022. Toxic Friendship or Necessary Endings?
Welcome to the newest series, “Dear Blake.” Every month, I’ll be tackling a question from a reader and sharing thoughts, wisdom, and questions that invite you to think critically and curiously about the topic at hand.
Topics range from sexuality to workday productivity to mental-health.
The range is purposefully wide because the nuances of being human are increasingly deep. If you’d like to ask a “Dear Blake” question, you can submit one here!
A reader asked a question that you’ll be able to read below about toxic friendships
To give this topic the space it needs, I’ve broken this down into three parts. This week, we will kick it off by looking at the difference between toxic friendships and necessary endings.
Next week, we will look at those warning signs of a toxic friendships and some pitfalls we can all be mindful of.
Lastly, we will close this topic out by exploring ways to walk away and heal from a toxic friendship. Each part will have curious questions at the bottom of the post so you can explore your story in greater depth. Plan to tuck away 20-30 minutes to spend time journaling. If right this minute isn’t the best time, screen shot the questions and plan a time to go through them this week.
As Sister Glennon says, “We can do hard things!” So let’s get to it!
I recently realized I was in a toxic friendship. I had no idea and wish I saw the signs sooner. I’ve realized it’s not something ANYONE talks about. Help! How can I do a better job of identifying those early warning signs of a toxic friendship?
Wanting to be Toxic-Free
Dear Wanting to be Toxic-Free,
This is hard and you’re totally right. Toxic friendships seem like two words that shouldn’t go together. Yet they do and we can all do a better job of bringing this issue to the light.
Before we talk about what exactly a toxic friendship is, it seems important that we talk about some of the nuances of friendship first.
We are taught from the beginning that friendships lasting forever is the norm. Remember wearing the half of a “Best Friend” necklace or vying for the status of “best friend” growing up? I do. I was so proud to wear that necklace with my best friend. I positively adored her. To know that she felt the same way about me was the cherry on top of a very sweet relationship.
Friends forever, right?
What if that’s not the whole story or rather it’s a story that has more complexity to it.
On my last day of grad school, my most beloved professors stood up at the front and said this sentence that has stayed with me since. She said, “We spend a lot of time and energy on a good hello, but we spend very little time on a good goodbye.”
As a collective, we are uncomfortable with endings. We avoid goodbyes because we might show emotions, we stay on longer than we ought to because we lack courage to have difficult conversations, and we say yes to things we really want to say no to.
Endings are hard. Period. It’s important we know the difference between a friendship that has simply hit an expiration date and a friendship that is toxic.
It is possible to be in a relationship that isn’t toxic and still needs to end. That might look like a friendship where your values and priorities have shifted. It could look like a friendship where you had shared beliefs and over time one of you changed your beliefs and the friendship that used to fit together seamlessly, now feels pressured and strained. Friendships end all the time when we move away, get married, have babies, change jobs, etc.
Think about all of the weddings that you’ve been in and the people who were in your wedding. You likely aren’t as close with every single one of them now.
In true Marie Kondo fashion, the question could then become, how can I thank and honor this friendship for what it has been and let it go? I don’t want to make it sound like friendships ought to become as easily discardable as a blouse we bought on a whim 3 years ago, but it is important that we grow in taking inventory of our friendships.
I want to invest in friendships that are sustaining. It’s important that I feel there’s mutual value and benefit in our friendship. The longest friendships I’ve had are ones that are adaptable and can change as we both change. We inspire each other to be the best version of ourselves we can be and aren’t afraid to call each other out when we aren’t living into our values. Those are friendships worth investing in to me.
If we are more vigilant to have rhythms where we examine our friendships regularly, we would be less likely to become intertwined in toxic patterns and friendships. That would give us more time and energy to devote to friendships that are life-giving and sustaining.
What are the three most important elements to YOU that make up a good, viable, and sustainable friendship?
Think about one of your best friends that you admire greatly. What traits about her do you admire? Be as specific as possible. There is always room to grow and develop as a friend. How can you implement some of the traits you love so much about your friend into your own rhythms and practices with friendships? Again, be as specific as possible.
Go back through your calendar and write down the friends you spent the most time with in the last few months. Now beside their names, jot down three things…
what you’re grateful for in this friendship
the “return on investment” is this a life-giving friendship or a life-draining friendship?
how’s it working for you, does anything need to change?
Of that list, did you notice any friends that came up that left you with concern, or you noticed they took up a lot of space that wasn’t helping you grow? Spend time writing down what’s concerning you, where you are feeling missed, and what you think you’re needing that you’re not getting.
Look back over the notes you’ve jotted down about your friendships and literally take inventory.
What friendships are great as is? What friendships need some investing? What friendships might fall into the category of necessary endings? Again, no need to make drastic changes overnight. Just let yourself write freely, see what comes up, and sit with it all for a few days before you decide what action you may or may not need to take.
In some cases, taking action could mean no action, you simply stop engaging with this friend. I know for a few of my own friendships that needed to end, no longer engaging with them was the best thing I could do for myself and for them. I got to redirect the energy and invest it in friendships that were working well and in spending time growing new ones. There are no hard and fast rules here.
And lastly, drop a handwritten letter in the mail to a friend of yours that you’ve realized has been one heck of a friend to you in this season. Thank them, be specific, and encourage the heck out of them! That’s mail we all love opening!
Feel free to leave a comment below to let me know how these words landed with you and what came up as you took a “friendship inventory.” Thanks for letting me be a fellow traveler on this being human journey, folks! I’ll see you next week with part two!