How to Spot a Toxic Friend, and What to Do About It

So, another headline surfaced about Malia Obama and her privacy. A video of her blowing smoke rings went viral, and we’re reminded that time and time again in friendly settings Malia has been exposed by people close to her. For a daughter of the previous US First Family, there are always bottom feeders nearby who want a ‘money shot’ or something equally gross – but what’s most disappointing is that even the people she hand-picked have exploited her trust to bring her down. If this backstabbing sounds familiar to you, you’ve got something in common with Malia Obama, and unfortunately you’ve probably dealt with, or are dealing with, a toxic friend of your own.

Toxic friends shouldn’t be underestimated. While not strictly ‘fake’, their caring reroutes back to them in a hurtful way that is too often humoured or coddled. The stakes are a little lower for us than for Malia, but they can deliberately – maybe unconsciously – get in the way of our mental wellbeing and personal success. It’s the kind of friend that wrinkles their nose when you describe a job opportunity, or interrupts a group conversation to say there’s spinach in your teeth before relaxing like they didn’t just shatter your confidence. They’ll probably, left unchecked, be there on your wedding day telling people you tried so hard to lose weight for that dress but it still looks nice anyway, or that they never thought you’d be walking the aisle at all, but miracles do apparently happen! Simply, this sucks. There are only three things to do when you realise someone close is sapping your soul; identify, jettison, and don’t look back.

To identify qualities of a toxic friend, ask yourself:

– Are they often mean about others in secret?

– Are they a shoulder to cry on when you have a terrible day, but silent as the grave when you share good news?

– Do they often insult or belittle you and make it sound like a joke or misunderstanding?

– Are they strangely interested/disinterested in your partner or best friend?

– When you’re excited about something, do they always find a way to deflate you?

They check out? Here’s how you jettison:

– Offer them a chance to explain their behaviour. Uncomfortable as it is, calmly sitting down lets everyone speak their mind, and there’s a chance that your friend may just be going through something difficult.

– If things still don’t add up, start cutting back what you share. Monitor how much of yourself you’re giving, starting with information, finishing with physical presence.

– Reinforce other friendships. You may need a safety net and some reassurance.

– When you’ve cut the you-supply, lean into that net. Let your loved ones who really love you look after you during this process.

– After you’ve established some distance, take a view. The less of them you’re encountering, the more of yourself there will be. That’s what toxic friends do; they shrink you until you don’t feel like enough.

Lastly, the hardest step: don’t look back.

The affection you had won’t disappear and neither will they, and it’s possible you’ll even feel pity for them. That’s ok, and you’re ok. Discovering that we have a toxic friend is never going to be easy, and accepting that while protecting ourselves takes a lot, but it is worth it.

Words by Esmeralda Voegele-Downing
Twitter: @Esmeralda_VVD

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