Toxic Friendship: How Do I Deal With Her Negativity?

Before you push them away, let friends know the impact their behaviour has on you

I have a friend of 17 years. She has serious health problems that she has largely ignored and lately her health issues have become more serious. I am a “fixer” but recently I’m wanting to move away from her. She sends me detailed negative messages, and never shows an interest in me. It’s driving me crazy. Should I distance myself from this toxic friendship? Why am I attracted to this type of person anyway? 

It sounds like you are no longer as attracted to this friend as you once were. It also sounds like an increasingly lopsided friendship, where you show interest in her feelings and needs but she is not showing interest in yours.

I often ask the question: “Does this relationship support your life or enrich it somehow, or does it detract from your life?” In other words, does the person drag you up or down? Getting clear on your answer can help.

Second, I wonder if your friend is looking for reassurance that she’s been heard and understood. Have you tried reflective listening? This is a good strategy with friends who tend to criticise, but may be helpful for negativity as well. If this does not work, you may need to be honest and tell your friend about the impact her self-focused, negative communication has on you. It might seem astounding, but it could be that she does not realise how you are affected. You could try calling her or meeting with her and saying something like:

“I can remember many messages from you lately about your problems and I notice you don’t ask after me and it doesn’t feel balanced. I know you are struggling a lot and I care about you, but I wanted you to know that getting so many of these messages leaves me feeling hurt and frustrated because I’d like more two-way communication and mutual support in our friendship.”

You could then ask her how she feels about what you have said. Ask her if she can maybe see things how you see them. Finally, suggest a solution. Perhaps you could say:

“Would you be willing to sometimes talk about other topics and sometimes about what is going on for me?”

If she gets defensive or says no, at least you now know where you stand.

If she listens to your feelings and can acknowledge your needs, who knows! She may be capable of making sufficient changes in her behaviour so that you can stay friends.

If, however, she reverts to her old ways, you may consider cutting communication with her. If you do, at least she will know why. If you don’t let her know the above, she will make assumptions about why you ended it, and people usually assume incorrectly. At least you tried and were honest. You can put you hand on your heart and walk away with a clear conscience.

You also ask, “why am I attracted to this type of person?”. You say you are a “fixer”. I think you have your answer!  Being a fixer always creates the very imbalance in the relationship which, in the end, you resent. So you are wise to work on this.

So why do you sometimes seek to fix others’ problems? Fixers are normally empathic people. However, it goes beyond natural empathy. It is actually a pattern of behaviour and a part of your identity which formed long ago, always for good reasons. It can help to talk with a trained counsellor to understand why this pattern developed in your life. Ultimately, being a fixer helps you feel good about yourself. You can see yourself as a good and kindly person, a kind of hero, which can boost your self-image. But it comes at a cost. You will feel powerless and frustrated in the end as the other person eventually resists your attempts to control or change them.

You can have compassion. But you cannot hold yourself responsible for another person’s feelings and needs.

Accept that you cannot change or manage other people. Maybe you feel sorry for them, and a portion of that comes from a genuine place. You do care about people and have empathy. You can retain this compassion in your heart – whether they are in your life or not – but you cannot hold yourself responsible for another person’s feelings and needs. Only they can do that. And pitying them overlooks their own innate strength and resilience. Trust that the other person has the wisdom within them somewhere to find their own answers in time. Stop trying to rescue them. When they are ready, they will change. Or not. But it is not your job to “fix” them. It’s an impossible job anyhow!

Please let us know how you go.