We pull people into our world for a reason. While we tend to focus heavily on our romantic partnerships, friendships are just as important, and the quality of those relationships is worthy of our attention. All our relationships hold lessons for us.
Think of how many people have come in and out of your life. This is entirely normal because we are constantly evolving as individuals, constantly changing and growing. Along with this change and growth comes figuring out what works for us and what just doesn’t. This is why relationships come and go.
A friendship involves two independent individuals with their own personal experiences and paths to be walked. With two people on two separate paths, it’s no wonder that friendships aren’t always linear. Our paths may converge for a while, then separate. It can be hard to admit, but we simply outgrow some of the people in our lives, and they outgrow us. Imagining that a close friend may not be there forever is a hard pill to swallow — and it’s why some people hold onto friendships that are unhealthy, or even downright toxic.
Sure, there are those soul-connected friendships that last a lifetime, but there are also plenty of friendships that will come and go. I am a firm believer that people come into our lives right when we need them, and they leave when our purpose in each other’s lives is complete. Always remember: you have a right to let go of people that you’re hanging onto because of your own fears and guilt — period.
A great example of this involves a client of mine. For the sake of this story, let’s say her name is “Cindy.” Cindy shared with me that for the last six summers, she had been allowing her friend to use her boat for three weeks. At first, I thought nothing of this. It’s a kind gesture to extend for a friend. However, Cindy then shared that she had a lot of built-up resentment towards this friend.
To top it all off, the friend was a bad influence on her and was making choices that Cindy no longer agreed with. These choices also carried over into how this friend treated Cindy’s boat. She wasn’t respectfully using the boat for three weeks at a time; she was drinking heavily on the boat and causing a fair amount of damage. Cindy had a lot of repair work to do after each three-week period.
I asked Cindy why she let her friend treat her and her boat this way, and her response was quite typical of people in “toxic” friendships. Cindy shared that her friend had been there for her a while back during an extremely hard time in her life. She felt she “owed” this friend for allowing her to stay at her house during this tough time.
It’s okay to have a healthy exchange of energy and compassion in a friendship, but — as I replied to Cindy—you don’t need to pay anyone back for what they’ve done for you, especially if it’s causing resentment. Cindy simply wanted to make sure that if she ever needed her friend again, she’d be there for her, and she thought going above and beyond for her friend would ensure that.
This is not how healthy friendships work. They are not just an exchange of goods and services or a tit-for-tat partnership. Friendships come from a place of compassion and love.
It’s important to do a deep dive into your relationships to ensure you aren’t holding onto resentment towards your friends, like Cindy was. After I worked through her fear with her, she was able to tell her friend that she couldn’t use her boat this summer. I watched a wave of relief come over her after she put up a healthy and necessary boundary.
After working with Cindy, it dawned on me that many people do this exact thing in their friendships. If there is someone who’s been there for us, of course we want to be there for them if they need us — but we must make sure the situation doesn’t get out of control, like it does when we avoid conflict that might arise from necessary conversations about boundaries. At the end of the day, it’s you who has to live with that resentment, not your friend or anyone else.
It’s time to let go of friendships that simply aren’t serving you any longer. I promise, new friendships will appear in the spaces where old ones died. So, look at your friendships and evaluate them honestly. To help you better evaluate the bonds in your life, I’ve created a list of questions for you to consider.
Is It a Healthy Friendship or a Toxic Bond?
- Does the friendship include both give and take? No relationship is 100 percent equal or balanced at every moment. We all go through hard times and lean on each other when we need to. That said, do you feel that this person is there for you when you need them now, regardless of whether they were in the past?A good indicator is to consider if they often ask you about your life. Are they interested in what’s going on with you, or are you always listening to their issues without any sign of them asking how your life is going? Some people pick up the phone, dial you up, and then unload on you. Often, they won’t even ask you if you have the time to listen. They just want to dump their emotions someplace, and that place is on you.
- Are you competitive with each other? Friendships are intended to support you, not to be a battle field of competition. We should be happy about each other’s accomplishments, but what often happens in unhealthy friendships is a battle of “one-upping” each other. If we are stuck in survival mode, we can see each other as a threat. This is not the nature of a healthy friendship, and jealousy towards someone is not ever supportive.
- Can your friend keep a secret? A healthy friendship is built on trust, and you should feel safe. If your friend is the gossip queen or king, be careful. You might enjoy their company, but having a good friend means being able to safely talk to them without the entire town finding out your business.
- Are you negatively bonding with them? We’ve all been guilty of speaking negatively about someone or something at some point in our lives. It’s perfectly normal and, to a degree, it’s healthy to vent to our friends about issues that bother us. When you end up talking negatively about other people all of the time, though, and that becomes the norm and your way of connecting with your friend, it’s a problem. Not only is it very unhealthy, it also keeps you stuck in a negative cycle of toxic bonding.
- Do they bring out your unhealthy behaviors? It’s important to notice if you end up becoming “partners in crime” with your friend. Meaning, you join in the fun when it comes to excess drinking, partying, or unhealthy behaviors and habits. The list of unhealthy behaviors is long, and you may consistently end up meeting this friend to partake in these things together. This is not a healthy friendship, but rather an enabling relationship for unhealthy habits.
- Can you have hard conversations about your feelings? If you can’t have hard conversations with your friend, who can you have them with? That’s how we work through challenges and overcome obstacles with one another. If you cannot have a healthy argument or disagreement with a friend, that’s a problem
Having friendships is an integral part of life. Feeling this sense of community and support is what helps us feel truly connected. That’s why allowing some of your friendships to come and go, and reflecting on the toxic ones you’re holding onto, is crucial for maintaining a healthy and happy life.
Remember, we change often… and that means our friendships change, too. Letting go of the ones that no longer bring joy, comfort, and safety into your life allows you to open up space for new friendships that might be more aligned with where you are in life now.
Jessica Baum, LMHC is the founder of Relationship Institute of Palm Beach and creator of the Self-Full™ method — a therapeutic path to personal wellness and freedom from codependence. Learn more at www.RelationshipsPB.com and www.JessicaBaumLMHC.com.