Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart, and the pleasantness of a friend springs from their heartfelt advice. – Proverbs 27:9, NIV
The Proverb above echoes what surely most of us feel when we are in the presence of good friends. A good friend is more than just a companion through life’s joyful mountaintop experiences and the inevitable sorrows dark nights of the soul.A good friend helps to bring meaning to life. Without good friends, our lives would be impoverished. We all want good friends, and we ought to desire to be the kind of friend that brings refreshment to the soul, but that doesn’t always work out that way.
For any number of reasons, we can find ourselves enmeshed in unhealthy relationships that drain rather than refresh our souls. Sometimes we choose these relationships, and at other times the relationships devolve into a state of unhealthy. In either case, it helps to know what an unhealthy or toxic friendship is. Hopefully, if we know what they look like, we’ll take active steps to remedy the situation.
When you find yourself in a toxic friendship, you have a few options available to you. You can exit the relationship for good if things have deteriorated to such an extent that it’s detrimental to one or both of you. You can choose to take a break from one another while you work on the issues.
Alternately, you can work on the issues together and try to address the toxicity in your relationship. It will require wisdom and humility to discern which approach will be more helpful in a given situation.
Signs of a Toxic Friend
Below are a few key signs to look out for in your relationships. Might your friendship, regardless your history and the good times you’ve shared, be a toxic one that needs urgent attention? Consider these truths for your answer.
Lack of concern about your well-being
The whole thing about friendship is that you care about each other, and you desire what is best for the other. If that fundamental impulse is lacking from your friendship from either one of you, that’s a strong sign that the relationship is or has turned toxic.How does this lack of concern show up? If your friend cajoles or persuades you to do things that are detrimental to your livelihood, health, or other relationships, then that’s not a great friend. A toxic friend might encourage you to be unfaithful to your partner, or they may induce you to break your word to others or draw you towards alcohol or drugs even though you may be in recovery.
Engaging in illegality and asking you to join them or cover up for them is another way a toxic friend may reveal themselves. If a friend truly cared about you, why would they want to jeopardize your relationships, health, and even your freedom?
Lack of respect for you, your boundaries, or your needs
If your friend doesn’t respect you, that’s another sign of a toxic friendship. Mutual respect is essential in any relationship because respecting someone who doesn’t respect you will most likely negatively impact your self-esteem and mental health.
In most relationships, disrespect will commonly manifest itself as a power imbalance where one person feels underappreciated or undervalued by the other. In contrast to this, when you and your friend respect each other, you are more aware of and seek to cultivate the good of the other; you are more attuned to one another’s wants, needs, and desires.
Some ways in which a toxic friend will not respect you is if they are willing to embarrass you in public, or they share your secrets with others. If you feel like your boundaries are being violated, and there is a lack of remorse or repentance for such behavior, that’s an unhealthy situation.
Emotional and other forms of manipulation
One of the marks of a good and true friendship is that neither of you are using the other to meet your own ends; you are not a pawn in some game. In any relationship of significance, there is often a vulnerability that is not displayed in other relationships.A friend is someone that knows things about you that other people don’t know. One important thing that a friendship allows you to do is to allow you to speak hard truths if necessary.
If you feel you can’t say things that might anger, displease, or hurt your friend, and they wield their emotions against you to make you do what they want, that’s a sure sign of a toxic friendship. Friends speak truthfully to one another – that’s one of the many things that makes two people friends. They can be open with their feelings and opinions, and usually it’s taken with the good grace with which it was intended.
Even when a friend wounds us, the mature thing is to try and empathize; why would they hurt us, and feel it was necessary to do so? If your friend uses what they know about you against you, to get you to do what they want, that’s another form of manipulation that’s a sure sign of a toxic friendship.
Imbalance in the relationship
In healthy friendships, you each bring something to the table. If you’re in a circle of friends, each of you brings out something from the others that only that person could.
C.S. Lewis once put it like this, “In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out. By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets… Hence true Friendship is the least jealous of loves. Two friends delight to be joined by a third, and three by a fourth, if only the newcomer is qualified to become a real friend. They can then say, as the blessed souls say in Dante, ‘Here comes one who will augment our loves.’ For in this love ‘to divide is not to take away.’”
In a good friendship, there is a giving and a taking that enriches and draws out the best from each of you. In a toxic friendship, however, there is an imbalance in the relationship.
It may play out that one of you predominantly gives, while the other predominantly takes. This may be in the area of time, money, or even in sharing the wisdom that God gave you. Friends advise one another and share things together; there’s reciprocity, a back and forth that goes on there. If the goods within the relationship have a tendency of flowing in one direction predominantly or exclusively, that may be a sign of a toxic relationship
A lack of humility
We are all human, and some of what that means is that we make mistakes. There is no one who is perfect and who doesn’t do things they regret and know they shouldn’t have done.
What that means is that a friendship is a space in which people make mistakes, but they don’t deny them, nor are they held against them. Forgiveness and apologies are important currencies in any friendship. True friends acknowledge their failings, apologize for them, and strive to do better in a spirit of humility.
However, if you’re in a friendship with someone who must always be right, and they never admit they were wrong, and they don’t apologize or change behaviors that aren’t helpful to you or them, that may very well be a toxic friendship. Not only /someone insisting they are always right breed resentment, but always having to be right is a power play that has no place in a friendship.
Christian Counseling for Toxic Friendships
A relationship with a toxic friend can, in many cases, be turned around. Relationships are complex things, however, and it’s a good idea to receive help from a Christian counselor who understands the complex dynamics in various types of relationships.
If you find yourself unsure whether or how to salvage a friendship that has been marred by toxic behavior, you can seek out the help of a trained and licensed therapist who can help you unpack the situation and give you the tools you need to foster healthier relationships.
“Girl in a dimly lit hallway”, Courtesy of Eric Ward, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Resting on the Steps”, Courtesy of Zhivko MInkov, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Mountain Mist”, Courtesy of Elias Maurer, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Cleft of the Rock”, Courtesy of Kristopher Roller, Unsplash.com, CC0 License