The meaning of a friend has been meditated upon by many people, including Aristotle. A friend is typically defined as those persons with whom you have a bond of mutual affection that excludes sexual relations and family. This bond however can be just as strong and complex as the ones we have with romantic partners and family. We support their ups and downs, accept their differences, and keep them around even when they behave badly. But, when does a friend become more trouble than he or she is worth? Aristotle says when the friend becomes depraved:
“The dissolution of friendship is warranted when one part has become depraved, since he has changed from being the person who was the object of friendship. Aristotle- Nicomachean Ethics”
Aristotle himself must have struggled with giving a friend or two their walking papers. Today, friendship experts call these depraved, troublesome friendshipstoxic. It is not only justifiable to end such friendships, they say, but vital to your welfare.
Which types of behavior define a friend as toxic to your welfare? Some toxic friends dump and impose their dramas on you, drain you of valuable time and energy and take advantage of your patience and support. Others are of the frenemie, backstabbing type. They criticize and put you down, especially when you are feeling vulnerable. But, whether it is through a friend’s excessive neediness or competitiveness or backstabbing ways,a toxic friend just plain wears you down. Most definitely, the cost of keeping them around outweighs the benefits of keeping them.
You know this, right? But, then, why do you keep them around? Guilt, loyalty and history is what most of you say. No matter your explanation, we tend to give toxic friends a long relationship leash because of a social psychology phenomenon calledcognitive-dissonance. In a nutshell, we are biased toward thinking that our choices are correct, even when they start to cause us discomfort. This extends to choosing our friends as well. So, even when friends become toxic to your well being, you may explain away their bad behavior to justify why you chose them as a friend in the first place. Never mind that your friend just told you that the guy you are crying over never loved you. And, forget that when you were in the hospital, in intensive care, your “best friend” never came to see you. And, what about the “good” friends who are the last to complement you on a success? To avoid facing that a friend is perhaps a frenemy and now toxic to your personal growth and welfare, you may excuse the behavior as having more to do with outside pressures than a characteristic of the person. Or perhaps, and even worse, you may deny, completely, that the “friend” is mean-spirited and undermining of you.
It’s only after a long list of abuses and insults that we start to seriously consider ending a toxic friendship. No matter how old we are, it’s never easy to end a friendship. Just as recent as seven years ago, I freed myself of a woman friend whose excessive needs and self-centeredness began to wear me down. Like many of you, I knew for some time that I had to end this friendship that had become toxic to my welfare. But, I kept waiting for the right time or circumstance to make it happen. Rather than wait for some fortuitous moment to fall upon you, examine the friendship for its place in your life today. You deserve to be appreciated, supported and valued in this life.
- Examine your discomfort with this friend. What is it all about? Are you being dumped on or put down by this friend? How has this behavior been detrimental to your welfare? Be present to your discomfort, so that you know the extent to which it is hurting you. Remember, a friendship is a bond of mutual affection between you and another person. If that bond has turned from affection to animosity—you are no longer technically defined as friends. This is a sobering insight right!
- Replace justifications with reality. Replace justifications for keeping the friendship, like guilt, loyalty and history with what the relationship actually is today. If you haven’t felt good around them in a long time, it’s probably time to do something constructive to feel better. This may mean talking to them about the relationship problem, with the hope of making it better. Or, it may mean ending the friendship.
Dr. Deborah’s Wisdom on the Matter
Give yourself permission to move away from a friendship that is hurting you. Remember, even the great philosopher Aristotle gives you the okay to end friendships that take away from you. Some friendships are not meant to last forever. If you decide it is time to let the friendship go, appreciate what you have learned about people and about yourself through the friendship. Just because it may be time to let go of the friendship doesn’t mean you have to tear up the history you shared with the person. After all, this is your history. Some people join us on our journey for a time to teach us about something valuable to our living, no matter how painful the lesson may be. You can find a way to part graciously, if you try.
Thus, choose your friends wisely, so that you spend less energy and time in friendship dramas. Life is too short for these types of dramas. Friends are important to your happiness, when they affirm your growth and well being.