Dear Dr. Yael:
I have been following your columns about toxic parenting and toxic spouses. Well, I think I may have a toxic friend. We have been friends since elementary school and today we both have married children. Looking back at our lives, I can say that I was always the studious one while she was always looking to shop. We both came from financially average homes, but her focus was always on what else she could have.
As life progressed, my goal was to marry a ben Torah, go into chinuch and raise a wonderful family. Her goal was to marry a rich guy and have a beautiful house, clothes, jewelry, etc.
And that is what happened. She married into a wealthy family and her husband is very successful. He is also a baal middos and a baal tzeddaka and learns with my husband every day.
My family is much larger and our values are very different. Her husband often shares with mine that he wishes his wife would be influenced by me. Unfortunately, even though I know that gashmius is not the important thing and I see that our children are full of tochen and walking the right path, I envy her easy, rich life.
Don’t get me wrong, she does have plenty of struggles with her children, which, Baruch Hashem, we do not have.
My husband feels that she is a negative influence on me and is prepared to sever the relationship as he sees that her constant flaunting bothers me. I keep hoping to rise above this feeling and influence her. However, whenever we are together, I come home sad.
After reading your column on toxic people, my husband wondered if a friendship could be toxic and if I was in one. I do not want to cut my friend and her family out of our lives, but am at a loss as to how to change things. Please help me deal with this situation effectively.
Thank you for your letter. I do not know your friend, but from your letter it does not seem that she is toxic. Although she may be much more into gashmius than you, and may make you feel badly sometimes, it does not seem like a toxic relationship. Whether you want to remain friends with her or not, is up to you; however, I will share with you signs of a toxic friendship so you have a better idea of what to consider.
A toxic friend is always criticizing you and making you feel small and embarrassed (e.g., a toxic friend will find fault in almost anything you do and will usually find a smart way to criticize you and make you feel bad about yourself).
A toxic friend will not be happy for you when something good happens. Someone who truly loves you will celebrate your happiness. Toxic friends do not.
A toxic friend often lacks empathy and does not seem to care when you are going through a hard time. A toxic friend may even derive some joy from your hardships.
A toxic friend will not be trustworthy and will not keep the secret you ask them to. A toxic friend may even use your secrets against you.
Toxic friends take advantage of your generosity and give nothing in return. They usually do not appreciate anything you do for them.
Toxic friends talk about you behind your back and may spread rumors about you. They have no compunction about ruining your good name or telling lies about you.
Toxic friends are always unhappy, complaining, and dissatisfied. They are the type of people who bring you down and put you into a bad mood.
Toxic friends are often very self-centered. They only care about their own feelings and will not consider your needs unless it serves a purpose for them.
Toxic friends make everything more dramatic. They exaggerate issues and make small things into problems. They add unnecessary drama to your life that you’re better off without. They also may lie if it serves a purpose for them.
Toxic friends are bullies. They use your vulnerabilities and secrets to attack you when you’re down and they damage you psychologically.
Toxic friends can be very judgmental and may only talk about themselves.
Toxic friends can be very stubborn. It’s their way or the highway.
Toxic friends can be picky, very needy, and hard to please; they also get into petty fights because they like to sow division. They get mad at you easily and always seem to be upset at you over the smallest things. Besides for the obvious, this can be toxic because they do not like to work out issues in a mature manner.
Lastly, toxic friends can be very negative. This makes them difficult to be around and unpleasant to deal with as they tend to only see the bad in most situations.
What you described does not seem like someone who is toxic. Your friend may be a little self-centered and may talk about all of the things she has, but this is likely because she is feeling insecure around you. You noted that your friend is going through a lot. Try to be there for her and help build her self-esteem – she may be a better friend to you if she feels more confident.
If, however, I have misread your letter, and your friend does indeed meet a lot of these criteria, then it would be very prudent to begin the process of cutting yourself off from her. No one should be friends with someone who is constantly making them feel bad about themselves and who is going out of their way to hurt them.
Thank you for your letter and hatzlocha with this difficult decision.Dr. Yael Respler