Toxic Friends in Your Tribe?

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The concept of having a “Tribe” has been a topic of discussion in my life lately. Even this Sunday at church, Pastor preached about knowing your tribe and how to form it. I started writing this article weeks ago but figured now was the perfect time to release it. 

I recently had to end an otherwise enjoyable relationship, someone right hand in my tribe, because of the company that person choose to keep, their tribe. Even though his friends were once my friends and were decent people on the surface, there were always underlying motives and wickedness that made me feel uncomfortable being around them. They were manipulative and selfish and my friend fell for their cruel schemes every time. This is not to say they sat in a room over a boiling cauldron plotting out ways to curse him (or me) but they didn’t see anything wrong with playing on a person’s emotions, abusing their trust, and influencing situations towards negative outcomes. For me, keeping him meant keeping them and I was being damaged by association. So they all had to go.

If you have people like this in your life, you’ve got to distance yourself. There are plenty of articles about how to deal with your toxic friends (I’ll tag some below). However, I wanted to focus on some simple truths that you can use to determine if your friendship (the one you’re thinking of right now) is toxic: poisonous, very bad, harmful, and unpleasant

They don’t celebrate you. Toxic friends don’t genuinely care about your successes or triumphs. For them, the things you’ve achieved don’t matter much because it doesn’t impact them. They aren’t reliable for birthday dinners, phone calls, or special events unless they can gain something from it. They want a free meal, drink, or a chance to meet someone important. Also, if your success outshines theirs, they get really jealous. Toxic people prefer to be the pinnacle of attention. Example:

Oh, yeah I’ve won that award twice already. I heard they changed things up to make it easier for people. That’s why I didn’t do it this year. 

They are full of unhealthy advice. Toxic friends need to be fueled. They prefer to keep you in a state that lends to more unhealthy behavior and activities. They don’t want you to lose weight or to stop drinking heavily and will even try to convince you to stay in destructive relationships. If you remain unwell, you’ll probably keep them around; that’s the subconscious logic they have. Because they have few friends, they can’t afford to lose you. Example:

Seriously, he’s a really good guy. I mean, everybody cheats but at least he makes good money and can buy us something nice to make up for it. 

They don’t give. Anything. Don’t expect a birthday gift, an “I’ll treat” meal or anything that requires selflessness. These people are all about gain and opportunity. Also, when they act outside of their normal routine, you can almost bet it’s because they have something to gain from your presence. Example

No, I invited you because you’re my friend. Wait, don’t you know the owner, maybe you can get me a better seat.

They can’t handle you. Partly because they don’t know you. Sure, some details about you they manged to retain but they aren’t available like honest and true friends who have made your emotional health a priority. Toxic friends can’t even recognize your triggers. Because they don’t know what’s bothering you, they won’t know how to handle you. Unfortunately, even if you told them plainly what your issues are, the pressure of being responsible to anyone other than themselves will leave toxic friends with little advice to offer, little support to give, and possibly some bad decisions to recover from. Example:

You’re not going to ruin another night because you’re sad. Drink this and get over it.

They will disappear. After failing to handle your emotional needs, toxic friends might disappear. Actually, they’ll disappear anyway. Especially when you aren’t in a position to give to them or fulfill their wants. Sometimes, the method is used in hopes you’ll beg for them back in turn keeping the upper hand in the relationship. Other times, it allows time for them to cool off from having to be a real and supportive friend. Example:

I’ve been around. You were just so sad and depressed, you were killing my vibe.

Though these actions hurt, toxic friends are toxic because they are allowed to be. You’ve got to set boundaries for yourself that protects your from the negativity that will breed destruction in your life. In the last few weeks, I’ve had previously toxic friends try to wiggle their way back into my life. (Not including the slew of previous dating partners who frequent my inbox.) It’s always easy to let them back in because you remember the fun times you had. But it’s important before interacting with these person’s you determine how you’ll proceed going forward. I suggest the method below:

  1. Determine if forgiveness or apologies are needed. If yes, are you ready to travel that route? If not, tell them you’re not ready.
  2. Have an open and honest conversation about what went wrong and how it felt before planning anything casual. Do not try to rekindle a flame when there is still smoke from the last fire.
  3. Don’t travel alone. Bring a supportive friend who would be willing to keep the interactions honest and healthy. This is especially important if there have been some major life events since you last saw them.
  4. Give them your boundaries. Make it very clear that drinking, smoking, gossiping, or etc are not allowed in this rekindled friendship.
  5. Make yourself a priority this time around. Don’t do anything you don’t want to, don’t go anywhere you aren’t comfortable, and always be honest. And know in advance that if it doesn’t work out this time, you tried your best and you’ll be okay with letting it go once and for all.

Know that not all distant friends are toxic. Not all people who took a break from the tribe deserve to be kicked out. And not all friendships that ended need to be rekindled. As an adult, it’s important you surround yourself with a tribe of people that will protect, honor, cherish, and support you. It’s okay to let a friendship go even if you’ve known them your whole life or even if you barely gave it a chance. Wisdom involves knowing which people to invest in and moving on is apart of maturing up.

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