Though your love life may take up much of your time and energy, platonic relationships also play a significant role in overall happiness and emotional wellbeing. A toxic friendship is draining and distressing. For many of us, friendships are a primary relationship, and we interact with friends more than we do with family members or even romantic partners. Friendships often span long periods of our lives and it’s common to have friendships dating back to your childhood, high school or college years.
Just as with any type of relationship, a friendship requires mutual respect and effort. A healthy friendship is filled with kindness, support and companionship. While you may experience the occasional rough patch or disagreement, you should generally feel a sense of comfort, ease and contentment in your friendships. If you notice that you’re feeling anxious around a friend, stop and ask yourself why. These feelings of discomfort shouldn’t be ignored and are usually your body’s way of telling you that something is wrong.
Here are five of the most common signs of an unhealthy or toxic friendship.
Competition in a Toxic Friendship
A bit of healthy competition can go a long way in helping you to reach your goals. For example, friends who workout together can push each other to remain motivated on a fitness journey. Competition becomes unhealthy when a friend is always trying to “one-up” you or minimize your achievements. A toxic friend is always trying to “win” and will compare aspects of your life to theirs. Examples include competing for the attention of a potential romantic partner or trying to prove that they are more financially stable or professionally successful.
Friends should support each other and there should be no feelings of unhealthy competition between friends. If you get the sense that your friend is threatened by your success, this could be the sign of an unhealthy dynamic or toxic friendship.
Bullying or Teasing
While “roasting” or good-natured teasing between friends can be fun, it should not go as far as bullying. If your friend’s teasing is mean-spirited or if they touch on a topic that’s known to be extra sensitive, this is a definite red flag. Your friend should not cause you to feel embarrassed in front of others and their “jokes” should not hurt your feelings.
It’s possible that your friend may not be aware of the effect they are having on you. Have a conversation about it. If your friend tells you to “lighten up” or says you’re being too sensitive, this is a relationship that you may want to reconsider. A good friend would never intentionally harm you or ignore a request to stop saying hurtful things.
Friends should respect your boundaries and should not cause you to feel uncomfortable or violated. This can show up in many ways. It can be as simple as repeatedly trying to convince you to do something you’ve said you don’t want to do. Maybe they’re always bringing up a topic that they know is triggering or upsetting for you. Invasions of privacy such as reading your journal or going through your phone are unacceptable. Time-based boundaries are disrespected when a friend keeps calling you during times you’ve told them you are unavailable due to work or family obligations. Emotional boundaries are disrespected when someone keeps pushing you to talk about something you are not comfortable discussing.
When your boundaries are disrespected, it can trigger feelings of anxiety and frustration. If this kind of behavior continues even after clearly communicating your needs, you may wish to detach from this person.
Peer Pressure in a toxic friendship
A good friend will not try to pressure you into doing something you don’t want to do. This can take the form of pressuring you to go to an event when you’ve said you’d rather stay home. Maybe they’ve tried to convince you to drink, smoke or try drugs when that’s not really your thing. Friends should respect your preferences and decisions and should not try to impose their will on you.
On the other hand, positive peer pressure can be a very healthy and helpful aspect of a friendship. Friends can push each other to study hard, exercise, get out of debt or save money. It’s always a good sign when friends inspire you to make positive or healthy changes in your life.
Jealousy is a normal human emotion and doesn’t automatically indicate a toxic or unhealthy friendship. The red flag is in the way the jealousy is handled. Let’s say your friend just landed an amazing new job, while you’ve been job hunting for months without success. It’s completely understandable that you may feel a twinge of jealousy or envy, though you’re happy for your friend. In a healthy friendship, you should be able to say “I’m super happy about your new job, but I’m bummed with how my job search is going.” Your friend should be able to emotionally support you through your job hunt, while you celebrate their new job. Jealousy and envy become unhealthy when they turn into resentment, sabotage or belittlement.
The other side of this coin is that friends should not try to make you jealous. A good friend would not deliberately brag about their new job because they want you to feel badly about your job hunt. A friend should exercise sensitivity in moments like these. There should be a healthy balance between sharing their good news and commiserating with you.
Have you been feeling unfulfilled, uncomfortable or disrespected in your friendships? Do you want to learn how to set boundaries and build more meaningful connections? By working with a therapist, you’ll have an objective and professional third party helping you to evaluate your relationships. If you choose to end a friendship, it’s a good idea to have professional support as you navigate the aftermath. Contact us today to schedule your first session.
Codependency is an unhealthy dynamic that can appear in any kind of relationship. Simply put, a codependent relationship is one where one person is always getting their needs met, while the other person thrives off the feeling of being needed. The second person is considered the codependent partner because their moods, behaviors and sense of identity are all dependent on the other person’s reliance on them. They need to be needed. Both parties enable each other and this kind of dynamic often persists for many years. Eventually, they become so enmeshed that they are no longer able to function independently or to have a sense of identity that is not tied to the relationship and to the other person.
The term “codependency” was originally used to describe the relationship between substance abusers and good-intentioned loved ones who ultimately enable the behavior. Now we know that codependency can be present in all kinds of relationships, and in circumstances where substance abuse is not an issue. Though codependency is most common in romantic relationships, it can also manifest in platonic friendships and familial relationships.
There are many factors that can lead to the development of a codependent personality. A common cause of codependency in adulthood is a dysfunctional or traumatic childhood. Children whose emotional needs were unmet become adults who believe that their needs are not important. Children who were put under tremendous pressure to perform or impress their parents become adults who constantly seek external validation.
Unless there is a deliberate effort to change, a person with a codependent personality will continue to exhibit this behavior with other people in subsequent relationships throughout their life. Working with a therapist is one of the most effective ways to identify how codependency shows up in your life and determine possible root causes. By working with a mental health professional, you can learn to overcome codependent behavior so you can have healthier, more fulfilling relationships.
What does codependency look like? Here are a few traits that are characteristic of people with codependent personalities.
Difficulty making decisions without external input
At its core, codependency stems from an impaired sense of identity. Someone with a codependent personality focuses most of their energy on other people, while neglecting their own needs. They often consider other people’s comfort or preferences ahead of their own, which can easily result in feeling like their needs and opinions are not important. Over time, this tends to result in a lack of trust in your own judgment and your ability to make the best decisions for yourself. You rely more on external input than your own knowledge.
While it’s normal (and often smart) to consult with trusted friends and relatives regarding major decisions, only you know what’s best for you. Only you will have to live with the aftereffects of your decisions. Trust that you are wise enough to make decisions and strong enough to handle whatever comes next.
Inability to set healthy boundaries
Codependency can be described as a repeated pattern of exercising poor boundaries. People with a codependent personality typically put other people’s needs ahead of their own, making it difficult to say no or otherwise assert yourself. This can begin showing up in everyday interactions, such as being afraid to ask a stranger to stop standing so close to you or being fearful of telling coworkers that you will not be available for calls on the weekend. By learning how to set and enforce healthy boundaries, you are taking a major step towards overcoming codependency.
Feeling a need to always be in a relationship
Codependency stems from a poor sense of self and a need to control or fixate on other people. It’s also characterized by tying your feelings of self-worth to the opinions of others or your ability to take care of someone else. Without this source of validation, codependent people are often unable to find a sense of wholeness or purpose. When faced with solitude, they may start feeling very uncomfortable, as codependent behavior is usually an attempt to avoid yourself, your thoughts and your life. For this reason, codependent people are always searching for another source of external validation to distract themselves.
A pattern of taking on the problems of others
It’s very common for codependent people to feel an obligation to save or protect others. They will become consumed by the other person’s problems and feel as though it’s their responsibility to find or create solutions. This behavior often coincides with the codependent person neglecting their own problems or needs. What may have been intended as a well-meaning offer of assistance can result in controlling or possessive behavior as you seek to solve the problems of others.
Sometimes, a codependent person may link their own self-worth to the successes and failures of others. This results in an even greater investment in “fixing” other people, because it creates a feeling of accomplishment.
Feeling guilty for asserting yourself
Because codependents are always putting others before themselves, it can be nearly impossible for them to put themselves first. Situations requiring assertiveness may cause a deep sense of dread or anxiety. Even after they take the plunge, they often feel like they’ve done something wrong or bad or that they will be punished for speaking up.
It’s not unusual to be afraid to assert yourself, but if you’re left with a feeling of guilt or shame, you may be exhibiting a sign of codependency. Deep down, codependent people do not believe that their needs matter as much as those of other people. This is why asserting needs is so difficult for those with a codependent personality.
Recovery from Codependency
If you’ve recognized signs of codependency in your relationships, it’s a good idea to work with a therapist to address and overcome this dynamic. By tackling codependency in your individual therapy sessions, you will notice not only a reduction in codependent thoughts and behaviors, but also increased confidence and self-esteem as you discover your own worth, independent of anyone else’s approval.
For couples who wish to work together to repair a codependent relationship, couple’s counseling provides a safe, supportive environment for growth and healing.
The therapists at Flourish Psychology are trained in a variety of treatment modalities that can be used to address and modify codependent patterns. Contact us today to schedule your first session.