How Toxic Friendships Can Undermine Your Self-Esteem (And Your Future)
Although many of us struggle to socialize at times, it is also an essential fact of life that making even tentative connections with other people can have an enormous impact on how we develop as individuals and therefore how we meet the challenges of life.
Unfortunately, this facet of life can also be a major struggle for individuals who have difficulty coping with issues such as Social Anxiety Disorder or depression; however damaging a social connection may be, many such individuals believe that any friendship is better than no friendship.
Why People Fall Into the Toxic Friendship TrapRead More »
If we were to give friendship a kind of strict definition, for example, we might say that a true friendship exists when two people care about one another and like and respect one another. Real friendships arise from genuine feelings of sympathy, empathy, and common interests. The phrase “a friend in need is a friend indeed” refers to the fact that true friends provide support in times of difficulty. It is easy to gain friendships in times of plenty; it is difficult to find friends in times of calamity.
Some basic qualities of a real friendship include:
- People who lift one another up rather than put one another down
- People who want to see each other succeed
- People who are there for one another during times of difficulty or crisis
- People who stick up for friends who are not present
Understanding False Friendships
So what does a false friendship look like?
False friendships are more often than not social relationships of convenience in some form or another. They tend to be very one-sided in favor of one person in the relationship.
Ruled Notebook/Journal – Classic Lined Journal/Notebook, 5.3″ x 8.26″, Hardcover with Thick Paper,View Deal
For example, an unscrupulous person may believe that there is some benefit to be had from making friends with someone who has connections to powerful, wealthy, or influential people. Commonly known as “fair-weather friends,” these individuals tend to look for friendships that provide some sort of tangible social benefit to themselves at the expense of others.
New Vision Discovery That is Leaving Optometrists Speechless (Do This Tonight)
Ad -Healthy Partisan
As you might expect, however, when the first signs of strife or difficulty emerge, these fair-weather friends tend to disappear altogether. They are the types of people who you always hear from when you nab a prestigious job post or get into a good college; however, the same people will go radio silent when you experience difficulties or enter a challenging period of your life. If you get into Harvard Law School, you’ll never stop getting invitations to social events from these people; but take a low-paying but highly rewarding public service job after graduation and you won’t hear from them at all.
Some qualities of false friendships include:
- Situations where one friend exploits another friend for some form of gain
- Friends are only around when there is some tangible benefit to themselves
- Put-downs are common
- Negative feelings are a “symptom” or after-effect of social interactions
Jane Austen famously satirized these types of friendships in novels such as “Pride and Prejudice” and “Sense and Sensibility.” The characters of Mr. Collins and Lady Catherine de Bourgh in “Pride and Prejudice” for example are happy to cultivate friendships with people so long as those people provide some level of social benefit in the process. But these same characters are also quick to abandon anyone that gives off even the appearance of social detriment or turbulence. On the other hand, characters in “Pride and Prejudice” like Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet are contrasted against these types of individuals: For these characters, friendships are partnerships of mutual support and fellow-feeling. These friendships are forged in times of difficulty. Like steel, they are made stronger in adverse conditions.
Why True Friendships Matter
Turn Your Finances Around: Best Bad Credit Bill Consolidation Loans Solutions
Ad -Bill Consolidation Solution
To wit, Austen illustrates the fact that good friends, neighbors, coworkers, or acquaintances tend to be a lot like good sports team coaches: Even the best athletes will flounder without the right kind of sincere and nurturing encouragement and guidance from others. Human beings are at root social creatures; whether we admit it or not, one of our basic needs in life involves a certain level of interaction with other people.
Early on in life, we might not have much choice as to who we pick as friends or acquaintances: In our early schooldays, for example, many of us seem to fall into a peer group without really thinking very much about the process at all: It’s difficult to find people with common values and interests if we’re not really sure what our values and interests actually are.
As many of us grow into adulthood, however, we tend to naturally meet and associate with different peer groups that share at least a similar collective outlook on life to ourselves. At various stages of our social development, we might acquire a strong sense of kinship with coworkers or college classmates; at church, we might develop a community of friends that can help us through tough times; our closest allies in life might even be our cousins, siblings, or parents. Increasingly, people are forging connections with people they meet online through hobbies or shared interests.
A Moral Case For Developing Healthy Social Connections
Ashburn: Actual Whole Mouth Dental Implant Cost in 2023
Ad -Dental Implants | Search Ads
Each of these social circles can certainly display different attributes and represent different facets of our personal value system.
In some groups, for example, we may feel a sense of mutual support and encouragement with regard to our peers: In an environment such as a medical school or a law practice, this kind of support can have an enormous impact on our ability to succeed within our chosen fields. In a relationship or a marriage, mutual support and encouragement can allow a couple to withstand even the most difficult challenges in life.
As you might expect, our peer groups can also make an extraordinary impact on our moral actions as students, workers, parents, or friends: Studies have shown that when others see the best in us and hold us to high expectations and ethical standards, we are more likely to act in accord with their viewpoints and to see ourselves as good actors even as we face real moral quandaries. Oftentimes, in fact, we tend to underestimate just how much the reception of positive reinforcement from peer groups can provide us with the necessary foundations for a healthy sense of self-esteem.
When Friendships Aren’t Friendly
Conversely, toxic friendships hold us back by making us think less of ourselves. When others disrespect us or do not care for us, it is easy to feel as though their actions are somehow justified or that the ill treatment that we receive is deserved. These negative interactions can quickly become self-fulfilling prophecies.
If we were worthy of respect, in other words, we may reason to ourselves that we would be treated with respect rather than with derision.
But we don’t always realize that others tend to view us in the same terms in which they view themselves: A shallow person tends to view everyone else as shallow; a person who cheats tends to think that everyone else is cheating; a social climber tends to view everyone else as a social climber and therefore as potential competition in the race to the top of the pile. Regardless of our personal qualities as human beings, we should remember that a willfully bad person will always see us as a willfully bad person.
Is it any wonder then that toxic friends tend to treat us with disrespect if they do not respect themselves?
To wit, toxic friends tend to think in very black-and-white terms: If one friend wins, so to speak, a toxic friend feels as though they have lost; if a friend succeeds, a toxic friend may feel as though they themselves have failed.
Over time, and although we may not be able to admit it to ourselves, the message from toxic friends will tend to become loud and clear: What is good for you is bad for me. Let me have the spotlight, and we’ll get on well; start to achieve big things, and we’ll have problems.
In other words, a toxic friendship works out well so long as we never draw attention to ourselves or that the attention that we do draw to ourselves shines a positive light on others. This is why so many individuals who have grown up in codependent households tend to be drawn to toxic friendships later in life: They may feel accustomed to the idea that their needs are less important than the needs of others. And this arrangement suits toxic friends just fine!
When Competition Becomes Swimming With Sharks
Of course, these types of friends are competitive in the worst sort of way: Instead of seeing competition among peers as a means to push others to excel, toxic friends tend to view competition as a win-lose issue. They see their friends not as teammates but as rival players in a zero-sum game; moreover, they may feel the need to appear “better” than those around them to counterbalance a negative self-image. In short, even if they express the right sentiments, toxic friends rarely actually care about the people around them.
Why People Remain in Toxic Situations
So why exactly do we remain in friendships well past their sell-by date?
In truth, there are a variety of different reasons why we tend to stay entrenched in toxic friendship circles even while our self-esteem is plummeting. We may have experienced abuse while growing up that makes us feel dependent on the good opinion of others even when they exhibit toxic behaviors; we may feel as though we owe it to our friends to give them time to change into better people; we may feel as though we are abandoning our friends by ending the friendship.
But we should also ask ourselves whether others are extending the same level of consideration towards us: Would our toxic friends give us chance after chance to redeem ourselves if we hurt them in the way that they hurt us? Would they think twice about abandoning us if it meant that they could benefit from the situation in some way?
These are difficult questions to answer because we may end up feeling worthless when we discover that others do not care as much about our feelings as we once believed. But this may also be the first step towards finding friends that are true to our values and dedicated to our well-being.
Striking a Balance
In fact, the problem here isn’t so much that our intentions towards others are bad as that we are sacrificing our deeper needs as human beings for the surface needs of others. Some of us may endure years of shame and humiliation simply so that our friends can avoid a few hours or days of self-recrimination.
If the balance of behavior in this scenario seems off to you, you’re likely experiencing a very normal response to the way in which toxic friendships function. When we view these situations in the cold light of day, for example, we tend to notice just how unfair the benefits of the situation fall to other parties involved: They have all the best parts of a friendship without any of the downsides; meanwhile, we experience all the downsides of the friendship with very few benefits.
And that is a recipe for self-destruction if there ever was one. To care about ourselves, we have to consider our own futures as we would consider the futures of our real friends. Where will the toxic friendships of today put us in five years? Will we be better or worse off if we maintain our toxic friendships at the expense of ourselves?
Retooling Our Self-Image
The real problem here is that we can start to believe that the distorted version of ourselves that is presented by our toxic friends is a true reflection of our inner worth as individuals.
This is quite simply not the case: Our worth as human beings does not arise from our social status or from the brand of clothes that we wear or from the car that we drive. Although it might put us in better standing with the neighbors, membership to a country club does not put us in any better standing with God: As Saint Paul writes in the New Testament, God is impartial: He judges people by their actions rather than by their social status. Isn’t this a quality that we ourselves should seek to emulate?
To grow as people, in other words, we must also learn to care about and love ourselves. For many of us, that can be a hard sell: When we struggle with self-esteem issues, the notion of caring for ourselves may seem frankly alien to our thought processes. But until we care about ourselves as much as we care for others, we open ourselves up to people who see us as a stepping stone to better things in life and not much more than that.
If we can begin to treat ourselves as we would treat a true friend, in other words, we will not allow ourselves to fall victim to the allures of false friendships. It’s a difficult lesson for many of us to learn; sadly, many of us may never learn it. On the other hand, the alternative can leave our lives barren and our self-esteem wounded. As the saying goes, the game is quite simply not worth the candle.
Explore Games and Apps