“A real friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out.” – Walter Winchell
We have all heard about the importance of friends and friendship. And, we have had all kinds of friendships. But do you know that friendship can be toxic too?
Just as in a relationship, friendship can turn unhealthy and harmful. One of the most common forms of a toxic friendship is codependency.
Read on to learn more about codependent friendships, how to identify them, and how to deal with the power dynamics in friendships. This article lists signs to help you recognize codependent relationships with a friend. Here you will also find suggestions on how to let go of a codependent friendship.
Let’s begin at the beginning and understand what is meant by a codependent relationship with a friend.
What is Codependent Friendship?
We have always been under the impression that best friends are those who would do anything for each other. In a way, this is true. But some friendships are not balanced. One friend would be putting more effort into the friendship while the other is just enjoying the benefits of the friendship.
Among friends, often personal boundaries are ignored. This is done to make the friend feel more welcome into our lives and accepted. However, in the eagerness to open ourselves up to friendships, we often forget our own needs and feelings.
Our personal boundaries are not optional. These are not choices we can make or break as we wish. We need personal boundaries to form good relationships and healthy friendships with others. They are for our own good and the health of these connections. These healthy boundaries help us isolate and identify our own needs and feelings from that of others.
That said, no friendship is healthy if it is formed at the cost of your individual freedom and self-respect. Friends ignoring personal boundaries ultimately end up getting entangled in each other’s lives so badly that they become dependent on each other. While it’s alright to depend on your friends, it is unhealthy to rely on them for all your needs. This will obviously lead to burnout.
An enmeshed friendship leads to a loss of identity. You will get so lost in the friendship that you forget your individuality. You will no longer have your own opinions, needs, thoughts, or feelings. You forget about self-care and self-love. This kind of toxic connection results in codependent friendship.
9 Signs of Codependent Friendship
What level of dependency is healthy? And, how much makes a friendship unhealthy? How to know when you’re too close to your friend?
When you say some level of dependency is good and when it crosses a threshold it’s bad, it becomes confusing. When do we know that we have crossed this boundary?
These signs can help you identify when you have crossed this invisible frontier of friendship.
1. One is always the needy one.
In a friendship, just like in a relationship, a balance has to be maintained between giving and taking. If one person keeps giving and the other keeps taking, this natural balance is lost. This is when the friendship turns toxic.
There are times when you want extra support from your friend. Such as after the loss of a job or breakup. There is nothing wrong with asking for help or giving it. But if you are always asking for help and your friend is always coming to your rescue, it doesn’t seem like a fair give and take. The role has to alternate between the two friends for their relationship to remain healthy.
2. One is always the rescuer.
When one of the friends is always needy, the other is forced to take on the role of the giver. Whether voluntarily or compelled to, they find ways to meet the needs of their friend. They will be spending all their time and energy on figuring out the problems of their friend.
Even if they are happy to help out their friend, this is not a comfortable situation. When they want help, they are reluctant to ask because they know their friend is already in trouble. Moreover, they think that when their friend cannot handle their own problems, how can they deal with others’? This means they will continue to “give”, even when they are not in a position to do this.
3. One is always feeling drained of energy.
The “giver” friend in the relationship may be a generous soul and be happy to contribute. However, when the “taker” friend is leaning too much on them, it can become too much. After all, always giving and not receiving can drain your energy.
Even if the “giving” part is just listening to their friend complaining or whining, it can become difficult to manage. The emotional toll of listening to such a drivel is often underestimated. When one friend is completely focused on themselves and can’t think about others, it can become intolerable to be their friend.
4. One is always prioritizing their friend over themselves.
Some don’t understand the need for self-care or self-love. In their priority list, they feature way down. They are keen to give and take care of the needs of others before they are willing to think about themselves.
This situation is exacerbated when the other friend is keen on taking. Ignoring personal boundaries in such a scenario can make it extremely difficult for the “giver” friend. They assume the needs of the other as their own, erasing the fine line that divides the needs of one from the other. This is a perfect recipe for an unhealthy friendship.
5. Too much empathy can turn a friendship toxic.
It is natural among friends to share their good moments as well as bad times. However, taking this to the extreme can be damaging. When one is upset about something, if the other one also gets upset, then who is going to help them get over the difficult times?
As a friend, it is alright to be empathetic and feel the pain and sadness of the friend. This should be used to figure out a solution and help the friend overcome the situation. Instead, as a friend, if they also feel down and are not in a position to deal with the problem, they are being ineffective. Moreover, it is unhealthy to allow your mood to be dictated by another person, even if this is your best friend.
6. One finds it hard to assert themselves.
When an obsessive friend takes over the friendship, leaving no room for the other to express their opinion or choices, it is not a healthy situation. Whether the “taker” friend is being bossy or playing the victim, the result is the same.
In this kind of friendship, the “giver” friend will find it difficult to assert themselves or express their viewpoints. As long as they agree with the “taker”, all is fine. In fact, the “taker” doesn’t allow the other to voice their opinion. This rule becomes so entrenched in the minds of the “giver” that they are scared or guilty to assert themselves.
7. There is too much reliance on friendship.
This situation may arise because of one or both individuals in the friendship. When they lose their individuality and personality to merge into a new identity, friendships turn into codependent relationships. When only one friend is over-reliant on the other to meet their emotional needs, the other friend will need this to satisfy their self-esteem and self-importance.
This is a classic example of codependent friendship. Even though from the outside it will look as though the “taker” is always taking and relying on the “giver”, the “giver” actually needs to give to feel needed. The act of giving is essential to feed their self-worth. This means they will keep giving, even if it hurts.
8. Jealousy can turn friendships toxic.
When one friend succumbs to jealous behavior because their friend gets too close to someone else, it is not a healthy situation or ideal for mental health. This is common enough in friendships when one friend forms a romantic relationship. It is as if being in this friendship means they are not allowed to form any other relationships or friendships.
The jealous friend will feel betrayed by this. They feel threatened that their friend went in search of other friendships or relationships when they are available. From their own limited viewpoint, they feel that this is unnecessary. They would want exclusive access and rights to their friend and they are unwilling to share them with anyone else.
9. One friend controls the friendship.
When one friend takes over the friendship and makes decisions for the two of them, it is not a good situation. The obsessive friend will decide what the other can do or cannot do.
The friend who is being controlled will find it hard to express their opinions and choices. Even if they summon the courage to raise their voice against this, it will be seen as a betrayal of friendship. This is an impossible situation for the one being controlled. They will be left with the only choice of walking away from the friendship.
How to deal with codependent friendships?
Recognizing that you are in a codependent relationship is the first step towards normalcy. Sometimes the situation will be too far gone to repair. Then, the only choice left is to detach from the friend. However, before taking such drastic steps, you can always try to talk to your friend and raise your concern.
Here are some suggestions for dealing with codependent friendships.
1. Understand how yours turned into a codependent friendship.
Whether you are the “giver” or the “taker”, you too had a role to play in making it an unhealthy friendship. You may have been actively involved in it or have been a silent partner. No matter who is the active participant, you need to figure out how you reached this situation.
Most probably, the reason must be flaws in the character of one or both participants. If you are unable to turn it around on your own, you should consult a therapist.
2. Learn to prioritize yourself.
If you are the “giver” in the friendship, you should give this top priority. You should set healthy boundaries and enforce them. Try to recognize your wants and needs. Establish an open and free communication channel with your friend. If you are not used to saying “no”, it is time that you learned it. You should prioritize your mental health.
You may face resistance to this proposal from your friend. They may even threaten to walk out of the friendship. You need to realize that continuing in this is not good for you. If they are your true friend, they will understand what you are getting at.
3. Your friendship may change.
When you try to change the status quo in the friendship, your friend may not want to be your friend anymore. The question you need to ask yourself is, “Do I want such a friend? Are they my true friend?”.
A friend who is not interested in your welfare is not really your friend. They are just using you to get what they want. Friendship is just a ruse. You should go ahead and do what is right for you.
You need to have a clear idea about healthy friendships to recognize a codependent friendship. A balanced friendship will have strong personal boundaries. Both friends will be aware of their wants and needs and have the freedom to express themselves. There is mutual trust and respect. While asking for help is alright, there is no compulsion to do anything or sacrifice one’s desires.
In a healthy friendship, the role of “taker” and “giver” alternates between the two friends equally. They take turns to support and care for each other. There is accountability as well as willingness to discuss and change.
None of us are perfect and may make mistakes. But it is the readiness to listen and change that can make the difference between a healthy and a codependent friendship.