Toxic Friendships: When is It the Right Time to Cut the Cord?

By Anna Stolarek

Friendship – what comes to mind? Some might say that having a friend is like having a companion who is always by your side, ready to face all the hardships that the world unexpectedly throws at you. Others might say that friendship is an unbreakable bond that one cherishes for the rest of their lives. Although the sentiment is lovely, does such a definition still apply when that friendship turns gradually bitter overtime? What then?

As we get a bit older, sometimes we have to say good-bye. This was never a lesson in school.

Allow me to share a story with you. A story about the time where I was trapped in a toxic friendship and how I miraculously got out of it. Here I will also address a few signs, which will help you identify whether you are currently experiencing something similar. Without further ado, make yourself a cup of tea and settle in because this story is a real doozy.

When I first met Charlie I was in middle school and if someone had told me then that he would be my future best friend I would have laughed my little heart out. The reasoning for my reaction would have been quite simple. He and I were nothing alike. We were polar opposites. I was a quiet kid who was very reserved while he was outgoing and had no problem opening up to people he considered friends. What were the odds? I guess that what people say is true: opposites do indeed attract.

We were not exactly the closest of friends back then but we had the same circle of friends so naturally we crossed paths very often. I thought that our so-called acquaintanceship would not escalate any further than that. Oh, how wrong I was…

Then came high school.

This was a pivotal stage, because that was when everything had changed tremendously. Little by little, our small group started to slowly drift apart. Some of our friends were enrolled in different high schools, while others moved with their families to different provinces. Although we had technology to help us keep in touch we slowly started to lose contact with one another. Charlie and I, subsequently, depended on each other more and more. Our bond grew. After two years of high school it was just the two of us, surviving in the “Building of Doom” as we called our high school. He was my Robin to my Batman. I was his Dr Watson to his Sherlock. You get the picture.

If I were to say that our friendship was always terrible, I would be blatantly lying. Come to think of it, most of my fond memories from my teen years were rooted in our friendship.  When things got tough he would always have my back; when things got too serious. He would always make me laugh. He was always there to listen. He was always there for me when I needed advice. But then we graduated from high school and things started to take a nasty turn.

GUILT TRIPPING

This particular manipulation tactic was used on me quite often, but I was too much in denial to notice it straight away. We both attended different colleges at that point, so naturally we did not spend as much time as we had in the past. Whenever he wanted to hang out with me, being totally aware that I was very busy with work, he would always demand of me to drop what I was doing just to see him. After I would carefully explain to him that I was doing something important, he would pull out the guilt card, saying something along the lines of: “You never have time for me anymore.” or “You would drop everything for your college friends.” He knew how to get to me, and as much as I hate to admit it, he would always get what he wanted. If guilt tripping occurs often in your friendship, consider this a first major red flag.

INSULT AFTER INSULT

Now, there is a fine line between criticism and insult. Constructive criticism can be a good thing, if it is used with good intentions. True friends can be honest with each other. Some people are more open to criticism and handle it better than others. Having a friend point out your faux pas can really allow you to grow as a person, which in the long run can benefit you in the future. However, when criticism turns into insults, just cheap put downs, you should seriously re-evaluate your friendship. In my situation it all started with name-calling. Idiot and moron were his favourite. The abusive names he was coming up with made me feel degraded. But, almost as if he sensed how uncomfortable I felt about this, he would try to reassure me that these were just funny nicknames. Funny nicknames, indeed. Oddly enough, he was the only one who found them amusing.

WALKING ON THIN ICE

There were moments where I was genuinely scared to receive a text message from Charlie. It sounds really overdramatic, but back then this was a serious issue I was dealing with. I never really knew what kind of Charlie I would get on a given day. I would always ask myself: Would I talk to a free-spirited Charlie who would amuse me with his funny anecdotes? Or perhaps I would receive a message from an infuriated Charlie who would insult me and cuss me out to release all the frustrations that caused him to snap that day. It was like tossing a coin. I never knew which side I was going to get. I was, metaphorically speaking, walking on thin ice around him. One wrong move or action would send me falling into the depths of dangerous water.

APOLOGY. WHAT IS THAT?

In an early stage of development children learn to say three key words that are simple but hold a meaningful message: please, thank you and I’m sorry. Charlie apparently did not partake in such a lesson because he never owned up to his mistakes nor did he apologize for his ill-treatment towards others. He would always justify his outbursts, trying to convince everyone that they were righteous. Funny enough, I was always the one who would do the apologizing. Sometimes I even started to believe that I was genuinely at fault. If something similar is occurring in your friendship circle, please pay closer attention to your future conversations.

BLACK AND BLUE

This particular sign was arguably the most severe, but due to its seriousness it allowed me to see things much more clearly. At the start of our friendship Charlie and I would often playfully punch each other in the arm. It was our way of showing each other affection because we were never the hugging type. He punched my arm or my leg and I would retaliate. I did not think much of it. But as time went on I would notice that Charlie would punch my arms and legs more forcefully, so much so that I stopped punching him altogether because I was convinced that I injured him in some way. This did not stop the hitting whatsoever. Then whenever I would change, I would randomly spot black-and-blue bruises all over my body. At first I shrugged it off, and tried to convince myself that Charlie just did not recognise his strength and how much harm he was doing to me. To put it simply, I thought that I was being overdramatic. But the moment he accidentally caught a glimpse of my bruises and I saw total indifference in his eyes, that was when I needed to get out of this toxic situation.

It took me some time to find the courage in me to address my concerns to Charlie, but I knew that I had to speak up eventually. I managed to convince him to meet up with me at a local cafe we used to go to all the time. I have to admit that it was very difficult for me to open up like that to him. I felt exposed and drained: physically and emotionally. Deep down I hoped that he would understand where I was coming from, that he would appreciate my honesty. But the reality was unfortunately different. He turned the tables around and accused me of being a bad friend. More insults and more rude remarks about me were spewing out of him like a volcano and that was when I knew that I had to make my choice right then and there. Leave or stay. Although it was difficult for me to keep my composure I stood up from the chair, looked him in the eye, wished him the best of luck and walked out without looking back.

When I arrived home, I decided to block him on all of my social media platforms. It was more for my sake because I did not want my resolve to weaken. I knew that if I had not blocked him at that point I would probably go back to that unhealthy cycle. The first couple of months were difficult, but as the saying goes: time heals. I expected to never hear from him again.

I was wrong.

Almost four years later, he managed to reach out to me. I was shocked to the core when I read the message because he did something that I never in my life expected him to do. Apologize. He owned up to his mistakes, admitted that looking back he took our friendship for granted, reassured me that he is attending therapy to deal with his anger and hoped that one day I would forgive him and reconnect. Although I am a forgiving person by nature I decided to stand my ground. At first I considered not writing back to him, but after a few minutes of contemplation I decided to respond. I was an adult, therefore I wanted to handle this matter maturely. I told him that I appreciated his apology and was glad to hear that he was doing better. I admitted to him that I did not feel comfortable enough to properly reconnect with him again. Surprisingly, he took this quite well and was rather surprised that I actually responded to his message in the first place. He reassured me that he understood where I was coming from and hoped that one day I would change my mind. I responded back wishing him the best of luck. He wished me the same and that was the last time I heard from him.

So, it is safe to say that me and Charlie ended things on an okay note. We resolved our past issues and went our separate ways. If I am being completely honest I do not see a place for him in my life. And that is okay. Sometimes friendships do not last forever. People come and go. That is the harsh reality. Life gets in the way, people change. You will change.

What about you? Do you have a Charlie in your life? If you are currently finding yourself in a similar situation, address the problem, because sometimes holding on to something or someone is much more painful than letting go. Do not hesitate. Take action. You are strong enough. Every new chapter promises exciting new starts, friendships and all.