Arts & culture

Friend or Foe

Words: Gina McKie

If you’ve ever lost your mobile phone or somehow deleted various contacts, you will possibly have faced a slight panic attack. I can still remember the hot flush that raced through my body as I accidentally erased everything from my mobile phone.

Momentarily, a surge of relief swept over me as I reassured myself that everything would be stored in iCloud. I was working through my own mental thunderstorm, feeling as if I had just wiped out my entire world of friends and contacts, desperately trying to find a solution for a full restore to my phone. I should add, at this point, that I had not long split from my partner and I was living with my brother, his wife, and newborn baby. I didn’t want anyone to know where I was living, but suddenly – I had a moment of clarity that changed my life.

My mindset shifted from a stage of chaos to calm. Quite literally in a heartbeat. It’s always worth remembering you can change your ‘state’ in a heartbeat. Rather than panicking about trying to contact everyone stored in my phone, I made a decision that I would only ever store someone’s details if they contacted me. Yes, I am the kind of person who suddenly thinks of someone I haven’t contacted for a long time and will send a text or call just to say hi. I love when I get a message like this. No ulterior motive, just a genuine message from someone asking about my wellbeing. Treasure these people!

This loss of contacts changed my life, those in it and my view of people who really care about you. As I was reassessing my entire life (aside from the bitter break-up and finding a place to stay), I discovered I had a toxic friend. You will have one too and perhaps you have never thought about it, but allow me to elucidate.

Nothing feels better than a good clean out of your wardrobe. That bottom drawer, your desktop, whatever it might be – but we very rarely do this with our friends. Should we have some kind of a ‘friendship cull’? Absolutely. If you want to spend quality time with people who really care for you, get rid of the toxic ones. Brutal, perhaps, but liberating. This is about your inner pride and self-esteem, both of which will increase when you let go of those who are surprisingly suppressing your personal success without you realising.

There is a belief that you can fit your true friends into a phone box. A true friend you can rely on 24/7. Someone who doesn’t judge you, respects your space and will support you when times are tough. The toxic friend may appear to possess these characteristics until you ask for their help. You won’t get it. Selfishness will intervene, and excuses will be offered.

A toxic friend might also be a family member. The fact they’re a family member doesn’t mean you need to accept their friendship. Some people love to control others and will make you feel guilty if you don’t adhere to their rules. They may try to make you feel self-centred if you don’t comply with family needs. I call these people ‘Toxic Takers’ – always taking from you but never repaying.

Drinkers will always seek out other drinkers. A toxic friend will encourage you to drink rather than tell you that your drinking is excessive. They are social butterflies and will flit from one friendship to the next. This is the kind of friend you can’t trust. They will use the information you might pour out over a glass of Sauvignon Blanc at another stage.

We all have friends for different reasons but the toxic friends also stop you from forming new, good relationships. You may have been Sally’s best friend in primary four but that doesn’t mean you need to maintain that friendship for old time’s sake. This also might be the perfect friendship, and that is wonderful. You have to trust and listen to your gut instinct.

When a relationship with a partner comes to an end it can be heartbreaking, or it can be the fresh start you need. We let go – eventually in some cases – and we move on. An emotionally healthy person will let go. A toxic person (this can be your partner too) won’t allow you to progress. The same way you wouldn’t tolerate (or shouldn’t) any nonsense from a partner, is exactly the same way you manage the toxic friend out of your life. All relationships have an expiry date. Most of us want that friend or partner for life but the reality is that it will end at some point. There is no timescale for the perfect relationship. Some are just shorter than others. Each relationship or friendship is a journey of some sort – just don’t let the toxic ones poison you along the way.

Five steps to saying goodbye to a toxic friendship:

Look at true loyalties

First you need to really think about your friends and your relationship with each individual. If you were running a business, you would select the good ones and weed out the bad ones. Organise your circle of friends like you are running your own friendship business. Some people are not loyal to you, they are loyal to their need of you. When their needs change, so does their loyalty.

Tell them and don’t feel ashamed

Few of us embrace confrontation. This is about believing in yourself and respecting yourself. If you want a good friend, you have to be a good friend. If you believe that you are a good friend, it’s time to share this with the person you feel is not a valuable friend. Air and share your views and if you don’t feel the relationship improves, start creating your distance.

Focus on your good friends

Good friends won’t gossip about other good friends. The toxic friends will gossip about others and treat others disrespectfully. The toxic friends might stop you from spending time with those worthy of your friendship. Make friends with people who force you to level up. Dismiss those who bring you down – they are already below you.

Be prepared for the backlash

It’s a challenge not to respond to cheeky messages, emails, etc. You must try to ignore any rude messages. Focus on future friendships, not the past. Of course, this can be difficult, but you must not waste your time on this. You wouldn’t watch a movie that you disliked time and time again, so stop replaying or focusing on any kind of a backlash.

Put yourself first and be proud of doing so

If you firmly believe that you are a good friend, good people will always gravitate towards you, so don’t worry about losing a few friends along the way if you think they are toxic. Some friends will talk to you in their free time and others will free their time to talk to you. The next time someone calls you start to notice how you feel, your initial response. Sighing is lying; if you sigh before you answer the call but put on a brave friendly face/tone, you are only causing yourself distress. Your time is too precious, so start spending it with those you know really care about you.