Student Media of Pittsburg High School

Frenemy or foe?: When to draw the line

February 3, 2020


Photo by: Elle Burgess

The tardy bell rings for math class as Elizabeth and her friend sit down to start their bell work. When the time is up, Elizabeth’s hand shoots up just before a friend’s and the teacher calls on her to answer the question. The friend acts annoyed as she waits for Elizabeth to speak and when she answers incorrectly, the friend smirks, insulting Elizabeth under her breath. 

Friendships, romantic relationships and relationships between friends can all develop negative traits that have tremendous effects on physical and emotional well-being.

Time Magazine references communications and psychology expert Dr. Lillian Glass who is accredited as the person to coin the term “toxic relationship”. 

Glass defines a toxic relationship as “any relationship [between people who] don’t support each other, where there’s conflict and one seeks to undermine the other, where there’s competition, where there’s disrespect and a lack of cohesiveness.” 

In 2019, Business Insider reported that a person in a toxic relationship is constantly put down. 

According to Elizabeth, her friendship with a peer became toxic after entering high school. This lasted in on-and-off increments for two years. Elizabeth says her friend was frequently condescending in the classroom and attempted to assert dominance over her. 

“I don’t like jokes about [my intelligence]. It’s a thing for me where I don’t want to be dumb. I also don’t like to be told I’m annoying because I’ve been told that my entire life so it really hurts [to be insulted by] someone I care about,” Elizabeth said. “[I dislike] abrasiveness. And it would happen continuously and I don’t like to be called [those things]. [I thought] this person should know that.” 

Business Insider cites a violation of boundaries as another signal of a toxic relationship.  

“One time [at practice] I gave the last [extra] water bottle I had to another player on the team and she thought I didn’t have water and so she slapped my arm and was like, ‘why would you do that’,” Elizabeth said. “I don’t like to be hit or touched and it just made me really uncomfortable.” 

I don’t like to be hit or touched and it just made me really uncomfortable.

— Elizabeth

Business Insider also says that a toxic person does not like to see their friend succeed. 

“I try not to beat myself up over things, and so one time we were [doing a drill] and she said, ‘well maybe you should just quit.’ It’s really hard to give up something you love doing,” Elizabeth said. “I do sometimes think about quitting things because I’m not good at them and that’s not how you should approach life. I don’t think telling people to quit things because they’re bad at them is something a supportive friend should do.” 

According to Forbes, toxic relationships can promote high-stress levels, cause individuals to feel “insecure or bad about [themselves], leave [them] feeling drained and unhappy, place pressure on [them] to change something [that] may even be physically and emotionally harmful.” 

Forbes says that toxic relationships can also have a physical impact. 

“One study found that being in a negative relationship puts people at a higher risk of developing heart problems…,” Forbes said. “In another study, researchers found that women with high levels of conflict in their relationships tend to have similarly high blood sugar levels, high blood pressure and high rates of obesity. Research has even found that hostile relationships can even slow wound healing.” 

In a 2018 study by Yale University, psychologists from Yale, University of Oxford, and University College London observed that people are naturally inclined to forgive others, increasing the odds of remaining in a toxic relationship. 

The study conducted 1,500 participants to observe two strangers (the independent variables). The “bad” stranger sent electric shocks to another person for money and the “good” stranger abstained. 

While the participants were found to confidently form positive opinions on the “good” stranger, participants formed weaker negative opinions on the “bad” stranger and their opinions became more positive as the “bad” stranger had an occasional good deed. 

“We think our findings reveal a basic predisposition towards giving others, even strangers, the benefit of the doubt. The human mind is built for maintaining social relationships, even when partners sometimes behave badly,” said Molly Crockett, Yale psychologist and leading researcher in the study.”

Time Magazine says that Glass encourages people in toxic relationships to consider two options.  

“I really am a firm believer that you have to try to work everything out and understand why the person is toxic. You may be able to live with it—but on the other hand, you may not,” Glass says. “[If you can’t], you’ve got to get out of it. We have to not put ourselves in that position.” 

“I really am a firm believer that you have to try to work everything out and understand why the person is toxic.

According to Elizabeth, she distanced herself from the relationship when she experienced toxicity. Elizabeth recently confronted her friend about the ill-treatment. 

“Sometimes we let behaviors happen because we don’t think they bother us and it takes self-reflection to be like, ‘Okay, this actually does bother me. What do I do about that?’” Elizabeth said. “[After confronting my friend], she grew to understand my boundaries. She’s been more respectful about things that make me upset now.”

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