So. I'm deep in Ted Talks today - it's snowing outside, we're in lockdown, and I feel slightly better binging 'educational' YouTube videos rather than trying out Bridgerton on Netflix (PSA: too cringe to watch for me). One Ted Talk I stumbled across is one by Sharon Livingston, a researcher who specialises in motivational research and neuro-linguistic programming.
In the talk, she discusses the elements of toxic friendships that often enough, we don't realise or are blind to due to a number of reasons. Listening to the talk made me think about the toxicity I had with a certain friend over a period of a few years, and it brought up that awful feeling of breaking up with a best friend. It's a feeling that simply cannot be replicated; worse than a breakup and comes with a pain that you'll only know what it's like if it's happened to you. I wouldn't wish it on anybody.
We had met when I moved abroad and almost immediately we became intense friends, seeing each other every day and being generally joined at the hip within our broader friend group. We had so much fun, laughing until our stomachs ached and being there for each other when things got really bad. I couldn't imagine not having her in my life, and the feeling that we might not stay that way was unimaginable.
You don't really notice the red flags until it's becoming all too clear, and my friend group and I remained in our state of denial for a while.
One element of a toxic friendship which I overlooked for months was that of feeling like you're putting on another persona to please the other person. You don't notice it yourself at first, but it might become more obvious to you as time goes by. The way I found out that my persona changed whenever we were together was through another friend, who joked to me on the way back from a bar that I acted hyper-friendly and almost on eggshells during the entire meeting. At first, I was upset by this; why would I change to make somebody else feel better? Admittedly, my toxic friend was a bit noisier and more opinionated than me, but it didn't mean I put up with that through different behaviour. Right?
This, added with the general feelings of anxiety I had around the friend, the feeling of jealousy from her and the guilt it made me feel in return, I realised that it was time to break up with my friend. It's not easy to do, and you often question yourself as to why you didn't stick around a bit longer and see it out. Narcissists have a way of pulling you back in, and often, you'll relent.
It's one of those things that hurt so badly right at that moment, and I still have times when I get sad thinking about fun memories or times when we got on really well. But I know that it served me well in the long run, and I know my friends now are the real deal. I know that I can be completely myself around them, and it's a feeling that takes a long time to muster. That feeling alone is worth the pain of 'breaking up' with your toxic friend - life is too short.