How to know you’re in a toxic friendship, and how to breakup right
Neuropsychologist Dr Hannah Korrel knows a bad friend when she sees one. She shares why we put up with less-than-ideal friendships, and how to break free in the healthiest possible way.
We’ve all been there, at least once in our lives. That one friend who takes too much, expects the world, has zero respect for you, and/or excludes you. In short, they make you feel like shit. You may already feel it on some deep level. They make question things like ‘Am I just ‘not cool enough? A people pleaser? Too sensitive?’… ‘Pathetic?’
No, you are not being pathetic. You are being real. You are hurt. You have been used, and taken for granted. And it’s not OK.
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Why is it so hard to recognise when someone is being toxic?
Because society has told you you’re not supposed to be ‘emotional’ or ‘high maintenance’. Because of gaslighting techniques that say we’re being ‘petty’ or ‘negative’ for daring to call-out inappropriate behaviour. And it’s time to call BS on it!
It’s OK to call out friends on bad behaviour
If you had a partner who was treating you badly. Or a boss. Or even a crappy phone provider – it would be totally normal for you to re-examine those overt and subtle behaviours to define precisely how they were not OK. If fact, this is encouraged. Because it’s normal and healthy to have self-respect. Self-respect requires boundaries and knowing when those boundaries have been crossed.
Toxic friends are just as insidious as any other toxic relationship
For some strange reason, society has slipped into this backward assumption that ‘friendship’ must maintain an air of ‘cool casualness’ at all times – light hearted non-seriousness that means ‘Anything goes, man’ – so don’t you dare be the prude who ruined the fun! But that’s also BS. Because friendships are not always light-hearted. This ‘life’ shiz gets pretty real…
Are you giving copious amounts of time, money and energy to your friend? Helping them in a time of need, whether that be physically, emotionally, financially, or with your expertise? And do that appreciate that? Do they ever repay that? Do they leave you out? Do they forget you? Is it one rule for them, and another for you? Do they speak to you in a way they would never speak to someone else?
Is everything in life that’s important, only important for them. But when it’s your turn, your time of emotional need, your time of life obstacles, your birthday, your celebration, your success… it doesn’t seem to even register for this ‘friend’?
Ok but seriously, how do I identify this?
The best first step, is to concentrate on the feeling they cause inside you, rather than the specific behaviour. The behaviour itself may change, be subtle or covert. It may be one big thing, or a culmination of small things. It may vary inexplicably, or depend on other factors (like how much they’ve had to drink, or who else is watching). These changes can make it hard to call out – which is why, the consistent feeling that something is wrong is your best sign post.
Identify the feeling: when does it happen?
Perhaps you feel it the lead up to the catch up – that anxious feeling because you are never quite sure what you’re going to get with this friend – a best mate, or an absolute blow-up.
Perhaps you feel it when you’re with them – sitting there feeling like crap asking yourself ‘I can’t believe they are treating me like this…’
Or perhaps it’s something you realise after the interaction. When you’re lying awake at night, replaying those subtle digs they said– ‘You changed when you had kids’, or ‘We all know Brad is a people pleaser, but we love him’, ‘Soz babe, not able to make your 30th’
Or perhaps – it’s nothing. Literally the absence of something that should be there – like reciprocity. Like when they exclude you, or when you’re forgotten.
Does your ‘friend’ cause you to feel embarrassed, ashamed, stupid, silly, pathetic… anything that makes your self-worth going down a notch? Dear one, that ain’t friendship… it’s friendshit.
It’s not OK, and it’s not uncommon
Only about 25% of Australians report having a close friend they can talk to every month. One in two report that they do not have any close friends.* You are not alone, dear one. You’re not crazy, and you are not going to end up friendless.
A friendship revolution is on the horizon; toxic friends are on notice. True friends are about to become as precious as an emotionally mature male who does his own laundry. And learning to say no to ‘friendshit’ is your first step to finding them.
Neuropsychologist Dr Hannah Korrel is the author of How to Break Up With Friends (Impact Press $24.99) . Hannah brings neurology and psychology together to explain common life dilemmas, minus the BS. Hear more from Hannah here.
* Swinburne University Lim, M. H., Eres, R. & Peck, M. C., The young Australian loneliness survey (2019)