We’re often told to cut out toxic people from your life but when you have anxiety, your emotions and reactions to situations are often elevated and muddled and it can be hard to analyse why you feel the way you do with a level head – is it because this person is directly causing you stress and anxiety or is it because your anxiety is twisting things into something worse than reality?
I used to think the way I dealt with situations was bold as I never let people upset me and if they did, I’d simply stop being friends with them. The reality of this is that people are always going to upset you at times! No one is perfect; even friends you’ve had for years are going to hit a nerve at some point. I’ve been too quick in making this decision before and have lost people I really cared about because some part of our friendship caused me anxiety.
It’s only been recently that I have associated how I deal with the relationships in my life and my tendency to bolt out of situations that panic me. In some instances, the cutting of all ties is totally necessary (think people like an ex-partner or a toxic friendship) but I do wish I had been braver in how I dealt with some of these uncomfortable situations. I get a huge sense of guilt and anxiety when I don’t want someone’s friendship, especially if they’ve been a good friend to me in the past.
So while I often took the coward’s way out and ignored people, I also managed to alienate myself from people whose friendships I really valued – a double whammy! This year alone I’ve had to go back to two close friends who I cut ties with and apologise for how I dealt with friendships and why this was wrong – these friendships are worth more than me running away at a bump in the road. What I should have done is instead confront the situation and move forward with my friend by my side.
Luckily, I have some very good friends who, although hurt by how I shut them out, have been keen to be friends again. I still find it so hard to judge a situation: if someone is emotionally draining or making your anxiety and stress worse, should you cut ties and find more positive people to surround yourself with? Probably, but this gets more complicated when you add in how good a friend they’ve been in the past, complex emotions and a worrying brain.
I’m trying to be more diplomatic and less reactive in how I deal with all the relationships in my life. Awareness is the first step to understanding my behaviour and I know that this is a defence mechanism (much like the fight-or-flight response that I often feel so strongly). Hopefully in the future, I can work on maintaining good, healthy friendships and deal with the negative ones in as sensitive a way as possible.
What I learned from this particular experience:
The lines between a positive relationship and a toxic relationship can be blurred but never make decisions about cutting someone out your life until you’ve taken the time to think about the impact of what you’re doing.
Anxiety can play games with you and make things out to be so much worse than reality. Messaging or speaking to a friend assertively about what is worrying or upsetting you may result in you catching them off-guard and confirming your fears but it will most likely put your mind at ease and let your relationship move in a more positive direction for both of you.
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