Susan Shapiro Barash, author of Toxic Friends: The Antidote for Women Stuck in Complicated Friendships, on how to tell when your friendship is unhealthy … and how to disengage.
The colloquial term "frenemy" was coined to describe a complicated relationship wherein a person causes a friend such pain and anguish that there is a blur between this person being your "friend" or "enemy." Why is it so hard to tell the difference between the two opposite words that society had to create a fuzzy word to describe a shade of gray? For one, our parents didn't raise us with built-in "bad friend sensors" because our girlfriends are different to us than they were to our mothers or grandmothers, explains Susan Shapiro Barash, a nationally regarded gender expert and author of Toxic Friends: The Antidote for Women Stuck in Complicated Friendships , an upcoming tome on dealing with female relationships.
With advances in communication technologies, such as Skype and Facebook , women have been able to move farther away from their mothers and siblings in pursuit of their careers and families. And during the process, women sought the comfort of nearby friends on whom to depend, as though they shared the same DNA.
"My grandmother didn't need a book like this," Shapiro tells us. "Her family didn't live three thousand miles away. Today, what women look for in female friendships is what they would look for in a relationship with their mother or sister."
Additionally, our grandmothers weren't going to restaurants to meet with girlfriends to talk about their sex lives, careers and health. According to Barash, it appears that these types of gatherings grew from women who sought the deep connections seen on popular television series, such as "Sex & The City" and "Friends." Shows that highlighted female kinships that are just as strong - if not tighter - than family ties have become a model for real-life social circles and in turn women have grown to trust friends with very private matters. It's also natural for women to turn to the comfort of friends when they grow older and lose their mothers, sisters and significant others.
Hence, friends have become a fabric of our lives - which also explains why it hurts us so when a friendship is fraught with confusion, heartache and tears. Let's face it: A mean friend is just as scarring as a bad mother or husband. This is similar to the conclusion made by Barash, which compelled her to explore the key components of damaging relationships and also provide women advice on how to detect such harmful friendships. Here we asked Barash to share with us the signs of a toxic friendship - and how to disengage.
The 9 Signs You're in a Toxic Friendship
1) Your friend is jealous of you. Jealousy is different than envy and the first can be very toxic for the relationship. Jealousy is: "I want what you have and I want you dead or disappeared." Envy is just: "I want what you have." A jealous friend will want to cut you out of her life because she really wants what you have and can't stand to be around you anymore. An envious friend will want what you have, but will look to you as her inspiration or role model, and compete with you to get in the lead.
2) Your friend is a "doormat": It's tiring to always be with someone who is so malleable.
3) Your friend wasn't there for you. It's sometimes hard to see if a friend is really a true pal until there is a life-changing moment in your life that requires the person's support. This eye-opening event is called The Inciting Incident, which is when everything is going along fine, until wham! someone gets sick, or loses their job, or gets married or loses a loved one, and you find that the friend you thought would be by your side isn't there for you at all. She doesn't celebrate your good news nor does she help you in times of need. For some women it takes an "inciting incident" to finally notice that a friend is toxic.
4) Your friend is draining you: You feel you're psychologically and emotionally giving all your energy to her and receiving nothing in return.
5) You don't share the same values or the same world view: It's a red flag that this isn't the right friend for you if you don't respect her for who she is. I interviewed a woman who wished her friend's husband ill. It made the married woman realize that her friend's behavior is nothing like her own.
6) You are using one another: This type of toxic relationship develops among socialites. You want to be friends with your neighbor because your children attend the same private school and you can coordinate a carpool. Will the friendship last? Maybe. Is there really a friendship between the mothers or is it just using? Is it worth turning this friendship into anything more than an agreement?
7) The relationship offers no return on investment: This is similar to a friend who is draining you - but this isn't just an emotional give and take. If you are the one calling your friend to make plans and going out of your way to be with her, but she makes no attempt to go out of her way for you, then she's not meeting you halfway.
8) Your friend is harming someone else or doing something illicit. Do you want to be associated with someone who is morally unjust? That's a judgment call on your part.
9) Your friend burdens you with a secret: Your friend trusts you by sharing the details of her affair, but keeping the secret has weighed on you emotionally. You might want to keep your distance. If you're too close to this woman and the secret is really impacting your life for the worse, it's time to disengage yourself.
How to Disengage: If any of these signs describes one of your friendships, it's likely to be a toxic relationship that's burdensome to not just your sanity but hers as well. You could deliberately distance yourself and let the relationship fizzle into oblivion. If you would like to renegotiate the relationship and improve the friendship, have an honest conversation to reveal how you feel. You'll risk losing this person, but the reward could be improving the quality of the friendship. Honesty is the best policy. Say: "I'm really upset you didn't do this and this. And I needed you there to do this and this."
Tell us: Is there a 10th sign of a toxic friend? Have you been in a toxic relationship? If so, how did you break it off?
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