Good Friend or Effective Enabler?

It’s nice to be needed but not necessarily by overly needy friends.

Posted Oct 10, 2016

While not every friendship is meant to be a lifelong “BFF to the end” kind of relationship, there are some relationships that aren’t just “casual,” they are downright detrimental to your well-being—whether that’s psychological, physical, or anything in between.

Here are three questions that make identifying the truly “bad for you” friends a little easier:

  1. Do I feel better or worse after spending time with this friend?
  2. Do I avoid calls, ignore texts, or frequently cancel out on plans with this friend?
  3. Do I ever find myself wondering how I ever ended up in a friendship with this person in the first place?

Warning: Friendship Danger

In extreme cases, a dangerously toxic relationship can actually develop between two relatively emotionally healthy individuals. For instance, individuals prone to unhealthy behaviors, such as drinking too much, spending money too freely, or some other vice, may find themselves in friendships with other who display similar weaknesses or with the tendency to enable. This type of relationship can easily turn toxic if a person’s tendency to cross an unhealthy boundary is encouraged by another. If a friend encourages you to drink past your limit, binge on unhealthy food, shop as far as your bank balance or credit card allows, it may be time to rein in the time spent with this individual. While both of you may be far from “toxic people,” the relationship dynamic may create a toxic nightmare for both of you.

"But I NEED you . . . "

If your friend is dragging you down by her negativity, her constant neediness, or desperation, then you really need to let her know that while you would like to “be there” for her, you just can’t be “all” to her anymore. It can be good to feel needed, but when you feel that your own needs are taking a lower priority than the friend’s do on a woefully unbalanced scale, then it can be time to let the friendship go.

Beginning therapists are taught that if they are worrying more about the client’s problems than the client himself or if the new therapist is working harder to solve the client’s problems than the client himself, then something is terribly wrong with the relationship. The same is pretty much true for friendships – sometimes we all feel a little needy and want someone to “make it all better,” but if we are excepting more from others than we would willingly give them, then the system is broken and the friendship needs to be re-calibrated or potentially ended.

Enabling isn't Support

Good friends appreciate the limits and shortcomings of their friends, but they don’t become enablers. And as therapists recognize, a client – or a friend – won’t “fix” their problem until they are ready to do so. Letting her know you’ve done all you can do to support her, but that you need to make time for your own life can be painful for her to hear, but enabling her to remain “stuck” won’t do her any favors either, for the long run. 


How strong is your social support network? Do your friends and family help keep you healthy?

If you would like to take part in a new research study designed to explore the relationship between social support and overall well-being, please follow this link:

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