This is an excerpt from my upcoming book, Productivity for Writers.
If you find this post useful, please take a minute to share it with your (non-toxic) friends 🙂
Think back for a moment to when you were at school.
What was life like?
Were you popular?
A teacher’s pet?
I was somewhere between an outcast and a teacher’s pet.
Most of the teachers knew who I was, although I only paid attention to the classes I liked.
Some of my classmates knew who I was, others didn’t.
For the most part, this didn’t bother me.
I was perfectly happy with my circle of friends.
Or was I?
Are your friends killing your #productivity? Click To Tweet
We were a bunch of people who’d come together out of a mutual love of Charmed and a desire to survive high school.
Some of us enjoyed English; others Maths. Some were good at both, but tried to hide it for fear of being seen as a geek.
If someone in our circle said/did something out of line or out of character, we’d be the first ones to judge.
Everyone had to fit into their neat little boxes at all times.
When they didn’t, it turned into Gossip Girl.
But I had no one else.
I was too scared to move schools, and as I was the weird poet that had an encyclopaedic knowledge of Charmed, no one else wanted me.
I was stuck.
I didn’t realise just how toxic those friends were until I went to university.
There I befriended people who did things for me with no ulterior motive, and would say to my face the same things they’d say behind my back.
It was the first time I’d ever experienced real friendship.
The people we spent time with during our school years affected everything from how much attention we paid in lessons to whether we hung out by the takeaway and smoked or spent our lunchtimes in the library.
The influence other people have on us doesn’t go away just because we’ve finished school.
Motivational speaker Jim Rohn famously claimed that we’re a product of the five people we spend the most time with.
If there’s someone in your circle that doesn’t challenge you, or inspire you, or make you feel good about yourself, why waste your time with them?
Make sure that the people around you encourage you to be the best that you can be and don’t drag you down.
If you feel that the people around you aren’t the best influences, it might be time to consider moving on.
Signs of a Toxic Friend
It has to be all about them. All the time.
Whether it’s in a social group down the pub or a Whatsapp group on your phone, toxic friends always have to be the centre of attention.
Even if you’re talking about something they know nothing about, they’ll still find a way to divert the conversation back to them.
It’s like an extreme version of when you start talking about a dream you had, then the person you’re talking to remembers a dream they had, and you never get to finish your story.
Not that they were listening in the first place.
They try to tell you what to do.
Some toxic friends take things even further.
Not only do they have to be in control of the conversation, they have to be in control of you, too.
From dictating how you spend your time together to trying to dictate what TV shows you watch and what music you listen to, if they don’t think it’s cool, they’ll try to stop you from doing it.
They can give criticism but can’t take it.
There’s nothing worse than someone who’s happy to insult you but can’t handle it when someone disagrees with them.
We all have to learn to give and receive criticism in life.
If someone can’t take it, it’s a sign that they’re insecure in themselves and that insecurity could rub off on you, too.
Feel free to stick around and try to help them, but if you’ve been friends for years and nothing’s changed, well, you know what they say about leopards…
They’re terrible listeners.The best listeners know when to talk, and when to listen. Click To Tweet
The best listeners know when to talk, and when to listen.
The worst listeners interrupt you before you’ve even finished your first sentence.
There’s a difference between talking over someone because you’re excited and talking over someone because you’re rude, though.
The people that interrupt you because they’re a toxic friend do it ALL THE TIME. T
he people that do it because they’re excited do it because they’re, well, excited.
The more you listen out for interruptions and people trying to take control of a conversation, the more you’ll start to notice it.
Everything is a competition.
When you say, ‘I wrote 1,000 words last night,’ their reaction won’t be ‘Cool! Nice one!’ their reaction will be, ‘I wrote 2,000 words last night.’
Whatever you say or do, they always have to do one better than you.
Everything fires up their competitive mind and they must win.
Their default reaction is jealousy.
Not long after I met my partner, I had a friend who told me I shouldn’t be going out with him.
Said friend didn’t tell me why we were a bad match, just that I was better off with someone else.
He just couldn’t be happy for me.
Maybe you did really well in an exam, and your friend couldn’t be happy for you because they’d failed, or you got an awesome job and they’re not happy for you because their job sucks.
Most of us can control the green-eyed monster, but not everyone can.
When someone’s default reaction to your good news is jealousy, it’s a surefire sign.
They lean on you for emotional support, but don’t always return the favour.
Sometimes toxic friendship can be more subtle.
Sometimes it’s not a case of them being controlling or a bad person, sometimes they drop all of their emotional baggage at your doorstep.
They might return the favour, they might not, but if their emotional baggage is that heavy and they’ve had the same problems for years, they should be talking to a professional.
You may feel like a bad friend, but by sapping your time and energy by asking for advice and not taking it, they’re ten times worse.
You feel drained after seeing them.
The more we socialise, the happier we are (even if we’re introverts).
But when you spend time around a toxic friend, it leaves you needing to curl up in a ball on the sofa with a DVD boxset, unable to function for the next 24 hours because they sapped you of so much energy.
Because toxic friends demand so much of our attention, it can be like entertaining a toddler — how drained you are doesn’t fully hit you until they’re gone.
When you’re an introvert, it’s even worse.
Being around people already drains you, but being around friends should at least make you happy.
If you don’t come away from hanging out with someone feeling happy, why did you hang out with them in the first place?
What makes someone a toxic friend?
For someone qualify as a toxic friend they don’t have to tick all the boxes.
It’s possible for someone to be an emotional drain without needing to be in control of what you do, just the same as it’s possible for someone to try and control you without leaning on you emotionally.
True friendship is about balance.True friendship is about balance. Click To Tweet
Real friends will do for you the same things that you’d do for them.
There’s nothing wrong with having friends for different occasions, like going out friends or friends you can rant with or holiday with. The important thing is that it’s a mutually beneficial friendship and you’re not just bringing each other down.
All of this applies to relationships too, if not more so.
Your partner should complement you and make you stronger, not put you down or make you feel worse about yourself.
How to get rid of a toxic friend
- If you only speak to them online, stop replying. You don’t owe them anything—they’re hurting you!
- Change your phone number.
- Be upfront. It’ll likely result in an argument, but being upfront with someone who isn’t good for you takes gumption and may teach them a valuable life lesson. Make sure to be tactful in your approach though!
- Drift away. When they ask to spend time with you, say you can’t—you’re writing. Not a lie. You SHOULD be writing.
We never know how long we’ve got left.
So why waste our time on people who only make us feel bad or drain us of all our energy?
Check out more excerpts from Productivity for Writers:
- Why you’ll never achieve perfection
- Why you need to embrace rejection
- How to deal with stress and burnout
- Why boredom is a luxury
- What to do when you have too many ideas
This is an excerpt from the upcoming Productivity for Writers. If you enjoyed it, you can preorder your copy of Productivity for Writers now!