FOR YOUR HEALTH : Toxic Friendships

letting goTaking a look at friendships:  What happens when someone is more of a hindrance than a help?

Shannon Gwash, Peak to Peak.  As adults, we’ve learned that we grow and change from our experiences and stages of our life: high school, college, moving, marriage, babies, divorce, jobs, death of a loved one, etc. With each stage, we change a little and grow a lot.

So what happens when those closest to us don’t change at the same time? If they are family, we may need to find new ways to connect. In romantic relationships, we may not invest the time and decide to go our separate ways. So why don’t we handle platonic relationships the same way? Why don’t we grant our former best friend the same grace we grant our former significant other?

With the focus on relationships in February, now might be a great time to take a look at some of your friendships to see if it’s time to let go and go your own way (as Stevie Nicks would say).

Here are five things to consider when you’re evaluating a friendship and if it’s time to take a break from your friendship:

You feel badly about yourself after spending time with them
Sure, you don’t see eye to eye on everything, but that’s the beauty of friendships! However, if your mood or self-esteem takes a nose dive after spending time with this person, that’s a sign that this friend may not be an asset. Friends should be there to help build you up, not tear you down.

You give, but hardly receive
There will be times in all friendships where one friend may need the other more. Life is a give and take, and friendships will never be 50/50 all the time. But if you constantly go out of your way for this person without him or her being there in return, that’s not a good sign. Resentment can creep in when you feel like your needs are not being met by your friend. When this happens, perhaps it’s time to go separate ways.

You just don’t trust them anymore
This can come be from them not keeping your secrets, not following through on promises or often leaving you feeling betrayed or let down. This will happen, as we all disappoint the people we love and who love us, but it should be an occasional mishap, not the norm.

You are in different phases of life
When we are younger, we have our friends from school, scouts, soccer or other activities; we’re on the same path. But as we get older, your path can move in a different direction than your former BFF. Marriage, children, careers, hobbies and interests all dictate the direction your path takes. The person you used to grab happy hour with every Friday may not be available anymore because they have children they need to care for. Flexibility and acceptance are necessary in a friendship; it is possible to remain friends with someone who’s on a different path than you, that friendship may just look a little different than it used to.

You are absolutely exhausted after talking to them or spending time with them
Everyone goes through difficult times in life and as friends, we try to roll with the other person’s changes and challenges the best we can. However, if a friend is constantly going through one life hurricane after another, it can start to wear on you. If your friend brings the difficulties on themselves due to their choices, it can be both challenging and exhausting to constantly be supportive. Remember that you have needs too and you need to care for yourself. If you feel exhausted after interacting with this person – maybe it’s time to take a step back.

It can be hard to push aside the guilt of separating from a friend, but it’s important to manage your own health and stress levels. Toxic friendships can be just as harmful as toxic relationships. Life moves quickly; it’s important to fill your time with people that will bring you joy and reciprocate the love and positive energy that you bring to the friendship.

Also remember that the great thing about friendships is that although we may grow and change, we can also come back together. One of my best friend’s from high school and I went on incredibly different paths after we graduated. We weren’t a part of each other’s lives for six years. I am now the godmother of her daughter and she is the godmother of mine. Time has a wonderful way of showing us what and who really matters.

Shannon Gwash is the marketing and public relations manager for Jefferson Center for Mental Health. She is also a Certified Mayo Clinic Wellness Coach and can be reached at shannong@jcmh.org.