Getting Out of a Toxic Relationship

Reader’s Question

I am in my early 40s and have had a friendship with a woman for about 10. I say that God sent her to me because she is very much like my father and I have known how to handle her. To try and make this short, I believe she displays the signs of several personality disorders: excess insensitivity (feelings easily hurt, take what you say out of context), overly concerned about appearances and self and how things look to the world, wanting to be most popular and have the best of everything (house, clothes, cars, etc.), moody, disorganized, jealous/envious, implusive, distrustful and suspicious, paranoid, bears grudges, feelings of infeiority, blames others for her mistakes, opinionated, and UNHAPPY…I could go on!

Material things do not seem to make her happy — she has the “best of everything” her husband can buy her. I have tried to make her happy in our town — which she has always hated — by trying to make people like and understand her. I have sat back and watched as people try to be friends with her and quickly back off. I have gone to extremes to make people not “leave” her.

I once spent 2 days trying to figure out how to ask her to a party that I knew would upset her because she would see it as a pity invitation and boy did she get mad! I was just inviting her to a charity function with us and some other friends.

She gets mad/jealous if I/we do anything with anyone else in our circle of friends — but if it is friends not in the some circle (financial circle) she is fine. She cannot keep babysitters or housekeepers — they always make her mad about something and she is always right!

I am always on guard/walking on eggs shells around her — I don’t want to say or do anything that might make her mad at me. I know how she treats people that she “believes” have crossed her — they go from being wonderful to being the devil!

This “friendship” has led me to having mental and physical health problems. Is this a toxic friendship and if so, how do I get out?

Psychologist’s Reply

From your description, you have accurately assessed the situation: a personality disorder who creates a toxic relationship for you. Personality disorders tend to emotionally exhaust and “burn out” those around them. Like you, eventually those around them back away for their own protection. Some guidelines for getting out of the toxic relationship:

  • Read my article on Identifying Losers in Relationships, available on this website. It lists the techniques often used by personality disorders to control and intimidate others. It also offers strategies for detachment. My introduction to personality disorders (also on this website) will also be helpful.
  • Reduce her personal credit with you. Drop the level of conversation from good-friend (personal feelings, family concerns, etc.) to grocery store (the weather, local news, etc.).
  • Gradually reduce the time spent with her. Only suggest social activities that are low-risk for difficulties, such as shopping or lunch. Then slow, making the times between events longer.
  • Remember that she will use guilt to intimidate you. If she notices you pulling away, she may flood you with guilt and anger. Be prepared. It’s how she controls those around her. If she uses the “best friend” guilt — remember that your relationship with her isn’t a best-friend relationship — it’s a verbally abusive controlling person with someone who is always walking on eggshells. It’s a toxic relationship, not best friends.
  • Keep in mind that she’s not unhappy in the normal sense. Rather, she’s constantly angry and frustrated because her needs are not being immediately met by those around her. She’s angry and unhappy with anyone who doesn’t walk on eggshells around her. You can’t fix her unhappiness as it’s related to her selfishness, not her social or personal situation. Her unhappiness has nothing to do with you.
  • Accept that you will join the list of all those who have rejected her control and anger. As you know, it’s a long list. It’s alright if she thinks bad of you…you’ve joined a large club. Focus on your family and nontoxic friends.
  • Prepare a press release for people who ask about the situation. Once you’re out of the relationship, people will want to know how you did it! People will then want to share their opinion of her with you. Avoid saying anything personal — only that you’re devoting more time to your family.

To maintain our emotional health, it’s very important to discontinue toxic relationships. By moving toxic individuals to a safe distance, emotionally and socially, we have a chance to maximize our life rather than walking on eggshells to make their life comfortable.

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