Unhealthy Relationships

All Those "Unhealthy People" Drive Me Crazy

It's all too easy to point fingers and feel frustrated at those people in our lives who don't live up to our expectations.  After all, they are our friends who are supposed to "do anything for me" and "if I can't count on them, then who can I trust?" and "I'm tired of being the one who always gives and never gets" and "I don't have to put up with this unacceptable behavior." We feel incredibly justified that we aren't asking for too much and that we deserve to have our needs met by those around us. I'm Not a Fan of This Trend in Blaming Everyone Else....

But I'm going to take an incredibly unpopular stance today and put myself in the shoes of the friends who are disappointing and annoying you.

What has become more clear to me in recent weeks as I've been listening to everyone around me is that this "kicking the toxic people to the curb" and "saying no to people who drain me" is all the rage.  It's like a diet trend where everyone seems to be popping the same pill.

Everyone is pointing to someone else as annoying, toxic, or draining; as though we're the only healthy and sane person left. We go around and tell the stories of these "crazy" people so that our ego has a chance to relive all the evidence we are collecting that ultimately will assure us that the problem is them, not us.

Let's start with a few real life scenarios:

1)   Last week, one of my girlfriends was telling a story about her boss who does something that annoys her.  And I thought to myself... "Eeeks, if I were your boss I could see myself doing that too!" (I mean, it wasn't an awful thing he was doing, it just wasn't what she wanted at the time.) Which got me thinking how much, if I were him, I'd want to know that my response was upsetting someone when my intentions were the exact opposite.  But, like most of us, we'd rather chalk that up to one more piece of evidence that our boss sucks and go complain on the couch with girlfriends, as opposed to telling the boss that when he does x it feels like x.

2)   I recently read a column about a woman complaining about one of her friends who annoyed her because she seemed to always want more time with her (which, mind you, was fine with her when she as single, but less acceptable now that she was dating someone) and then the last straw was she hadn't offered to come help pack up boxes when she was moving. These actions were disappointing and unacceptable to her. I immediately thought "Yes in an ideal world, I'd be packing up boxes next to you, but if I had sensed that you weren't wanting to be around me as much, had a new relationship to help you, and you hadn't expressed a need to have help packing, I may not have thought to call and take a day off work to do that with you. Especially if I have my own feelings hurt." It's a classic misunderstanding where they are both hurting and experiencing transition in their friendship-- no one is actively trying to wound the other, they simply both want more from the other. Rather than talk about it, here is the woman saying this is ending their relationship, it's the "last straw" that proves what a horrible friend this woman really is.

3)   Yesterday I was coaching a client who shared with me a story of how upset he was with the actions of someone in his life.  In the sharing of the story I realized that this other person undoubtedly doesn't even know how upset or hurt my client is. The mistake wasn't some huge grievance that we'd all agree was wrong, as much as it was more an issue of my client not feeling needed, validated and appreciated. And yet his anger is palpable.

Not Major Infractions, Just Miscommunications!

In all three cases, there is no doubt in the minds of the people relaying the story that the problem is with the other person.  Every single one of them devalued the subject of their dramas as being selfish, mean, toxic, annoying, or unhealthy.

In all three cases, I only know the side of the story of the one who is frustrated.  And, I validate all their frustrations.  They do deserve to have people who make them feel known, heard, loved, and appreciated.  I want that for all of them. I want them to have friends and colleagues who offer, give, and meet their needs.

However, in none of these cases are we talking about someone sleeping with your boyfriend, hitting your child, stealing your money, talking bad about you behind your back, or anything else we'd all agree was morally wrong.  I purposely left the sins vague to ensure privacy, but none of these were examples of people trying to hurt the other.We're talking about unmet expectations.

And in all cases-- not just unmet, but also, unknown.

I could easily be the person that all three of the tellers of those stories hate. :(

Does Disappointment Stem from Their Actions? Or Your Expectations?

Think about the situation right now that frustrates you the most. Is it a clear-cut "they did wrong" situation, or is it possible they just didn't do it the way you wanted?

Expectations. Also known as the Devil. Especially if you're the only one who knows what they are.

I'm becoming more aware of how frequently we get our feelings hurt due to the meaning we assign to someone's behavior more than to their actual behavior. We are tempted to think that their actions, of lack of them, means those people don't care, are selfish, or aren't good friends. Which could potentially be a bit of a jump?

With my people-pleasing tendencies, the only thing worse than disappointing you, is disappointing you without knowing I did. To think of me doing something with good intentions and having it misconstrued (as is the case in #1) or to not know what your needs were and what would have most mattered to you (as could be the case in #2) or to simply not be reaching out to you in the ways that make you feel most validated (as is the case in #3)-- I could most certainly be guilty on all counts.

So much of what's upsetting us isn't actual wrong-doing, it's feeling like people should just be like us and do things the way we think is best.  We're getting our panties all twisted because people aren't living up to our unknown expectations....

Which leaves me wondering if the greater problem isn't on us for better clarifying our needs rather then on them for not just guessing them?

What could happen if we said "How can I show up differently in this relationship to possibly get a different result?" What would happen if we sweetly reminded ourselves that there might be other interpretations to their actions?  And is it possible that they actually feel the same way, disappointed by you? Would it have helped if you had made a request of them rather than felt hurt that they didn't read your mind?

I know it's not popular for me to defend the ones you're trying to vilify.  I just wanted to give a gentle reminder that most people aren't trying to disappoint you. And most of them don't even know they are.

Show some love and grace and honest conversation, my friends!

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Want More Reading?

Two articles I wrote for Huffington Post last year on a similar subject: Four Consequences to Labeling a Friend Toxic and then Toxic Friendship? Or Can You Work Toward Frientimacy?

Healthy Friendship: How to Be the Best Friend Possible

Note from Shasta: For Friendship Month this September I’ve invited some women to guest blog for me, adding their voices and experiences to our journey.  Today I'm hosting two posts: one from a therapist highlighting four qualities of emotionally safe friendships, and the other from someone who has never written a blog but was willing to share how she's learned this in her own life. Thanks to both Lisa Brookes Kift and Kelly Cape! _____________________________

What is Emotional Safety?

by Lisa Brookes Kift

Emotional safety is the level of comfort two people feel between each other – and though I’ve written much about how couples can benefit from this, let’s take a look at how this translates to friendship and ways you can be the best friend possible.

Because emotional and relationship health are so intertwined it’s important to take stock of not only how you behave with your friends but how you feel around them.  Do you support and lift each other up?

Not everyone is clear in their understanding of what qualities make up a healthy, nurturing, supportive friendship.  This lack of clarity may be the result of never being modeled this type of relationship.  Whatever the case, it’s never too late to take stock of the people in your life – and how they experience you as well.

Emotionally safe friendships have some things in common.  These friends typically:

  • Listen well and attempt to understand where the other is coming from – rather than dismiss, appear disinterested or shift the topic back to them.
  • Offer validation and empathy when appropriate – rather than behave without compassion when sensitivity is required.
  • Respect each other and are supportive - rather than be competitive and undermining.
  • Trust each other and feel safe – rather than be unsure of whether the other is there only when it suits them.

Human beings are relational.  We are born seeking secure attachment with our primary caregivers and we continue to seek emotional safety through-out our lives, with our partners and friends.

I am very grateful to have a group of girlfriends who I feel totally at home with.  Some go back as far as kindergarten and a few I’ve made in the last five years or so.  The friendships I put the most energy into are the ones where there is a mutual felt sense of being able to truly relax, be ourselves and know that neither of us would do anything to harm the other.  It just feels safe.

It’s like being wrapped in a fuzzy, warm blanket on a cold, winter’s day.

This is a little of what emotionally safe friendships feel like to me.  Just like intimate relationships require effort to maintain, the same goes for friendships.  You get what you give.

Lisa Brookes Kift, MFT is the author of The Premarital Counseling Workbook for Couples and The Marriage Refresher Course Workbook for Couples.  She’s also the creator of The Toolbox at LisaKiftTherapy.com with tools for marriage, relationship and emotional health.  Lisa has a private practice working with individuals and couples in Larkspur, California. Twitter:@LisaKiftTherapy

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What I've Learned About Becoming Emotionally Safe

by Kelly Cape

When one friendship door closes, another opens.  But, unfortunately it has to hit you on the ass first.

I didn’t truly realize this until recently.  I’ve always hated goodbyes. And I cherish having lots of friends, especially close friends.  You know what I mean: the ones who know you in-and-out, and vice versa.

So naturally I felt reluctant to end a friendship even if I wasn’t getting anything out of it.  But because I never wanted to say goodbye, I confused myself into thinking that was because it was feeding me, even if it wasn't!  Hmm... a curious ego-driven, self-fulfilling cycle indeed. Sometimes, even as the friendships were in full swing, the connections I felt seemed forced or awkward.  Meaning that for me, I wasn’t getting exactly what I wanted in the way of a reciprocal friendship but I ignored my gut and just forged ahead making more plans for the next dinner or movie.  If these gals were spending time with me then I was getting something rewarding in return, right?

Well, it wasn’t until a fall-out with two separate friends in overlapping periods of time in my life that made me rethink what friendship meant to me and forced me to have my aha moment of discovery.  This experience took me down the necessary path of self-introspection, ultimately leading me to new enlightenment and more fulfilling friendships.  And most importantly, this included the most significant friendship of all—the one with myself.

I realized that I consciously contributed in the friendships’ demise because I felt needy (hence forcing myself even with internal alarms going off—danger, danger!) and desperate to keep these friendships at almost any cost.  In turn that fear gave off negative vibes.  Additionally, I was also unwilling to listen to my heart that told me I was putting in way more than what I was getting.

And it wasn’t just about ego.  I was keeping these friendships alive at the expense of my self-esteem and value as a person and as a friend. Which wasn’t doing service to them either because when I spent time with them, I wasn’t being fully honest or authentic.  I discovered that felt more awful than pretending I was their BFF.

After a lot of journaling, grieving and healing, I have since become not only a more grounded person, but also a more genuine and present friend, which naturally brings about positive and joyful reciprocity.  I listen to me more now and let go of forcing or acting like someone I’m not just to have friends, or to be invited to a party.

And as the Universe does so profoundly, I “coincidentally” and effortlessly have forged a wonderful new friendship that is both light-hearted and meaningful at the same time.  We are our genuine, honest selves with each other and we laugh a lot together.  My friendships of the past are gone... but never forgotten.  The lessons they taught me will live on and be carried in me with each new budding friendship.

Kelly Cape, 41-years old, lives in Campbell, CA where she consistently strives for an expansive life, including learning to follow her bliss—personally and professionally.  This is her first blog.