Is Your Friendship Toxic?

Part 2 in a series dedicated to friendship and mental health

Posted Mar 26, 2018

Friendships gift us with boosts in confidence, worth, coping, and happiness. But have you ever had friend make you feel quite the opposite?

The signs of verbal abusive may be elusive, but it is also possible that we miss them even when in plain sight. We may be more apt to recognize warning signs as indicators of intimate partner violence or child abuse. When we think about someone who is verbally abusive the image of a childish bully, selfish partner, or careless parent may come to mind, and they certainly qualify. Unfortunately, verbal abuse can permeate into our adult friendships as well. Yet, if distracted by these common images, we may not even recognize when we are the target of a verbally abusive friend. Moreover, we take pride in the bonds we choose. Our friendship may even have a rich history painted with joyful memories. Considering these complicating factors, it can be hard to accept that a dear friend could truly be a toxic friend. 

So you may say…

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.

I do wish it were as simple as the adage conveys, however, it just isn’t so. Being verbally victimized can influence your sense of worth, self-esteemsocial functioning, and mental health, and may be and be just as painful as physical torment.

And now you may say…

So what is the limit?

A friendship is likely to have a blend of good times and bad times; however, constant and consistent chastisement is simply unacceptable. I am not referring to the light-hearted banter swapped between buddies; I am talking about the exchange that leaves a friend feeling hurt, devalued, and confused. However, there could be a fine line between what you may view as hurtful and what your pal may qualify as humor. Further, it is possible that two friends could be equally culpable when it comes to harmful berating. 

And finally you may say…

Well, how can I tell if my friend is verbally abusive?

First, you need to consider that a friendship, regardless of its history or bond, is not impenetrable to toxicity. Next, tap into your self-awareness. Consider how your friend’s words affect you. Relatedly, consider the following signs. If an exchange with your friend commonly leaves you feeling the ways noted below, it’s possible that your friendship may be toxic.

Do you feel humiliated?

Have you noticed that you often feel belittled when talking to your friend? The blatant name-calling might be obvious; on the other hand, teasing could also be difficult to spot. You might be able to laugh a jest off here and there, but withstanding deeper insults can be hurtful. These exchanges may occur at your expense. Rather than being between a volley of jokes you may find yourself consistency placed at the punch line, particularly when an audience is present.

Do you feel insignificant?

Even without the tact of humor, do you feel minimized by your friend? In a typical conversation, you may have your words discounted even though they may be of sincere importance to you. You may not even be given the time of day to share your view, perspective, or experiences, but if you do, they may be met with criticism and judgment. Finally, although you may be willing to provide support, encouragement, and care for your friend, you may recognize that your friend simply isn’t willing to reciprocate.

Do you feel blamed?

When problems arise, are you pegged as the problem? Perhaps you have even tried to discuss the prior concerns but your words are then shifted, sorted and turned against you. When expressing your feelings your friend may justify their behavior while vilifying your view. Even when you have the courage to take accountability for your actions, this deed may be used as generalized proof that you are to blame. Finally, you may feel as though you are constantly in the wrong, and may begin to second-guess your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and question your sense of self.

Do you feel helpless?

Encounters with a verbally abusive friend come with a double-edged sword. If you are assertive you may be met with blame, but if you are not assertive, you leave the door open for future wounds. Noticing this trend may cause you to feel threatened, hopeless, and manipulated. You may feel like you are walking on eggshells to avoid problems with your friend, but in the end, they may seem inevitable. Regardless of the positive energy you put forward, someone who is verbally abusive may retort by blocking and diverting your every effort, leaving you to feel powerless.

It can be difficult to recognize that your friend is an abusive force in your life. Recognizing this toxicity may cause your friendship to drift apart. However, you have the potential to mend your bond well. Next week, I look forward to sharing my tips for healing a hurt friendship in the final piece of this series. Until then, if you haven’t read part one, you may want to jump back to Why Friendships Fail.