This Friendship Is Going Negative: What Do I Do?

So my last blog post obviously hit a nerve. It is now the #1 post of the last 3 months, beating out popular posts–such as Reflections on my Katie Couric Interview and What Do I Do with My Toxic Friend?– two posts that have been up for months.  We are apparently very interested in this subject of how to respond to the negative people in our lives!

Two Different Frameworks for Evaluating the ‘Negative’ People in Our Lives

So, as promised, I am going to share with you two frameworks of how to deal with the friendships that feel negative in our lives. This is a long blog, but I really wanted to cover at least two different paradigms and examples… hope it’s helpful!

While we feel so much more mature than we were as children, the truth is that we still get on each others nerves.  Now we use language like toxic, negative, and un-healthy to label each other. *photo from irisclasson.com*

While we feel so much more mature than we were as children, the truth is that we still get on each others nerves. Now we use language like toxic, negative, and un-healthy to label each other.  *photo from irisclasson.com*

Just so we’re clear– I’m not writing about criminals, drug abusers, mental issues, or those who are willfully hurting us; but rather the vast majority of women that we’ve called friends at one time or another but now tend to use words such as toxic, negative, or selfish to describe them.  While we can all point out that there will always be a very clear “black and white” to the two extremes of who we can each have in our lives at different times, my desire here is to challenge us to look at what Kathy, in her comments on the previous post called, the “gray area.”  The gray area being people who may not be un-safe to us, but certainly may be annoying, depressed, insecure, self-obsessed, distracted, or negligent.

1.  FRAMEWORK 1: Know the Different Types of Relationships So You Create Appropriate Expectations

I don’t have room here to cover the entire 5 Circles of Connectedness which highlight the 5 different types of friendships, but basically our most casual of friendships are on the far Left-Side (Contact Friends) and the most intimate and consistent of our friendships are on the far Right-Side (Commitment Friends). I cover this in the most depth in my book but a quick overview can be found on this blog.

5 types of friends image

What’s helpful about understanding the various types of friends is that when we do an honest assessment of whether our friend is truly a Committed Friend (someone we’ve built up meaningful history with over a long period of time, they are active in many areas of our lives, we are as transparent as possible with them) or perhaps is a Common Friend (maybe someone we’ve only known for a couple of months, someone we are only close to in one area of our life, etc.) it helps us answer the question: Do I have unrealistic expectations on this friendship?

I’ve observed many women not having a strong Right-Side of close friendships who then place those needs onto friendships on the Left-Side.  In other words, just because she’s one of your closest friends doesn’t mean you’ve developed the friendship that warrants the expectations and demands.  A good question to ask: “Am I blaming her for x because I want her to be a Committed Friend but in reality we are still Common Friends?”

Furthermore, it helps me see my commitment to the relationship.  If she’s in a dark and needy space and she’s my Committed Friend then I am truly committed to going through that phase with her even if she doesn’t act healthy, positive, and supportive for a long season.  I can do this because we have a history together that reminds me that this isn’t who she is permanently and I know that this is the call to relationships– to be there for each other, even when it comes with some drama and emotion.  But if she’s a Contact or Common Friend acting this way then a)  it may seem more like a red flag because we don’t have enough history for me to accurately assess how she’s acting now from how I know she’s capable of acting, and b) we, quite frankly, don’t have the same obligation/commitment to each other to be there for each other in the same ways.

Being clear what type of friendship the two of you have developed helps you better see how invested you are in this relationship and what expectations are fair. What you are willing to give, or put up with, in a Committed Friend might be different from what you are willing to do for a Common Friend.

For me, if whining and complaining is the grievance, for a Committed Friend it would be completely appropriate (though maybe not enjoyable or energizing– so I need to make sure I’m getting enough of that in other close relationships during this season) for them to call me any time of night or day and sound like a crazy person sobbing and saying irrational things.  But while that would not be acceptable behavior for any friend of mine on the Left-Side, I would be willing to give them the space to monopolize the conversation during a scheduled lunch get-together and I’d give them a pass on complaining… for a time.

Does that differentiation make sense? It means we don’t have to cut everyone out of our lives when they are needy and depressed and hurting, but neither does it mean that we’re expected to put up with everything from everyone.

2.  FRAMEWORK 2: Know the Definition of Friendship so You Can Repair and Assess

This evaluation method also helps us decide which relationships to move along the Continuum so that you are choosing to nurture the friendships that are healthiest, minimizing the chances of having high-drama and unhealthy behaviors in your Right-Side friendships.

The definition of friendship, put out by Dr. Paul Dobransky, that I highlight in my book on pages 128 & 129 is  that friendship is “consistent, mutual, shared positive experience.”  He says that when a friendship is failing it is because one of these four required qualities is missing.  I have almost an entire chapter devoted to each of those concepts but basically a friendship needs to have repeated time together, be seen by both as a friendship, include increased vulnerability, and ultimately add more joy than stress to your life.

For our purposes here, how this definition helps me is to realize at least two things:

1) These are not simply qualities that she possesses or not, but they are behaviors that we together have either developed or not. Here, we are evaluating the friendship– the pattern and dynamic between the two of us– not the person.  We’re recognizing that something doesn’t feel good between us– but that’s not the same as saying that every relationship this person has in their life is identical to our experience.  While we may find that they do something annoying, it’s also possible that had we been more honest up front or set different expectations, that this dynamic wouldn’t have been created. We hold for that possibility by assessing the interaction, not the individual. Which means it’s possible we could do something different and shift the experience of the relationship.

2) It also informs me that if there are relationships that don’t meet those requirements then it doesn’t necessarily mean that I can’t have those people in my life, rather it just means I don’t want them to be on my Right-Side.

How These Frameworks Inform My Response

Knowing these two frameworks (both in greater detail in my book) helps us:

  1. Assess the current relationship experience– what type of friend is this and which of the 4 qualities are most lacking?
  2. Figure out what needs be repaired so we can show up differently to see if that helps.
  3. Identify the investment/depth of the relationship so we can decide if it’s worth an honest conversation (confrontation though awkward can be the best gift we learn to give to friends on our Right-Side where we should be willing to try “everything” before letting the friendship just dissolve.
  4. Decide if we can just move these relationships to the Left-Side (see them less often, confide in them less, have fewer expectations) rather than cut them out of our lives.

That’s all I have time for today (You’d think I was writing an entirely new book with as much as I have to say! Ha!) but I’ll keep writing on this– next time I’ll share 5 questions you should ask before ending a friendship.

Have a great weekend!

Are these helpful? What jumped out at you? How have you seen these concepts play out in your life? How could these have helped your past relationships? I love hearing your feedback so it’s more of a conversation.  Jump in!  :)

 

 

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21 Responses to This Friendship Is Going Negative: What Do I Do?

  1. Katie says:

    This post makes me uncomfortable as I feel like there is an underlying concept of friendship being a “what do I get out of it” type of thing. Of course we all get something our of friendship and we need to cautious of people who are “willfully hurting us.” However, I think the true benefits we receive from friendships and general human interaction do not lie within the immediate perceived impacts on our daily lives, but in the feeling of the shared human experience and being fundamentally connected to the others on a meaningful level.

    • ShastaGFC says:

      I agree with you (were you able to read last week’s blog–http://www.girlfriendcircles.com/blog/index.php/2013/05/is-get-rid-of-negative-toxic-people-in-my-life-good-advice/– where I went on record saying what I think you are trying to say about the value of not getting rid of people in our lives? But in conjunction to that to pretend that we can be all things to all people isn’t realistic… we are choosing to let some people in closer than others… so we might as well be making those choices intentionally?

      • Katie says:

        I had a feeling people might not understand what I was saying and not being able to understand things in that way is part or all of the problem with how relationships are cultivated in today’s society.

    • Kathy Lombardo says:

      Katie,
      Thank you for sharing!
      I believe that general human interactions benefit us by having a feeling of shared human experience and being fundamentally connected to others. I think that friendship is on a different level than general human interaction though. As in romantic relationships, we have expectations in friendships. There IS some truth to the concept of “what do I get out of it” but it doesn’t have to have a negative tone. We all chose to be in relationship with certain people over others for varying reasons, some of which are what we may be “getting out of it”, how we feel when we are with them etc……..
      Shasta’s main points are how to deal with people and friends in our lives who we see/feel as a negative influence on us and our lives. She is challenging the popular notion to just toss those people out of our lives. She is asking us to do the hard work of making conscious loving choices for ourselves, AND others, about how to handle these situations when they arise in our lives, as they always will!!!
      I think very conventional wisdom has been to just keep forgiving and forgiving and forgiving and forgiving as my Mom basically taught me…she referenced a Bible verse on that. But a more popular view is to just toss those people aside. So now she is asking us to actually THINK about our responses!! Because if we do just continually toss people out of our lives we will eventually have no one in our lives to share the feeling of being fundamentally connected to others, as you so eloquently said.

  2. Kathy Lombardo says:

    Hey girl!!
    Once again…….I see where you are coming from and I love being challenged to think about things differently!! And it is NO coincidence that just last night, in our last night of the book club on your book, we covered the last 3 chapters and we were talking about exactly THIS topic!!
    We touched on expectations and whether they were appropriate or not for different relationships/people in our lives. And we discussed when, if, and how to have uncomfortable conversations rather that just disappearing, which for all 4 of us was our “go to” response…………………because it is EASIER.
    We all left with “homework” to do: with 2 of us deciding we needed to have those hard conversations because those friendships were worth it! One of us decided the hard conversation wasn’t worth it, but that SHE could show up differently in the relationship!
    We also discussed how we didn’t need to cut some people out that had fallen away from us from lack of one of the 4 definitions of friendships but we could, and would, move them to the left, even though they had previously been on the right. We could remain open to them showing up for us again later maybe but that our “work” was “done” for now with that person and we could wish them love in our own minds knowing that we had the choice on how we are responding now and how we may or may not respond in the future with them, if there was a future with them.

    Personally, I said that I know in my heart when I can be “done” with a relationship in a healthy way and not cut them out of my life by the degree of anger or sadness I feel. I know for myself that when there is still anger or sadness when I think about them, I am not “done” in a healthy way and I am still responding from my “go to” place rather than a loving, thoughtful place. Does that make sense?
    Again, these are very deep concepts to wrap one’s mind around and pretty high level skills in my opinion…………………and much more gray than black or white!
    xoxoxoxoxoxoxoxo

  3. Corinne says:

    I haven’t commented yet, but these two blogs have been so thought provoking. I love what you just said, Kathy, about not being “done” with a friendship if you are still feeling anger or sadness.

    To me, anyone who I have been in a committed friendship deserves my time to repair any misunderstandings that take place. This means I might have to have a conversation (confrontation) which might not always be easy but it will always be worth it. I believe that 99.9% of the time, a breakdown in a friendship is due to miscommunication or misunderstandings. If they have been my friend in the past, people don’t usually change their stripes. They are pretty consistent throughout their lives. They are the same person I became close to. I want to find out if it is my expectations (or maybe I am unknowingly giving off negative energy – in today’s economy – many of us struggle with problems we never expected to. Are those problems impacting us causing us to unknowingly “dump” that energy on our friends even though we swear “we would never become a complainer!”? – it’s hard to see yourself with an unbiased eye).

    I believe the words of Anne Frank were true when she wrote them and they are true today. “In spite of everything, I believe that people are really good at heart”.

    Writing off any human being – even when they are in a needy place seems wrong to me. The words come to mind “But for the Grace of God – there go I”

    Any one of us could be needy and yes, maybe negative. How would we like to be treated? Answer that question and treat others in that same manner. It’s really very simple.

    • ShastaGFC says:

      Corrine– I am so glad you commented! And do so hope you will in the future! :) Your comment is beautiful… I love the Anne Frank quote. Albert Einstein once said, ‘The most important question you can ever ask is, “Is the world a friendly place?’” The underlying assumption is that whatever worldview we choose to take (the world is bad or the world is good) will shape everything else we ever do or believe. Anne Frank seems clear about her choice! :) Like you model, I believe that when we can hold that view that we end up being able to have empathy and compassion instead of fear. Thanks for chiming in with your experience! Love it!

  4. Sutton says:

    haven’t had a chance to read everything, but one problem that can happen with just moving them down the circle chain is this, if it has been an unhealthy friendship for years and one person does some work and gets healthier, some friends can make just moving them to a different place very hard, if not impossible. Sometimes when a person grows or gets healthier they no longer have a need for or ability to tolerate bitter or drama addicted people. And people who ARE addicted to drama, can make backing up and out more draining than what it is worth. Sometimes a clean break works best. I will use this analogy to explain: If someone is an addict and decides to get clean, they are normally advised that they need to avoid friends that use, at least for a good safe time period. No one claims people should remain close on any level with ex romantic loves, yet some friends can be just as codependent, jealous, controlling, etc. Why place a higher demand on retaining those relationships just because there is no sexual element? The term toxic friend may be overused, but that does not negate the reality of the existence of them. I believe many many people are good at heart, but how they act is important too. Hurting and wounded people are more likely to act out or be hurtful, but they are easier to initially keep at arms length, than move out to arms length. I once believed every friendship should last forever, and did everything I could to live that. After I had kids, I had far less time to bolster certain friendships that were very needy. After a few clean breaks, my whole life improved and other healthier friendships blossomed!

    • ShastaGFC says:

      Sutton– no relationship has to last forever. But I do think we should aim to give one more try to a few more relationships– the ones that really have mattered– before walking away. And by one more try– it doesn’t mean just to put up with their behavior and try to tolerate them… it might mean an awkward conversation, it might mean that when we show up healthier that we can respond with more maturity that could then invite a different response, etc.

      And while we may not remain friends with all ex’s, we most likely tried harder to “fix” things before the final break-up. I’m advocating more that we be willing to see the nuance in our relationships and that it doesn’t always have to be all-or-nothing, or a cut off without trying repairs. Hope that helps?

      • Sutton says:

        I put it all out there, my reasons, my feelings etc. Had the hard face to face confrontation. In my case, it didn’t help. The only friendship I ever ended without explaining, without a face to face last attempt, etc was with someone who was telling mutual friends horrible lies about my husband. Although I knew why she was projecting ( long term abusive marriage), I still felt this crossed a line that was unrepairable. Trust is critical to any relationship, if you can’t trust someone on even a minimal level, there is no point in maintaining connection. I would not advocate permanently ending any friendship due to just “annoying” factors. We can ALL be annoying during different phases of our lives. But truly toxic: unsafe with children, chronic lying, chronic jealousies/controlling behaviors, undermining your life . . . etc, are a different issue. And the truth is, sometimes you are simply not aware of a serious flaw until you have encountered it. It is possible to become friends and have a long term friendship without knowing that someone is capable of some things. Once you become aware, it can undermine any ability to trust them. But I guess what I am advocating for, is our freedom to protect ourselves from ongoing harm. I do understand about moving an overly draining or negative friend to a slot with less time and interaction, but I think the toxic list can and does include a wider span regarding that last element in your list: willfully hurting us. Intent is hard to prove, but not impossible. I completely agree that everything is not black and white, I think there are tremendous shades of gray. And navigating friendships and life as a whole, comes with challenges and rewards.

        • Renee says:

          Sutton – Just curious about a couple of things….”last attempt, etc was with someone who was telling mutual friends horrible lies about my husband” (like what? what was your existing relationship? long time friend? acquaintance?)

          unsafe with children (yours or hers) chronic lying (to who. about what), chronic jealousies/controlling behaviors, undermining your life (undermining your life? really?)

          If you’re not comfortable with the details, I understand

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  6. Sharon says:

    I don’t think Shasta is ruling out clean breaks, she’s just putting a couple other options on the table for friends that start off on the right-hand side. If you’ve been committed friends, it might be good to move some negative people down to Common friends before breaking with them completely. I have been untangling a set of six fairly close but negative friends and found that I did, in fact, need to make a clean break with one of them. But another two I have put more energy into and repaired the Committed friendship and another three I have just moved to Common friends. As a bit of a paradox, the two with whom I’ve really re-engaged are both in tough spots right now (depression and death in the family) but they were actually the ones who responded the best to my outreach.

    • ShastaGFC says:

      Sharon– I REALLY appreciate you sharing some personal examples of how it can play out! Thank you! :) Best to you as you keep navigating those waters!

  7. Cathie says:

    Good point by Sutton, above. No one ever suggests one remains in contact with past romantic relationships, but for some reason, the message here is to maintain contact (to some degree) with our platonic relationships. Why?

  8. ShastaGFC says:

    Cathie– I’m not advocating staying in touch with everyone as much as I am advocating that we be willing to see the nuance in each relationship and recognize that it doesn’t always have to be all-or-nothing, or a cut off without trying repairs. For while we may not remain friends with all ex’s, we are most likely to try harder/longer to “fix” things before the final break-up. Very few romantic relationships end without several hard talks first… sometimes those talks save relationships and increase intimacy. A few of those talks could save (and make more meaningful!) many of our friendships! Does that help? This is not to say that every friendship stays in your life.

  9. Nina says:

    Thank you for posting this blog and I wish I had read it earlier! I grew up in a household where complaining was the way one “made conversation”. I have been working on this, because I know that it feels very “toxic” when someone is doing it to me–simply complaining all the time. I went to my first girlfriend circle the other night and realized I’m still doing it!! In my effort to “create” closeness I fell back on my old ways–telling every horrible story in excruciating detail. Thankfully, some of the other women kindly helped me stop, by gently reminding me things were okay now.

    I learned a lot about myself and how I interact with people from this circle, and realized all that I do when I meet with another friend I have is complain about things. That’s not somebody I would want to be around. Of course we can all share negative things in our life, but I learned that evening that, for me, it cannot be the whole conversation. I am learning how to “be” with others and enjoy a “women’s group” without reliving every unfortunate event of my life. I am so happy to have found Girlfriend Circles because in one evening I learned a lot about myself and how I deal with being socially awkward. I look forward to more get togethers so I can learn (at 50!) how to socially interact without turning people off.

    Thank you so much for this opportunity to meet new women, to be a part of a women’s group, and to learn how not to be the “toxic” friend.

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I always love to hear your ideas, wisdom, and questions! What do you think?