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Can Friendships be Unhealthy?

You constantly check up on them. You lose sleep making their problems your own, and there is a continuous stream of dialogue playing in your mind “what if she needs me? what if she thinks ill about me? what if I let her down?”.

Friendships are one of the most crucial aspects of each one’s life. Building connections gives one a sense of belonging and purpose. Friends provide unconditional social support by celebrating the good times and being there for the bad. As the well-known saying “Friends are like the family you choose” holds. Studies on this kind of inter-personal connectivity have also shown evidence that friendships are the most important relationship for an individual in enriching life, health, and happiness. However, in some cases, these ‘chosen’ relationships do the complete opposite. They may become a hindrance to one’s growth and happiness. Have you ever been in a situation where you constantly avoid the other person, and the friendship begins to drain you of all your energy?

Breakups are hard. All those who have gone through a breakup may recognize the cycle of betrayal, hate, and sadness. The lesser-known breakups which hit just as hard, if not harder, are the non-romantic ones – friendship breakups. We can all recount an endless list of movies and books that depict an end of romantic relationships. However, when it comes to the dissolution of a friendship, one feels alone and misunderstands. Psychology suggests the phenomenon of ‘Gaslighting’ as one of the most common reasons for friendships turning toxic. This refers to a form of psychological abuse where a person, to gain more power, makes others question their sanity by planting seeds of doubt within themselves. Gaslighting in friendships may look like those who love to gossip, thrive on creating drama and make the other person feel small or weak.

Being in a toxic friendship takes a mental and physical toll on the individual. It may take days, months, or even years to identify and accept that their friendship is getting unhealthy. The initial stages of denial may engulf an individual. However, here are a couple of ways you can identify if your friendship is turning unhealthy:

  1. You are giving much more than you are receiving. Remember that friendship goes both ways, and reciprocity is essential. If you realize that you are always there for a friend, but they are never there for you, it may be a sign that the friendship is unhealthy.

  2. Tap into your energy. Next time you are with your friend, make sure to reflect on your true feelings. Do you feel a pit in your stomach every time they message you? Do you enjoy your time spent with them, or does it feel like an obligation?

  3. Presence of jealousy and competition. Healthy competition among friends is expected. However, if that takes an unhealthy turn, it could be significantly hampering the friendship. Extreme cases of envy or jealousy can also make the friendship toxic for all those involved.

After going through the vicious cycle of giving multiple chances, forgiving, and falling into the same pattern, one often realizes that having them in one life is doing more harm than good. At this point, it may be time to finally let go, although it is more complicated than it sounds. Dealing with toxic friendships requires one to protect your boundaries. Establish certain boundaries to remove ‘expectations’ and guilt that may arise. Boundaries are made clear through honest and open communication. Communicate your true feelings, such as stating, “Don’t put me down anymore” or “I cannot talk to you every day, and I do not want to be guilt-tripped about it”. Confide in people you trust by seeking help or getting advice from those who will validate your feelings instead of making you feel weak or small.

10 missed calls, 50 unread messages. Whether in a romantic relationship or a friendship, if the significant other is making you live in constant fear, it is a red flag. If you are subconsciously avoiding the person at all costs, it is a red flag. And if meeting them feels like a chore leaving you drained of all your energy, it is a red flag. As a society, it is time for us to normalize and talk about friendship ‘breaks’ or ‘breakups’. We must change our attitude from “get over it” to “we will get past this”. If you feel like you resonate with any of these characteristics, this is your reminder to prioritize your personal space. You do not need to be available at each moment, and you do not need to text back immediately. No healthy relationship will demand that from you. Ensure you feel understood, supported and, happy, it is a two-way street, and you deserve it.

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