Relationships. What a big word. Maybe not literally – but emotionally, it’s a big word. It is often also associated with romance, but that’s not the target of this piece. Instead I’d like to look at run of the mill, platonic friendships, something we so often neglect to see as toxic. When we have a romantic relationship that’s headed south, we likely have many people that tell us to end it and move on with our lives. Some of the time we may be able to see it on our own without the help of good friends. But, can the same be said about toxic friendships?
I say no, and this comes from a place of personal experience. Throughout high school, I was the person everyone went to about all of their problems. I was always the go-to gal that could talk a person through whatever they were dealing with. Boys? No problem. Girls? No worries. Family? Hakuna Matata. School? It’s all going up from here my friend, not to worry. But, my own problems? Not a chance. Were those same people who I was always there for ever there for me in the same way? No. Our friendship didn’t have what it took to sustain proper and healthy relationships. If you’re going to pay attention to any line in this, make it this one: the key to a healthy relationship, platonic or romantic, is that there has to be give AND take. To me this is the biggest most important factor, and every other aspect in a relationship stems from a strong balance of give and take.
Part of my problem in high school is that I was always the one giving and I never asked for anyone to give back. I became an expert at letting people take advantage of my kindness and I slowly began to shrink back into a dark corner in my mind, never asking those around me for help. Anxiety and clinical depression started to get the best of me. I started skipping classes and staying home all the time.
Stay with me here because I know this seems to have taken a sad turn, but it does get better! Because this was the time in my life that I learned what makes a good relationship. The people that flocked to me during my time of need demonstrated that you shouldn’t have to ask the other person to give; sometimes the people worth keeping in your life just know that they need to give.
This wasn’t the entirety of my lightbulb moment though. I continued to give too much of myself without the taking aspect being present in the majority of the relationships I held. Even though I was well aware that some of those relationships were toxic and were draining me (again) emotionally, I felt an immense amount of guilt at the idea of cutting those toxic ties. What it took for me to get to this place in my life, this place where I realized I deserve to be treated better, was a sad day. Someone whom I once considered very close said many hurtful things to me and slapped me when she didn’t appreciate the advice I gave her. Advice she had asked for! Regardless, this instance in my life alleviated my need to be there for every single person. It’s just not healthy. Sometimes, we need to put ourselves first, and I’ve learned that this isn’t selfish – it’s self-care.
Self-care, as I understand it (this is by no means a clinical or dictionary definition) is our ability to put our own mental health first. Despite the struggles I faced in high school – the beginning of my mental health issues, the end of some year-long friendships – I am forever grateful for what those struggles taught me in life and that I faced them early on. I learned that it is not selfish to care about yourself and it’s certainly not selfish to expect your friends to care about you either. I learned that it does not make you a bad person to cut toxic people from your life. In fact, it’s one of the hardest choices a person can make, and something that truly strengthens you.
I want to leave off with one final thought: the notion of letting go. What I experienced in high school was hard and, for a while, I carried a lot of anger toward those who had abused my kindness for so long. But, eventually I got to a place where I was just as weighed down by my own anger as I had once been by the people I had removed from my life in an attempt to lose the negativity. What I came to learn was that when you remove the people, you also have to remove the negative associations you have with them. For me, those feelings were anger and hurt. Forgiving and moving forward is one of the hardest things to do and, for a while, I thought that meant forgive and forget. It doesn’t. I forgave, but I didn’t forget. I’m not angry anymore; I just don’t care about people who don’t care about me.