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Replace Toxic Friendships With A Supportive Sisterhood: The Second Step To Balance

February, 2014

by Michelle Perry Higgins


active-famI believe supportive friendships are a crucial part of living a balanced and fulfilling life. They add comfort, connection, wisdom, giggles, and a feeling of navigating through life’s twisted terrain with . . . well . . . friends!

But unfortunately, all friendships are not created equal.

In my book, Stocks, Bonds & Soccer Moms, I suggest that toxic friends are worse than nuclear waste. Let’s take a closer look.

Clinical Psychologist Clinton W. McLemore, PhD, author of Toxic Relationships and How to Change Them: Health and Holiness and Everyday Life, states, “A toxic relationship is with someone who continually throws you surprises or curves, keeps you off balance, raises your anxiety for no apparent reason, and leaves you feeling badly about yourself.”

We’re talking about all those Jealous Janes, Competitive Carolines, Vicious Vivs, Superior Susies, and the rest of the mean girl gang who never grew out of their high school cattiness—they merely learned to camouflage it under the guise of “just trying to be honest” and “you know I love you.”

Here are some of this catty crowd’s tactics. Sound like anyone you know?

  • She tells you your goals are unrealistic.
  • She’s oh-so critical, but insists she must tell you the truth, for your own good.
  • She questions your carefully thought out and agonized-over decisions, leaving you thoroughly confused.
  • After spending time with her, you feel bad about yourself and your choices. By the time you part company, you feel emotionally drained, as if you’ve just been abused. (But “nice girl” that you are, you can’t admit it.)

With friends like this, who needs enemies?

Let’s face it; friendships are vital. They have an impact on our families, our health, our careers, and our well-being. In the past, I couldn’t see when they turned toxic.

As the circle of women in my life took separate paths and began having children, those who worked and those who decided to stay at home took sides against each other without even realizing it. My highly valued “sisterhood” of women slowly but surely became corrupted by stereotypes, petty jealousies and insecurities.

After all, if you aren’t happy or fulfilled with the choices you’ve made, it’s pretty hard to support “friends” who have made different ones.

I was shocked, hurt, and saddened after my first daughter was born by remarks like, “Don’t your children miss you while you’re at work?” or “My kids are my priority,” or even, How nice for you that you can get out of the house and sit at a desk, instead of cleaning toilets and running kids around?”

If you can believe it, I didn’t recognize it when women made awful, snide comments to me. All I knew was after I left their company, I felt lonely, guilty, and ashamed to be a working mom.

Don’t think I’m just pointing the finger at stay-at-home moms; no, I’m an equal opportunity finger pointer! Career women are no less guilty of posing the same crappy remarks to stay-at-home moms, such as “I couldn’t live like that; don’t you feel bored?” or “Don’t you go crazy staying at home all day with your kids?”

Meeeooww! Can we all please sheath the claws and get back to purring over our mutual accomplishments—whether they are behind the desk or behind the stove?

The choices new mothers face are the most gut-wrenching decisions they will ever make—choices that should be respected and supported at all costs. If someone asks you why you chose to leave your kids and return to work, a terrific answer might just be, “Why do you ask?”

If the other person says, “Because I’m facing something similar and would love to hear your experience,” then you’re good to go for a deep and supportive conversation. But if the other person shrugs, doesn’t meet your eyes, and says something like, “Well, it’s just so odd to me; after all, you have the money to stay home,” I’d be very careful about engaging further.

Surround yourself with truly supportive friends

Once you clean out your “stable” (or should I say unstable?) of toxic people, your life will take on the kind of peace and balance you never thought possible.

Can you learn to put your peace of mind and your health first?

You’ll have to if you truly want to reap the many rewards of balance. Consider:

  • Surrounding yourself with supportive family members . . .
  • Spending time around women who’ll create true sisterhood . . .
  • Inviting loving friends and family into your life . . .

And don’t be afraid to shut out those who, for whatever reason, are unwilling or incapable of being loving or supportive.

The truth is, no one can treat you badly over and over again without your permission.

That’s a very tough truth to face, and once faced, some difficult actions might have to come out of it. I’ve learned to separate the toxic naysayers from the true sisters. I quietly backed away from women who were more interested in tearing me down than building me up. I dropped out of mommy groups and girl gatherings with women who hurt me or criticized my choices.

This made my balancing act so much easier. I was able to spend what little free time I had with women I loved being around.

Isn’t it time to make some changes? Changes for the better? (Changes for the balance!)

The next time someone makes a comment that makes you doubt or feel guilty about your decisions as a mom, gather yourself up and calmly but firmly say, “I’m happy with my decision to (fill in the blank), and I would appreciate it you stop making comments like that.”

Make the choice to be part of a healthy sisterhood. This consists of women supporting one another, being non-judgmental listeners, and even loving one another’s children. And please, ladies, find it in your hearts to support their choices as mothers.

From Stocks, Bonds & Soccer Moms, here are a few suggestions for eliminating toxic relationships:

1. Stop them at the door. If a so-called friend asks you for something, politely turn her down. If she offers something, say, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

2. Express yourself. It won’t be easy and might include tears, but for your own sense of survival and well-being, you have to describe how you feel when whoever-she-is spreads her particular brand of poison. You might have to go over what you intend to say a few times, and whisper a prayer that all goes well, but this is your moment to be strong. And if none of these options work and all else fails…

3. Clean House. It may be time to cut this person out of your life for good. If you have expressed your feelings both politely and emphatically—with no results—it’s time to let that person go. You can do it by letter, by email, or to this person’s face, but do it.

People might try to make you feel bad about ditching them, so be prepared. In the end, you’ll be a happier, healthier, much more balanced woman.