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Saying goodbye to toxic friends

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Friendships are often overlooked as breeding grounds for dysfunctional behaviour

Friendships are often overlooked as breeding grounds for dysfunctional behaviour

Former friends Rihanna and Katy Perry are believed to have fallen out over comments Katy made about Chris Brown.

Former friends Rihanna and Katy Perry are believed to have fallen out over comments Katy made about Chris Brown.

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Friendships are often overlooked as breeding grounds for dysfunctional behaviour

I spend a lot of time on the internet, and I've become especially interested in the ways in which themes seem to arise from the hive mind and then spread like wild fire.

Recently I came across an 
infographic that set out eight ways to tell if your relationship was emotionally abusive, and within minutes it seemed as if personal stories were popping up like mushrooms, on blogs and in problem-solving articles.

They were about women in romantic relationships who had suffered the mind games that constitute emotional abuse.

Some red flags include: irrational 
jealousy; being love-bombed with texts and phone calls after having only met - which might feel like a Hollywood film but betrays a secret control freak; consistently being sabotaged in your work or in your other 
relationships; being made to downplay your own successes on the face of the 
other's failures - among many others.

These actions seem fairly straightforward, and easy enough to avoid - on paper. But in practice the most unlikely people can find themselves tied up in relationships that are not healthy.

I spoke with Tony Moore, who has been a counsellor for 20 years, and he points 
out that it is the hidden quality of these behaviours that makes these situations so insidious.

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Former friends Rihanna and Katy Perry are believed to have fallen out over comments Katy made about Chris Brown.

Former friends Rihanna and Katy Perry are believed to have fallen out over comments Katy made about Chris Brown.

Former friends Rihanna and Katy Perry are believed to have fallen out over comments Katy made about Chris Brown.

"There is not a stereotypical abuser," Tony assures us.

"They come in both genders and from across the social spectrum. Those who are abused are often ashamed for having allowed themselves to have been treated in this way."

He adds that, "those who find themselves in such relationships often have psychological issues that may well stem from their childhood."

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Romantic relationships aren't the only ones that can be problematic.

Friendships are often overlooked as breeding grounds for dysfunctional behaviour, which seems ridiculous when you think about it: pals are as important to many of us as are significant others, and can bring up as many issues as would a marriage.

Aoife* knows all about it, and talked to us about a friendship that had gone very wrong.

When I mentioned several of the warning signs of emotional abuse within relationships, she said that her friend Triona* did quite a lot of those things, but they masqueraded as 'helping' and as 'favours'.

"I think she considered it some kind of investment," says Aoife, "like I would be available to her as some kind of puppet friend who would want to do exactly what she wanted.

"Once, in a million different bullying ways, she tried to get me to go our for dinner at a time that suited her."

This is quite common behaviour, according to Tony. "Today we can manipulate friendships quite easily via texts and e-mails," he says.

"The abuser can play lots of 'games' which cause immense stress to others.

"The abuser is often a very insecure individual: he or she needs to induce unhappiness in others to boost their self worth, and it is necessary for them to do this repeatedly. The control they have gives them a feeling of superiority - they get a 'high' from the other person's misery, it's like a drug."

Aoife managed to end the barrage of texts by refusing to go out, but then Triona "decided to call over to my apartment and on the way rang to say 'Come down and we'll go for a drive.' I refused again. I did let her come up, though.

"When I put a cup of tea in her hand, she said she was disappointed I wouldn't go out and that she would have liked to pop in and see my family."

Aoife refused to go out again - fair play, Aoife! - and says that Triona "burst into tears and told me that I wasn't being a supportive friend, and then she listed the things she had done for me."

I'm exhausted, and that didn't even happen to me. The drama around a friendship like this one is tiring, to say the least, and the attempt to put Aoife in the 'bad friend' seat one of the classic manipulations of an abuser.

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Friendships are often overlooked as breeding grounds for dysfunctional behaviour

Friendships are often overlooked as breeding grounds for dysfunctional behaviour

Friendships are often overlooked as breeding grounds for dysfunctional behaviour

An interesting aspect to the Aoife/
Triona story is the switching of the victim role.

The Karpman Drama Triangle is a integral part of psychological theory, an explanatory model in which three roles - that of victim, persecutor and rescuer - are played out in a relationship.

Never mind the three sides: two people can manage this quite handily between themselves, switching off between victim and persecutor by using the rescuer role to do so.

"The abuser will often paint him or herself as a victim: 'Look what I have to put up with', or 'If it wasn't for me, he or she wouldn't have anybody'," says Tony.

Triona blames Aoife for making her unhappy, and in so doing, steps out of the role of persecutor, and into the role of victim, in order to make Aoife rescue her.

Again, it's another mind game that's not so subtle when you see it laid out like this, but in action, it can be a massive head wreck, especially as the roles are constantly changing.

Equally, the persecutor can present themselves as a rescuer, by aiming for the other's sensitive self-esteem issues.

"If the abuser can put him or herself in the role of the rescuer, they are then very powerful," Tony adds.

Or, the so-called victim can manipulate the situation to suit them, as well.

"The 'victim' may put her or himself in that position and when the abuser rescues them, they are now assured that they are loved because they have been 'saved'."

The thing is, when someone ends up in a dynamic like this, continually feeling weak and horrible about themselves, the supposedly stronger one is in fact weak as well.

The bully is often acting out their own feelings of powerlessness, their own 
neediness, their own fears of abandonment and rejection.

By projecting their fears on to someone else, someone who has even harder self-esteem challenges, they disown all their inadequacies and anxieties.

You are always going to be the common denominator in all your relationships, whether romantic or platonic.

If you find yourself in the same patterns over and over, well, we gotta say, it's up to you make changes.

First thing to do? Take it easy on yourself. "So many people are not aware that they are in an abusive relationship," Tony says.

"The abuser is often a controller and manipulator, and the abuse can cover all the bases, especially criticism and control," he adds.

"Some will say, with some validity, that a person with low self worth, often reinforced from their family of origin, will 'accept' this abusive behaviour because they believe they deserve nothing better and 'it's all their fault'. They are so used to it, it becomes almost 'normal'."

Tony counsels compassion in what he terms a "very complicated and difficult issue," but ultimately? Love and friendship are not supposed to make you feel bad about yourself.


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