On Toxic Friendships

Toxic friendships don’t just affect you, they can affect your other relationships, your job, and your own sanity. You may not want to believe it, but you owe it to yourself to determine whether this person is helping you through life or hurting you. – Verily Magazine

The challenge of learning to love yourself… That is a huge part of eating disorder recovery. I am not over-exaggerating when I say I used to despise myself. One of my first assignments from my therapist was to note the times during the week when I really felt good about myself. I would be lucky if I came up with one before my next appointment.

(Isn’t it amazing to look back and see how far one has come.)

Part and parcel with despising oneself is letting others treat you poorly. As I started to heal, I realized that there were people in my life who are beautiful people but my relationship with them was toxic. They were people who left me feeling empty after being with them. They were people who tore me apart rather than building me up. They are people who are fighting their own battles and because of that I was getting caught in the fray.

Cutting people out of your life (or at least taking space) is a real challenge. I have had to take space from two individuals who I love dearly. I will always love them. And my hope is that as I continue to heal I will be able to reenter those friendships from a different perspective. But the truth is that at this moment in time they aren’t helping me to be the person I need to be. Are they bad people? Probably not. Are they fighting their own battles? For sure. But at the end of the day, my primary responsibility is taking care of myself so that I am able to love others.

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It is a difficult decision. One of my dear friends who I had known for years and years started to pull back when I shared with her about my eating disorder. We are fearful of sharing with others about our disorder because we don’t want to be misunderstood. And when, in fact, we are misunderstood, it confirms all our worst fears. When it came down to it, I had to decide to move on, which implied moving on from a whole group of friends. It is scary. But when it came right down to it, I realized I preferred to face the feeling of loneliness than the feeling of being torn apart every time I was with her.

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Little by little, as we give less space to the voices of the toxic friendships and learn to begin to talk to ourselves kindly, it is easier to hear the voices of those people who surround us and support us. We give ourselves permission to receive a complement and believe it without immediately denying it. We begin to let our true friends love us as we are.

The second toxic relationship I have my life is within the work environment. In the past week, I’ve realized that I’ve received at least a dozen complements, but the negative feedback from this one individual brings me down without fail. As I drove home a few nights ago it occurred to me, “What if I start listening to the complements without giving so much importance to the negative feedback?” Sure, I will pay attention to the feedback and glean whatever opportunities for improvement that I can from it. But I will not allow it to make me question myself or my self-worth.

I am not perfect. And I am sure that if half the people who complement me knew me as well as the individual who harps on my weaknesses does, they might not think so highly of me. But that is not the point. The point is that I have learned my value – which coincidentally does not lie in being perfect, but rather in who I am. There is a balance between the complements and the criticism, but that balance lies within me.

But sometimes, as I learn to find that balance, it is necessary to take some distance from certain individuals until I am strong enough to find the balance within myself at all times.

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And maybe one day I’ll pick up the book and keep reading… when I am ready.

And giving myself that time to be ready is the first step in loving myself.

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