wilting or growing? identifying toxic relationships

 

When the word toxic comes to mind, we think of poison, or something that’s bad for us. But more often than not, that something can turn out to be a someone. Or in worst cases, more than one someone.

The people in your life are supposed to make you grow, and bring out the best parts of you. If the people you surround yourself with aren’t making you happy, then you aren’t surrounding yourself with the right people. Friends can be toxic, and it’s a hard truth to grasp for a lot of people. People stay in toxic relationships (whether they be of platonic or romantic nature) for a variety of reasons:

  • Fear of starting over and being lonely trying to find someone else
  • Settling – these people have known them for so long already and know so much about their history, so what’s the point of cutting ties this far along?
  • Validation
  • Fear of confrontation and hurting feelings when being honest
  • Complex personal issues and insecurities
  • Choosing to focus on only good memories instead of bad memories

Speaking as someone who has experienced toxicity with people I once considered close to me, I have used each and every one of these reasons as justification for staying at different points in friendships and relationships. It takes some people longer than others to realize the way they want and are supposed to be treated, and that’s not something to be ashamed of.

My senior year of high school I went from having ten people to text to graduating with one close friend, who is my best friend to this day. And no, I didn’t do this to make a statement. I reached a point where I was sick of the way I was being treated by girls who kept saying I was “family” to them. I wasn’t growing with them anymore, I was wilting. At the end of the day it didn’t matter to me that I didn’t have a prom group or a lengthy list for my grad party – I didn’t want people who made me feel like shit to share big moments of my life with me anymore, especially if a passive-aggressive comment was going to be made later or a fight would erupt over group text or email. An important part of growing up is abandoning the notion that you have to be popular in order to be successful and happy. It shouldn’t matter how many friends you have, the only thing that should matter is how the people in your life make you feel.

Some relationships can be more stifling than fulfilling. And it’s upsetting when you realize that someone who is important to you isn’t actually benefiting you emotionally in any way anymore. And in some cases you may even be that person yourself. There have been times where I’ve had to sit back and ask myself Am I a toxic person too? It’s not an easy thing to admit, but if you make a sincere effort to improve yourself and treat others better, then you come out on top. After all, one of the best apologies is changed behavior.

It has taken me twenty years to say that I have friends who make me feel incredible, who don’t make me doubt the way they feel about me, who don’t make me feel like a burden, who don’t make me feel ashamed of being who I am. And I offer the same support to them. It has been a long journey, and I know I still have a long way to go and more people to meet.

Friends aren’t supposed to make you feel bad about yourself and the things that are important to you. Real friends don’t cross your boundaries. Real friends don’t take advantage of you or your insecurities. Real friends don’t pressure you to do something they know you’re not comfortable with. Real friends don’t try to sabotage your personal relationships with other people. Real friends don’t make fun of your appearance, your aspirations, your hobbies. And most importantly, real friends don’t ever make you question your worth as a human being.

Please note that not only girls can be toxic to each other……there are toxic guy friendships too. Toxicity in friendships is not exclusive to a certain group of people. Friendships and their intricacies are different with each gender and the way they treat each other. For my eighteenth birthday, one of my friends at the time gave me Mindy Kaling’s memoir Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? As a joke in response to a night when I found out that everyone in our friend group made plans to get together knowing that I was at home with nothing to do. Needless to say I didn’t laugh one bit. But there are guys I know who made a dating app for their recently single friend and messaged a girl pretending to be him without telling him what they were doing, and they thought it was funny and saw nothing wrong with it. Teach your sons and daughters emotional intelligence, people. It has to get better – the way we treat each other, our friends – it has to get better. There is a line to draw between “just messing around” and being cruel. 

One of the most important parts of self-care is realizing the way you are supposed to be treated by other people. Everyone is deserving of good, healthy relationships. If you ever have a feeling that something is off, you are most likely right. Always go with your gut instinct, especially about people. And it can be scary starting over, I know – but you come out as a stronger person when you cut ties with toxic people. It’s not selfish to end a relationship or a friendship with someone who isn’t good to you, or hasn’t been good to you for a while – just ask yourself Am I wilting, or growing? And go from there. Remember what you’re worth, and never give someone the power to make you question that worth.

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