Preface: I published this yesterday and included examples of toxic friendships. I thought they were nicely de-identified but apparently not as someone identified one of them from my description. I immediately took the post down based on this experience. I apologise to anyone I may have upset or offended with the original version. Even if people treated me badly in the past it is not OK for me to treat others badly myself. Thank you to the person who brought this to my attention. This revised version has no details of any individual, de-identified or otherwise.
I have a long list of people who used to be my friends but aren’t any more. There range from people who have simply dropped off the list and those who actively hate me. I have people who have excised me from their lives and people I have felt the need to excise from my own. Some of them I am very glad are gone. Removing a toxic person from your world is like being Frodo Baggins in Lord of the Rings when the ring gets destroyed. In the movie version Frodo says ‘It’s gone!’ With a huge sense of relief. That is definitely how I have felt when some people have gone from my world.
I have learned a lot form my experience with a number of toxic friends over the years. The most useful lesson was that it is OK to excise a person from your life. You do not need friendships which cause you only stress and misery. Now I am better at spotting the signs of a toxic narcissist so hopefully can avoid entering into friendships with these sorts of people in the first place.
One thing which has always worried me is when friends distance themselves from me and don’t tell me the reason. I have had a few friends do this over the years and it always stresses me out. What did I do wrong? I wonder. Why does this person I used to be close with now not like me? I think that if a fried upsets you – and especially if they are autistic – it is best to tell them what the problem is. Not only will this avoid them being worried about what they did and ruminating on this and feeling bad about themselves, it also gives you the opportunity to work out any differences and repair the relationship. It is always best to tell someone if there is an issue but I recognise it can be difficult, especially for people who struggle with assertiveness.
One issue with ex-friends is when you encounter them unexpectedly and there is a very difficult exchange. This has happened to me a few times, most of which were extremely stressful and upsetting. I have improved in handling these situations and on one occasion I managed to respond to the ex-friend with assertiveness which was wonderful. Ten points to Yennski for assertiveness! It was a really difficult thing to do but I feel like it was good to communicate clearly and stand up for myself.
These days I don’t really care if I have a list of people who really dislike me but in the past this would have been a huge issue for me. I was bullied through school and had a number of traumatic experiences of abuse and violence as a young adult. I also spent time in prison where being a social outcast could result in some pretty dire situations including being attacked or killed. As a result of these things I longed for social acceptance and any friendship was a good one in my books. The very notion of somebody not liking me or of me excising a friend from my life was unimaginable and I had a lot of very unpleasant friendships as a result. As I grew older I started to value and respect myself more. I realised that not everyone had to like me and if someone didn’t like me, well it was their loss! I am supremely unconcerned that I have enemies. As long as they don’t hurt me, troll me or attack me they can hate me as much as they like. On a related point, when I started out as an advocate I was terrified of bad press and criticism. I would be anxious every time I posted a blog in case I upset anyone. Now I can look at a one star review of my books and not be particularly bothered by it. This change in attitudes is an absolute liberation.
I think a lot of people who have experience bullying and other abuse can struggle with these sorts of issues. This is true for a lot of autistic people. It is great to get a place where you don’t really care and you are confident and comfortable enough in yourself to let people go who are not really acting like friends and to not worry so much if someone ‘dumps’ you.