There is a lot written on the topic of how to break up with a “toxic” friend, but is there enough awareness on how to recognize if you’re that toxic friend projecting your own insecurities onto others?
What if you ended the friendship because you couldn’t be happy for your friend?
I have been on both sides: the friend who does the breaking up, and the friend who is broken up with.
A good way to differentiate a toxic friendship from a friendship that is threatened by someone’s inability to be happy for the other person reaching a milestone is to consider boundaries.
A toxic friendship is fraught with overstepping healthy boundaries. Whereas, friendships that dissolve around the time one person reaches a milestone before the other, can be due to the green-eyed monster rearing its ugly head. So before you throw the baby out with the bathwater, ask yourself this:
Does watching your friend start a new chapter, threaten your self-esteem?
Projection can lead to casting others away
It sure is a lot easier to throw away a friendship and tell yourself that a friend is “toxic” than it is to face yourself in the mirror and work on unresolved personal issues than interpersonal issues.
Projection works in funny ways. We often hate in others what we can’t accept in ourselves.
According to Psychology Today, the term is most commonly used to describe defensive projection — attributing one’s own unacceptable urges to another.
The concept was first developed by Sigmund Freud’s work on defense mechanisms. People tend to project when they possess a trait or desire that is too difficult to process. Therefore, rather than confronting it, they cast it away onto someone else to preserve their self-confidence.
Friends who broke up with me during a milestone
When reflecting on the friends who broke up with me, I can see more clearly now what it was I represented to each of them, and why they had to make me out to be the bad guy.
For example, Ada and I had been friends throughout high school and university.
We shared common interests and friends; however, despite having stuck by my side throughout the events leading up to the wedding, after returning from the honeymoon, Ada claimed that life was too hectic and that she did not have the time to be my friend anymore.
Similarly, Jodie and I had been friends for 5 years, and we belonged to the same social circle of newly married couples, which included some of our high school friends. However, tensions arose when I started a family, and she broke up with me, not long after I became a new mom.
At the time I internalized the break-ups and thought I had done something wrong. I mean, I had done some things wrong. I am in no way claiming to be perfect, but at the same time, I in no way deserved to be shut out for good. I was blindsided by how final each of them made the break-up.
What was worse was that the break-ups occurred at times in my life when I needed friends around the most. I was ready and willing to be there for them, but for whatever reason, they couldn’t confide in me and instead shut me out. Only now do I see that this had to do more with them than it had to do with me.
For example, Ada was grappling with insecurities about finding her place in society at a time when some friends like me were getting married. She was experiencing an internal struggle as someone who identified as LGBTQ and dating a woman who identified as transexual. Instead of sharing her inner battle with me, she decided not to confide in me, and make me the bad guy.
Likewise, Jodie and I had informally chatted about our plans to grow our families around the same time, but once I was pregnant she let me know this wasn’t her plan anymore.
However, it soon became evident that she was suffering from fertility issues; so instead of letting me be there for her, she was unable to do so, and it was much easier to make me out to be the bad guy.
Time heals all wounds and now I see they did me a favor
Even though these break-ups really hurt at the time, in both cases, I now see how these supposed friends did me a favor.
After all of these years, I am grateful that these women walked away because they were not friends because real friends are happy for one another when reaching a milestone.
As a new wife, trying to find my footing in this new chapter in my life was overwhelming at times.
Likewise, as a new mom, I was in need of friendship but instead, I lost a friend just like I did when I first got married.
But the truth is no one needs fairweather friends who make a run for the hills when you need them.
After all of these years, I want to thank them for breaking up with me, even if it did take many years to see my worth and their insecurity.
On the other hand, I am an empath, I feel everything, and so, to this day I am compassionate towards their insecurities, and I still wish I had been invited into that space to help them process those difficult emotions.
Since as a bisexual married woman, I was somewhat able to relate to Ada, and as a mom who went on to experience secondary infertility and recurrent miscarriage, I could also relate to Jodie’s struggles.
But I was not given that chance.
So when I grapple with inner conflicts surrounding my bisexuality and motherhood, I sometimes think of each of them and imagine what it would be like to still have them in my life to honor our failures and triumphs.
While within the throes of young adulthood and early parenting, it seems as though friendship is plentiful, in my wiser years, it became clear just how valuable friendships are, especially those formed earlier in life.
You get to know people in an intimate and vulnerable way.
Consequently, instead of being afraid of vulnerability, I encourage others to take a good, long look at themselves before they break up with a friend, if in fact, the work that needs to be done, is actually more within yourself.
When reflecting on these lost friendships, I am taken back to Sarah McLachlan’s song entitled Adia. The song is about a broken friendship in which the singer expresses remorse and loss when thinking about Adia:
Adia I thought that we could make it / I know I can’t change the way you feel / I leave you with your misery / Your friend who won’t betray / I pull you from your tower / I take away your pain / I show you all the beauty you possess / If you’d only let yourself belive / Cause we are born innocent / Believe me, Adia / We are still innocent / It’s easy, we all falter / Does it, matter?
Perhaps sometimes, I do expect too much from people, because I expected that these friendships were built to last, that people can forgive and forget, and are willing to hold those skeletons in the closet.
However, the hard truth is that some are not, and so I have come to accept that the breakups were not about me. Sometimes, people break up with friends who they label as toxic, but it’s not always clear who is indeed toxic, until many years later.