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Everything you need to know about toxic friendships

“When we first met, she showed me a lot of affection and interest. We shared a love for books and writing, ”explains Claire *, 27, when she talks about a woman she met at her university. “She was the first girlfriend I ever had. It was a great feeling to finally have the friendship I had longed for for years. ”Claire says that because of her autism, which was only diagnosed in adulthood and contributed to years of depression, anxiety and multiple suicide attempts, always struggled to make friends. Her friend was struggling with similar problems, which only bonded the two more and made Claire feel obliged to meet her friend's needs. "I felt like I had to go along with whatever she wanted and do anything to make her happy." Now, two years after they decided to part ways over a terrible argument, Claire realizes that her friend had taken advantage of her kindness and generosity and manipulated her all along: a toxic friendship, as it is in the book. The term “toxic” is often used to describe romantic and family relationships. Rarely do we hear of toxic friendships with people who are prone to narcissistic, controlling, or abusive behavior. “A toxic friendship leaves someone feeling confused, guilty, angry, insecure and unfulfilled,” explains Vasia Toxavidi, a consultant and member of the British Association for Counseling and Psychotherapy (BACP). She uses the acronym TOXIC, the English word for "toxic", to define the term: The T stands for "tiring" (tiring), since a toxic friendship can be exhausting. The O stands for "obstructive", as it often hinders your personal development. The X stands for “eXhausting” (exhaustive), since toxic friends tire you with their unreliability and their demands, but at the same time give nothing back. The I stands for “intimidation”, as such friends criticize you and make you feel that you are not good enough. The C stands for "conditional" as they often create conditions for their affection based on their own needs. According to Toxavidi, such behavior is often caused by unfulfilled needs, envy, difficulties in becoming attached or fear of being abandoned, which come to light when a third person such as a partner joins them. A toxic friendship leaves someone feeling confused, guilty, angry, insecure, and unfulfilled. Vasia Toxavidi "Having a close friend who kept putting me down and not caring about my life destroyed my self-esteem," confesses Claire. “I have put a lot of time, effort, and money into trying to help her, comfort her, and improve her mental health. When none of this worked, she made me feel like I wasn't good enough and that all of her problems were my fault. Since I had no other close friendships, I thought that I had to accept everything - really everything - and stay by her side. ”Although Claire felt sympathy for her friend's psychological problems, she does not think that these justify her behavior. "She turned every conversation into a monologue about herself. She was dismissive, showed no interest in my life, constantly brushed me down and criticized my parents for taking them into their home." Claire remembers how she " Eventually she offered to give her almost 6,000 euros from my inheritance to pay for her therapy. ”Instead, her friend persuaded her to lend her the money to finance the production of a play she had written. Not only did she never pay it back, but she later insisted that the money was a gift rather than a loan. The friendship ended dramatically in 2019 when Claire realized that for the sake of her own mental health she had to start setting boundaries and refused to take one of the usual late night calls from her friend unloading all of her problems with Claire. “I was tired, had problems at work and just ran out of energy. Since I'm autistic, I find phone calls very stressful even when I'm fine. My friend sent me a message saying that 'I would not act like I really care about her'. "Over the next two weeks, Claire was bombarded with cutting messages and received" a long, mean email, in which she threw things at my head that I had never done. She hit below the belt with her attacks on my personality. For example, she dismissed my psychological problems, even though she knew that I had already tried several times to take my life. ”Claire is now able to recognize that this supposedly close friendship was not only good for her, it was made her unhappy. Since breaking contact with this friend, she's been doing better, even if she never got her money back. Ceryn Rowntree, a person-centered counseling therapist who works primarily with women in their late 20s to mid-30s, reports that over the past three years, more women have been complaining about toxic friendships - and the damage they do. Of the more than 15 clients she sees each week, this is the case for at least a third. Rowntree believes there are two main reasons why we generally do not consider toxic behavior within friendships to be "abusive". “First, abuse is mostly associated with romantic relationships. This could have to do with the fact that it may seem easier to end friendships, since abusive friendships are rarely physically violent - in my experience. Another reason for this could be that our society pays more attention to abusive relationships than to toxic friendships. ”She sent me a long, nasty email throwing me things at my head that I had never done. Her attacks on my personality hit below the belt. Claire, 27 “We women in particular are told that we should go through thick and thin with our friends and always be there for them. So when a friendship becomes toxic, many of us don't question that development, blaming the boyfriend or girlfriend in question going through a difficult time. We do everything we can to give the other person support, even if their behavior gets worse and worse and unforgivable. ”37-year-old Lena * was eight years friends with a man she had met through work. His control behavior first came to light during a two-week vacation in 2017. Today she knows that up to this point he had pretended to be. “I closed my door at night. When I woke up it was open. At first I thought it had opened by itself. But he later admitted that he opened it because he didn't like the fact that I preferred a closed door. Even when I showered, he would open the bathroom door. The whole thing was strange and I felt uncomfortable with it. ”Lena began to analyze his previous behavior. She noticed warning signs that she hadn't noticed before. “Whenever I told him I liked something, he just bought it to have it first - from small things like home décor to expensive things like designer speakers. In restaurants he forced me to order first so he could order the same. He also asked me to eat exactly what he ate for breakfast. He made it for me, and when I refused, he would call me ungrateful and strange. I had to do an egg dance all the time so as not to upset him. ”Lena noticed a disturbing change: the more positive she was, the more negative he made her feel. Whenever she expressed her zest for life - she wanted to have fun and meet new people - he tried to pull her down. She remembers one evening on vacation when they had a dinner date. “I went downstairs, dressed up, where he was waiting for me in the living room. He looked me up and down and said, 'I've had enough of you, I don't want to eat with you tonight. Do what you want ‘.” Shocked, Lena decided to stay at home and eat alone. “After an hour he came back and took a man into his bedroom, where they had loud sex. Despite my headphones, I could still hear them both. Unfortunately, I couldn't leave either because we only had one key and I didn't know whether he would let me in again. The whole thing felt like some form of punishment. Then he came down the stairs half-naked and asked if I had enjoyed the moan, because that was all for me. At that moment I realized that our friendship was over. ”Women in particular are told that we should go through thick and thin with our friends and always be there for them. So when a friendship becomes toxic, many of us don't question that development; Ceryn Rowntree Lena hasn't seen him since they said goodbye at the airport after that vacation. She wrote him a letter thanking him for his friendship and saying that although she was open to meeting again in the future, the friendship no longer gave her what she needed. He ignored the whole thing and blocked and deleted them on all social media. “This step was difficult for me because he could be the nicest person ever, whenever I did what he wanted. In the end, however, he gave me the feeling that I wasn't good enough and that I could never be. ”Although she doesn't regret the end of the friendship, Lena says that this experience left its mark on her. That's why she has been approaching new friendships much more cautiously since then. Toxavidi also believes that toxic friendships affect our sense of identity and self-confidence and can even lead to depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). However, she advises against ghosting. Since a toxic person “understands no boundaries, they will not just go their separate ways”. Your advice? “Explain to the other person that you need some space. If the toxic friend continues to contact you, you should consistently avoid him or her or choose a different tone. The more persistent you are, the quicker he or she will run away. ”Emma Carrington, who works for Mental Health UK charity, admits that letting friends go is never easy and that there is no silver bullet for this. “Usually feelings are hurt on both sides. Unfortunately there is no getting around it. But you owe it to yourself to do what is right for you. Being able to speak to or write to these friends can help you close this chapter. But don't feel guilty if that's too much for you and therefore you can't do it. ”She adds that it can be difficult to come to terms with the end of a friendship,“ especially if it has lasted a long time ”. Because of this, it can be a good idea to get therapy that can help you get over what has happened. It may not be easy, but as the experiences of Claire and Lena prove, a clean break with toxic friends is possible. * Names have been changed by the editorial team. Unfortunately, it can take a while to get a therapy place in Germany. If you need urgent help, contact the telephone counseling hotline on 0800 111 0 111 or 0800 111 0 222 or the telephone counseling chat. Otherwise, you can ask your general practitioner for a list of therapists in your area. Like what you see? How about some more R29 goodness, right here? It's ok to be jealous of friend: Inside Corona rules & friendships collide15 tips for cultivating long-distance friendships