Healthy friendships can be good for our health and well-being, however maintaining and nurturing good friendships can be hard, especially as we get older, as a result we may settle for any kind friendships out of fear of being alone.
By: Blacklight writer
Good friendships can help provide support during hard times and help us celebrate some of our precious moments in life.
Good friends also offer great companionship, and the lack thereof can result in a life riddled with loneliness and isolation.
However, due to our strong desire to find life companions we can sometimes find ourselves in toxic friendships that no longer serve our best interests. These friendships can be emotionally and financially abusive to us, and it can be hard to walk away due to the fear of being alone.
According to a study by Mayo Clinic, an international health organisation, adults with a good social life are more likely to live longer.
“Adults with strong social support have a reduced risk of many significant health problems, including depression, high blood pressure and an unhealthy body mass index (BMI),” writes the Mayo Clinic.
Friends can also: “Increase your sense of belonging and purpose, boost your happiness and reduce your stress, improve your self-confidence and self-worth.”
But, as much as it’s great to have friends, when friendships become toxic they can also be a great source of stress and anxiety.
Many still don’t know how to distinguish between a healthy and toxic friendship, and as a result they may find themselves in a pattern of attracting toxic friendships, which can be detrimental to their mental health.
We spoke to Louis Venter, founder of Couples Help, and he believes that a good friendship is when two people are invested in each other’s wholeness and well-being. “It’s two people who are committed to building the relationship,” he explains.
“The important words here are commitment and intentionality.
“It’s the realisation that the relationship needs two people mutually committed and engaged. Two people who are accountable, self-reflective and willing to grow with the relationship.”
If you are suspecting that you may be in a toxic friendship, Venter says there are many signs that can indicate that the friendship has indeed become unhealthy.
Some of the common signs may be: “Physical or emotional abuse, non-accountability, causes anxiety and stress and unhealthy expectations on someone else,” he explains.
“Emotional abuse is – avoidance, harsh words, breaking down of character, justified bad behaviour. This is where you are physically endangered or financially compromised.”
So, how come many still find themselves trapped in toxic friendships? Venter believes that the common mistake that people make in friendships is not “seeing their worth and beauty”.
“They fear being alone or ending up alone, and would rather have any kind of friendship than none,” he adds.
“The fear is that there are not a lot of people out there that would love them, accept or appreciate them, so they just take whatever they get.
“Therefore, they do not ask for much – be too needy – or talk about what hurts them because they might end up alone. That results in them accepting bad behaviour from the other, which ends up creating toxic relationships.”
The therapist believes that there may also be underlying psychological issues that may cause one to become a toxic friend or to continuously attract toxic friends.
Relationships are toxic because there is no accountability or self-reflection.” – Louis Venter
He says these can be: “Self-esteem wounds or issues, unresolved pain, inability to emotionally self-regulate, unhealthy attachment patterns and expectations of others, non-accountability behaviour, anger issues, entitlement issues and vulnerability wounds.”
Can it be possible to fix or heal a friendship that has turned toxic?
According to the therapist, it can only be possible when the two parties are both willing to self-reflect and be accountable about their contribution to the pain caused by the relationship. “Relationships are toxic because there is no accountability or self-reflection,” he adds.
And when does one know when it is time to walk away from a toxic friendship?
Venter believes that when they have “laid down the boundaries, shared their needs and pain experienced, and they are dismissed.”
Sometimes when you suspect that a loved one may be in a toxic friendship, you may feel the need to help them get out of the relationship, but often times it may prove to be difficult. They may be protective of the relationship – accuse you of being nosy and jealous, or be ashamed about their predicament.
Venter advises that you tread cautiously and follow some simple steps that can reassure the loved one that you come from a loving place.
He says: ‘’Remind them of their self-worth and the true pillars of friendship.
“Ask them questions about their inability to walk away – maybe then they can confront their unconscious fears of “being alone” or “not being liked”, and then discover their inner strength and make more healthier choices.”
Venter advises people who are on a self-discovery path and who wish to attract healthy friendships to take time to discover their “self-worth, exercise self-love, to be aware of their unconscious truth of self, develop their ability to be brave in vulnerability and to ask for what their need from the beginning of a relationship.”
He also adds that they need to “develop non-negotiable values and rules of engagement for themselves and to be aware and conscious of their own hurtful behaviour by developing a self-reflection habit.”
And if you are currently healing from a toxic friendship, he advises you to be conscious of the feelings of guilt and telling yourself “it was my fault”.
“They need to be realistic about peoples’ responsibilities in relationships and should only take accountability for their contribution in the relationship.”
Venter notes that there is also a feeling of “hopelessness” and the fear of “ending up alone”, as it is an expected feeling that comes with the ending of any relationship.
“They need to realise that there are other people out there who are kind. And they need bravery to stay open in vulnerability to others and friendship, and not become resentful or bitter.”
For more on info on Couples Help go to: Coupleshelp.co.za