One of the least talked about impacts of the COVID-19 crisis is the feeling that our friendships have turned toxic because of the restrictions and stress of it all.
However, realistically, it’s unlikely that a healthy friendship has suddenly gone sour.
More likely is the fact that an unhealthy relationship was harmful, in some way, all along.
Often, we only discover that a friendship isn’t good for us when the status quo changes, like the social isolation of the current lockdown situation.
How to tell if a friendship is toxic
It might be that you’ve always known, deep-down, the one friend in your circle who has to be the centre of attention hasn’t always been there for you when you needed them.
But your friendship was ok, so long as things were going their way.
Now, as you struggle with the impact of social distancing and being isolated from friends and family, you reach out to them only to find that it really IS all about them.
Or, maybe you discover that the friend who places so much importance on their social networks and status suddenly becomes super-competitive with you.
Seemingly straightforward conversations about your day are now an energy-sapping boxing match about who has been the most productive.
After yet another bout you’re left feeling frazzled.
Things toxic friends say and do
Here are some of the feelings my clients have told me that they’ve confided to friends during lockdown, only to get a response they didn’t expect:
- I’m struggling with how hard lockdown is
Unexpected response from friend: They list all the ways in which they’re having a much harder time, even though they have a small army of people doing everything for them. They’re not interested in your struggles.
- I’m so busy working from home and feel close to burnout
Unexpected response from friend: They just tell you how busy they are. If you have lots of meetings, they have more. If you’re working late, they’re working later. Burnout? Who cares!
- I’m hurt that some people aren’t there for me
Unexpected response from friend: They point out that it’s your own fault: If you didn’t appear to be such a confident person, friends would realise how you feel. How looking less confident would help isn’t clear.
- I’m reaching out for some support
Unexpected response from friend: They are in the middle of their own drama and expect you to give them the attention and support they need, even though you know they are over-reacting. This goes on for days.
- I explain why I’m upset with them
Unexpected response from friend: They say it’s not their fault and return to the important social media networks and relationships they invest so much of their time building. You’re even more upset and withdraw.
- I’m feeling depressed because I’m so lonely
Unexpected response from friend: They talk about how lonely they are, even though you live alone and they live with family. You say it’s hard not to have any human contact because of lockdown and they reply that they lived alone once, so know what it feels like. You can’t talk to someone who isn’t listening.
The final twist
- I suspect they’re stabbing me in the back
They regularly complain about other friends so you’re convinced you’ll soon be the one they’re complaining about, especially if you reached out to them, which really hurts.
The only thing you can do is ask mutual contacts but do think twice – you risk (a) coming across as paranoid and (b) it getting back to your friend, after which your friendship may have passed the point of no return.
Should you move on from a toxic friend?
Perhaps the current coronavirus crisis hasn’t really ruined some friendships. It’s simply that – without social situations to hide behind – lockdown has exposed the toxic ones.
If you have experienced any of the above, maybe it’s time to consider moving on from that particular friendship. Ask yourself:
How does this friendship enhance my life?
If the answer is that it doesn’t, you know what to do.
A word of warning!
The current crisis has posed a very real threat and we’ve all been in some kind of survival mode since the start.
Protecting ourselves from an unseen ‘killer’ is exhausting and resulted in severe anxiety and panic for some. People will say or do things out of character.
Be aware that you are much more likely to be sensitive to things which you wouldn’t have thought twice about before.
Also understand that your friends have been struggling themselves in all sorts of ways, too, and that everyone is navigating their way through lockdown in the best way they can.
So, before you act to end a friendship that is healthy under normal circumstances, ask yourself this second question:
Will I miss them if they’re no longer in my life?
If the answer is yes, suspend all judgements and decisions until the crisis is over.
Lockdown won’t last forever but there’s every chance your healthy friendships will.
Professional therapist Claire Gaskin helps with all kinds of fears, phobias and anxiety – including therapy for health anxiety around the coronavirus COVID-19. Claire specialises in fast therapy techniques, and creating bespoke programmes to help people build confidence and self-esteem. Profound change can often be achieved in 1-4 weeks.