Note: This is 3rd in a 5-post series as my reply to a depressed reader who emailed me for help. She granted me permission to reply here on my blog. Click here for the first and here for the second in the series.
“The way to love anything is to realize that it might be lost.” ~ Lord Chesterton
Friendships are organic things. They live and grow and sometimes wilt and decay. They take something of us to maintain and nourish. Neglect can kill a relationship just as thoroughly as it can a houseplant.
At some level, we like to think there is nothing that could end a true friendship. Unconditional love, right? But in the real world, there are many poisons that can quickly sink deep into the bloodstream of even our most beloved relationships, infecting them with deadly toxins.
This is a post about those poisons.
But first, let’s examine the very life-giving organs of an ideal relationship because therein may also be clues to how we sometimes end up sabotaging them.
The 6 Vital Organs of Friendship
We want friends who are true and trustworthy, knowing they have our best interests at heart no matter what happens. When we tell them something in confidence today, we don’t want to read about it on Facebook tomorrow.
A close friend is someone we can open up to, share our darkest secrets with and with whom we can talk about anything. We are connected at a deep level. We love each other even if we never use the word (you know, a guy thing). We are kindred spirits and know each other’s thoughts.
A good friend notices when things are going sour in our lives. They care. They reach out and call or text or get us out to distract us from our problems. They listen and give advice. They look out for us. They send notes and give hugs (don’t worry, it’s a girl thing).
A good friend is someone we can rely on to weather difficult times. When you call, they show up. When you’re down, they lift. When you have nowhere to turn, they signal you in. We want to know our friends have our backs and can be counted on when things come crashing down on top of us.
Friends know your baggage and love you anyway. They accept you despite all the character warts and personality pimples that dot the skin of your soul. They accept you, flaws and all. There’s no need for pretense or secrets or fear. They value you, plain and simple.
We want our closest friends to get us, to see clearly who we are. We want them to understand what we’re passionate about. We want them to know why we are the way we are and what gives us meaning and makes us happy. We want them to see the good intent behind our flawed attempts.
A Realistic Prognosis
It’s important to know that not all these traits will likely show up in every relationship without blemish. But all are tremendously important to a lasting friendship to one degree or another. Their absence can strain a friendship over time … or worse.
Confession: I still fail at living up to all of them all the time. I also fumble when trying to avoid injecting little doses of poison into the veins of even my most cherished relationships. Our goal in life, of course, is to take daily steps to live and be better. But truth be told, I’m still stepping and have far to go.
So take stock of your own life and determine which characteristics still need attention. Those may very well be the reasons for friendships that have gone sour.
Following are some of those poisons that can corrupt the vital organs of any friendship no matter how strong it starts out to be.
10 Paralyzing Toxins to any Friendship
Just for fun, let’s assume you wanted to use a deadly venom to inflict a fatal blow to one of your closest relationships (I know, but just play along!). How would you do it? The following is a how-to manual to help you inflict that fatal blow:
Poison #1: Judge and Condemn
How to apply: Never wait until the evidence is in as you wildly jump to conclusions, starting with the worse-case scenarios, of course. Judge harshly and hold others to unreasonable standards of perfection.
Never tolerate mistakes or character weaknesses or personality flaws. Scold, nag and criticize as often as possible.
Poison #2: Talk more than Listen
How to apply: When your friends need an ear, give them a mouthful. Steal the spotlight. Interrupt and finish sentences. Wait for the moment you can cut them off and take over. For added toxicity, when they come to vent, interrupt their venting to vent about their venting!
Poison #3: Hold Grudges
How to apply: Never forgive or forget. Hold on to the past. Bring up old wounds and old mistakes whenever arguing no matter how old or irrelevant to the current issue. If they challenge you on its relevancy, yell louder until they give in and accept the illogic of your diatribe as logical.
Poison #4: Be Closed off and Distant
How to apply: Stand aloof. Keep your inner thoughts inside. Be mechanical and cerebral in your conversations. Don’t let anyone get too close. Let your distance and aloofness be a preemptive strike against the possibility of anyone ever hurting you.
Stay stoic at all times. Not only should you never wear your heart on your sleeve, keep it stored in a locked box in subzero temperatures.
Poison #5: Get Angry … often!
How to apply: Let anger be your first and only response to anything that isn’t as you would like it. Blow everything out of proportion while you’re at it. Overreact and shout and yell.
For bonus points, use obscenities. Then, if you’re really good, if they complain about your constant anger, angrily condemn them for insensitivity.
Poison #6: Use Words Like, “You Always!” and “You Never!”
How to apply: Use all-inclusive and all-exclusive terms that give no room for nuance or accuracy or shades of gray. If they lie once, call them liars. Label them as if it was Judgment Day.
Say things like, “You ALWAYS act like that!” and “You NEVER listen to me!” If they do something dumb, avoid saying the thing they did was dumb. That just doesn’t wound deeply enough. Call them dumb instead!
Poison #7: Avoid Saying “Please” and “Thank You” and “I’m Sorry”
How to apply: Be nicer to strangers than friends. Be rude, blunt and demanding, especially in front of others to add a good lethal dose of humiliation to the noxious mix. Say things like, “Give me that!” and “Move it!”
Refuse to thank them for things they obviously should have done for you anyway. No reason to spoil them, after all!
Remember, your goal is to poison the relationship, so don’t dilute the poison with kindness. But demand such niceties from them as a hypocritical twist to the already toxic mixture.
Poison #8: Always Insist on Getting Your Way
How to apply: Always be in charge. When you go somewhere, always be the one who chooses where and when. To really show who is boss, insist on choosing the streets to get there as well. Get your way even if it means their needs, wants and rights are squashed like so many bugs on a windshield!
Make them feel selfish for ever wanting their own way. And above all else, be completely unreasonable in your expectations. The more unreasonable, in fact, the louder you should demand they be met … immediately … without question … or else!
Poison #9: Always be Right
How to apply: Never give in or try to see things from their perspective. If they disagree, make them feel stupid for disagreeing. If they insist that they’re right, be hurt as though their disagreement is the same as a slap in your face or spit in your eye.
Ignore the inconvenient fact that you’re disagreeing with them as much as they are with you. If you yell loud enough and blow things out of proportion large enough, they’ll likely never notice the inconsistency.
Poison #10: Get Offended Easily
How to apply: No matter what is said or done or not said or not done, interpret it as an attack on the core of your very being. Turn every exchange into a trial. Be so fragile that others are forced to walk on eggshells around you.
The more others fear offending you, the better. Use phrases for any and all such instances like, “That’s just proof you never really cared!” and “See! I knew you never loved me!”
The result of such attitudes and behaviors is certain death to the relationship you may be desperately trying to hold on to. In fact, some of your behavior may be the result of that very desperation, a sort of panic-induced hope to cling to the carcass that was a friendship once upon a time.
So what’s the antidote? Simple. Stop doing those things that poison relationships. Learn what it is you do. See it clearly. Make no excuses, but don’t condemn yourself for being human either.
Now go to work to change those traits or habits that have sabotaged your relationships for far too long. You likely saw glimpses of yourself as you read. Take note of those characteristics you recognized and go to work reversing them.
To My Dear Reader Whose Email Prompted this Series …
One last word on friendship: Not all people are capable of being true friends. Their character and values are just too weak. They are plagued with selfishness or pride or other traits that get in the way of being true friends.
If that’s been the case for you, or if the relationships you have lost are beyond repair, learn the lessons the lost friendships can teach you and then seek new friends from better sources.
But most of all, be (or become) the kind of person who attracts good and decent people to you. That may mean there’s lots of work ahead of you.
But it’s always worth the climb.
I hope this has helped.
- What are the vital ingredients to true friendship for you?
- What poisons have affected relationships you’ve been in and how did you deal with them?
- It would be awesome to read your thoughts in the comments below!
Oh yeah, don’t forget to Tweet and Share this post if you think others may find value in it!
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Photo credit: richwall100