when I haven’t spoken to her in 3 months. I literally jumped backwards in shock and ran off to the loo. I do worry what business associates will think but I have to do what I think is right regardless and hope that people will understand that I would never be cruel for the sake of it.

    The biggest battle I have had is not to really say to her all the things I could. The week before we had our “break up” we sat down for over 3 hours and I explained the problems I was having with her – her passive aggressive behaviour, she says catty things and then when I tell her she says I’ve hurt her feelings. She asked me for so much business advice and then gets upset if I make constructive criticism of her work – so I told her I wouldn’t give her advice any more because I couldn’t take the fall out. So many times she’s said things under her breath and I would ask her what she said and she’s said “oh nothing”. It’s hardest because I became close to her children, but since we had our argument she has used them against me. I invited her to my birthday because I didn’t want to upset her kids and then she spent the whole time talking to my business associates and ignored me – at which point I decided I couldn’t trust her.

    I have a life coach and so many good friends and family and trust me when I tell you they are sick of hearing about this person. I am sick of it, but I keep going over the situation. So as well as hearing your challenges I needed to hear the statistic about 83% of people staying with toxic friends and that the damage is so severe. It is, but this is worse than giving up caffeine!

    Today I unfriended her on Facebook (why not before, I was scared of the fall out) and deleted her from my business group. I will keep attending business events but that’s not new to me, I have not got on with colleagues before and I know that eventually people realise who is genuine and who is not. The business contact just hurts because I wish I never had to see her again – seeing her has opened up the old wound.

    The sad truth is that this person decided she was the most important person in my life and I let her, she messed up a business event for me, one that I shouldn’t have let her be a part of because I knew in my gut she wasn’t ready. Then she got offended when I told her she’s screwed up. I told her I needed space because I had yet another major event in the next few days but she wouldn’t stop texting and calling saying she needed me to talk it through with her. That was a nail in the coffin. She gave me a note saying she loved me, and I told her I needed space. She kept sending me texts and notes and photos of us before we argued. After my birthday she asked me to go to her house and talk everything through and I told her we’d already talked everything through beforehand – I was happy to be friendly. She kept saying she wanted to talk to me even if I wasn’t ready to talk to her. I guess everything that happened after we argued made me realise that she really had no respect or care for my feelings, and to be honest if I had looked I would have seen it before. She says that my “outburst” is out of character and I have hurt her and her children, but she was so careless and unprofessional at an event I had put my heart and soul into that it was all I could do not to yell at her (I didn’t yell and I didn’t swear!)

    Sorry for ranting – she is a spoilt brat, truth be told, but she is also very good at emotional manipulation. I gave her business ultimatums before – i.e. if you want to do this job you have to commit to it or I’ll cancel it and then she was shocked when I cancelled the contract – I don’t think she ever took the fact it was my business seriously, not just a game to me.

    Reading this through it is clear to me now that a large part of our relationship was her using me for what she could get business wise by being my “friend”. So, I’ve hidden my Friends list on Facebook and am no longer her Friend and it looks like she has found other people to use. Good luck to them. Not that I’m bitter or anything.

    Truth be told, like a romantic relationship the one who sets the boundaries and then has to break up with the other person because they cheated/drank/spent all the money/stayed out all night has it hardest I think. I’ve had my heart broken by this person but still feel like I’m the bad guy because I can’t just kiss and make up and let her do it to me again – because she would.

    Tough love sucks.

  4. Alberta says:

    Or they make expectations that you can never fulfill, then chastize you for not being able to meet the very high expectations. This is why it is so important to have boundaries to begin with. Sometimes it can take a long time to know and learn what the concept of boundaries actually means. I realized that for twenty years I kept choosing friendship relationships with mainly friends who actually hated me – just as my mother did, and whose expectations I could never meet and being a therapist as I did with my father. Wiser now in my forties and greatful for lessons learned – sometimes harsh things happening in life can reveal blessings in disquise.

    • Lauren says:

      Hi Alberta,
      I agree with your words of wisdom. I like also what you said about “lessons learned”. So very profound and so true.
      Lauren

  5. Lauren says:

    Thanks for sharing this, Marlee. It is so thoughtful, true and so helpful. I found similar analyses from therapy. I found also that I was attracted to toxic friends because I thought (probably mostly subconsciously) that I could change them, and in doing so I could “change” my parental relationship. I realized that I was still seeking approval of toxic, abusive people.
    It is so freeing to have this break through, and realize that I can never change people and I cannot be their therapist. This is an excellent forum which is so supportive.
    All the best to you, Lauren.

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