The Hard Facts: Pick Your Poison

It’s Research Wednesday! Where I share the latest, or most fascinating, in the science of friendship.

“[According to a survey of 18,000 women and 4,000 men], 84 percent of women — and 75 percent of men — said they’d had a toxic friend at some point, with 1 in 3 survey takers fessing up to a toxic BFF.” (“Toxic Friends? 8 in 10 People Endure Poisonous Pals”; 8/22/2011)

It doesn’t surprise me that so many people have been in a toxic friendship at some point. There’s no way to know that a relationship will be toxic unless you’re in it.

At least a good number of those people probably got out. Somehow.

That 33% percent of people say they have or had a BFF that was “poisonous,” well that’s a bit more disturbing. Why let it get that far, if it’s such a disastrous relationship? I imagine it wasn’t so bad when the friendship started, but developed into something no-good. Or maybe it’s that when best friends get as close as sisters, there develops that sister-like competition or little annoyances. I’m not sure. I’m happy to say I don’t think either of my best friends are toxic. There might have been–there probably were–unhealthy friendships in my life back in the day, but apparently I’ve blocked them out. Isn’t that how we handle pain?

What makes a friendship toxic, anyway? According to this survey, commissioned by The Today Show and Self:

–  65% of respondents say they’ve been stuck with a self-absorbed sidekick
– 59% say their best friends are the “draining emotional vampire types”
– 55% say their pals are overly critical
– 45% say they are friends with back-stabbers, who undermine with insults or backhanded compliments
–  37% have an unreliable bestie

Let’s ignore the fact that these clearly add up to plenty more than 100%. I’ll assume those surveyed could check as many as applied, and some crappy friends committed multiple offenses. Reading this list, I realize that of course I’ve been friends with these people. There might be someone out there who thinks I am one of these people. I guess I’ve simply thought of these as annoyances, or flaws, but not necessarily reaching toxic levels. It’s such an ugly and clinical word, I try to reserve it for the worst cases.

Some other stats of note:

– 37 percent say they hide friends on Facebook when they’re upset with or sick of them

– 53 percent made a conscious decision to downgrade their toxic friend to acquaintance status.

– 22 percent (57 percent of male respondents, 14 percent of women respondents )say their toxic friend was a man (I really thought men were better behaved in this category. Glad to know they, too, can be the worst.)

So there you go. All you needed to know about crappy friends–and in what ways, exactly, they are crappy. I’ve definitely had friends who only talk about themselves, friends who are unreliable, friends who are soooo emotionally draining. In none of those instances did I end the friendship. In many cases, I moved away, or they did, so the decreased frequency of our visits made the offense seem worse. Or I learned to deal with it. Or they grew out of it.

I hope those pals who put me in one of those categories feels the same way. (Namely that I grew out of it? Maybe?)

Which of these toxic pals do you recognize? Did you end the friendship or learn to deal? And do you think there are people who think you are the poisonous one?


Filed under The Search

5 responses to “The Hard Facts: Pick Your Poison

  1. anonymous

    I think one of the hardest thing to deal with is a great friend who starts to turn toxic (in my case critical and emotionally draining, though not emotionally draining in the typical way) when she becomes your roommate. Something about proximity, maybe?

  2. My sister has a BF like this…. you can check them all! The sad thing is that no matter what she does to my sister, my sister always forgives her. No one in the family likes her and she even at one point tried to date my cousin…. who even though he is my cousin is more like a brother…. and it ended bad due to her. This girl really makes me mad! I wish my sister would wake up and ditch this girl!
    I wouldn’t say that I have had the typical Poisonous Friend but several friends that at some point or another have let me down and have shown signs of those qualities… Maybe I’m just in denial. My BF in high school always used to put me down and after a while I couldn’t take it. Were not friends anymore. My work buddy who I have been there a lot for… well after I got a new job she fell off the face of the earth….. this one might be salvageable.
    I just wish that friends would treat friends like they want to be treated. You know that old “Golden Rule” that everyone has seem to forgotten!

  3. I definitely had the “draining emotional vampire” sort back in high school. Oh, the angst! I’ve learned to keep a little distance between myself and that sort of person now. I try to be understanding…but from far enough away that I don’t get sucked into the abyss with them.

  4. Cheryl

    People seem so eager to label someone else as “toxic!” “Toxic” to me implies something more than just garden-variety self-centeredness; it implies actual maladjustment or intent – kind of like bullying. If we tolerate bad behavior from others, aren’t we just teaching them how to treat us?

  5. Pingback: Should You Break Up? | MWF Seeking BFF

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