Following is the full transcript of psychologist and hypnotherapist Sharon Livingston’s talk titled “8 Signs of a Toxic Friendship” at TEDxWilmingtonWomen conference.
Sharon Livingston – TEDx Talk TRANSCRIPT
It’s really funny to be introduced as a fun, intensive — but fun with this topic is kind of fun.
So, I want to start out by telling you a story.
So, Joe is walking down the street one morning, and all of a sudden — crash! Glass is raining down on him — ouch! Blood — oh my God! He compresses it, and he rushes back home.
And by the time he gets home, the blood is dry and the pain in his head is subsiding, still little bit there but enough that he forgets it — I mean, he’s tough, you know, he forgets it about for 25 years. 25 years!
And then he starts having these horrendous headaches and vertigo, and he’s feeling horrible, and he can’t work. He has to go to the doctor.
So he goes to the doctor, and the doctor examines him, and he brings him back into his office. And he says, “So Joe, when did it happen?”
“When did what happen?”
“When did you get shot?”
He says, “Shot?”
He says, “Joe, you have a bullet in your head.”
And believe it or not, there are many stories of people walking around with bullets in their head that they are not even aware of.
And so he thinks about it, and he remembers that day with the glass raining down on him. He’s like amazed. And the doctor does surgery to remove the bullet.
And, you know, with any kind of healing process, there’s inflammation and pain, but he gets over it. He has a little scar left, but, wow, he’s back to functioning, he’s back in the world.
And so why am I telling you about Joe? Because living in a toxic friendship, is like taking a bullet to your head.
Now, if Joe had paid attention to the signs along the way, he could have removed that bullet and had a much fuller life. And it’s the same thing with toxic friendships: If you know the signs along the way, you can intervene earlier and not have to suffer from the results of being in a bad relationship.
And how do I know this? Well, because I goofed, I was in a crazy relationship. And relationships are so important to us. Friendships are so important. We’ll do anything to keep them. Particularly, if you’re codependent, like I just discovered I was.
And so let me tell you how this all started.
Very, very busy, I live in New Hampshire, and unless you have babies or little kids, it’s hard to make friends. And I meet this woman, and I’ve been starving for a friendship. And we had this connection. It was amazing, like our eyes lit up. We were in a friend-mance, it was amazing.
And we decided that we were going to hang out together, and we had so much fun. We liked to play in the same kind of ways, you know, we liked to animate things and make them talk, and we told silly jokes — we really had fun together. For a while.
And then things started to change.
Now, what happens in the beginning is that there’s chemistry. There’s good chemistry, and there’s not so good chemistry, right?
Now, if you had bad chemistry, it can blow up in your face. But you don’t know at the beginning whether it is good chemistry or bad chemistry. And you have to have an open heart to allow yourself to find out and figure it out.
Let me tell you one other thing about friendships. There is research that shows that we are more likely to live longer and healthier lives if we have good friends.
And if we have a health challenge, there’s research that shows — contrary to what you would think, more than with the spells — having a good friend helps us heal and faster.
And so when you find a friend, you want to hold on to them. So here is what happened.
All of a sudden, we had established that we were BFFs, and all of a sudden, she started telling me about her other best friend that she was going swimming with. Her other best friend? Huh, okay. Kind of hurt me a little bit, a little shot.
And then she said, “You know, you really shouldn’t…” And she started criticizing me unsolicited. And then she’d say, “You really have to change that.” Again, unsolicited.
And then we would have crazy amounts of talk time where I was beginning to step back because she told me I had to change. So I put on my therapy cap and I thought, “Okay, I’ll take care of her, and I would listen.”
And then when she was done telling me this whole thing that was bothering her, she’d say, “Okay, I’ve got to go.”
And there I was, not telling her about who I was anymore, stepping back, stepping back. I was walking on eggshells. You know what it’s like to walk on eggshells? You crush them, right? You can’t have a relationship walking on eggshells.
And my self-worth would be high when she was in a good mood, and then it would drop down when she was in a bad mood. I was beginning to, like, get really OCD. Like, “Oh my God, should I call her, or she’s going to call me?” And when you get that involved and that addicted, there’s something wrong, that’s a sign there’s something wrong.
But did I intervene with myself? No. No.
And so my whole self-worth was vacillating. And I was feeling sick: headaches, I was stressed out. And I mean, here I am working 16 hours a day, but for half of them, I was thinking about what’s going on in this relationship — until, finally, the last blow.
She calls me one day, I’m 10 minutes in front of giving a webinar to coaches that I supervise. And she says, “You know what? You haven’t changed. We’re done.”
Click. She hangs up.
What? And I start texting her. I have to go into supervision. Texting her. No answer. And I realized it’s done. I told you how important friendship is — for our longevity, for our happiness, for our quality of life.
Do you realize there are no programs that teach you how to be a friend counselor or friend therapist? There’s marriage therapy, there’s family therapy, there’s individual therapy, there’s executive-leadership coaching.
But friendship, which is so important, there’s no program for that. Like how crazy is that?
So I ran that webinar kind of like robotically, and I said, “What am I going to do?”
If you say, “Oh, my friend just dumped me,” you know what people will say to you? “It’s just a friend, get over it.”
Get over it? My heart was broken! Okay, what would I do for someone coming to me?
First thing I would do is I’d say let yourself feel what you feel. You don’t want to take it in and hold on to it so it becomes a boil that’s going to burst on you.
And you know, we make ourselves sick with sadness — right? — and anger.
So I was going up and down the stairs, going up and down the stairs. And I was screaming, I was so angry and outraged. And then I was crying like, “How did this happen? She was my best friend.”
And at one point, I was so upset I just sat down, I collapsed onto the stair and I sobbed. And then, I said to myself, “You know, she’s a poopy head.”
Well yeah, I was a poopy head too. “You’ve got to figure this out so this doesn’t happen again.”
And I did the one thing I do well; I started writing. I started writing. I figured if I put my feelings down and my thoughts down about it, I’d begin to figure it out.
And as I did that, things became clearer and clearer, and I started seeing how I contributed. And then one day, one morning I got up, I’m getting ready to go out, and I looked into the mirror, and I said, “You know what? I’m going to be your best friend.”
And the other me, looking back at me, went, “Really?”
And I said, “Yeah, what do you want to do today?”
And I started doing things with myself that I wanted to do with a friend — with my best friend. So me and me would do things: we were painting, we went for a walk, went out to dinner, we went to the movies, we were having fun — me and me.
And as I was giving to myself in this way, I felt better and better about myself, loved myself more, and the weirdest thing happens — as I was loving myself more, other people were coming to me.
I was my own best friend, and therefore I had plenty of other love for other people. It wasn’t desperate with one person. It was the most amazing thing, and now I have tons of friends. And they were wonderful, and there’s no desperation.
And so one of the things that I want you to know is that when I talk about this, people come lining up and say, “You know, that happened to me.”
“You know, that happened to me.”
“Really?” And I started asking them, “When did that happen?”
“10 years ago.”
“20 years ago.”
“30 years ago.”
They still have the bullet in their head that they haven’t extracted.
And so, I’m sure people listening to this — because I’ve heard it from so many people — either have a toxic friendship or they’ve lived one in the past, and they still have some pain about it.
And so, I’d invite you to let that out. You know, they say when you’re looking for a friend, the best friends are two equals, whole people. There’s no such thing.
In fact, what I invite you to do is to find somebody that you really, really like and love who’s flawed. Two flawed people who can appreciate each other and even appreciate the flaw make great friends.
So, a really good friend is a good egg that is lightly cracked.
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