Friendships, in the beginning, are like a breath of fresh air. You’re filled with excitement, shared interests, and meaningful conversations. But: sometimes, things can quickly take a dark turn. You find yourself tangled in a web of dilemma, abuse, and chaos when a loving and kind friend suddenly transforms into an inconsiderate and abusive person.
What’s even more perplexing is that you may not even realize you’re being abused, and often struggle to find a reason to leave such a friendship.
This why this article will focus on;
- Recognizing when you’re in an abusive friendship
- Breaking free from an abusive friendship
What’s An Abusive Friendship?
An abusive friendship is hell in so many senses. It’s when your supposed friend treats you like crap, manipulates you, and controls you like a pet on a leash. They may belittle, gaslight, blackmail, stalk, or disregard your boundaries. They may act dumb, or innocent, but they are dangerous, and the devils incarnate.
This was the case with a neighbour of mine back when I was living with my parents. She lived with a friend who inflicted physical and emotional harm on her, yet she failed to see the red flag. She even went as far as shouldering the financial burden to get married to him.
Abusive friends may also criticize you for everything, making snide remarks, and using guilt to get their way. They’re like a black hole, sucking away your self-esteem and happiness. And even though we call it an abusive friendship, friendliness is the opposite of what it is – it is hell, and you need to put on the right lenses to see.
“Keeping bad company is like being in a germ-infested area. You never know what you’ll catch.”– Frank Sonnenberg
How To Recognize An Abusive Friendship
Some traits of abusive friendship can be disguised as kindness, fondness, and love on the surface but its motives are dishonest, envious, and destructive. Here are some signs to look out for…
Control and Dominance:
For instance; the infamous Mr. Nice Guy is really good at doing whatever it takes to please others. However, deep down, he secretly wants other people to approve of him. He often bases his own value on the validation he gets from his friends. Why? Well, it’s because he feels insecure about his abilities and whether he is truly liked.
But when he doesn’t get the approval he wants, things can get bad quickly. He may get angry, manipulate others, or even emotionally blackmail them. And even when he does get approval, he will try to keep the person isolated from their friends, family, and support system. This makes it harder for the person to seek help or leave the situation, while Mr. Nice Guy continues to drain the life out of them.
In other cases of control and dominance, the abuser becomes excessively jealous and always accuses their friend of being disloyal. This leads to obsessively watching and following the victim, like stalking. And, when they feel weak about their attempt, they might try to hurt you, by causing you physical pain and injury. They might even use sexual violence to control you, such as;
- Sexual slavery
- Sexual Torture
- Forced Marriage
- Penetration with objects or weapons
- Forced pregnancy or abortion
They do these terrible things to make you feel powerless and trapped in the toxic situation they’ve created.
Emotional manipulation means using tricks or tactics to control someone’s feelings and actions for personal gain. It could be in the form of, guilt-tripping, playing the victim, undermining you, withholding affection or love, giving mixed signals, and creating a mischievous sense of dependency on them.
Another common example is gaslighting. It’s when someone intentionally messes with your mind by distorting or denying what you think is real. They might make you question your own thoughts, feelings, and even your sanity. Their goal is to make you doubt yourself and your opinions.
- Mocking or saying, “You’re overreacting. It’s not a big deal.”
- Accusing you by saying, “You’re always causing problems. This is your fault.”
- Twisting the truth by saying, “You’re imagining things. That never happened.”
- Insisting, “Your friends and family don’t really care about you. Only I do.“
- Dismissing your concerns by saying, “Stop being so sensitive. You’re making things up.”
It’s crucial to be aware of these examples of gaslighting behaviour in order to protect yourself and maintain a healthy relationship.
Threats And Blackmail:
Abusive friends may use threats of violence, harm, or suicide to maintain control over their victims.
- They threaten to tell everyone about embarrassing things you’ve done or secrets you’ve shared.
- They demand money or make you do things for them without considering how it affects you.
- They may tell you they will hurt themselves (maybe by cutting their wrist or jumping off a building) unless you prioritize staying with them instead of attending an important event.
They may also intimidate you through aggressive behaviour, destroying property, or displaying weapons.
Remember: Abusive behaviours can show up in different ways and can change suddenly. Not all abusive friends will have every sign mentioned before, but these signs can be helpful to think about when trying to break free from an abusive friendship.
“Let go of the people who dull your shine, poison your spirit, and bring your drama.”— Dr. Steve Maraboli
How To Break Free From An Abusive Friendship
It may seem thoughtful to suggest to you have a calm and heartfelt conversation with the person who has been hurting you. But: dealing with those who oppress and harm us is anything but calm or heartfelt. If resolving conflicts with enemies were easy, we wouldn’t see the world investing so much in warfare.
So what should you do when your attempts to talk to an abusive friend don’t work?
Plan For Safety Or Exist
This is what I mean;
- Create distance: Take a step back from your abusive friend, both physically and emotionally. Limit or cut off contact to protect yourself from further harm.
- Consider legal options: If the abuse gets worse or puts you in danger, think about talking to a lawyer or getting a restraining order for your legal protection. And while doing this…
- Keep a record: Write down, audio or video record any instances of abuse, including dates, times, and details of what happened. This record can be helpful as evidence if you decide to involve authorities.
Reach out to trusted friends, family, or some badass professionals who know their stuff. Share your experiences and ask for advice on how to handle the situation.
Although, these folks are not only meant to drop some wisdom bombs on you, ’cause let’s face it, that might not cut it when you’re about to eat dirt. You need that advice, but also real and effective support.
Reaching out to them is worth it because they provide different perspectives, emotional comfort, knowledge, problem-solving skills, and practical help. Their support can truly make a difference in handling your challenges.
Focus on self-care:
Take care of yourself and focus on healing. Do things that make you happy, seek therapy or counselling to process your feelings, and surround yourself with positivity. But what this also means, is that you must learn to defend yourself mentally, emotionally, as well as physically.
“It makes no sense to try to extend a friendship that was only meant to be a season into a lifetime.”― Mandy Hale
Conclusion: Don’t hope the abuser will change.
Dealing with an abusive friend is tough, and there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. So trust yourself and put your safety first. You can’t trust in the future transformation of someone abusive, all you have is who they are at the moment and how they treat you.
A mindful self-help writer and photographer