I had this one friend who I clicked with the moment I met her.
Our friendship was instantaneous. We became close friends very fast. We hung out often, had the same interests (at that time), and the energy of our friendship was very positive. This friend talked a lot about her dreams and inspirations, and had this zest for life and adventure that was highly contagious. She encouraged me to be positive and happy because she was positive and happy.
But over the years, I noticed a change in her. After having a conversation with her, I would leave feeling drained. I started feeling anxiety when we made plans because of her constant negativity. Suddenly, the person who I hung out with to escape had become the person I needed to escape from.
I wasn’t quite sure what I was feeling, so I ignored it. And it wasn’t until we became roommates that I noticed that she had changed, and my instincts noticed it before I did.
Much, much later, when I officially cut ties her, I realized that her behaviour were consistent with someone who is a toxic person.
Toxic relationships can lead to a decrease in self-confidence and self-worth. It can damage other relationships in your life and, if not dealt with promptly, can cause other adverse effects including feelings of anxiety and depression. Taking care of yourself means that you come first – you should never feel guilty for catering to your needs and distancing yourself from a toxic person (to see how I learned to stop feeling guilty for putting myself first, see here).
I started to actively take note of what she was doing to make me feel bad about myself, so I could rationalize it. Had she become a toxic person? I wanted to find out.
I was startled by what I noticed. Firstly, she would make me feel bad if I couldn’t do them a favour. If I had a deadline at work or school and couldn’t make our usual weekly dinner plans, she would get angry and ice me out.
It felt like all the other moments I came through for her went out the window. She remembered my one “no” and forgot about all my “yes’s”.
But instead of addressing that issue, I made myself more available for them.
Next came the backbiting. They would call me and talk horribly about a mutual friend, or to laugh and poke fun at someone. If I told them not to be judgemental, she would claim that I was being snobby.
Instead of confronting her about this, I joined in with the backbiting.
As time went on, the friendship became more and more intolerable. When I started to form my own opinions that didn’t align with hers, I was mocked. I became the subject of the backbiting.
Needless to say, my gut was trying to tell me something I wasn’t ready to hear. I thought that it was normal, that my friend was going through personal issues and she needed my support. I believed that distancing myself or cutting them off would be selfish. How could I say she was a toxic person when she was my best friend?
So I stayed in that decade long friendship and underwent some internal trauma. I started to think I was the problem. My friend was usually rational, I thought to myself. I must have done something to offend them. She criticized everything: my other friends, my fashion sense, and even my looks. Because of this, sometimes I found myself believing her.
I started to hide my accomplishments – my first high paying salary position, graduating from grad school, and my first real relationship. My friend could criticize anything, and those moments were special to me. I also started hiding when I was feeling sad or low because she couldn’t comfort me anymore. Keeping her at arm’s length was my way of protecting myself because I believed she would relish in my sadness.
I slowly started to resent my friend because she was so toxic. At this point, although we were roommates, I couldn’t stand to be in the same room as her. I wanted out. I lashed out and tried to hurt her with my words because I wanted to make them feel the same pain I felt.
It was then that I realized I had become a toxic person. Just like them.
When I finally cut them off and moved out on my own, I felt relief. But I carried that anger and frustration for months. My patience grew thin. I wasn’t as trusting of people anymore. Even now, a year later, I still feel resentment that I allowed this to happen to me.
But it’s important to know that it is not your fault.
An unfortunate by-product of being friends with a toxic person is victim blaming. Sometimes, the victims blame themselves. In my case, I blamed myself for not standing up for myself and kicking her to the curb at the first sign of disloyalty.
Here are some helpful signs to know when you are in a relationship with a toxic person:
- Are they jealous of your accomplishments? Rather than congratulate you, do they downplay your success?
- Does your friendship feel like a competition? Do they try to compete with you in certain areas of your life?
- Do they backbite often and gossip about close friends behind their back? If yes, chances are they are talking about you as well.
- Do they get annoyed, upset or angry if you cannot do a favour for them?
- Take note of how you feel around them. Do you feel elated and happy, or do you feel anxiety or unease?
- Take note of how you feel after you part ways with them. Do you feel happy and calm or do you feel tired or drained?
Who could blame me – I was angry at my old friend for treating me that way. I wanted an apology. I still haven’t received one, and may never get one.
The one thing to take away from my situation is this: it is not about you. This experience is reflective of how my friend felt about herself, not about me or my character. This negative person was projecting their insecurities on me. I wanted to help my friend, and she wanted to hurt me, because she was feeling hurt inside.
I learned a very important lesson: forgiveness. Forgive yourself. Let go of all the bonds of that toxic person. You come first. Take care of yourself.
Have you ever been in a toxic relationship? How did they make you feel, and how did you protect yourself?