Saying Goodbye to Toxic Friendships

We all do it.  We eat the chocolate cake because it just tastes so damn good.

And then some of us hate ourselves in the morning for the indulgence, and we wonder why (WHY?) we ate it in the first place, knowing it’s choke full of bad stuff–fat, sugar, calories.

Like that chocolate cake, we just can’t say no to some friendships.  Yes, even the bad ones.

At least the cake doesn’t talk back to us…unless we mean by the extra cushioning around our butts telling us, “Thanks for the calories, honey!”

But I digress.  Perhaps I’m being so goofy because the subject matter of this blog is really quite serious and not an easy thing to tackle.  Okay, big girl pants are on.  Here we go.

I’ve had my share of what I call toxic friendships, from the time I was a little girl, well into my adulthood.  As a kid, it’s common for friends to make fun of each other.  The pressure to be cool–to look cool, at least–is high.  When the opportunity presented itself, I could be just as mean as some of the girls who taunted me.  

In seventh grade, I had two friends who took me shopping at the mall to basically give me a makeover because my clothes weren’t cool enough.  The funny thing is, they didn’t want to actually spend any of their hard-earned allowance money on me.  No, I was supposed to do that.  So why the guise of them taking me on a shopping spree?  I wound up buying some tacky outfit that was bright and didn’t match, which was my style back then–much to their dismay.  And these girls were my closest friends at the time.  We still hung out, but looking back, I’d say the pettiness of that day was due more to our ages than true backstabbing.

I think it’s safe to say that kids can just be plain mean, even to their friends.  But adults?

Yes.

I had this notion as a child that when I grew up, everyone would be mature enough to treat each other with respect.  While I find that most people are kind, there are those who seem generally unhappy and pour their misery onto others.  When it’s a stranger I’m dealing with who is unpleasant, it can get to me, but I know we will go our separate ways and never have to cross paths again.

But when it’s someone who I consider a friend who treats me like a rug to wipe their shoes on, especially frequently, this is a big red flag that this is not a healthy relationship.  Let me be clear that abuse is not okay in any relationship, whether it be physical, mental, emotional, or whatever.  Sadly, many people will stay in bad relationships, including friendships, out of a sense of obligation or guilt.  They feel like they owe the other person something, often because the abuser holds something over the abusee’s head.

Chances are the abuser is unhappy because they have a poor image of themselves, but this doesn’t make is all right to hurt others.  Now, we will say and do hurtful things from time to time, but if this is done frequently, if the abuser apologizes and yet still continues to exhibit the same sorts or behaviors, or the abuser makes the abusee feel like it’s their fault, this type of relationship needs to end.

I have had a few friendships over the years where the friend was someone I was very close to.  We spent a lot of time together, much of that time good and fun.  I knew these people as well as myself–at least I thought I did.  I am not going to toot my own horn, but I believe I am a good friend, at least I try to be.  I offer my support, lend a listening ear, give hugs, and have given more when I felt it was needed.  

Sadly, not everyone returns what is given.  While it is better to give than to receive, I believe that a true friendship should be equal.  If one person is doing all the giving, that is draining.  There are times when I may need my friend’s support, and if time and time again it isn’t given, something is wrong.

I had a friend in my early twenties who I hung out with three to four days a week.  I would go running to her the moment she called, sometimes to the dismay of others in my life.  We would go out to eat or go to the bookstore, always buying books.  Unfortunately, I was the one who usually had the money, so I often spent it on her as well.  She once told me I was her source of entertainment, and that hurt.  This went on for a couple of years, and while we had great talks and there were plenty of good times, I knew this friendship wasn’t healthy.  I ended it shortly after getting married.

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I had another friend who often gave me the silent treatment, leaving me to wonder what I had apparently done to upset her.  When she finally would talk to me, I was always the one to blame, and to this day, I still don’t know why she thought I was the type of person who would cause her pain, on purpose or inadvertently.  She confessed in tears once that she was unhappy because the things she wanted out of life had been denied to her, yet all her friends had them–marriage and kids.  While this was heartbreaking and understandable, her misery projected onto me and others wasn’t right or fair.  That friendship also ended.

Another friend burned me on three occasions over about a year.  Until that point, our friendship was a good one, but life circumstances had us going in two different directions.  She would post things on Facebook that were clearly aimed at me, although she didn’t mention my name.  She knew I would see those posts, however.  For some reason, she was jealous of me, I think, and instead of being happy for me, she took out her displeasure on me.  There were times when I was going through a very tough spot with my autistic son, and she knew this.  Instead of being supportive, she attacked me, saying I had a huge support system and shouldn’t have complained of feeling alone.  Raise your hand if you know how it feels to be alone, even when surrounded by people!  

The sad thing is, I forgave her twice.  We talked through things twice.  I asked her not to play games with me again, but by the third time, it was too much.  It was obvious she wasn’t going to respect me enough to talk to me face-to-face.  Friends don’t play passive-aggressive games.  They talk through things.

When I discussed these toxic friendships with my therapist recently, she said that I had to just keep those doors closed, as much as it may hurt.  I told her that it felt like someone had died when each of those friendships ended, especially the most recent one.  She said, “You’re right.  It is sad when a friendship ends on bad terms, but you have to keep moving forward.”

She is right.  See, the thing is, I forgive these people, but I cannot forget the pain they’ve caused me.  I forgive them so I can move on.  I wish them well in their lives, but I cannot be a part of their lives.  Forgiving doesn’t mean I’m saying it was okay what they did, but it’s so I can heal and realize the blessings of the good people in my life.

Toxic friendships can ruin other relationships.  You can wind up devoting too much of your time, energy, resources, money, and heart on people who will just drain you and hurt you.  This takes away from the blessing of those who treat you well, who love you, who support you.

So if you have a toxic friendship, I urge you to weigh the options.  As hard as it might be, consider shutting that door, however that needs to happen.  Other doors will open.  You will breathe fresh air.

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Author: Cynthia "Cyndi" Hilston

Cynthia Hilston is a thirty-something-year-old stay at home mom of three young kids, happily married. Writing has always been like another child to her. After twenty years of waltzing in the world of fan fiction, she finally stepped away to do her debut dance with original works of fiction. In her spare time – what spare time? – she devours books, watches Doctor Who and Game of Thrones, pets her orange kitty, looks at the stars, and dreams of what other stories she wishes to tell.  

2 thoughts on “Saying Goodbye to Toxic Friendships”

  1. I do think some friendships are toxic. But I also believe everyone brings baggage into their relationships/friendships. I had a friend who told me, once, that my expectations of other people was too high. I had to really examine myself to see that it was true. I’ve had some toxic friendships, for sure, just like you have. I’ve also probably been the toxic person in some of my friendships. I think each friendship happens for a reason, to help us grow and learn, and there is a reason some friendships end: toxic or not. Great, thought-provoking post.

    1. Thanks for reading! Yes, I agree that we all contribute some baggage to relationships. I think I have the same problem as you of having too high of expectations. It’s hard when a person has high expectations of their own behavior to not expect the same of others.

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