Do you like spending time with your friends? I personally do. It can be an enriching experience by catching up with life, talking about interests or goals, sharing personal struggles or even seeking comfort and advice. But have you ever given a thought that whom you hang out with the most will influence many areas… without you even realizing it? I was grateful that I had a chance to study and experienced living in a foreign country even though it was for less than a year. I was beyond excited and ready to taste new experiences. It was a pleasant and hopeful start, and full of new dreams, until at one point it became a nightmare that I wish I would not wake up anymore, literally.
I had a close friend at that time. It started as an amazing bond. Over time this person would behave in ways that would irritate and hurt me. I was expected to always be available at most of the times or my friend would complain and made me feel bad. I was often being yelled at because of various ridiculous reasons and made to feel bad. Even though I have tried my best but still not enough to that person. I was criticized often and called by names and other belittling words. Even I was proclaimed that I could not achieve my dreams. I dwelled in a self-blaming behavior due to the constant criticism that I received. I became extremely insecure in myself that I could no longer see values in myself.
What I am telling you just now is just a piece of a story that choosing a wrong friend or hanging with wrong crowds can have a detrimental—or worse, deadly—effect on your life. As a result, I experienced a series of mental breakdowns and anxiety attacks. I thought it was myself that had a mental disorder (I thought I had a Borderline Personality Disorder because WebMD said so) and I thought there was something wrong with me. I thought I was abnormal. When I was really upset with myself (my image, my personalities and characters), I reached to a point where I wanted to break a public glass door and hit everyone with my suitcase (a traincase for makeup bag). I would cry every where: in my room, at school, in a train, on a street, at a park, just any where. I was approached by a stranger while I was crying endlessly in a train asking if I was OK. I was feeling extremely helpless, useless, worthless and hopeless. I lost hope in people, life and even my own self. What purpose do I have if I continue on living? I had suicidal thoughts and I had the greatest suicide plan by walking into the train station and jumped. I thought that was a great idea to end this pain.
Your God is present among you, a strong Warrior there to save you. He’ll calm you with his love and delight you with his songsZephaniah 3:17 (NLT)
But my plan had never come into a realization. There was someone that cared for me genuinely that she spoke life and truth to me. She was a small group leader in a church I was going. Her name is Valerie (thank you, Val. I love you). She planted God’s words into my heart little by little and over some time my perspective towards myself and life had turned around. I was back to hopeful. She spoke truths about my identities and broke lies that had been in my mind for so long. She spoke that I am fearfully and wonderfully made and I am deeply loved by God and I am extremely valuable. I stumbled upon Ps. Rick Warren “Learning My True Identity in Christ” sermon as well that planted me hope and changed my perspective significantly. As I finished listening to the sermon, I repeated these words in my mind and I confessed them loudly:
I am not kidding, I could feel that there was a little hope that sparked within me. A hope to have a better life and become a better version of myself. God accepts my unique strengths and weaknesses and sees me as a very valuable possession. He sent His only son to die so that He will have an intimate relationship with me. If He, the Mighty Being, sees me as an extremely valuable possession, why would I doubt my own value? My perspective shifted.
I attended Planetshakers conference during that tough season and the closing session by Bishop TD Jakes delivered a clarity to me: There are doors that God intended to close in order for us to grow. In this case, I have to cut my ties with this person I called as a good friend. And cutting her from my life is one of the best decisions that I have ever made. There are people that can hinder our growth and we must be aware of them.
We will eventually become whom we associated with. I did not think that way because I thought that I am not like them. The more we hang out with certain people the more we become like them. We might not realize it but they can influence our life choices, values and the way we behave. Hanging with the wrong crowd will change us gradually without we even know it. Cutting toxic people can be a life-changing decision and one of the best gifts we can give to ourselves. “Toxic friends generally do not change,” says psychotherapist and anger management specialist Tyra Gardner, author of Black Brilliance. “What does change is how you treat them and whether or not you decide to keep these individuals in your life” (Oprah Mag, 2019).
Know the early signs.
There are honest people out there that may be really direct with what they are thinking of what you should improve or do wrong, but if they intend to build you up, they will be still supportive to you. Dr. Jessica Nicolosi, New York-based clinical psychologist and owner of Prana Wellness emphasizes on the importance of paying attention to internal cues. “Tune into your body. Do you feel weighed down, drained, and unsure of yourself? Listening to our inner voice is the best place to start” (Oprah Mag, 2019).
Below are several characteristics that can be an early sign of potential toxic people that you can be aware of according to Dr. Susan Heitler, a Harvard graduate clinical psychologist from Psychology Today:
- Your best friend would criticize your behavior or personality. It is important to have an honest friend that would give you constructive feedback. But if you are constantly feeling awful afterwards, it is the first sign that their motivation is not to build you up but to crush you. Chances are, they are feeling insecure in themselves.
- Your best friend tells you that you need to change. You may be the only one who is needed to change, not your friend. You are the blame here. Your friend might think that if you change, everything will be fine.
- You’re walking on eggshells, it is so easy to get into a trouble with your friend. You feel that you have to be cautious with your words and behaviors all the time to make sure you won’t push any red button unknowingly.
- You’re riding an emotional roller coaster. One time you feel fully supported and appreciated but you can also feel off-balance, scared and worried in a short amount of time. “The inconsistency and lack of predictability leaves you doubting everything. It’s crushing. Your self-esteem soars and then plummets.” said Dr. Heitler.
- The stress starts to settle in your body. Your body gets affected and you start experiencing headache, stomachache and other body pain. As for myself, I was mentally unstable that I had to take St. John’s Wort pills to heal the lack of serotonin in my head and I always thought that I had Pre-Menstrual Dysphoric Disorder (or PMDD) during my cycle, the worst type of PMS.
A way to heal
Since I was in the dark hole already, I reached out to Beyond Blue Australia (a non-profit organization that works with issues related to depression, anxiety and suicide) stating that I had unstable mood, anxieties, fear of feeling not good enough, and impulsive dangerous actions. And I was glad that I took this action. This was my first step of my mental recovery. And the rest is history.
Be strong in yourself first then be brave to speak up and make that person understand from your perspective. If your friend’s bad treatment escalates instead of cools down or apologizes, consider cutting him/her in your life. It might be the hardest decision that you have ever made but it is for your own good, especially if you feel that person is a source of your security or love. But trust me, there are friends out there that will treat you so much better and will love you unconditionally. There are friends who will still love you even though you have made many mistakes. As for myself, I received extra harsh words when I tried to made the decision, but I stood strong. I would not look back.
You do not have to go through to these things that I went through. To prevent: Surround yourself with people who are encouraging, positive and supportive. As Andy Stanley put it, “Surround yourself with people who embody traits that you prefer. Surround yourself with people that bring you joy and their joys are contagious.” Be with people who will uplift you and push you forward towards your goals. The ones that respect and understand your boundaries and humble enough to take no as an answer. The ones who are thrilled with every little progress you make. Associate with people that you admire, the ones that you look up to. Chances are their energy, knowledge, and joy will rub on you and you will become like them. Your friends will determine the quality of your life.