You’ve been friends with someone for years, but of late you let her calls go to voice mail and you invent stories to avoid going out with her. Some people are fortunate; they don’t know what this is like. But for other people it rings only too true. There might be many reasons you don’t want to see or hear from your friend, but one of the most distressing is because she has simply become too toxic for you to tolerate.
Toxic friendships are starting to get the same kind of recognition that toxic romantic relationships have been getting for years – largely because psychologists have realised that the effects are more or less the same. Basically, women react more or less the same way to toxic friends as they do to toxic boyfriends: they apologetically or aggressively defend the behavior They continue to do so before they see the light and finally cut all ties.
A helping hand
Just like a romantic relationship can be mended with couples counselling, so can friendships. According to an article on iafrica.com, friendship counselling is the latest thing in the US. It makes perfect sense when you think about it. Many people have known their friends longer than they’ve known their partners, yet, while they wouldn’t hesitate to take romantic problems to a counselor, they let problems with their friends fester.
The article says that the term ‘toxic friend’ is so apt and has become so commonplace the American Psychological Association has accepted it. So, it was only a matter of time before toxic friendship detoxification (read counselling) became a legitimate service.
Neglected vs. toxic
It’s important to note that neglected friendships differ from toxic friendships. Essentially, you still want to be friends the person you’ve neglected, but the distance has become an obstacle. This could be because one of you got married, had a kid, or took a more demanding job, or perhaps you split from your husband and thought you’d lost your friend in the divorce. Counselors can help mend the rift and help you appreciate each other once again so you realise the importance of spending time and expending energy to maintain the relationship.
Toxic friendships are, by definition, more troubled. The balance of the relationship is completely skewed in a toxic friendship: one person pulls the strings and the other dances; or one person does all the taking and the other all the giving. Toxic friends have been called emotional vampires because they drain you of your energy and leave you feeling emotionally empty and raw.
If a friend is truly toxic, as in she insults you all the time, insults your friends and you family, belittles you, demands favors “borrows” things, talks behind your back, reveals your secrets, and dumps you at the last minute then making a clean break might be for the best.
But, friends can also be a little bit toxic. For example, you could have a lovely friend who has an unfortunate habit of asking enormous favors – expecting them, actually – but who always has an excuse when it’s time for a little return. A counselor could help resolve this issue.
And, just like you can work on forgiving a boyfriend who cheated on you, you can work on forgiving a friend who stole said boyfriend. It takes a lot of time and a lot of work to rebuild the trust, but if the friendship really means a lot to both of you, then it is possible to fix it.
It does work
Or course it works. Counselling has proven to work in numerous couples and group settings, so why shouldn’t it work for friends? But, it only works if both parties are committed to the process and really want to save the friendship. Think about it; could you really say goodbye to the friend you’ve had since you were seven years old without giving it every chance of success?
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Written by Sandy Cosser on behalf of Now Learning, a higher education portal that promotes a range of TAFE courses and degrees in Australia, including counselling, accounting and business management.