Dear “Toxic” Friend,
I had to block you on all of my social media accounts and step away from our friendship last week because, well, I care about myself. And, really, in light of the explosive multi-pronged social media salvo of accusations and insults you directed at me, you gave me no choice. Let me explain.
First, I want you to know that I love you and I care about you. Your mind is probably tricking you into thinking that I don’t. Maybe those words cause confusion and, perhaps, thoughts like these are coursing through your mind:
How could she care about me if she shut me out of her life? If she loves me, why is she throwing our friendship away over a stupid fight?
If so, I get it. I know those discombobulating moments.
Please try to remember that I love you as you read this letter.
In the midst of our argument last week, you told me that my training as a therapist didn’t mean I was more aware. I disagree.
Here’s why: I used to be a “toxic” friend.
“Toxic” people have difficulty trusting others. Their parental role models never taught them to trust. They’ve not experienced trust before. In fact, their childhoods tend to be wrought with instability, neglect and abuse.
“Toxic” people live with a deep pulsing insecurity, well into adulthood, because their caregiver’s circumstances were such that they weren’t able to nurture a supportive, loving and stable relationship with their children.
“Toxic” people tend to lash out when they feel slighted and when they fear abandonment — which is, pretty much, all the time.
“Toxic” people tend to be defensive and manipulative — and are completely unaware of it.
“Toxic” people are adults who didn’t have life mentors as children. Their childhood circumstances seeped toxins into their sense-of-self and into their understanding of relationship.
It stands to reason that “toxic” people have a mixed up understanding of relationships (relationship with self and others).
Children in “toxic” environments tend to grow into “toxic” adults.
Adults are products of their childhood and you had a tumultuous one. You did what you had to survive. You had to use your defenses and manipulation to endure the loss, heartache and abuse you lived through.
As an adult, you use subtle yet persistent passive-aggressive and gas-lighting behavior to test your relationships. I feel like you were testing our friendship.
We’ve been friends for over 10 years. We met as teens and lived in the same town for a year. Since then, our paths have taken us to different cities. We would touch base on occasion and get together for a bit when we were in the same town.
We were Honeymoon Friends — showing our best selves and relishing the limited time we shared together. It was always hugs and laughs with us.
About two years ago, you visited Seattle more often because you started to date one of my good friends. We saw each other often. We were finally getting to know one another, as adults.
A few months later, we had a big blowout that unraveled into a slew of vicious emails from you. I was shocked by what you wrote. Your accusations and insults hurt me to the core. I ended up blocking your emails and stopped responding. This was a side of you I hadn’t seen.
A few months later, you used a different address to email me about how you had a dream that we were hanging out, and that you wished that it could be true. That was it.
I wished that you had acknowledged our fight in the email. I was hoping for an apology and some semblance of accountability in taking responsibility for what you wrote to me. If you had, I would have been open to communicating again.
Two years passed and we reconnected. We grabbed a beer, grabbed each other’s hands and told one another, “I’m sorry and I love you.” That was a couple months ago.
At first, you were so considerate and mindful in our friendship but, within a couple of weeks, I noticed similar behavior as before. I realized your jealous and passive-aggressive tendencies.
I didn’t like the way you treated your partner and I didn’t like the way you treated our friendship. I realized that the amount of self-growth you and I had gone through in those two years were lightyears apart.
Recently, you shared that you like brutal honesty, so I decided to share my observations with you about your relationship patterns. I was hoping that it would be an opportunity for us to bond through similar experiences.
I wanted to tell you that I recognized your behavior because I used to treat my relationships similarly. I was hoping that our conversation would bring us closer. It did not.
Instead, here we are again. After another onslaught of scathing and unkind messages from you, I’ve raised the social media iron curtain, again.
I have always held you in my heart as sweet and caring; I still believe you are. I also believe that you have deep wounds that keep you from trusting people.
I know that you can get to a place where you can trust. I’ve done it.
It’s taken most of my lifetime — through therapy, medication, yoga, meditation, journaling, writing music, blogging, poetry, practicing vulnerability, and a heck of a lot of persistence and grit.
I’ve been processing my childhood since I was a teen. In grad school (Masters in Psychology at Antioch University Seattle), I spent almost five years addressing my insecurities and fears. I wrote paper-after-paper about my childhood. It was a heck of a lot of difficult work that required tons of vulnerability and trust.
So, when you tell me that my experiences and training don’t mean I’m more aware, it’s a major insult. It’s disrespectful and invalidating.
But I know that trying to hurt me is the toxic part of you. I know you don’t mean it. You were lashing out.
The thing is, I don’t want to be on the receiving end of your — or anyone’s — verbal lashings. I love you and want our friendship “to work” but I don’t need to be a toxin target.
I was hopeful that we could build trust in our friendship but we can’t. Not now. Perhaps never and that thought saddens me.
What saddens me more is that your childhood ghosts will continue to sabotage and stir-up “drama” in your relationships, and it doesn’t have to be that way.
I realize that describing you as “toxic” lacks endearment. I’ve been pondering a non-stigmatizing and non-blame-y term besides “toxic friend.”
It’s not the person that’s toxic but their childhood experience, so I’ll say “tender friend,” instead.
Adults with difficult upbringings are tender and protective. You could say they’re in emotional survival-mode most of the time — ready to fight or take flight.
So, my tender friend. I’m sorry for my part in our conflict. I reacted and hurled a couple of texts your way, too. One text read, “You have bad energy and I don’t want that in my life.”
While I can’t say that those words aren’t not true for me, it wasn’t a compassionate way to communicate with you.
I’m finally in a place where my depression and anxiety are manageable, so self-care is paramount. In this instance, creating distance is part of looking out for myself.
Though this letter is rife with “you this” and “you that,” I want you to know that, ultimately, it’s not you, it’s me.
It’s me stepping away for my wellbeing.
Your Ex-Tender Friend