Laura had been avoiding me for weeks. Whenever I saw her, she made up lame excuses for why she hadn’t returned my calls, and I was getting more and more frustrated. She had been my closest friend, yet here she was, being evasive and weird.
Finally, I confronted her.
“Can we just talk?” I said quietly, trying to keep the tears out of my voice. “I really don’t understand why you’ve been avoiding me. Did I do something wrong?”
She shook her head and said, “Not right now. I just need some space.”
I nodded and walked away before she could see me start crying.
I gave her the space she’d asked for and hoped she’d contact me when she was ready. She called me a few days later. I felt so relieved and ecstatic to see her name come across the caller ID.
“Hey!” I said as soon as I picked up.
“…Hi,” she said. “Can you talk now?”
I had unrealistic expectations going into that phone call. I thought this tiff or whatever we were having would be easily addressed, a minor hiccup, and we’d go back to being besties, but it turned out that I’d been harming my friend with my very toxic behaviors for a while, and she was done. This phone call was her goodbye.
I wept harder after I got off that phone call than I had after any break-up with a guy until then.
Over the course of that conversation, I came to the realization that I had some really nasty traits that had manifested in that relationship. Those traits would then become part of this list.
The good that came out of that situation is that I started doing things differently. Now that I’d become aware (which is the first step in changing), I wasn’t okay in doing those same things anymore.
If you find yourself realizing that you too have some toxic behaviors going on, here are some things you can do to help work on healing and changing:
1. Take responsibility.
If you’re anything like I was, it’s not likely you’re going to want to admit you did shitty things. Admitting that we hurt someone else, and that we only have ourselves to blame, is painful and uncomfortable. But you have to own what you did to move forward.
Further, it’s really likely you’re going to make mistakes and repeat some of the same old behaviors because it’s going to take some time to learn how to do things differently. You will have to keep owning that.
Let me show you an example:
Your friend texts you they’re going to be late to meet you. You get so annoyed that you post on social media, “I really love waiting 15+ minutes for someone to show up on time. /eyeroll”
That behavior isn’t okay anymore, so you’d need to not only delete it, but also tell your friend you’re sorry for posting it and sincerely work on changing that behavior.
2. Seek out a therapist.
The most valuable and meaningful thing I did to start changing was to start working with a therapist. I knew I couldn’t change without some kind of structured action in place, and a therapist can provide that.
I didn’t love meeting with her once a week. Her office smelled weirdly of mothballs, and the only seating option for me was a stained brown couch next to a table with a tissue box on top of it.
What I discovered, though, is that many of the behaviors I’d exhibited with my friend were because of issues from my past. I had never learned good relationship skills, and with my therapist’s guidance, support, and accountability, I was able to learn how to be different.
3. Read some books.
If you do work with a therapist, he or she will likely have their own recommendations, but if you’re interested, below is a list of books that I’ve read or came highly recommended to me.
You’ll notice that only one of these explicitly has the word “toxic” in the title, and it’s because there aren’t many books out there that were written specifically for the “toxic” person to help themselves, but the other books do help address stopping bad behaviors.
4. Affirm yourself.
Why did I desperately not want my friend to stop being friends with me? Why did I do unkind things to try to keep her as my friend? Because I didn’t really like myself.
I kind of thought I was a piece of shit. When situations like losing that friendship happened, it just reaffirmed that to me too. Why would she want to be friends with me anyway? I’m awful, I might tell myself.
That sucked. Not even liking the body I had to be in 24/7? Awful.
My therapist suggested I work on this by saying affirmations aloud to myself in the mirror. She helped me write my first set:
I love myself. I am a kind and generous person. People love being friends with me.
The idea is that you say these things in the present tense as if they were already true. When I looked in the mirror and into my eyeballs the first morning I had to do these, I didn’t fucking love myself. My eyes were still swollen over from day three of crying over my friend breaking up with me. But, over time, I started to believe, and that belief is and was powerful.
5. Practice mindfulness.
“Put it on a post-it note on your steering wheel,” my therapist told me. I didn’t want to, but I eventually gave in and wrote, “How are you feeling?” on a bright pink post-it note that I then put on my steering wheel.
It felt really stupid at first, but seeing that post-it note whenever I got into my car reminded me to regularly look inward and assess how I was doing. Whenever I’d acted out, it was because my emotions had been running my actions. My unkindness was directly linked to me feeling fearful, deprived, or angry.
If I got into my car and realized I wasn’t feeling great, I’d take deep breaths and try not to act on anything until I was calm again.
6. Be prepared to not to be “healed” immediately.
You aren’t going to become totally supportive and selfless in one night. You’ll likely trip and fall as you learn some new behaviors.
Give yourself some grace.
As long as you keep owning your poor behavior and trying to do something different, you’re doing exactly what you should.
It’s not going to be easy, but it will be right. When your co-worker gets a promotion, say, “Congratulations! You deserve it!” Even if you don’t think they fucking deserved it. Even if you interviewed for the job, and you believe you should have gotten it, you should still say that. You don’t have to like saying it, but you should do it because that’s the right thing to do.
And, in all things, just try to be kind to yourself. Awareness isn’t easy. It doesn’t feel good, but we’re all growing and trying here.