My friend recently dealt with the realization she had been in a toxic and emotionally manipulative friendship. I'm not a part of this friend group, but through her, I was pulled into this crazy whirlwind of revelations against this person who I had only met a couple of times.
I can't pretend to know what the people that had known him for years might be going through, but all I can offer is some insights into my experience with a toxic and abusive friendship.
Though my story happened ten years ago, the repercussions of all that happened still affect me to this day.
I'm not going to get into that whole story because it's way too personal, but I can offer you my advice.
First of all, you need to recognize and admit to yourself that the friendship is not a healthy one. The word "abusive" or "toxic" is so taboo. I personally didn't think to put the label "abusive" on it until almost two years after the friendship had ended. But when I did, it hit me like a freight train because it was so obvious. Of course, it was abusive. There's nothing else it could've been.
The key to recognizing that a friendship is toxic or abusive is to ask yourself these questions: Does my friend make me feel worse about myself? Do they never listen to what I want? Have they ever pressured me into doing something I didn't want to do? Have they ever threatened me (with violence, rumors, or anything in between)?
If you answered yes to any of these, your friendship is not healthy.
People always have a good grasp of unhealthy romantic relationships or family relationships. They are more commonly explored and talked about in media.
But few acknowledge unhealthy friendships. The ask the question "Why not just leave?"
And it's true that you can just cut off the friendship, but that's easier said than done. Some friends can be closer than blood. Maybe that friend has seen you at your worst and helped you through countless situations. Maybe that friend knows you better than anyone else. Maybe you simply don't want to be alone.
I let my former friends get away with saying and doing horrible things to me because I couldn't imagine a life without them.
But I promise you, cutting the person out of your life will do wonders for you, even if it doesn't feel like it now.
After constantly going back to my toxic friends, I finally cut them off. I spent half a school year alone and in the worst spell of depression I had experienced in my whole life (though I hadn't been taught anything about mental health ten years ago, so I didn't know it was depression at the time).
But slowly, I healed. I met new friends and spent more time with old ones that my toxic friends had tried to get me away from. These people taught me what real friendship is.
It's no-sleep sleepovers where you watch the sunrise together. It's singing songs from your favorite musicals together. It's running around town together not afraid of the weird looks you get.
It's a feeling of security and unconditional love.
And it's okay to mourn your former friendship. I'm sure not all your memories with your toxic friend are bad.
You're not required to forget every good memory when cutting out a bad friend. But you just have to acknowledge that they're not the person you thought they were. Sometimes you have to leave memories where they belong - in the past.
Yes, even 10 years later, memories (both bad and good) of my ex-friends still hit me when I least expect them. But then I think to everyone else I have let into my life since then and how much joy they have brought me. It is then that I know that letting go of those friends was the best decision I've ever made.
And it's a decision you have the strength to make too.