I have struggled with codependently accepting emotional abuse, harassment, and bullying as something normal. However, I have been fighting this instinct and trying to build healthy relationships. Talking with friends, I realize that many people struggle with toxic relationships. I think that this is especially problematic after college, when we might realize that we have friends who don’t actually make us better people. I believe that taking charge of life includes taking charge of who we allow to share our lives.
Dear Toxic Friendship,
I never realized how much power I had in my life until I let you go. Before then, I always thought there was something wrong with me, that I deserved whatever you dished out, and this was all I would ever be worth. I thought that somehow I had asked for mistreatment. I was never good enough: too weird, too poor, not pretty enough, wrong likes, wrong background, too thin, too fat, too silly, too serious. I started hiding my history, everything that I had been. When I was with you, you taught me to hate myself, and to feel lucky to even be noticed.
It hurt, but I felt like I deserved the pain. You were so critical. Every joke, every time I misspoke, even the way I walked, it was all up for critique, every day. So, when you kicked me out of carpools, or moved away from me at gatherings, didn’t show up to anything I planned, or excluded me from conversations, I felt that was something I had asked for. Everything I had ever done wrong would always be at the forefront of my mind. So, I’d ignore it. I’d ignore everything, and I’d be extra, super thankful every time you treated me with, well, basic respect. When you turned it back on me, saying I was imagining everything, I assumed it was true.
I accepted it as normal to have doors slammed in my face, to be shouted at or bossed around, to have no one to talk to. I made all kinds of excuses. You didn’t reply to messages because you’re just so busy. You didn’t say hi when you walked by me because you were in a hurry, every day. You told me you weren’t doing anything, and instead went out to an event, but it was just because of… a good reason, I’m sure.
And, you brought out the worst in me. I internalized everything. I became the weak, strange, quiet, awkward outsider you pegged me as. I broke down–cried, became angry. Somewhere, all the positive aspects of myself vanished into the way you described me. I wasn’t funny, smart, or strong. I wasn’t the loving friend I know I am. My past didn’t matter. I was your definition.
I can look back at these relationships now and realize with a sort of shock just how poisonous they were to my well-being. But, while it was happening, I accepted everything as normal. This isn’t what a friendship should be like. This is bullying. This is what happens in high school cliques. And, in many cases, this was actually harassment. This is taking someone aside to tear them down, and then pretending nothing had happened afterward. This is gas-lighting, projection, verbal abuse.
So, Toxic Friendships, I need to break up with you. I need to stop seeing you as a benchmark for what is normal. I need to surround myself with positive people who let me be my better self, and who don’t tear me down. I need to be able to fall and have hands there to catch me, rather than feet to kick me when I’m down.
Maybe it will surprise you. Maybe you’ll be startled to see I had to delete you from social media accounts, or that I don’t reach out anymore. After all, I don’t think you saw this as toxic. You saw this as natural. You saw me as strange or different, and decided that was the whole truth. I was only these negative things. After all, you told me I should be grateful that someone asked me how I was. This was just what you decided I deserved.
Maybe you’ll think I’m being mean now. Maybe you think I need to learn my place, or that I’m getting too uppity. But, you know what? I no longer care what you think.
I know that deleting people from internet accounts doesn’t mean a lot. I still have the capacity to let myself be used and stepped on. I have a long way to go. But, taking this step and clearing you away, feeling like I don’t have to worry about gossip over a picture I might post or what is going on in my life –that makes me breathe easier! I felt a relief to not see you when I opened my computer. It felt right.
There’s been some damage from our relationship. I worry about trusting now. I see myself in a critical, harsh light. I have trouble opening up to new friends. But, I also learned important things from our time together. I am more careful about who I share myself with. I realize, I am a person of value, and I don’t need to give myself to just anyone. If someone isn’t going to respect me, or is going to shun and belittle me, that person doesn’t deserve me as a friend. Because, I value friendship, and I know that my friendship means something.
Life is short, Toxic Friendships. It’s time to make a clean break from you, and move on to something better.
Have you ever let go of unworthy friendships?
Also by Chloe: Why You Don’t Need to Be “Fixed” to Live Beautifully
Related: On Breaking Up with Friends
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Photo: Chloe McDonald