There it is. The old familiar feeling of adrenaline that washes over me from head to toe as I read the familiar words glaring at me on the text message I received from an old friend at 6 a.m. I had been fighting with my husband the night before, a particularly bad one this time, and had already been feeling a little unsure of myself in my current situation as far as my marriage was concerned. Yes, I have a good, strong marriage and I know my husband and I would be perfectly fine, but the morning after we fight always leaves me paranoid that this may have been the one fight to end everything we worked so hard for up to this point. My insecurities were running rampant as my eyes adjusted to the glow from my phone, while my brain tried to wrap itself around the reason for this most recent butt chewing. Needless to say, I was already in a fragile state when I received this message chastising me yet again for being a horrible friend who didn’t have the psychic abilities needed to know that I should have been there for her.
I shouldn’t have been surprised. In fact, I was surprised that I hadn’t received the message sooner. You see, this friend and I have had a very contentious relationship over the years filled with love, drama and a lot of headaches and tears. I can’t say that the friendship was all bad. We had our good times and she was there for me on many occasions and I know that she truly cared about me as a friend. Unfortunately, her victim mentality meant that she could be extremely high maintenance and always relied on others to validate her lack of self-esteem. Heaven help you if you were the person she deemed to be the cause of her pain, whether whatever you did (or didn’t do) was unintentional or not. She was an expert at tossing out feel-bad bombs and my bags were always packed because I knew I’d be sent on yet another guilt trip if I didn’t cater to her ego.
Today, however, was not the day for this. My stress levels were already sky high and after fighting on and off with my husband I had already had enough. I felt the stirrings of rage deep within the pit of my stomach. The older I get, the less patience I have for people being petty and I wasn’t about to let her have the upper hand. After a little tit for tat where I calmly tried explaining my reasons for not being there, I finally let her know the honest truth. I was done. I was tired of always being the one to blame when I was the one friend who would stand up for her anytime anyone messed with her. Yet, that didn’t seem to matter. She continued to spend time with the fake friends she confessed to me she didn’t like and the man she repeatedly called me crying about. I was the one who gave her the tough love and support I knew she needed to get out of the horrible situations she kept finding herself in. Why, then, was I always the one getting the brunt of the anger? At that moment I realized I was her fix-it friend and when I wasn’t there to “fix it” I was failing her and therefore had to bear her wrath until I groveled long enough to gain her forgiveness.
I silently thanked my husband for pushing me to that place in the days prior as it had me primed for a fight and ready to take on whatever she had to throw at me. I felt justified as I defended myself and stood by my decision to terminate the friendship. I had had enough. I was tired and getting too old for this kind of nonsense. For the first time in years I felt that familiar sense of freedom that I had experienced on and off in the past. All of my life I have struggled with people like her. Thanks to my insecurities and loneliness, I often attracted the type of people who needed a doormat to walk all over. I’ve ended several friendships for the sake of my sanity only to find myself subject to the same abuse time and again from someone else.
However, this time I feel it’s different. With the support of my husband and the few very close friends I know I can trust, along with an ever present need to surround myself with like- minded, positive people, I think I’ve been able to break the curse. I know that I’ll find other toxic friends like this one and I’ll have to cut them loose someday, but I’ve become wise to the signs and I have no qualms about slowly phasing them out of my life. After my father passed almost three years ago, I am slowly waking up and smelling the roses. My life has more importance now than I ever though it could. I have so much more to be grateful for and I know that I don’t deserve to waste another minute to being someone else’s punching bag when they’re having an emotional breakdown.
If you are reading this and you’re thinking to yourself, “Gee, her story sounds a lot like mine,” then I urge you to find the courage within you to free yourself from your toxic relationships. It’s very difficult for people with nurturing personalities to put their needs above the needs of other people. I have been in your shoes most of my life and I understand the emotions that you go through when you suffer from years of abuse at the hands of a loved one. Whether it’s a family member or close friend who makes you feel bad because you weren’t meeting their needs (no matter how ridiculous those needs may be) or a person in your life who spends their days wallowing in self-pity and negativity, you do have the right to distance yourself from them and that toxic relationship.
I know what you’re thinking, “How can I abandon this person who needs my help?” The answer is a lot simpler than you think. Florence Isaacs, author of Toxic Friends/True Friends explains that a toxic friendship is unsupportive, draining, unrewarding, stifling, unsatisfying, and often unequal. If you’re still on the fence trying to decide if your friendship is truly bad for your health, let’s take a look at a few scenarios.
Think back to the number of times you’ve had to defend yourself to this person, regardless if it was warranted or not. Think about that knot in the pit of your stomach when you see their number pop up on your phone and dreading the interaction you’re about to have with them. Now stop and think about the number of times you’ve had the same conversation with this person about the same self-deprecating scenarios they find themselves in time and again. Notice a common pattern? The fact of the matter is you can’t fix people if they don’t want to be fixed. Some people have been catered to all their lives by most everyone they know and they relish the boost they get to their confidence when they bully people into putting them on a pedestal. Nothing that you say or do is going to change them and turn them into the friend or family member you’ve always wanted to be in a relationship with. I know that this is a hard pill to swallow and it’s a little disconcerting, but hopefully in time you will realize that your happiness and self-esteem should matter more to you than it has in the past. The sooner you realize that this same energy would be much better spent on yourself and the people in your life that DO matter, the happier you will become.
Now that I have come to this realization, I plan on using this new-found freedom to rediscover all the relationships I’ve neglected in the past, and most of all the relationship that I need to have with myself. I realize that the path to happiness will be never ending and ever-changing, but I’m ready to start living my life for me and the people in it that matter.