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Are you a 'toxic' friend?
by TeenHelp August 9th 2021, 11:01 PM

Are you a 'toxic' friend?
By Holly (Celyn)

Are you a ‘toxic’ friend?

You may have come across online articles and social media posts talking about traits of ‘toxic’ people, why such people are bad for us and what to do about them. Such articles and posts describe many negative characteristics of a person and may end by suggesting using boundaries or cutting contact with said person. However, what if you relate and feel that you might be a toxic friend? Are you really a toxic friend? If you feel you might be, what can you do to help yourself?

A warning on ‘toxicity’

It’s important to keep in mind that articles and social media posts are often written with the intentions of being relatable to the audience. It’s very likely that the majority of people reading such articles have experienced difficulties with another person in their lives, and may resort to considering them as ‘toxic’ if they felt harmed by that experience. When reading such articles, it’s good to keep this in mind as well as realising that we all have our own flaws and things that we could work on. Being quick to label yourself as ‘toxic’ might actually be a sign that you have low self-esteem and feel that you aren’t good enough for those around you, but it does not necessarily mean that you are indeed ‘toxic’.

Traits that may be listed as ‘toxic’

So what traits are often considered to be toxic traits?
  • Turning up late and cancelling
  • Not sticking to promises/your word
  • Emotional labour/depending on someone
  • Emotional outbursts/immature behaviour
  • Taking but not giving/unbalanced friendships
  • Complaining, negativity, not taking advice, gossiping
  • Asking for money or other resources (and not paying it back)
  • Jealousy
  • Controlling behaviours
  • Lying/making things up/gaslighting
  • Selfish/self-centred/self-absorbed

However, what articles and social media posts often don’t take into consideration is why someone might be displaying these behaviours.

For example, it might be because of diagnosed/undiagnosed BPD or other mental health difficulties. Or it might be (un)diagnosed autism/ADHD (neurodiverse friendships may be different to neurotypical friendships which many articles are often based on). Alternatively, it might be because of having experienced trauma or currently going through other life stressors, such as grieving, relationship break-ups and job loss. Many threads and articles might state that people with BPD are toxic and should be avoided, however, it’s not fair to generalise. Not all people with BPD are toxic, not all autistic people lack empathy etc. and indeed those who have a stigmatised diagnosis are at risk of being treated differently, potentially leading to outward behaviour that others would say is toxic, because of their diagnosis. However, it’s also important not to excuse such behaviour either.

So are you really a toxic person?

As mentioned above, popular characteristics that are often listed as ‘traits of toxic people’ might not be so toxic after all. While many people may struggle with difficulties in their life or their mental health, it shouldn’t excuse actual behaviour that hurts others. The difference lies in the intent of their words and actions and whether they apologise, change or compromise their behaviour or whether there might be underlying reasons for example, autism and ADHD. These don’t justify negative or abusive behaviour but it can explain communication and sensory needs and difficulties that can lead to traits often featured in articles on toxic people.

If you do relate to such traits…ask yourself if you have been going through a difficult time, whether the other person has been treating you right, whether you have struggled emotionally or with your mental health, whether you might be autistic etc. You might realise that you aren’t necessarily exhibiting ‘toxic’ traits but that you relate to them, perhaps from low self-esteem.

If you relate to the traits but feel you might not be ‘toxic’…
  • Consider why you relate to being toxic and seek help if you are going through a difficult time, struggling with mental health or think you might be autistic.
  • Consider who you surround yourself with- some people may not be understanding and may just clash with us or put us down. It may turn out that with low self-esteem, we may feel we aren’t good enough, when in reality it might be more to do with the company that we keep!
  • Remind yourself to try not to take everything you read online seriously or personally.

If you feel you might be ‘toxic’…

If, after reflecting on whether you might be ‘toxic’ and have decided that you do indeed struggle with such behaviours, it can help to look at how you can go about changing these behaviours.
  • Firstly, let go of the ‘toxic’ label. When we label ourselves in a harsh way, we may only feel worse about ourselves.
  • Then, pick an aspect of your behaviour to improve upon. Break it down and figure out how you will take action- do you need to apologise, find methods to help you cope e.g. using alarms to remind you of things, compromise on things if you feel you can’t fully commit, avoid promising things, try to be yourself more so that other’s don’t feel misled by promises or false acts, allowing you to make more authentic connections. Remember, it takes a while to make progress- don’t expect change to happen overnight.
  • We can’t force people to do what we want them to do or give us something that we want, and we have to accept that. Understand that others may or may not recognise your progress and that you can’t control how they will react. Make sure that you are trying to change for yourself, and not for anyone else.

We will all ‘likely’ relate to the ‘toxic person’ at some point in our life. We all have things we could work on but there’s no need to try to change yourself or become a new person. It’s good to take a balanced approach between accepting who you are, working on any flaws and realising all your good points.
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