Friendships have been tested since the pandemic began, many have flourished throughout the various lockdowns and others have dwindled away. One thing the pandemic has taught us is what and who is important in our lives. Friendships have a major impact on not only our happiness, but our mental health.
Now’s the time to look at your circle and choose your tribe, after all friends bring more happiness into our lives than virtually anything else. Here psychotherapist Noel McDermott looks at the difference between a healthy connection and a toxic friendship, whilst offering advice on how to repair, resume or ditch that friendship post-pandemic.
Signs of a healthy friendship
It should be largely fun, supportive, and loving and leaves you feeling energised rather than drained. You share interests and activities and enjoy your friend’s pleasure at activities and interests that are not yours. It is intimate without being dark all the time and there is a felt belief that if you needed to get emotional support, it would on most occasions be available. It is one of several friendships, not the only egg in the only basket.
Signs of a toxic friendship
It is largely dark in emotional tone and when there is laughter and fun, it’s at someone’s expense. It involves power games and status issues primarily and focuses on loyalty rather than freedom. Vulnerability is difficult and might be met with feelings of failure rather than expressions of support and concern. It is the only friendship and over invested in. There is someone in power and someone below them, there is no sense of equality.
How to ditch a friendship
There are three main options here:
- Wither on the vine. Gradually withdraw and let the friendship die through lack of watering etc. This is often useful when you both really know you’ve grown apart but have loyalty and there is no sense of conflict.
- Formal divorce. Maybe it’s become too confused and difficult, maybe you’ve done a lot of work to try to fix things but in the process figured out you don’t feel all that close to each other. Don’t flog it folks, sit down and agree a parting on good terms to reduce the expectations.
- Ghosting for situations where your friend is more toxic, or the situation is, and the above options are not available. Ghosting is cut contact and block on social media, don’t respond to emails, etc. This is useful in situations where the friendship may have been founded on say co-addiction, narcissism, or borderline issues.
Tips on how to repair a friendship that has been damaged
Focus on taking responsibility for where you have done harm and allow your friend the opportunity to do the same. Don’t try and repair the relationship or the situation as you are not likely to be responsible for everything. Don’t simply apologise if you’ve done something wrong but learn and change behaviour. Make what are called livings amends and ask your friend if you have caused harm if they can think of something you can do that would be reparative. Be prepared to let the friendship go if there isn’t an equal desire for amends.
How to resume friendships and reconnect with loved ones
Be upfront and open. Depending on why and how the friendship ended ask to meet and explain what happened from your side, what you have learned and how you have changed. Explain why you want them back in your life, why they remain important to you and allow them freedom to make their own choice without judgement. Remember the purpose of a friendship is light and love so don’t deep dive into darkness at the first meet up, focus on fun and light.
Psychotherapist Noel McDermott comments: ‘Healthy relationships all round require different needs to be met but all those different needs can’t be met in only one relationship or only one type of relationship. When conducting an MOT of your friendships remember diversity is the key. If you want healthy friendships, healthy love relationships and healthy work relationships, look at your diversity and flow within these connections. If you don’t have both take action’.
About Noel McDermott
Noel McDermott is a psychotherapist with over 25 years’ experience in health, social care, and education. He is the founder and CEO of three organisations, Psychotherapy and Consultancy, Sober Help, and Mental HealthWorks. Noel’s company offer at-home mental health care and will source, identify and co-ordinate personalised care teams for the individual. They have recently launched a range of online therapy resources in order to help clients access help without leaving home.