How and when to end a lifelong friendship – SBS
There are fabulous friendships, and there are toxic friendships – the latter of which can have adverse impacts on a person’s physical and mental health according to a clinical neuropsychologist. But there is a way to help salvage a faltering friendship.
Diana and her best friend were “like sisters” and did all the “usual girlie things” together- shopping, makeup, smoking. But as the girls, who’d been best friends since they were about five years old, grew up, Diana felt there was something remiss in their friendship.
“She was bossy and quite controlling. I felt that we had gone (our) separate paths and I didn’t feel she valued my friendship,” Diana, 47, told SBS Insight.
But Diana put up with it, because of what she now understands were underlying mental health issues from trauma in her childhood.
“I didn’t have any confidence in myself, no self-belief, no self-respect… I didn’t want to lose that friendship either, so I thought I’d just settle with her, that I just should take what I could get.”
But Diana wasn’t blameless. When the best friends were in their early 20s, her friend went overseas for six months and asked Diana to “keep an eye” on her boyfriend.
That’s when the real trouble began.
All of a sudden, he made a move on me and I accepted it. We crossed that line and kissed and made out…and over time it just kept happening, she said.
The affair continued for 12 years. While she knew it was wrong, Diana was in too deep, wracked with shame and guilt and unsure how to end either the affair, or the friendship. That was until one night 10 years ago.
“He made a move on me again and I decided that I would make our dalliance known to her. She wasn’t too far and so she saw us, she heard us, and she caught us making out,” Diana said.
“I knew that this was really the end of our friendship…I just left the house knowing I have lost a friend.”
Diana hasn’t spoken to her former friend, or the friend’s partner since, but regrets not having had a conversation and walking away from the friendship sooner.
I hurt myself mainly, but I also destructed and I hurt her.
Psychologist Rachel Voysey, founder of Sydney clinic The Relationship Room, said that as in any relationship, communication between friends is key.
“Having that difficult conversation is something that’s so vulnerable, so, it’s easier sometimes to avoid it and to let it drift,” Ms Voysey told Insight. “But you can save a friendship that’s turning if you can have that difficult conversation, if you can take that risk to actually say something.”
Clinical neuropsychologist, Dr Hannah Korrel said that while good friends are “worth their weight in gold”, toxic friendships can have adverse impacts on a person’s physical and mental health.
“If you have a toxic friend, it’s associated with greater chronic illness, shorter life span, it’s associated with the health effects on par with obesity and smoking,” Dr Korrel told Insight.
“It totally confuses your vagus nerve. That makes your muscles tighten up… makes your digestion go out of whack, makes your sleep get impacted and it releases all sorts of stress hormones into your body like cortisol and adrenaline, which means you end up feeling pretty crummy.”
A decade after she ended the affair with her best friend’s boyfriend, Diana said she no longer misses the friendship and she’s taking ownership of her indiscretions and past mistakes.
“I hurt myself mainly, but I also destructed and I hurt her. That wasn’t needed. So, at that first stage something happened between her boyfriend and myself, I should have just said ‘this is what has happened’, and let it taper out. I shouldn’t have come out and hurt her in the way I did.”
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