Frenemies 101: Recognizing and Dealing with Toxic Friendships
Do you have a “frenemy?” While kind of cute-sounding, this term, a play on “friend” and “enemy,” actually represents something pretty nasty – a toxic friendship. Toxic friendships leave you feeling depleted and unsupported, and they can have a negative impact on your work life, family life and other relationships. Unfortunately, a toxic friendship can be pretty hard to extricate yourself from: Over 80 percent of women surveyed by Today Health admit to remaining in a friendship with a “frenemy,” primarily because it seemed too difficult to end it. Learn the signs of a toxic friendship and the best solutions to get out of one so that you don’t become one of these statistics.
You feel drained. A toxic friendship is emotionally draining because the relationship is essentially unequal: the person takes from you, but never gives back. They may be the unabashedly self-absorbed type who talks endlessly about how great their life is but never wastes two words to inquire about yours. Or, they might be the Debbie Downer sort of emotional vampire who you can count on to suck the fun out of every good time with their perpetual “woe is me” act. Your best frenemy will always turn to you when they need a shoulder to cry on, but when you’re going through a rough time, your calls and texts go unanswered. Regardless of the exact scenario, the results are always the same: his/her needs are getting met by the relationship, yours aren’t.
They constantly undermine you. A frenemy will often find inventive ways to criticize and belittle you without necessarily reverting to overt hostility. They might make subtle digs about your weight, your house, your parenting, or aspects of your personality. The toxic friend is the queen of the backhanded compliment, a la “That sweater makes you look thinner than usual.” Or, he might insult you more directly, with comments like “You’ve never been very smart,” followed by a tacked-on “Just kidding!” However they go about insulting you, your toxic friend is trying to lower your self-esteem in order to bolster theirs; a true friend wouldn’t purposely hurt you like this.
They’re reliably unreliable. Toxic friends seem to make a habit of saying one thing and doing another. Whether they out-and-out lie or they just don’t respect commitments, the frenemy is chronically two-faced and flakey. Has this person ever sworn to keep an embarrassing secret, only to tell others as soon as you leave the room? Do other friends report that she talks about you behind your back? Does he stand you up for a lunch date if a more exciting opportunity comes along? Does she say she’ll help you move and then develop a mysterious illness the morning of moving day? If you’ve answered yes to any of these questions, chances are, you’re in a toxic friendship.
They undermine your other relationships. Since they’re scared to death that you’ll eventually dump them and stop giving them the one-sided attention they so desperately crave, a toxic friend will usually try to undermine your other relationships – with other friends, coworkers, and even your family. She’ll, for example, encourage you to dump a nice guy you’ve started dating, or instigate fights between you and your other friends. Conversely, a frenemy might encourage unhealthy relationships, telling you to stay in an abusive marriage or encouraging your addictive relationship with drugs or alcohol. The key feature of this toxic trait is that the frenemy does not have your best interest in mind.
Set boundaries. Setting boundaries that respect your needs can help you redefine a relationship on your terms. Can you only tolerate this person in small doses and in the company of others? Decide to meet them for lunch no more than once a month and always bring another friend along. Does she text you about her latest drama every night when you’re trying to relax or put the kids to bed? Stop texting her back after 8pm. Depending on your situation, setting these kinds of boundaries can help you downgrade the friendship to “acquaintance” status. On the other hand, she might freak out when she realizes she’s not able to monopolize your time anymore. Regardless of her reaction, you need to stick to your boundaries no matter what. If she can’t learn to live with them, she’ll most likely have a hissy fit, initially, and then disappear from your life entirely after moving on to her next victim. Remember: what the frenemy wants more than anything is massive amounts of attention. Once she realizes she can’t get it from you, she’ll try to get it from someone else.
Tell them how you feel. While difficult, this is the most straightforward approach to dealing with a toxic friendship if you still have hope that the relationship can be salvaged. Sit down and have a talk with them about how their behavior is not acceptable to you anymore. Tell them about your new boundaries, suggest counseling, and/or give them an ultimatum. There’s a chance that he’s not fully aware of how his behavior affects you and is willing to make an effort to change in order to remain friends. Unfortunately, there’s also a very good chance that the frenemy will deny all responsibility for their actions and try to turn the situation around on you, informing you that you’re the bad friend, not him. This will effectively bring the toxic friendship to a head and, after a brief explosion, it’ll be over. But at least you will have dealt with the situation in a fair and honest way.
Spend time with nontoxic friends. Spending time with friends and family who treat you respectfully can help you gain some perspective on a toxic friendship. Oftentimes, it takes reconnecting with someone “normal” for you to realize just how dysfunctional your other relationship is. Your nontoxic friends can also give you advice on how best to disengage from your toxic friendship and provide support once the deed is done.
Cut all ties. This is the most extreme way to deal with a toxic friendship, but it can be necessary if the person is especially toxic. There often comes a point in a toxic friendship where you’ve been mistreated so badly – for example, they’ve slept with your boyfriend/girlfriend, stolen from you, or made up hideous lies about you – that no amount of apologies or promises to change could possibly rectify the friendship. In this case, you’ll need to do whatever you have to do to remove this person from your life entirely. Change your phone number. Block them on Facebook. If they stalk you or threaten you, get a restraining order. It’ll be rough for a while, but eventually you’ll be on the other side and your toxic friendship will be nothing but a terrible memory.
However you choose to disengage from your toxic friendship, it’s important to forgive and forget once you’re out of it. Keep in mind that the person may have a serious psychological or personality disorder that may prevent them from ever having a healthy, reciprocal relationship – which is actually pretty sad. And if you choose to stay in the friendship long after you’ve realized it’s toxic, then you’ve no one to blame but yourself if you continue to allow them to treat you badly. As the old adage goes, “It takes two to tango.”