It's time to sever ties with those friends who bring you down more than they build you up. Here's how to identify the culprits and make the cuts
Good friends are precious. (Obvious, right?) Having chums you rely on, trust and relish being with has plenty of benefits (aside from them understanding your cryptic emoji-filled texts). "Strong social support has been associated with increased longevity, a boosted immune system and lower rates of depression," says Andrea Bonior, a Washington-based psychologist and author of The Friendship Fix, who hosts a weekly live chat about relationships on washingtonpost.com. What's more, a 2017 study in the journal Personal Relationships found that while family life adds to happiness and well-being, connections with pals have a greater impact later in life. The thing is, not all bonds are made to last. If a bestie is bumming you out more than lifting you up, it might be time to break up. Here are red flags that signify your pal has gone from friend to foe, and how to handle a harmful relationship.
TOXIC TIP-OFF: She brings you down.
No one's saying she has to be super perky 24/7. But it goes without saying (and definitely bears repeating) that if her constant negativity and lousy attitude are beginning to get to you, watch out. If you notice that hanging out leaves you feeling crummy more often than not, it's likely time for some distance, says Suzanne Degges-White, an Illinois-based counsellor and coauthor of Toxic Friendships: Knowing the Rules and Dealing With the Friends Who Break Them.
TOXIC TIP-OFF: She refuses to celebrate your successes.
Whether you've earned a promotion at work, your child has reached an important milestone or you've hit a long-awaited fitness goal, it's a problem when friends cannot or will not revel with you in those thrilling "ups" in your life and truly enjoy your achievements, says Degges-White. Real pals aren't into letting jealousy rear its ugly head. Instead, friends "witness your changing life and want to know the depth of what you're experiencing," says Maria Schmid, a Calgary-based psychologist. Friends should brag about you, not bitch about you.
TOXIC TIP-OFF: She takes and takes (and takes).
Let's be honest: A moocher will do little for you besides take advantage of your friendship—getting in touch when she needs a ride; conveniently forgetting to bring her wallet to the restaurant (again); and needing your shoulder to cry on, your hand to hold and your advice and companionship when it's favourable for her. But when the tables are turned and you need her, she's MIA. Not cool, says Bonior. "If you don't feel that the friendship is reciprocal, there's a major imbalance in what one person is giving versus what the other is giving," she says.
TOXIC TIP-OFF: She's never present.
She won't give you the time of day because she's forever fixed on her smartphone, a television or anything else that's not your face, even when you're desperately trying to engage in conversation. Friends who stand the test of time are present, says Schmid. "Their actions should reflect respect and show you they see you, hear you and are thankful for you."
TOXIC TIP-OFF: You're spending more time sidestepping than seeing her.
Alarm bells should be ringing if you avoid seeing her in person or you purposely don't respond to her phone calls or texts tout de suite, says Degges-White. And for those occasions when you do get together (these times are bound to be fewer and farther between, by the way), or if you happen to bump into her, Bonior says it will feel like a chore and end up doing little more than exhaust you.
TOXIC TIP-OFF: You're not yourself when you're with her.
Bonior says a friend who does more harm than good can turn you into someone you don't recognize—or even like—when you're with her. Both your mental and physical health can suffer if you're spending time with a person who has a nasty attitude and engages in bad habits. For example, a 2011 study by U.S. researchers found that nearly half of respondents (43 percent) believed their friends and family had the most impact on their health and lifestyle. Perhaps more tellingly, less than one-third of those surveyed (31 percent) proactively distance themselves from friends who engage in unhealthy behaviour.
TOXIC TIP-OFF: She gives you friendship whiplash.
She's hot and cold. She comes and goes. She's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. This is the friend you'll find yourself tiptoeing around, forever walking on eggshells. If that analogy doesn't do it for you, this is the friendship that makes you feel like you're on a roller-coaster that just won't end. Need another cliché? She's like a box of chocolates; you never know what you're going to get. This is just one more example, says Bonior, of someone who "actively causes stress and drama that's detrimental to your health, making the 'friendship' have the opposite effect than it should."
TO SAVE OR NOT TO SAVE?
The big question: Is it worth trying to salvage a friendship with a crummy chum, or should you sever all ties before she drags you down further and goes from friend to frenemy? It depends on the type of friendship you have with her, says Degges-White. "When a formerly strong, rewarding or instrumental friendship sours, it's definitely time to bring up a discussion concerning your feelings surrounding the changes. Sometimes friendships hit bumps along the way, as any intimate relationship might," she says. "If it's a pal whose presence in your life you value, being up front about your concerns early on is the best path." If not, or if having the talk yields no results, it may be time to cut ties, guilt-free. Degges-White says these techniques can help: Don't drag it out; don't "ghost," unless you really only communicate via social media or text; own your feelings by using "I" statements; and avoid collateral damage. "If other friends may feel the need to take sides, approach them as soon as possible, so potentially tricky social situations can be prevented," she says. "In the case of mutual friends, be prepared for some casualties."