We need friendships. We need people. We were not created to be alone. However, we must be wise in who we allow into our innermost heart because no matter how strong and impenetrable we think we are, the people with whom we spend the most time will change us – for better or for worse.
To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable. – C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves
To love is indeed to be vulnerable.
Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art…. It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival. – C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves
Look around you at the people you spend the most time with and realize that your life can’t rise any higher than your friendships. – Mandy Hale
Do Toxic Friendships Matter as much as Toxic Relationships?
A couple weeks ago, we posted Eighteen Tips on How to Gain Freedom from the Cycle of Bad Relationships. As important as it is to free yourself from poor romantic relationships (as most marry someone whom they date), it is also crucial to your mental health and peace to remove toxic friends from your life. It is easier said than done, but negative friendships can take over our lives for years – long after we break up with unsuitable partners.
Toxic friendships are toxic relationships – just not romantic ones.
Before Eric came into my life, I did my share of dating. None of my relationships lasted too long and they were not all toxic. In fact, I would only put a couple of those relationships into the toxic category. The difference between my romantic relationships and my friend relationships is that everyone had an opinion about my romantic endeavors.
- You will marry someone you date. Be careful!
- Heather, you do not have to marry the first man who asks.
- Guard your heart!
- He is disrespectful.
- Is this really who you want to be with? Is this really someone you would be proud to introduce to your friends?!?!?!
We often do not have to look far for advice on our dating decisions; yet, people are rarely as involved in our friend selection process. Yet, who we pal around with is quite significant. Friends have the power to influence us, build us up, and hurt us. How many of our habits – good or bad – did we pick up from our friends?
Lately, the topic of toxic friendships has been heavy on my mind. When I watch my loved ones endure heartache at the hands of “friends” who are supposed to love them, I battle anger (cf. Ephesians 4:26). I battle bridling my tongue (cf. James 3). I want to airlift them away from those relationships. Not all broken hearts come from exes!
Friends are supposed to be there for you when you cry; not the reason you cry. – Unknown
The men I dated did not influence my life nearly as much as my friends, and I have experienced the healing effects of positive friendships and the soul-sucking effects of poor friendships.
Oil and perfume make the heart glad, and the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel. (Proverbs 27:9, ESV)
Am I Nursing a Toxic Friendship?
If you are involved in some questionable friendships and you wonder, “Is this friendship toxic, or am I too sensitive?” then read the questions below and then ponder and answer.
- Is this person a blessing to my life? Eric asks me this question from time to time. Is that habit a blessing to your life? Is that TV show a blessing to your life? I have heard him ask others who are struggling in friendships, “Is this person a blessing to your life?” It feels like an off-putting question at first, but it is honestly one which invites consideration. Is this person truly a blessing to my life? Am I a blessing to his or her life? What would need to change for me to consider this person a blessing to my life? “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company ruins good morals.’” (I Corinthians 15:33, ESV)
- Is this person a blessing to others in my life? Maybe you enjoy your friend’s company, but do your loved ones struggle? Is spending time with this person causing you to be less kind or less available to others you love? Have you grown more sarcastic? Does your friend bully or tease others in your life who may be more sensitive? If your friend is causing problems for your loved ones, yet remains unrepentant after confronted, is he or she truly a fit for you? “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3, ESV)
- Is there more drama in my life because of this person? “People inspire you or they drain you. Pick them wisely” (Hans F. Hansen). Sometimes a little drama makes life feel exciting, but over time, drama gets old and exhausting. If you are friends with someone who frequently stirs up issues, creates problems, or gets bursts of energy from making waves, take a step back and imagine the next several years of your life. Is this what you want in a friendship? Eventually, the dramatic friend will turn his or her fire towards you.
- Do I feel supported or uplifted after spending time with this friend? Whether you find yourself waist-deep in gossip, personally put down, or encrusted in a shroud of negativity, a depressing friend will bring you down. Of course, everyone has their moments; even the most optimistic people have their off days. But, if this person frequently leaves you feeling the weight of the world on your shoulders, then pray for him or her but distance yourself. It is easy to pull someone down and misery loves company. “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” (I Thessalonians 5:11, ESV)
- Do I trust this person? Why or why not? Does his or her tongue fly a mile a minute about other people? Is he or she slow to answer questions when confronted? Have you witnessed this person betray other friends? Maybe it is just a gut feeling. Investigate your concerns, even if they seem strange at first. If you never become fully comfortable with this person, there is probably a reason. Be wise with what you share. “A dishonest man spreads strife, and a whisperer separates close friends.” (Proverbs 16:28, ESV)
- Does this friendship feel one-sided? Do I consistently battle feeling used by this person? Am I the friend he or she calls when there is a project to tackle? When there is a problem to discuss? Am I the one who supplies the ice cream and tissues after every broken heart, but gets little or no empathy in return? Am I the friend who does not exist when life is going well? If you are doing the lion’s share of the giving, you can feel that. Over time it starts to eat a hole in your gut. Sometimes, you need to do more of the giving. Other times, you need your friends to give to you. Friendships naturally ebb and flow. If you have been the giver (or receiver) for years, regardless of the circumstances, you are in a one-sided relationship. What is this relationship doing for you?
- Does he or she prioritize me realistically? Maybe I exist, but does this person struggle to find time for me even though he or she finds plenty of time for other people or pursuits? Seasons require friends to be flexible. New mothers may not be up for hanging out on a Saturday night, and students studying for finals will need some grace; but, if your “best” friend posts dozens of pictures a week of her new friends, but frequently makes excuses about being too busy to see you, it is time for a talk. If nothing is resolved with the talk, it is probably time to distance yourself from that person. “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity. (Proverbs 17:17, ESV)
- Am I free to be me? Do I laugh weird? Is that okay? Do I get cranky when I am tired? Is that okay? Do I have an eclectic taste in music? Is that okay? If you must change who you are to be accepted by this “friend” then he or she is not truly your friend. (Note: this is not the same as a friend confronting you on your sin); cf. Matthew 18:15, Luke 17:3, James 5:19-20). A friend who is willing to endure your anger to tell you the truth is a true friend, but you will not have to change your personality for a friend.
- Does he or she feel too comfortable telling me what to do, how to feel, or how to live my life? How is this friend with boundaries? Some personalities are more comfortable giving advice or pushing for information. Not everyone who tries to get into your business is toxic. But, if after frequent boundary setting discussions, he or she still pushes past your established barriers, that person is not respecting you. We all need support and advice sometimes, but some people feel great power when they latch on to someone they can easily control. You are no one’s project. You are no one’s pet.
- Am I comfortable confronting this friend if issues arise? Comfortable may be the wrong word for some of us. I doubt I will ever feel comfortable confronting friends; but, I have friends who will try to understand, work to fix the problem, and still love me. Others might not stick around if I am honest with them or if I indicate to them that they are less than perfect. Ultimately, this question goes back to trust. Do I trust that this person will hear my heart or will he or she put up a wall and refuse to understand my concerns?
- Do I feel freedom in this friendship or a sense of bondage? Some friendships can feel like bad dating relationships. Jealousy, controlling behaviors, whining, criticism, mind games, and stonewalling are not only traits of poor romantic relationships. They are often present in toxic friendships as well. Do you wince at the thought of your friend finding out you went to a restaurant without wearing a mask? Do you feel relief when your friend cannot join you at a party? Does he or she have a sense of control over your mind? Do you find yourself blurting out information which is none of his or her business? Do you generally feel freer when he or she is gone? “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (2 Corinthians 3:17, ESV)
- Is this person pointing me toward, or away from, Christ? Just as with a potential spouse, it is important to choose friends who point you towards your goals. As believers, our first goal is to be like Christ. “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps” (I Peter 2:21, ESV). Are your friends encouraging you to be more like Christ or leading you down a different path?
It’s very possible and very okay to forgive someone and still not want to spend time with them. – Karen Salmansohn
Those of us who struggle with guilt have a difficult time placing firm boundaries between ourselves and those who continuously hurt us. Someone may say, “You have not forgiven her if you do not want to be around her.” This is not necessarily true. It is possible to forgive someone without allowing that person further access to your heart.
Take some time with the questions above and prayerfully consider if you need to put distance between yourself and any of your friendships (or make new friendships in light of the questions). Do so for yourself, but also for your future marriage. Your friends will affect your spouse. Your friends will affect your relationship with your spouse. Toxic friends will consume the reserves you need to save for your husband or wife and then shame you for creating healthy boundaries.
As you prepare for marriage, take a good look into the relationships which have shaped, and continue to shape, you. How are they likely to influence your future marriage relationship?
Keep Breaking Free!
A friend is one that knows you as you are, understands where you have been, accepts what you have become, and still, gently allows you to grow. – William Shakespeare
This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:12-13, ESV)
Do you have friends who leech the joy from your life or lead you against your conscience?