A lot of people have bad friends, but a healthy friendship, like any other relationship, should be symbiotic and mutually beneficial. Those who threaten your well-being don’t deserve to be a part of your life, period.
Unhealthy relationships have plagued me for as long as I can remember. They’ve manifested themselves in my family, with significant others, but most commonly, in the friends that I have chosen.
Friendships can be just as abusive as romantic relationships. Too often, I have dismissed emotionally abusive behavior in favor of keeping the company of people I’m already comfortable with. Although these relationships may be familiar, I’ve learned that this doesn’t mean they have to be in my life forever.
As I grew up at a different pace than my friends, many of my friendships lacked much-needed support. In response to the first drunk texts I have ever sent, I was bombarded with complaints and a lot of cyber bullying. I received side eyes, and my best friend, who I have known since preschool, routinely made fun of me. I found myself under scrutiny from those closest to me.
Admittedly, I made a lot of mistakes trying to find myself in high school, but nothing that warranted an intervention in my own backyard.
For months, my friends had been skirting around group activities. They avoided confrontation, but the bullying began to die down. We got together and planned to hang out just because it had been too long.
Instead, they had been secretly planning an intervention. After a home-cooked meal made by my mom, they sat me down.
“You’re not the Sam we know,” they stated, as a bonfire crackled in my backyard. “We want the awkward girl back.”
One by one they went around the circle and told me how I had changed and how they wanted to help me regain who I used to be. It felt like none of them understood that the issue was not that I had changed, but that I was growing up.
Growth is natural; growth is good. Although I knew this, and that my friends hindered my growth, at least they were willing to talk to me for the first time in months. So, I forgave them. At the time I didn’t have much of a community past them, and so I let their mistakes fly so I could have that community back. Until I graduated, and even beyond, it was more of the same.
As a result of my experiences in high school, it’s hard for me to accept that when I meet new people, they want to get to know me for me. I have a hard time recognizing sincerity, and even a worse time being myself.
Even now in college, I’m finding that some of the people who helped me see the good in others for the first time are, in fact, only temporary in my life. Some people hinder us not because they are inherently abusive, but because they are unable (or unwilling) to understand that everyone grows at different paces.
Moving away from home taught me so much about myself and made me question and explore these unhealthy relationships on a level that I never thought I was capable of.
Bad friendships taught me the importance of communication. In any relationship, you must be clear of your intentions and expectations. I have also come to understand the value in standing up for myself.
These are simple concepts in theory, but difficult in practice. For a long time, I blamed myself for what I went through growing up. I used to see no way of finding another community and continued to struggle with who I am because for years, I had let that be questioned.
To combat the lingering effects of my experience, I joined a sorority, began writing for the Daily, started my own RSO, and have wholeheartedly embraced those who contribute positively to my growth.
This isn’t to say that all old friendships are toxic. Emma sends me postcards from Ireland; Courtney and Morea listen as I drone on about my new sorority, and Ava from preschool reminds me constantly that not all old friends deserve to be cut out of your life.
In return, I hope I can give them my support and help them understand that what I experienced isn’t okay.
You should never feel like you have to stay friends with people who don’t help you grow. It’s okay to leave people behind.
Understanding how emotional abuse affected me was hard because it had occurred on a psychological level, subtly, over a long period of time.
It’s hard to cut off people who have woven their way into your life, even if they’re detrimental to your mental health; but building a new relationship can be a lot better than trying to fix an unhealthy one.
Reach writer Samantha Bushman at email@example.com. Twitter: @sammi_bushman