While abuse is usually discussed in terms of romantic partnerships or family relationships, friendships can be toxic and abusive too. I understood this first-hand when I realized that I was in that exact situation with my (former) best friend.
Our friendship became codependent and possessive. We’d been friends since we were kids and while we sometimes had fights or didn’t get along, generally we didn’t have any big issues. Thing started to devolve when we were both in college and figuring out our identities and new lives and finding new friends. We didn’t go to the same school and often went months without hanging out because of the distance. This caused issues and both of us became more possessive and codependent in unhealthy ways.
We started fighting constantly. Soon, I didn’t even recognize the friendship anymore. Mental health issues on both of our parts came into play and none of our interactions felt stable. There was rarely a day where we weren’t fighting, and since the fights usually happened over text or over the phone, they led to many misunderstandings. It felt like being on a rollercoaster, and the highs and lows were addicting even though they were frightening.
Emotional abuse can be hard to recognize. It’s one of the most insidious forms of abuse because of it. While all kinds of abuse are horrible, it can be difficult to know when someone is manipulating or gaslighting you, especially when the person abusing you is a close friend. It can be easy to get sucked into a cycle of trying to help them when they have emotional problems. While it’s noble to be there for your friends, it’s not acceptable for friends to take their issues out on each other.
I felt like I was walking on eggshells and always worried about making her angry. Our friendship was becoming more and more toxic. Each morning I would wake up filled with dread about our interactions. Yet she’d been my best friend for years, and the thought of not being friends anymore also made me feel lost and scared. I didn’t know what to do or how to break out of this cycle. Every time we talked, I was weighing my words and trying to figure out what would set her off.
The verbal abuse began to escalate but I still defended her to my family and other friends. This part is hard for me to talk about because even though I know it wasn’t my fault, I still feel guilty for not standing up for myself more. She began regularly calling me names and swearing at me. She’d make fun of my appearance and make light of my problems. She was, in a word, cruel, and I didn’t even recognize her anymore. My family began to see how miserable I was and worried about me, but I still defended her.
Both of us were miserable but neither of us would end the friendship. We were both clearly miserable. In the past, we had been codependent on each other, and I wasn’t a perfect person either. She would hold past mistakes of mine over my head. While I take responsibility for some of my actions, her mistreatment of me wasn’t OK. Neither of us was happy, but instead of ending the friendship, she continued to treat me horribly and I continued to go along with it.
During one argument, things got physical and she pushed me. Towards the end of our friendship, we got into an argument in person. We were fighting in her car when she reached over and hit me across the chest. When we got back to her apartment, she pushed me against the door and continued to threaten me. I was in tears. The emotional dependency we had on each other made it difficult for me to reach out or even tell anyone what had happened.
I wish I could say that’s where I drew the line but I didn’t. While I know that this wasn’t my fault and that I shouldn’t feel guilty for not leaving, I sometimes hold onto feeling like I should have stuck up for myself. The truth is that no victim is ever at fault in these situations, and even though it has been difficult, I’m learning to not beat myself up over staying in the friendship for so long. I would never hold anyone else accountable for staying in a situation like this, so I have to be kind to myself too.
We were bad for each other but she went too far. While I don’t think she’s a horrible person overall and I realize her mental health issues at the time were really bad, how she treated me during this time period was wrong. Our friendship had taken a turn towards toxic before the abusive patterns really started, but the way she continued to escalate the situation was completely unacceptable. Even though I held onto the belief that we could fix things and make them good again, it was never going to happen.
Healing from this friendship has taken me years. The friendship didn’t end until she moved even further away and contact began to drift off. We’d both gotten tired of the games and luckily things ended relatively simply. We were friends for over 10 years and I had to grieve the good times as well as begin to heal from the emotional damage. While it’s been a long process, I feel so much happier now and am happy with how far I’ve come in healing.
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