What is friendship?
To start off , let's look at what friendship actually means:
Friendship is a close association between two people marked by respect, admiration, concern or even love.
Friendships require some degree of commitment both to the friendship and to the other person's well-being .
There must be a desire for regular contact with the other person regular contact could occur once every two days or once every two years depending on the relationship .
There must be mutual trust, concern, and compassion in order to have a healthy friendship.
Now that we've refreshed on the meaning of friendship, now we can dive into a healthy friendship vs. an unhealthy friendship.
Before we go into this a bit more I'd like to test your knowledge on the subject. Here is one scenario, see if you can pick out what friendships are unhealthy and which are healthy.
You arrive at your neighbor's home for a BBQ you're extremely excited to get inside and taste your friend Mark's old-fashioned burgers. After a few drinks with friends you start to smell something burning coming from the grill area. You rush over to find that Mark has had too much to drink and is burning several of the burgers as well as spilling liquor everywhere.
A couple more friends of Mark's begin to approach the grill. Ben, Mark's coworker, wrinkles his brow.
"I thought we were going to get to eat the best burgers in town, all I'm seeing is dried up charcoal!" Ben sighs.
"Keep your pants on, I'm letting them soak up more flavor" Mark slurs.
Mark turns back to the grill and another one of Mark's guests approaches the table, this time it is a younger man with a wide grin named Kyle.
Mark turns to Kyle with a wide grin and shakes Kyle's hand while gargling his greeting.
"Hey Kyle, I'm sooo g-glad you could make it man, it means the world to me. I always need your can-do attitude, people keep telling me that I'm too drunk to finish these burgers...but I'll show 'em!"
Kyle returns Mark's handshake and they both turn back to the grill.
"Mark, I see you're wasted man, but we're all wasted, I have faith in you, go ahead and put a couple more burgers on the grill I can't wait."
Mark braces himself on the table beside the grill reaches for a couple more patties.
A few patties begin to slip out of Mark's hand and as he tries to steady himself he accidentally grabs the extremely hot grill rack.
"Damn it! I just burned the life out of my hand!" Mark painfully exclaims.
Mark's friend Judy runs to Mark's aid with a cold pack and some aloe.
"Mark, you're too drunk, please, let someone else handle the grill." Judy sighs. "Mark doesn't need to stop grilling, he can do this, he just needs some bandages and he can do it. Maybe you need to give him space Judy." Kyle laughs and pats Mark on the back.
Judy hands the ice pack to Mark and cradles his burned hand. "You know I love your burgers but it doesn't hurt to at least take a break."
"Look Judy, if you don't want to support Mark that's fine, take your criticism somewhere else. Mark knows what he's doing and I stand behind him one-hundred percent. He's a big boy, he can make his own decisions." Kyle exclaims.
"Thank you for being a good friend Kyle, I can always count on you." Mark groans freeing himself from Judy's grip. Mark turns to the grill-side table and grabs some more patties while Kyle passes him the buns.
In this situation, who is Mark's healthy relationship with?
If you picked B. Judy, you are correct!
Judy was supportive of Mark's burgers, and she did not criticize him.
However, Judy was transparent and honest with Mark about how much he was drinking and offered him aid when he burned his hand.
Why not Ben?
Ben instantly criticizes Mark's cooking ability even though he can see Mark is clearly intoxicated.
Why not Kyle?
Kyle's relationship with Mark is extremely unhealthy and shows some serious red flags! Kyle is blindly supportive of Mark no matter how drunk Mark becomes. Kyle can clearly see his friend is barely able to stand and yet does nothing to help him. In fact, he encourages him to continue to cook even though he is hurt. Kyle implies that Mark has enough skill to go through extreme pain and therefore Mark feels pressure to continue because he may be embarrassed or upset that he burned himself to begin with. Notice also that Kyle did not allow Mark to defend himself or make his own decision, Kyle fought Mark's battle for him.
Wouldn't it be easier if you had a guide to tell you which friendships are toxic and which are healthy?
Use this as a general guide:
Stands behind you
Encourages you to grow
Pushes you outside of your comfort zone
Transparent and honest
Fights your own battles for you
Criticizes or judges you
Pressures you directly or indirectly with manipulation (guilt) to do something you don't want to do
Manipulative and Deceitful
What does friendship look like after trauma?
Friendship after trauma looks a lot like friendship before trauma except now asking whoever wants to hang out with us to tolerate our emotional baggage.
A true friend is someone who not only listens to your concerns but provides an empathetic response.
**This is not to be mistaken with friend who is more like a therapist than a friend.**
After such a long time enduring such intense trauma we tend to question everything, especially new friendships and relationships, this is completely normal.
A true friend will always embrace your boundaries and will never throw your personal baggage back in your face.
Now that we have an idea of what friendship looks like after trauma, let's get into the phases of a friendship.
The Phases of Friendship:
So how do we ensure that this new found friend has all of these qualities?
Before offering your trust and good nature make sure this person has earned that kindness from you. Pay attention to how they treat you and not what they say.
This is not saying to be cruel and cut off from people, but rather be cautiously optimistic. During the casual acquaintance phase pay attention to a person's actions and how they react to others around them.
Pay attention to red flags such as:
Gossiping. You never want a friend that gossips, this means they have no trouble informing you of someone's personal struggles or flaws.
Quick to Anger. Notice when something goes wrong, how does this person react?If they are quick to anger over tiny things it's time to move on.
Using Guilt. If someone uses guilt to manipulate you they are not a good friend. An example of this would be someone who says "Don't leave and be a party pooper, you're letting everyone down."
Genuinely enjoying other's misfortune. If someone is hurt or has misfortune sometimes it is funny in the right context, however, these people LOVE when misfortune falls upon others and will continue to bring that person's misfortune into the conversation. For example, if someone continues to bring up how clumsy someone is or if you get the feeling someone wants you to lose no matter what just from a few conversations, this person will not have your back when it counts.
The Phases of Friendship (Phase #2)
As we move onto the "meaningful relation ship" phase, we're feeling pretty confident that this person is not a narcissist, right? Good, let's move on.
During this phase we will test their loyalty, trust, dependability, fairness, thoughtfulness, and so on.
When you're feeling more comfortable, share a vulnerability that is not too personal, something you've already overcome and feel confident about.
If the person listens to your story and says things like "that's crazy" or "wow, really?" this may be a sign the person is NOT listening. A friend will hear your vulnerability and return with their own little story or struggle so that you both can relate to one another. This shows thoughtfulness and kindness, they told you a story so you are no longer the only one who is sharing something personal.
Look for signs such as: lack of eye-contact, aggressive or dismissive body language. If a person is facing forward and not towards you, they are most likely not interested in you or getting to know you.
Pay attention to red flags such as:
Dismissive attitude towards vulnerability. You may have shared your vulnerability a bit too soon or the person may not share your emotional intelligence.
Lack of empathy. If you are at a party and a friend sees you getting a bit sick and chooses to leave you alone they are not empathetic to your situation and therefore will not have your back. However, if you are repeatedly becoming ill at a party from consuming alcohol and are therefore ruining your friend's nights, your friends may leave you or choose not to hangout with you, and they would be in the right.
Attention Seeking. Sometimes when friends become more comfortable with each other they start to show the not-so-great parts of their persona. Someone who constantly wants to be the center of attention is not a team-player and therefore is not allowed in a healthy friendship. For example, if you have a co-worker friend who constantly visits you at your desk when they know you have a ton of work to do, this is a selfish act on their part. A real friend realizes you are busy and will come back at another time.
The Phases of Friendship (Phase #3)
Congratulations! You've made it to the final phase!
You trust and adore this person and you would not be where you are without them.
This person has passed your tests of loyalty, trust, and much more!
A lot of the time these friendships last for years, but sometimes these friendships become toxic or fall apart.
How do you know when it's time to let go of this special someone?
You no longer agree with the quality of their character and lack of integrity. Core values sometimes change, if there is something you and your friend profoundly disagree upon ethically...it's time to move on. If your friend thinks it's ok to overstep your boundaries just because you're best friends --- this is a sign of disrespect and therefore should be addressed. Talk about the issue and see your friends point of view before deciding to end the relationship.
You always do all of the work. Does it feel like you are the "event planner" in the relationship? If you are arranging all of the outings, stop communicating and planning for a bit...if your friend doesn't reach out it means they no longer see you as a priority in their life. Even friends who live in other parts of the world send "I miss you" texts or ask for a Skype session now and again.
You can't truly be yourself. Has your friend started insulting you in a harsh and non-playful manner/tone but claims it's a joke? Talk to your friend, point it out, if they don't change the behavior, see ya later!
You feel entirely responsible for their happiness. If you are this person's only friend and they constantly exhaust you by asking you to hangout too often, this is a sign of dependency. Some "friends" even go to extremes and imply self-harm or send you depressing messages when you say "no" to hanging out with them. Sometimes it comes in a less-obvious form, resentment. If a friend resents you for not hanging-out with him or her, it's time to let them go. They don't value you, they are bored and are looking for you to entertain them, nor are they concerned about your mental health and well-being.
You have very little that feels good about the relationship. Is it starting to feel awkward? Is this person starting to subtlety insult your taste in food or music? Do you feel like maybe this person secretly is putting you down? Talk to your friend about how you feel and have examples to reference. If a person denies your experience, emotions, or continues not to improve their behavior it's time to say bye-bye!
There are trust issues. This is self-explanatory, if you don't trust someone, even in the slightest way, that's your gut telling you to go!
They are immature. If someone continuously pokes fun at you or whines continuously when they are even slightly uncomfortable it may be time to let them go. These are signs of a lack of emotional maturity. Friends need to mature at a similar rate, if one friend is still in a high-school mentality they will only drag you down. NEVER think that you can "bring them up to your level" this is like trying to fly a hot-air balloon with several anchors tied to it. You can get it off the ground but eventually the fire of the balloon will fade and give into the anchors pulling it down.
How do you know when you have a HEALTHY friendship?Here are some GREEN flags you can look for:
Authenticity. You can always “be yourself” around your friend. There are no games, and there is no need to measure your words or actions. You are accepted and appreciated for being you.
Communication. Your relationship is open and honest. You always tell the truth — even if it hurts. You feel comfortable sharing your life and innermost secrets with your friend. Your friend, in turn, listens with a caring ear and provides you with feedback if you so desire.
Selflessness. Your friend wants what’s best for you. There’s give-and-take in any healthy relationship. There’s no need to keep score. You gain considerable pleasure by witnessing your friend’s happiness and success.
Personal growth. Your friend brings out the best in you and helps to make you a better person.
Faith Your friend has your back in good times and bad. You have so much trust and confidence in the relationship that you never have reason to question your friend’s motives.
By Dianna Martinez
Blair H. Mor, Psy.D.