Bad Friendships Are Both A Product And Reinforcement Of A Poor View Of Yourself
Both in my NYC therapy practice and out, I’ve noticed that when we don’t feel good about ourselves, we tend to have poor standards for the friends we hang out with. Friendships are relationships in which people make each other feel good. If that’s not happening, it’s not such a good friendship. Bad friendships are both a product of low self-esteem, as well as reinforce this poor view of yourself.
What do I mean by bad friendships? People who put you down, make fun of you, ridicule you, or continually characterize you in critical ways. Bad friendships are ones in which you don’t feel like you can assert a differing opinion or decline doing something without being attacked in return. Bad friends don’t ask about you, how you feel or what you’re interested in. Although there are wonderful exceptions to this rule, bad friendships also tend to beget bad friendships–you meet crummy people through crummy people.
If You’re Tolerating Too Much From Bad Friends, Your Standard Of What Is Acceptable Needs Attention
Accepting a bad friendship–or multiple bad friends–is an area where tolerance or at least, excessive tolerance is a problem. I run into a lot of people in my NYC therapy practice who, often because of how they grew up, were conditioned, in a sense, to tolerate too much and so the standard of what is acceptable needs attention.
Excessive tolerance to bad relationships nearly always has to do with a person’s early life experiences. It’s a form of adaptation–a kind of denial, I suppose. In an environment you’re stuck in like early childhood, you tolerate stuff because the alternative is to let it drive you mad (literally) or to antagonize a situation that you can’t fix. As with so many things people sort through in therapy, the adaptation has outlived its usefulness so you need to unadapt. You need to raise a fuss and, of course, when you do that, it’s quite likely there will be pushback. People have a special sort of rage they reserve for someone who tolerated their crap for a long time and then, decided not to anymore.
In my therapy practice, I rarely tell someone, “Hey I think this relationship is bad news. Get out.” There are exceptions when I think someone is really being hurt badly. Instead, I help them look at what they’re tolerating, invite them to be curious about why and help them understand the ways it’s not serving them, as well as its origins in past relationships.
Building Skills To Stand Up For Yourself And Get Out Of Bad Friendships
What tends to happen after encouraging folks to look at why they’re tolerating bad friends is that they become increasingly annoyed at people treating them badly and eventually, they want to stick up for themselves. This sometimes leads to us doing some skill building in the therapy room. If you’ve tolerated stuff for a long time, you might not know how to stand up for yourself. You also have to learn to tolerate someone being angry at you for standing up for yourself and stay the course.
This skill building can literally look like role-playing–learning to cut someone off who is on a hurtful rant, learning to say (or shout) no, learning to hang up the phone or walk out of the room or learning to how tolerate (by way of understanding) nerves that come when anticipating a confrontation. For some people, simply forming the words that come with standing up for themselves is difficult. Some find that if they “go there” and let themselves consider sharing their anger that they’ll lose control and blow up, while others find themselves inclined to backtrack halfway through.
One sort of magical thing that often happens is that when you stop ignoring bad behavior, stop signing up for more of it and start calling out bad behavior is that you don’t have to be the one to leave the bad friendship. The other person will get tired of it and move on. And this also comes with a great hedge–maybe I’m wrong, in which case, they’ll start treating you better in response to you growing a backbone.