There’s an old adage “Some people want you to do well, but not better.” This is true in the workplace, career endeavors, and unfortunately at times with friendship.
Once we mature and become self-aware, we are able to recognize when others sabotage our esteem, and hopefully capable of avoiding and ending such toxic relationships.
While I’ve been able to recognize promotions in the workplace as simply much-earned advancement, co-workers may have viewed it differently, but eventually came to realize and accept me as an ally rather than enemy.
When the saboteur is a lifelong friend, recognizing and putting a stop to the toxicity is not always pretty, yet necessary for a happy life free of conflict or annoyance. It’s a matter of self-worth.
Being a man of a certain age, I have had to end destructive relationships disguised as friendship, and it has never been easy.
On the subject of toxic friends, Exploring Your Mind (a blog about psychology and philosophy) teaches a “friend that wants to control you is a slave to envy,” and that “the word toxic should be an incompatible adjective with the word friend.”
I struggled whether to end a lifelong friendship until finally able to admit its destructiveness to my self-worth, self-esteem, and general well-being.
For decades, I allowed someone I’d known since boyhood to undermine my self-confidence through micro-aggression, passive-aggressive behavior, and outright degradation.
Because I hadn’t yet reached a level of maturity or self-realization, this person had managed to create a superior/inferior dynamic in our relationship.
Ending the friendship did not happen overnight, but rather months of questioning his behavior, and intent. The anxiety over whether I was over-reacting or finally recognizing what had existed all-along was certainly an emotional challenge.
In writing my memoir, I reflected on meeting him for the first time, revealing an early clue on the real nature of his character.
The boy with no friends was arrogant and condescending. He never knew his father and became a mama’s boy.
When he moved to our small town the alpha boys teased and taunted him right away.
“Mommy, they flipped the bird,” he cried.
His mother, not understanding the slang thought we’d injured an actual bird, not realizing it was our middle fingers pointed at him.
He grew into a teenager who acted hauntingly like Veda, the pretentious daughter from the 1945 motion picture Mildred Pierce, starring Joan Crawford.
We rode our bikes to the house he would move into once his mother remarried, in a more-desirable neighborhood, away from the working-class. Looking through the windows, he turned to me and said (very Veda-like), “We’re going to live here, and we’re going to be rich.”
During our youth, I was never invited to his home, and he often referred to me as his “under-privileged” friend.
This continued through adulthood, when we moved to different cities and I would visit him. He’d reluctantly invite me to parties to meet his co-workers and friends, but once there, would belittle and make fun of me. Enough so that I would leave. More than once I slept on the streets of San Francisco as his apartment was not an option.
I’d eventually learn to never count on him, even in desperation; my “best friend.”
During one of my most-vulnerable and darkest moments I reached out to him to no avail. Instead, he left me alone and distraught, despite being only a quick bus or cab ride from where he lived.
Years passed but he still considered us close, which I foolishly believed also, dismissing everything as simply growing pains.
When sharing I was writing a memoir, his contact increased, with daily phone calls curious about what I was including. Always finding it necessary to inject his opinion, at times trying to influence the narrative.
In discussing my first marriage, he repeatedly made it a point to bring up my spouse’s extra-marital affairs, attempting to hurt my feelings.
It wasn’t until a slip of his tongue that I realized an intent to interfere with and undermine the happy healthy life I’d eventually found. “I could’ve had you,” he said. I stopped talking to him after hearing those words. Was unrequited love his true motivation?
Despite my husband asking him to back off, he started sending me extravagant gifts, from pounds of imported Italian chocolates to expensive Waterford crystal.
Realizing my ultimate rejection his demeanor quickly changed. He began degrading mutual friends, and when he found himself on a flight with my mother once, shamefully engaged his micro-aggression on her.
Still friends on social media, and perhaps to illicit jealousy, he began boasting about being part of the “in crowd” in Hollywood. Paying for autographs and photographs with celebrities became his obsession, but these desperate attempts to gain my attention appeared as nothing but unflattering. I’d outgrown idolatry, and the superficial.
By the time I unfriended him on Facebook it was too late to regain or recover any type of relationship. I’ve since ignored a message request from him for over a year.
I rationalized and denied our lifelong “friendship” made me feel “less than” for too long, but I have no regrets.
There is much more to this story, yet ugly to revisit. We both have secrets I’ll take to the grave. What’s important is forgiving oneself for allowing anyone to undermine your self-worth an entire lifetime.
Karen Young wrote on the Hey Sigmund website, “We have all had toxic people dust us with their poison. Sometimes it’s more like a drenching…If you’re the one who’s continually hurt, or the one who is constantly adjusting your own behavior to avoid being hurt, then chances are that it’s not you and it’s very much them…You might not be able to change what they do, but you can change what you do with it.”