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How to Cope With An Abusive Friend

By Debbie Mandel

The news is rife with narratives of abusive domestic relationships ranging from battered wives to cowering children. Many live their daily lives in a complex combination of terror, love and hope. However, there are other forms of daily abuse like having a friend near at hand committing the abuse. This is like a beautiful evergreen tree with a wasp’s nest attached to a branch. Anybody who has experienced the seventh grade knows that a best friend can turn into a “frenemy” overnight.

Especially if you feel that your so-called friend has a higher status than you, it is tempting to give away your power. After all, you want to please and most of all to be included in her society. This kind of relationship, based on hierarchy, is hard to shake because the platonic friend (who is not related to you) serves as “your inner critic” incarnate. Why do you admit the corrosive critic into your inner circle? This person tends to be charismatic, even fun. Most likely you lack the self-confidence to shake her off, for you feel unsure about your identity. You ruminate: What if the negative remarks are true? You are being eroded by a well-meaning toxicity – “she’s trying to help me measure up,” you believe.

Signs of an abusive friend
  • Erodes your self-confidence
  • Has a sarcastic bite
  • Dwells on your problems like, poor health or grief instead of distracting you with a fun activity
  • Steals your time by guilting you to help her out
  • Drains your energy with her dramatic monologues about herself
  • You get specific physical symptoms like a headache, stomach ache or bad taste in your mouth when you are together
How to fortify yourself
  • Stop labelling yourself with an insulting name if you make a mistake. Balance your emotional response with a rational interpretation: Anyone could accidentally knock over that wine glass and spill it all over herself.
  • Understand the difference between self-doubt and concern? You could be concerned over a real problem like you didn’t prepare enough for that talk at work, or you could doubt yourself during a presentation because you don’t feel that you measure up – negativity is your go-to emotion when you feel stressed.
  • Think about what you worry or stress about? Get to know your weak links. For example, do you worry about being well-liked? This would make you say yes when you mean no, or cause you to stew about a passing slightly critical remark from your friend. Awareness can help you break the hold.
  • Carve out time for something you love to do whether it is a martial arts class, photography, or cooking. Creativity elevates your confidence by supporting your inner identity.

Debbie Mandel, MA is the author of Addicted to Stress: A Woman's 7 Step Program to Reclaim Joy and Spontaneity in Life, Changing Habits: The Caregivers' Total Workout and Turn On Your Inner Light: Fitness for Body, Mind and Soul, a stress-reduction specialist, motivational speaker, a personal trainer and mind/body lecturer. She is the host of the weekly Turn On Your Inner Light Show on WGBB AM1240 in New York City , produces a weekly wellness newsletter, and has been featured on radio/ TV and print media. To learn more visit: