The concept of the “frenemy” is something that dominates teen movies and TV shows, but it’s a real thing, and it’s something that adults should be aware of too. Many people have (or have had) someone that they find impossible to deal with, no matter how hard they try. This is the kind of person that sucks the fun out of everything or discourages you from pursuing your goals.
Toxic friends are no fun to have, yet many people still maintain them because they are more afraid of being alone than struggling with the drain of a toxic friendship.
Why People Stay in Toxic Relationships
There are several reasons why people stay in bad relationships. One important factor is that humans tend to be quite naturally forgiving. Human instinct is to form social links, and this means that many people dismiss blips in behavior to avoid throwing away beneficial friendships over small incidents.1
The human brain is designed to form social impressions in a flexible way that allows people to “explain away” bad behavior.2 Studies show that people may judge someone for bad actions but that even small good actions can override that perception until the next negative act.
Everyone makes mistakes, and forgiveness is a positive thing, but it is easy to take advantage of someone’s good nature.
Crabs in a Bucket
Toxic friends can be harmful in a lot of ways. It’s one thing to have a friend who is a bit of a drama queen and who puts a dampener on most nights out by wanting to be the center of attention, but many toxic friends have many worse negative impacts.
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You may have heard of the concept of “crabs in a bucket.” This is a simile. Put crabs in a bucket, and individually, each crab could climb out. They don’t escape, though, because other crabs pull them back down.
In terms of human behavior, this could be described as “misery likes company.” There are many serious and life-altering examples of this. From men with HIV not getting treatment because of the stigma in their social circle to people discouraging an alcoholic from stopping drinking because they “won’t be fun anymore.” 3,4
More innocently, but still problematic, a party-loving friend or friend in an entry-level job may complain that “you’ve changed,” when you get a better job or start studies. Friends who don’t celebrate your success or discourage you from pursuing opportunities are toxic friends.
Finding Better Influences
One often-repeated statistic is that you become the average of the five people you spend the most time with. So, if you want to be a less stressed person, spend time with people who are relaxed. If you want to be better organized, spend time with someone organized. Positive influences make your life better. A good friend will want you to succeed and know that your success does not detract from any successes that they may or may not be having.
A friend is toxic if they:
- Enable negative habits
- Make everything about them
- Regularly insult you
- Act jealous of your success
- Knowingly cross a major boundary and don’t apologize
- Are passive-aggressive rather than communicative
- Tend to keep score and bring up old arguments
Building Better Friendships
If you’ve been friends with someone for a long time, it can be scary to drop that friendship, but you don’t have to make a scene or do it in a dramatic way. If you take some time to invest in yourself, you can build new hobbies and make a new social network around your hobbies. It’s easier to do that as a young person, but older adults can do it too.
Once you’re surrounded by new people who have goals similar to yours, you will find that life gets a lot easier for you because you can feed off their energy.
Don’t be too desperate to make new friends, though. Let friendships form organically, and take care of yourself. You deserve people who treat you with respect.
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