Sarah has been best friends with Heather for years, but she’s finally realized how much Heather has taken over her life and poisoned it. Sarah feels like Heather has been a toxic polluter in her environment, but she’s afraid that if:
- She didn’t have Heather, she’d be all alone.
- She said goodbye to Heather, Heather would get angry and retaliate with their friends and to Sarah’s family.
What should Sarah do?
Heather has been a sounding board for all Sarah’s decisions. Heather always knows what Sarah should do to straighten her life out. Sarah never married because Heather found faults with every guy that Sarah was interested in. Sarah stopped dieting because Heather told her she’d look bad if she was thin.
Sarah doesn’t have much time for herself since she has to be on-call in case Heather needs her. Heather often has urgent requests for Sarah to do her chores or to meet her. Sarah’s afraid to disappoint Heather because Heather gets so hurt and makes Sarah pay.
Heather criticizes Sarah relentlessly, spreads lies, rumors and malicious gossip, and gets other people angry at her. Heather is angry and demanding, and nothing Sarah does is ever right or good enough. Sarah is always to blame.
Within their circle of friends, Heather always takes center stage and even steals Sarah’s ideas. Heather doesn’t allow Sarah to be with the others unless Heather is there. Heather says it wouldn’t be kind, respectful or loving for Sarah to do things behind her back.
Sarah feels like she’s spent her life trying to please Heather and apologize to her and take the blame for everything. But no matter how nice, kind and loving Sarah’s been, Heather hasn’t given her credit or changed her opinion or behavior.
How do you know your friend is toxic? I’d rephrase that into, “How do you know your friend is not really a friend?” There are two types of warning signs:
- Your inner warning signs – you feel criticized, used, abused, harassed, unsafe, taken advantage of. Your kindness, consideration, compromise, appeasement, apologies and efforts to please them are not rewarded by them doing the same for you. They’re always right; you’re never good enough. You’re afraid of what they’ll do if you displease them.
- Their external behavior – Their timing, agenda, feelings, desires, needs and wants matter much more than yours do. If you start talking about your interests or feelings, they’ll rapidly shift the subject to theirs. They can change the plans or be late but you can’t. They say nasty things behind your back and justify what they did because they’re sure they’re right. They make the rules. If they’re angry over the slightest thing, they can retaliate in what ever outrageous, over-the-top way they want. Their reasons are right. It’s your fault and you deserve what you get. They’re nice to you when they want something, but as soon as they get it, they’re mean and nasty or they put you down because you didn’t do it good enough. You apologize but they never do. You have 100% of the responsibility to heal any misunderstandings.
Make a list of behaviors that friends do. When Sarah made the list, she saw that Heather didn’t do these actions. Since Heather didn’t, then whatever she calls herself or however Sarah thought about her, she’s not really a true friend. In order to summon the strength, dedication and courage needed to stop bullies, we must see clearly how things really are and also name them accurately.
Can you get them to see they’re toxic and what if they don’t get it? Whenever Sarah asked or begged Heather to stop, Heather’s response for saying and doing such hurtful things was, “’I’m right. You’re not trying to repress me, are you?” Heather never thought she was wrong. She always felt justified and righteous. Sarah has tried to forgive Heather and to love her unconditionally, but that hasn’t changed Heather’s behavior. Sarah didn’t think she could ever get Heather to admit how toxic she was. She knew how quick Heather was to defend herself. Nevertheless, Sarah tried to explain once more, just to give Heather a chance. When Sarah brought up the subject, Heather got enraged and attacked Sarah for being a false friend.
Can you say goodbye just because you want to or do you need to be able to prove to them that they’re toxic? You don’t need an outside expert or a survey in order to decide how toxic your friend is (say, on a scale of 1 to 10) in order to give yourself permission to say goodbye to a toxic friend. You don’t need them to agree that they’re toxic. If your toxic friend doesn’t get it and change their behavior, you can act on your own – just because you want to. It’s important for you to use your own power to keep your personal environment free from toxic polluters. Just because you want to is more than enough reason to do what you want. In order to stop bullying and abuse by toxic people you’ve known for a long time, simply say, “No, that’s enough.”
What can you do if your toxic friend threatens to ruin you? They might tell your secrets or cut you down to everyone you know, including your family. Of course it can be difficult. But if you don’t say goodbye now, you’ll just prolong your pain indefinitely, maybe for the rest of your life.
If you don’t resist, you’re training that toxic person to do worse to you whenever they want. Narcissistic control freaks and boundary pushers are relentless predators. The only way they’ll stop is when they’re stopped or removed from the environment.
A better question is, “What behavior do you want to allow on your Isle of Song?” Ignore toxic bullies’ reasons, excuses and justifications. Actions count; not apologies. It’s your Isle; protect your personal ecology. Say “goodbye,” no matter who the perpetrator is.