Frenemies No More: Surviving a Friendship Breakup
Dr. Jan Yager’s book, "When Friendship Hurts: How to Deal with Friends Who Betray, Abandon or Wound You," talks about the realities of friendship gone wrong. How do you deal with toxic friends? Why do some people have a pattern of picking the wrong friends, and end up getting used time after time? How can we choose positive, healthy friendships that enrich our lives, and spot them early on, weeding out the “frenemies” waiting to happen?
What is a Friend?
In this age of social media, you can friend/unfriend, follow or unfollow at the click of a button. And the word friend can mean SO many things. But for this discussion I am referring to platonic, non-romantic, non-sexual relationships between two people who seem to like and enjoy each other's company. For this episode, we're not talking about spouses or siblings, who can be very special kinds of best friends-- I know this because I lost my husband a few months ago and we shared everything. And by the way, I also did a show last year with Pamela Naidoo that explores whether men and women can truly be just friends if you're interested in listening to that one.
Detecting Harmful People Before They’re Friends
Here you will find 21 personality traits of people you don’t want as friends. Dr. Yager describes the character of each trait, then gives suggestions and caveats for those who decide they want to put up with (oh excuse me, I meant to say maintain) friendships with these types of people (with or without confrontation), and insight as to why the person exhibits this negative behavior. Each description is interspersed with real life examples, and she explains what an ideal, healthy friendship looks like.
What each of the 21 traits has in common is crossing a boundary, or reacting to their friend based on their own emotional state (jealousy, insecurity, depression, discomfort). Yager advises that its best to end a friendship if the problem has severe effects on the friendship, and the person does not seek professional help (therapist, etc.).
It’s All in the Family
The way we interact with others starts from role patterns we learn in childhood. Kids who had toxic parents, sibling issues or abuse have learned to see themselves in a negative light, and could consequently choose friends who fit those same patterns, Yager says.
The best way to deal with this is to acknowledge and deal with these issues if they exist, so you can change how you see yourself for the better, change how you react to others, and make different friendship choices. Again, therapy is a great start.
Can This Friendship Be Saved?
This is where we learn some steps to salvage a friendship. One step Yager suggests is putting yourself in their place to create empathy and decrease your anger against them. I know this would backfire for me because when I do this, my analytical nature and reasoning would take over, and I would still feel like the other person was not justified for what I felt they did to me. In any case, creating self-awareness instead of going straight to blaming and projecting are other suggestions, as well as using “I” statements during a confrontation to diffuse the other person’s defensiveness.
When and How to End It
When you are in limbo about whether to end a friendship, you need some guidance. This chapter gives tips, guidelines and affirmations, including ways to minimize the likelihood of retaliation by the person. It also discusses how to go about this process with your child’s friends, especially if they have dealing with gangs or bullies, or other unhealthy company.
Mixing Friends and Work
Of the 10 rules Yager lists for friendships at work, I’ll mention 4 here:
1- Use your best judgment to avoid or withdraw from situations that would cause a potential conflict of interest. (You know what they say—avoid even the appearance of evil.)
2- Stay away from gossip, especially if it’s private, unannounced to the whole company, or unconfirmed by the person(s) involved.
3- Be careful of your conversation and body language when forming friendships with the opposite sex.
4- If you are dating someone in the workplace, you need to be even more careful. You don’t want your relationship to affect your performance or how others see you.
Finding Good Friends
The “Friendship Attunement Quiz” has 20 questions to help evaluate whether an acquaintance might have the potential of developing a positive, healthy friendship with you, based on compatibility and trustworthiness. You also get tips on how to encourage an acquaintance to become a friend in a gradual way. Yager says that people slowly develop trust by sharing confidences while doing activities and having experiences together (not just by talking), and the friendship develops from there. This chapter also includes a quiz about whether to reconnect with old friends.
An interesting point is the notion that it takes about 3 years to develop a “tried-and-true” friendship, because that is the length of time where the realities of life have tested the friendship, such as relocation, marriage, divorce, promotion, job changes, etc. My sister friendship that I mentioned in the beginning of this show was someone I was friends with for 10 years before we broke up.
Where to Go From Here
Sometimes we want to know why a person has stopped talking to us and rekindle a friendship, but the truth is, knowing the answer may not satisfy you. The person who has ceased communication with you may not know why s/he did so, deny it, blame you, or ignore you and drudge up the hurt all over again. It may be best that you decide to let it go and move on. There's an excellent blog about these types of feelings and situations by Natalie Lue called Baggage Reclaim. She discusses a lot of relationship topics there, but the whole thing about closure is applicable to close friendship breakups as well.
As Yager puts it, befriending yourself makes it less likely that a friend will betray you or that you will tolerate a toxic friendship long enough for them to do so. I did a show with Kristina Hallett called "Be Your Own Best Friend" that is based on her book of the same name.
So, it all starts with you. If you don’t respect yourself, you will allow others to treat you badly.
More from this episode...
Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? - How to Cultivate Meaningful Friendships as an Adult