What to do when a Friend becomes a "Frenemy"
Friend or Foe?
I think it's safe to say that we all have had people in our lives that have shifted from feeling like our favorite friend in the world to somebody we feel we have to avoid like the plague.
I love the term "Frenemy" as it captures to me the essence of a friend who now has come to feel more like an enemy. I cannot take credit for this catchy little term, as I heard it used in an episode of Sex and the City, spoken by the protagonist, Carrie Bradshaw. I felt this show was as much/or more about friendship than sex; it was a godsend to me when living in Central America without television and I would watch the seasons play out on a DVD player and ponder what friendship really meant to me.
While I never had three such close knit friends all at the same time, ala SITC, I have been blessed with numerous, close friendships all of my life. Looking back there are very few people I've embraced as friends that I no longer speak to and I feel that is significant in that I'm approaching the sixth decade of my life. I simply don't do "disposable friendship", as I feel that a friend is truly a valuable asset and without them we miss out on so much.
But, I think it's fair to say that at one time or another we all have had people in our lives that in spite of the love we feel for them, begin to wear on our nerves; to fray at the edges of the links that once held us tightly knit together. Maybe this person has suddenly become critical of everything you do, or whatever it is you say? Maybe they have started to compete with you when the last thing in the world you want to do is compete with your friend.
I want to explore the dynamics of shifting relationships and how we can maintain the love, but distance the toxic person from our lives.
Recognizing there is a problem
Like anything in life, the first step is often recognizing or admitting that a problem exists. When it involves something as delicate and precious as a friendship this isn't always an easy process. Sometimes it can take a very long time before you are even able to fully understand that something in this relationship is no longer working, or no longer serving you.
For me, it's about noting how I'm feeling when I'm with this person. Or, it can be how you feel around conversations or correspondence with the person when they are somebody you know from a distance.
I note that with people I truly enjoy and love and feel supported by, that I look forward to seeing or talking to them and that feeling carries throughout the encounter. We will laugh, connect on some intimate level and at the close of our time together or time spent in correspondence I come away feeling replenished and as though I've just had a tall drink of cool water on a hot day! That is the essence of a positive relationship; one of give and take and shared interests of the heart.
Now, there are those relationships that at one time may have been like this, but over time you start feeling less like you've had a refreshing glass of cool water, and more like you've sipped hot tea too fast and burned your tongue! Maybe they just weren't listening to you; or maybe you rationalize, they were having a bad day. If you are like me, you are slow to jettison somebody you love and adore after one or two "off" experiences. You instead give the situation a bit of time to evolve and see how it is going over a period of time.
But, what about when every time you encounter this person you keep feeling like you're getting your toes stepped on; your feelings hurt? Maybe you feel like they just don't "get you" or understand where you are coming from? Now, perhaps it's time to explore this relationship and go a little bit deeper to understand the issue and correct it if possible.
Stepping back from toxic people
Now that you've identified your friend/loved one has become a problem and is no longer somebody you are having a good time with, what do you do? I know this is a huge issue for many of us who feel like we must protect the other person at the expense of ourselves.
Also, this is the time where confrontation seems like an inevitable step to take on this pathway and for many of us it is simply not someplace we find easy to go. For me, confrontation or having a talk with somebody who I'm already feeling sensitive and nervous around is not always a choice I can take. If you find yourself in this latter category, with me then let's look at how you can maintain a civil friendship but continue to be true to yourself and create some distance.
For me, I continue to have interaction with those people who've become toxic to me. Let me first clarify, there are degrees of toxicity! When a person, regardless of how deeply I've felt we were friends, becomes toxic enough to cause me serious pain or hurt sometimes the only choice is to completely walk away! I would never suggest that we keep true enemies in our lives! I am really discussing those relationships I've coined as "Frenemies" to distinguish people who may have become toxic to our continued ability to feel good about ourselves from those who've really become people we never want to see again due to being disrespectful or just mean spirited.
When I refer to a "frenemy" I'm thinking of somebody who probably still loves you, but they have lost the ability to be a positive support in your life. For whatever reason, they are more invested in criticizing or comparing themselves in a manner that is taking away from you rather than adding something positive to your life. I feel that the purpose of friendships and positive relationships with people is to grow and enrich each other! To elevate and boost one another to being the very best we can be.
So, in those cases where you still have fond memories of times spent with this person, but have come to the sad conclusion that those days are past and not to be seen again; let's see how we can lovingly let go of them and still care about them.
For me, the biggest shift is to accept that they simply are no longer bringing real joy to my life. Or, perhaps we still have shared moments of joy and positive exchange, but their need to criticize or compete with me has over ridden the positive. When you find yourself gearing up to be strong to face an excursion or conversation with a friend, you likely are having some issues that need further exploration.
It's not easy to see somebody who formerly has been your champion; who's seen you through rotten times and helped you laugh your way through as a person that is now toxic to you! But, if they no longer can be that compassionate, loving presence then you have to ask yourself why you keep them in your life?
It is never easy to deal with people we love. The very nature of loving another changes the game plan and we have to be careful to protect not only our heart, but their heart too.
I do not wish to dispose of people and prefer to think of it as putting them in storage. Not unlike precious photo albums; I will take those albums out one day, reminisce and then safely put them back on the shelf to be kept until the next time. So it can be with a formerly precious friend. The ickiness with them may have taken over the loving friendship, but I still have those "albums" in my memory of when they did love and serve me in their friendship. So, I keep them in my heart, I just keep them at arms length in my life!
I love you....I just don't want to be with you
I have found that I don't even have to say anything to some of the toxic people in my life. I simply conduct myself differently around them, or in matters that bring us together. Perhaps in the past this person was my "go to" friend, without whom I wouldn't know where to turn with a problem or to share a particularly joyful or exciting experience.
But, having come to the conclusion that this facet of our relationship is now altered, I instead don't run to them with all this information. If they come to me, I'll be willing to share, but I share in a way that dodges any "bullets" I've come to expect from them. If they have been very critical of me, I don't feel the need to share as much detail in order not to feed into their critical nature.
It's not being dishonest but rather being honest enough; enough to honor who I am and that I wish to be myself; but holding back enough to avoid ugliness or hurt.
I continue to wish these former dear friends well on their journeys. I continue to hold an open place in my heart for the day potentially that they "come back" and are a true friend again, without this strain of whatever making it was. But, I let go fully in order to allow them to flourish and to allow myself the bounty of true friendship that is out there. I don't wish to be hamstrung or held back by relationships that aren't fulfilling or promising.
We all deserve to be loved as we love, and receive the blessings of friendship in the degree that we give our friendship and our heart. Look at your life, and the key players in it. Are there Frenemies lurking around that you need to work on? I recommend you take an honest look and do yourself........and them a favor and cut them loose. Hold on if you wish, but at arms length. You will be happier and freer to accept the full bounty of friendship as you find it, and it finds you.