We all get by with a little help from our friends, but what happens when those friends take more than they give? We have all had a toxic friend, and knowing how to deal with negative people can be a challenge. Perhaps it is a colleague who acts like your friend but would throw you under the bus to get ahead. Or maybe you have a friend from childhood who you remain close with because of history, but you no longer feel you can trust them. Or do you have a mom friend who you met at your child’s school and pretends to have your back but all they do is make you feel bad about yourself? It is not uncommon to be stuck in a friendship that does more harm than good in your life, but it is time to eliminate those negative relationships and identify who your real friends are.
According to Dr. Alex Lickerman M.D., author of The Undefeated Mind: On the Science of Constructing an Indestructible Self, “a true friend is consistently willing to put your happiness before your friendship. It Is said that “good advice grates on the ear,” but a true friend will not refrain from telling you something you do not want to hear, something that may even risk fracturing the friendship, if hearing it lies in your best interest.” A true friend wants what is best for you, regardless of how it will affect them and their own happiness. A true friend believes in you, wants to be around you, wants to see you succeed and is committed to your friendship.
So how to deal with negative people, and how do you know if your friendship falls under this category of a true and meaningful friendship? After all, most friendships are not necessarily about deep and unconditional love. Oftentimes we have friends who, while they might be fun and entraining, aren’t exactly loyal or loving. And on the other end of the spectrum, some friendships are bad for you. Some “friends” actually steal your energy, diminish your confidence and inhibit your ability to be happy. Those friends need to go. Now. It might not be easy, but recognizing who your true friends are will help you really prioritize your healthy relationships so you can dedicate time to the people that enhance your life; the other friends who exhaust you don’t deserve that same love and attention, and the sooner you realize that the more fulfilled you will feel and the more you will thrive in all your other relationships.
Here are some things to consider and ways to identify your true friends, so you can start to manage (or eliminate) the toxic ones.
Think about your friends. Which friends make you smile when you see their picture or hear their name? Which friends make you cringe? Whose calls do you rush to answer and whose calls do you ignore. If a friend adds to your happiness then you want to talk to them and spend time with them as often as possible. Friends you work hard to avoid are not friends worth having. It’s usually because they suck energy from your day, not re-energize you by being around. And quite honestly that kind of friendship can be harmful to your emotional and physical existence, and it’s not worth hanging on to.
Is It Mutual?
One of the best ways to assess the status of a friendship is to think about the kind of friend you want to be to them. You cannot always control how someone else treats you, but you can control your own actions. So think about the friend in question—do you want to help them? Would you stop what you are doing and put your own needs second to assist them or just give them a hug? If the answer is yes, then chances are your love is real, and hopefully it is a mutual kind of love. Friendship is a 2-way street; if you are lending your friend support, kindness, attention and energy, and all they do is take from you, then you’re wasting your efforts on someone who does not deserve it.
If you have had a bad experience or a falling out with a friend, and you are struggling to move past that altercation, then it might not be a friendship worth holding on to. It is human nature to hold onto what is comfortable, and that can include the relationships that have been in our lives the longest. The sad truth is that some friendships are not meant to last—especially if trying to fix it means sacrificing your emotional well-being. Harry Reis, Ph.D., a social interaction researcher and professor of psychology, advises that instead of holding on to those damaging (and damaged) friendships, you should “seek out other people who are more positive and get better experiences from those people.”
It can be exhausting trying to relate to someone that you just flat-out don’t agree with. If you don’t share the same values or interests then maintaining that friendship starts to feel like work. If you dread your time together and have to put on a happy face and fake your own enjoyment then it’s a waste of precious time and energy in your life. And we’re not saying you have to agree on everything or always see eye-to-eye—after all some of the best friends are the people you can banter with, debate important topics with and be brutally honest with—but if all you do is butt heads over stuff that really matters to you, it’s not a good sign.