my friend is toxic

How to Respond When You Feel Betrayed

On a pretty regular basis I hear so many of us share how we feel betrayed by our friends.  Have you felt betrayed by friends? Disappointed by their actions (or inactions)? Here are some examples I hear pretty frequently:

  • "We used to see each other at work all the time... now she never even reaches out to me."
  • "I can't believe she's not coming to my wedding. She says she doesn't have the time off work but if she really cared about me..."
  • "After my divorce, she stopped calling and inviting me to things..."
  • "She knew how important this event was to me, but you wouldn't have known it by her actions."
  • "When I needed friends the most... she was too busy. Guess she wasn't the friend I thought she was!"

Does that pain tempt you to want to pull away and protect yourself? Do you tend to devalue the other person and assume they're phony, fake, toxic, or not a good friend?

In this video-- I share with you some big things that have been rolling around in my heart on this topic for quite a while.  I challenge you to listen to them, hold them with a non-defensive heart, and consider what might be done to help foster a healthier relationship! 

xoxo

We're giving the wrong advice for "toxic" friendships!

When my Google alerts brought a recent Today Show article to my attention with the headline: Here's Another Good Reason Women Should Dump a Toxic Friend, I groaned, and then clicked. In short, the article highlights research showing that "as the amount of negativity in relationships increased, risk of hypertension [in women] also increased." two young girls in a fight

I do not argue against the research at all.  I know whole-heartedly that bad relationships contribute to an increase in risk of high blood pressure in women and can leave serious damage on our bodies.  In fact, we know that to be true of anything that is causing us stress.  I am a very big fan of healthy friendships.

But what I want to speak out against is the advice we dole out alongside this research.

When we plaster a headline that gives the directive to dump a friend on an article about how stressful relationships are hurting us, I am left asking, "Why does no one ever suggest figuring out how we can make this relationship less stressful?"

 

The Traditional Advice for Toxic Friends

For long time followers of this blog, you'll know that I am not a big fan of this trend in labeling each other toxic; nor the common advice that is given that seems to always be fraught with urgent and simplistic commands such as: "Kick her to the curb," "Dump her," "Detox from her," or "End it now!"

And seriously this stuff is on the rise.  It seems we live in a world where the advice is that you're healthiest or most mature when you simply eliminate all non-perfect people from your life. (But look at the most amazing people in the world-- Jesus, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, Jr., or Gandhi-- thank God they didn't hear this advice and instead chose to actually engage with and work alongside unhealthy people!)

It'd be one thing if we all had a plethora of amazing relationships, lived in meaningful community, and all felt tons of love in our lives-- then, by all means, I suppose you could get rid of the excess when it wasn't fun and joy-full.  But this advice is being given to an incredibly lonely world of women who are starving for meaningful friendships.  And we're neglecting to not only tell you that meaningful friendships come with some stress, but we're also not mentioning that the other way to eliminate unhealthy relationships is to show up differently and make them healthier!

An Alternative Approach to Toxic Friendships

I've mused about this before when inviting us to own that we are strong enough to be around unhealthy people, taught that it's not necessarily a person who is unhealthy, but an unhealthy pattern that has been developed in the relationship, and shown how I think we can decrease the expectations in unhealthy friendships as opposed to an all-or-nothing approach, but every time I see another expert using the fear of toxicity to encourage women to push each other away, I feel ever more convicted to be, what sometimes feels like, a lone voice continuing to offer a different perspective.

There are definite times when we must end our stressful relationships, or establish strong boundaries around them, so I'm not speaking out against giving women permission to break-up. What I am speaking out against is the popular tendency to make that ending as our first step, rather than as a last step. In most cases, we're at our personal "last straw" before we've ever even tried to improve it!

Step In Before Stepping Out

No one wants a stressful relationship in their life.  I get that.

But neither can we just go cutting out every relationship when it gets stressful!  Friction, disappointment, insecurity, guilt, jealousy, and crisis are a part of life (don't even get me started on how tired I am of this trend to "be happy all the time!") so therefore they are a part of relationships.

Rather than be shocked when our friendships aren't all laughter, cotton candy, and photo-perfect events, what would happen if we actually expected her to annoy us or disappoint us from time to time?  And then, more important than trying to avoid angst, we focus instead on figuring out how we want to respond to it when it does come up?

My invitation to anyone struggling in a friendship that has mattered to you is to make it a practice to step closer to that person, before stepping away.

In other words, acknowledge that some friendships get stronger after talking something through, and choose to play the odds that it could happen to this friendship. It might not, but it could.

I view my friendships as investments-- sacred containers where I have stored up time, energy, love, memories, and vulnerability.  Anyone who has started a business, or made an investment of some sort, knows that there will be times when it would definitely be the easy thing to just close up shop or walk away.  But you only do so after you feel you have done everything you could do to make it work.  We understandably want the investment to pay off.  I want that for your friendships, too!

It takes a long time to foster a friendship.  It doesn't happen overnight or easily.  So when the inevitable disappointments and frustrations show up, I have a commitment to put in as much energy in the saving of these relationships as I feel I have put in to the development of these relationships.  So for a new friend, someone on the Left-Side, someone I haven't invested a ton of time and energy with, I probably won't extend a ton of energy into saving what may barely be built.  But with long-time friends, or intimate and close friends, I am willing to step up, lean in, show up, and give it my all to see if we can find a place of mutual love again.

Awkward?  Probably.  Stressful? Indeed.  Unsure how to do it? Likely.

But it's also courageous, life-building, love-practicing, and emotionally deepening for us to figure it out.  This is where we get to practice being the loving people that we are!  This is where we either make a more beautiful relationship or grow because we tried!

Anytime there is a fight, an unmet need, a slow-boiling frustration, and repeated judgment in one of our friendships, we have the sacred opportunity to try to fix it, repair it, enhance it, and grow it before we end it.

So if I were the expert on the Today Show giving application to the research, I'd be quick to say, "This is awesome that we have this research that reminds us how damaging our stressful relationships can be on our bodies.  Hopefully that incentivizes us to practice our relational skills to see if we can make these relationships not only less stressful, but also more life-giving. Staying in relationships without establishing boundaries, stating our needs, or sharing with honesty isn't serving anyone."

When did trying to fix something that is broken turn into such rebellious advice?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Five Questions to Ask Before Ending a Friendship

Not all friendships last forever, in fact only about 1 in 12 friends end up being lifetime friends.  And even those friendships have to change and become something new many times over as we all go through various life stages and moves.  But all friendships are meant to enhance our lives and teach us new ways of loving people even if they don't last forever so we want to learn how to leave people better for having spent time with us. Very few people are actually "toxic" (a word we're throwing around waaay too easily these days!) but that is not to say that the friendship we co-created with them might not be meeting our needs anymore.

If we're starting to entertain the idea of our friend being toxic, then it is a good time to pause and answer the 5 questions below.  In many cases we're not so much mad at her for obvious "wrong-doings" she's done as much as we are disappointed at the unspoken expectations we have of her that she didn't live up to. We're just as likely to call a friend "toxic" for not calling us enough: "I always have to do all the work in our relationship!") as we are for a friend who calls too much ("She's insatiable!  She makes me feel guilty that I have a life and can't talk every day!

Seeing that it often has less to do with their actions and more to do with our expectations and current needs reminds us that there is room for mature conversations to help grow the friendship into something that brings joy to both individuals!

The Five Friendship Threats

The five friendship threats that I highlight in my book Friendships Don't Just Happen! are: blame, jealousy, judgment, neglect, and non-reciprocation.

Those five threats are the umbrella that every specific story of friendship frustration falls under, whether the judgment stems from us thinking she's dating the wrong guy or that we interpret her canceling our plans as "selfish."  And, unfortunately, they can't all be avoided.  The truth is that we're human, we have expectations of each other, and we have needs we want filled so we're bound to experience these threats from time-to-time.

What we can do is be aware that some frustration and disappointment is normal in relationships, that we're just as likely to be the subject of her annoyance as she is ours, and that the most important thing in these moments is deciding how we can best respond in ways that grow our friendship.

Five Questions to Ask Before Letting the Threats Lead to Demise:

Here are five questions that maturity invites us to ask before getting so frustrated with someone that we're at risk of walking away from them instead of being willing to repair a friendship to something more meaningful than we've ever before experienced:

  1. How can I show up a little more thoughtfully? Let’s first assume there is something we could do to enhance this friendship even if we feel she is the problem—what comes to mind?  In other words—she may be jealous and we don’t want to play smaller to avoid her jealousy, but could we affirm her more?  If we feel neglected, can we write her an email and say, “I miss you.  Can we schedule some time together?” Go past asking if she deserves it, and just simply brainstorm what could be done if you had to do something?
  2. Have I asked her what she needs?  While the next two questions are super important in helping us articulate what we need, I sometimes find that providing space to ask her what we could do in our relationship to bring her more happiness is a fabulous way to often change the dynamic. If we sense she's jealous or that she expects too much of us, sometimes simply allowing for that space to ask her can diffuse the problem, helping both of us navigate a path where we both feel more heard.  Maybe some form of, "I'm sensing that you're pulling away a bit (or feeling frustrated when we talk).. maybe I'm imaging it... But, I wanted to check in with you to see if there was anything I could do differently in our friendship to make it more meaningful for you right now?"  We often skip this step out of fear of hearing that we're not meeting a need or fear that we can't, or don't want to, meet the need we'll hear, but I've found that there is way less anger on both sides after she feels like we care enough to ask.  And it's completely acceptable to respond with a "Oh how I wish I could be that for you, but honestly I can't give that kind of time right now.  I am so sorry! Does it help that I'm still willing to x?"
  3. What is it I actually want from her?  For example, if we feel that we’re always the one giving more than the other (non-reciprocation), then pause and ask ourselves—what is it I actually want or need?  If she just noticed what I gave and thanked me, would that be enough?  Or is there a specific area I need her to give to me more?  Or do I need to know what I do for her that means the most so I don’t waste my time or money giving to her in ways that aren’t all that important to her? When I'm upset that I'm over-giving, is it because she's asking for too much or because I'm simply giving too much? What do I think I really need from her?  And try to answer it with specificity, but also with knowing the root reason.  In other words, instead of just saying ,"I need her to be there for me more," try to say, "I need her to call me at least once a week... because what I really need is to know that I matter to her and that she's thinking of me...."
  4. Have I already asked her for what I need? We so often end friendships without taking the time to let the other person know what we need or how we feel.  It doesn’t always have to be some big and difficult conversation as much as just some guidance where we can tell the other what’s more meaningful to us. If we feel frequently feel judged when she gives advice or opinions, then it’s appropriate to say, “I just need a friend to listen right now.  I don’t need anyone to try to fix this.”  If we feel like she's jealous of our activities and feels left out, then we can follow-up her silence or passive-aggressive statement with, "Are you okay? I just had this feeling like maybe I've upset you somehow?  I'd be so open to talking about it!"
  5. What could forgiveness look like in this situation? Sometimes, forgiveness means letting go of how we want someone to be in our lives and learning to love and enjoy them just as they are, trusting that they’ll keep growing and maturing along the way.  But sometimes forgiveness also means setting boundaries or limiting our exposure to those who have hurt us.  In this case, if it doesn’t have to be all or nothing, what kind of friendship might we still be able to enjoy?

If we feel we've owned our part, shown up with compassion and love for her own needs, and asked for what we've needed from the other and not gotten it-- then it may be time to let this friendship drift apart a bit.