How to recognise you're in a toxic friendship - and what to do about it 2 months ago

How to recognise you're in a toxic friendship - and what to do about it

Toxic - it's the word of the decade.

And although the very concept can be used to describe almost anything in 2022, that doesn't mean that its effects can't still be very, very real.

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Although we often tend to associate toxic relationships with romance, in fact, any relationship can become toxic - even a friendship.

Fatmata Kamara, Specialist Nurse Adviser for Bupa UK tells Her that there aren’t any major differences between how a toxic friendship and a toxic romantic relationship operates. "They’re all rooted in the same principles: they’re consistently draining, make you feel worse about yourself, and consist of more negative interactions than they do positive," she says. 

"Those who have poor or toxic relationships are often found to be much unhappier, unhealthier and more socially isolated than those who have positive relationships, so it’s important to recognise the signs of toxicity and know how to manage them in a healthy way." 

More key signs of a toxic friendship include consistently feeling frustrated, not feeling heard, and not reaping any benefits from the friendship. While relationships aren't all about what you can gain, they should be beneficial to both parties in some ways - whether through support, love, or affection.

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Other traits include only getting in contact when they want something, making you feel second best, putting you down in front of other people, and generally bringing pain and upset into your life.

But how do you approach a friend if you fear their behaviour is negatively affecting you, and how do you even realise it in the first place?

"Realising that a friendship has become toxic can be difficult, especially if you’ve been friends for a long time," says Kamara. 

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"One option is to have a frank evaluation of your relationship and decide whether being a part of it is worth the damage that it’s causing to your self-esteem and wellbeing. If possible, it may be worth gradually limiting the amount of time you spend with them, especially if they’re making you feel unhappy or frustrated. 

"Alternatively, you can communicate your feelings with the person you’re in a relationship with. Together you can talk about what needs to change to make your relationship work better."

Naturally, many people will have reservations, or even fear, around approaching such a subject, especially if the friendship is still one that is wanted.

And while a relationship that has become toxic is no longer healthy, that doesn't mean that addressing the subject needs to be done so with malice, or even anger.

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Starting statements with "I feel," is less likely to make the person feel like they are being attacked, while openly discussing the problems and how they have made you feel could trigger a healthy dialogue on why the person may acting the way they are.

If you want a friendship to continue, a willingness to work together is key, says Kamara - as is an understanding that a shift may not happen immediately. 

However, if you feel like you can't approach a friend about their behaviour, it could be worth bringing in a third-party to get their perspective on the situation.

While many relationships can be repaired, there are always some that are best left let go.