Types of Relationships: Unhealthy Friendships
Hello, again! Thanks for stopping by, and welcome to my new, informative blog series! My name is Calye Bowen, and I’m a licensed professional counselor candidate (LPC-C) at Journey Counseling Center, PLLC in Edmond, Oklahoma. This blog actually runs parallel to Journey’s new video blog series, The Journey!
In these vlogs , my colleague, Kensley Merry, LPC, and I will be covering different topics, such as anxiety, depression, body image, and relationships, and so much more! The first topic was chosen via a small social media poll on Facebook and Instagram, which is Types of Relationships.
This is a huge topic to tackle, so we will break it down in hopefully more bite-sized pieces as the series progresses, providing you with some fantastic information about both healthy and unhealthy types of relationships and all that goes with that!
So, in our previous discussion we talked about the characteristics and qualities of healthy relationships. Essentially, we took a look at a number of the good things that make healthy relationships just that…healthy! Now, today, we are tackling the other side: unhealthy friendships.
As always, I want to reiterate that in no way is this blog or our vlog equivalent to or synonymous with therapy. It can serve as a great supplement to it, and can even foster great conversations with your therapist, but it is not intended or designed to take the place of going to counseling and processing through things. Therapy is dynamic, tailored to each person in their pursuit of specific goals. So, if you want to learn more about how to have or maintain healthy friendships, reach out to us. Our certified counselors will be happy to help you reach whatever goals you want to pursue.
All the Feels
In the last blog we started out with an extensive list of feelings that often can serve as indicators for healthy friendships. So, why not start out the same way with unhealthy friendships?
When we think of toxic or unhealthy friendships, what feelings come to mind?
Perhaps you were thinking along the lines of feeling:
· Overly competitive
These can be just some of the feelings that are associated with these types of unhealthy friendships. What do they have in common? They are all negative. If you experience some of these emotions during or after spending time with a friend on multiple occasions, then that might be a good indicator that something isn’t quite right. That being said, from time to time you may feel this even in a healthy friendship. We are all human, and as humans we make mistakes and fight. This can actually be a typical part of healthy relationships. The difference between healthy and unhealthy might come down to the frequency and intensity of those feelings. Follow that trail, and see where it leads.
Additionally, you might find yourself dreading spending time with this friend or actively avoiding them. The thought of spending time with them just seems too heavy and has for quite some time. You might not enjoy spending time together, and it might feel more like a chore or obligation. In fact, you might even feel used, or may be only spending time together out of guilt!
Perhaps you don’t even like who you are when you are with them. Maybe you find yourself doing or saying things that aren’t like you, that are perhaps mean or unhealthy in and of themselves. If you find yourself in this type of situation, it might be best to talk with someone you trust, who can provide insight on what might be really going on.
So let’s dive right in to some different scenarios, shall we? The first type of unhealthy friendship that we will be discussing is the friend who is only there when it benefits them. This type of friend is typically here today and gone tomorrow.
Here’s an example: Steve liked to hang out with you all the time back when you first got your new Porsche. You used to cruise around for hours, just talking about life and having a good time. But when you got into a fender-bender, and the car was taken away, Steve disappeared, not even responding to your messages.
Okay, so this is a pretty basic example, and they won’t all look like that. Essentially, these friends are typically around when things are going well, but not so much if they aren’t. This also applies to seeking you out for help. If they are constantly coming to you with their problems but ghosting you when you need someone to talk to, that’s a concern. If they are getting something out of the friendship without giving back to the same degree, it might be worth taking a closer look at the friendship.
Did You Hear…?
Let’s talk about this next one, pun intended. This particular type of unhealthy friendship involves what is being said about you, not only to your face, but also behind your back.
Example: Sheila seems to have some dirt on just about everyone in the school. If they are out of earshot, you can bet she is talking to you about them. She just loves to gossip! Well, it turns out that Sheila was talking badly about you behind your back to Sally, spreading rumors that were not true but also spilling secrets that you disclosed to her in confidence.
Ouch. It never feels good when rumors circulate about you, true or not, especially if they originated with someone that you consider to be a friend. A good rule of thumb is that if they are talking about other people to you, you can typically reason that they are talking about you behind your back to other people.
Again, if this sounds familiar, it might be worth considering this friendship. Bare minimum, this warrants a conversation and some boundaries.
With Friends like These…
This next type of unhealthy friendship can manifest in different forms, but it often is hallmarked by constant comparison, back-handed compliments, and over the top levels of competition. Just to be clear, competition in and of itself is not a bad thing. In fact, it can be a healthy form or interaction and can even be fun. It becomes unhealthy when all you and your friend ever do is compete in every little thing, paired with the stress and pressure you might feel when together.
For Example: You and Suzy have always been in competition in everything, from grades to sports to club membership. Since you are peers in all of your activities, you often spend your down time together, too. However, every time you do something, it becomes a competition. Suzy often makes derogatory comments about your skills and how you are less than her, and she even makes fun of you if you express your hurt.
With this type of friendship you might feel like you are caught in a power struggle. Your interactions might be riddled with what feels like personal attacks or digs on you as a person. They might even put you down frequently, and in doing so, they make a conscious effort to lift themselves up as “better” than you. If you call these actions or behaviors out to your friend, perhaps they might act innocent or even feign ignorance, acting like they don’t know what you are talking about. They might even go as far as to tear you down with gossip or spreading your secrets, such as in the previous section. Overall, you might find it difficult to fully trust this person, calling into questions whether they truly have your best interests at heart or not.
I’m Doing You a Favor
Next on the docket is the type of friendship that leaves you feeling less than in some ways. Essentially, this friend often acts like they are above you in some way. Perhaps they see themselves as more important, even seeing you as their personal project. With them, you often feel like you must behave or act a certain way or else you might lose the friendship or be punished in some other way.
For Example: Chastity is one of the coolest people you have ever met. You felt like you two clicked right away, and you began to spend a lot of time together. For the past few months, though, you have begun to notice differences in the way she talks to you. You get the overwhelming sense that she thinks you are beneath her, and she even goes so far as to comment on how she will “fix you.” She seems to be wanting to help and coming from a place of concern at times, but during others, it feels almost like a personal attack. If you speak up, she just pats you on the head and says you “just don’t know any better.”
Yikes. This friendship seems to have levels of competition as well, and centers on power and/or status of some type. It could very well be possible that this person puts you down repeatedly in an effort to lift themselves up, whether they are aware of it or not. Regardless, they act like they are overall more important or valuable than you. This can even go so far as keeping you down or actively and/or passively discouraging you from pursuing your own personal goals outside of the goals they have in place for you.
Through the course of spending time with this person, you might begin to feel silenced—like there is no room for your voice or opinions or even that you no longer have one.
Everything is Gray
This next type of unhealthy friendship is the friendship that always seems to leave you feeling drained and exhausted—mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. This person seems to be in a constant crisis.
Again: There are times when everyone experiences hard times, ups and downs, and crises. However, the marker here is that everything is always a crisis. If that seems to be the pattern, it might be worth a closer look at the friendship.
For Example: Tim has been your friend for years. You have been through many seasons of life together, but for as long as you can remember, Tim has been pretty negative. Life seems to be harder for Tim, and he seems to move from one disaster to another, never fully recovering or processing it. You have always tried your best to be there for him, but no matter what you do, it does not help. Spending time with him has become exhausting, and you frequently feel helpless.
This person may come across as needy or clingy, and you may feel like you no longer have enough to give them.
There Can Be Only One
Now, let’s talk about a different type of unhealthy friendship that often leaves you feeling torn.
For Example: Shawna has been your best friend since you met during your freshman year of college. You have done everything together since then. You were in each other’s weddings, you are in the same organizations, you work out together, and your children have grown up together. Everything about your friendship is great, except for when you make new friends. When that happens, Shawna becomes actively jealous, stating blatantly that, “It’s either them or me.”
So, it sounds like she is coming from a significant place of hurt and insecurity. With this type of friendship this person believes that there can only be room for one best friend. All other new friendships are seen as active threats to their relationship with you. This often leads to ultimatums, arguments, and isolation. This friendship likely need not be kicked to the curb. It may just need some time, attention, and communication.
And the final type of unhealthy friendship that we will be covering often leaves you feeling confused. Every time you talk to this friend, it may seem like you are talking to a completely different person.
For Example: You have worked with Terrance for several months now at your new job. At first, he seemed like a pretty cool guy and you bonded over some shared interests. Soon you began spending time together outside of work, and as you got to know him better, things began to change pretty quickly. You have noticed that Terrance’s mood goes up and down drastically. One minute you are clicking and having a great time and conversation. Other times, he may act cold and distant, leaving you wondering what it was that you did wrong. And when you ask about it, he brushes you off without any real answer, but it is clear he blames you.
In this type of friendship, you never really seem to know where you stand. This person may always be upset about something that you are unaware of, but they never clearly communicate the issue. Confusion reigns, and you may even find yourself making excuses for their behavior to yourself and others.
So What Now?
We have taken a look at a LOT of different types on unhealthy friendships in this blog, and it is definitely not all-encompassing by any means. Additionally, many of these types often overlap, and you may see traits from multiple types in certain relationships. As always, this is not necessarily a reason to sound the alarm and panic. Instead, it might be best to take a minute and look at the patterns and what is really going on beneath them.
Again: This is NOT intended or adapted to be a replacement for therapy. If any of these sound like someone you know, or even you, it is not too late to learn how to have and maintain healthy relationships.
Being good at relationships is a skill. For some people, this skill is second-nature. For others, not so much. The good news is that just like any other skill, you can develop this and grow stronger in your communication, conflict resolution, and in creating and maintaining stable, healthy relationships.
If this sounds like something you want to develop and build upon, I would highly recommend getting plugged in with a counselor in your area. We have some therapists accepting new clients at this time, so please reach out. We love getting the opportunity to help you become the person you want to be!
Thanks for stopping by!
Calye Bowen is a graduate of Southern Nazarene University where she received a Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology. Calye has worked with clients facing various mental health concerns and has experience in outpatient therapy as well as in working with college students at Oklahoma Christian University and families in the Primary Care Clinic at the OU Children’s Hospital. She works with teenage and adult clients experiencing stress or anxiety and depression due to numerous difficulties, which can impact daily living, ranging from work, interpersonal relationships, physical, mental, and spiritual well-being, and to other various responsibilities. Calye also practices both premarital and couples’ counseling. With an emphasis on the therapeutic relationship and examining patterns of interaction, Calye strives to provide each client with a safe space in which to explore the problems they are facing in order to help them ease the weight and pressure of their experiences, ultimately achieving healing and restoration.
Calye Bowen, LPC-C
Journey Counseling Center, PLLC
2801 E Memorial Dr., Ste. 104
Edmond, OK 73013