How to Avoid Toxic Friends (And Be a Good One!)

As the saying goes, three’s a crowd. I watched in anxiety as two of my closest friends paired off, leaving me out. For months, the three of us had been caught in a friendship triangle. No longer happy to be the ‘three musketeers’, two of us were now competing to see who would be the chosen ‘best friend’ of our favoured friend. Even as a primary school girl, I had learnt one thing — female friendships can be toxic. I spent hours feeling insecure about my worth and agonising over these friendships.

WHAT ARE FRIENDSHIPS FOR?
Any girl who has had toxic friendships must have wondered, “What is the point of this friendship if it only brings me pain?” I once came across this line by the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge: “Friendship is a sheltering tree.” The image of a tree providing shade in the heat of life stuck with me. Perhaps friendship, at its best, can be a gift from God.

I then wondered where the idea of friendship came from. We can’t choose our family, classmates, or neighbours, but we can choose our friends. Why would someone willingly enter a relationship that may cause hurt and calls for the giving of time, affection, and effort, but with no guarantee of return? Who came up with this concept? It hit me that God Himself is Friendship. He is the Holy Trinity, three-in-one, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit (John 16–17). In this friendship circle, there is no gossiping, bullying, or manipulation. Rather, the three are mutually self-giving, kind, and respectful. The Holy Spirit is humble and works quietly without jealousy. Jesus is sacrificial, giving His life for others, and submits to the Father out of loyalty. The Father leads with love and authority, never abusing His power. How many of us have friends like that?

THE REALITY OF FRIENDSHIPS
The truth is, many of us may be hard-pressed to think of many true friends. In a survey that Kallos did with 64 young women, we found that more than 80 percent of them have felt lonely at school. Also, many of them identified with statements like these:

I have done something I didn’t want to because I felt pressured by my friends.”

I have heard or seen hurtful things being said about me by my friends.”

I have been (cyber)bullied by a friend.”

If you can identify with these statements too, perhaps you are currently in a toxic friendship. If that is the case, you may need to get out of this unhealthy friendship, hard as it may be. But how do you confirm if you are in a toxic friendship?

These questions may help:
• Do they cheer you on in private and public, or do they backstab you with gossip?
• Do they put their needs before yours, and do they use you for their own gain?
• Do they bully or manipulate you with some kind of weapon (such as a secret, leadership position, or hurtful words)?

If you think you are in a toxic friendship, remember that you deserve to be treated better and to have true friends. You may need to distance yourself from them, unfollow their social media pages, or even block them online. While it is noble to be loyal to your friends and not give up on them, there are times you may have to break off unhealthy friendships so that both of you have time and space to grow as individuals.

WE STAY IN TOXIC FRIENDSHIPS BECAUSE WE DON’T KNOW WHAT GENUINE FRIENDSHIP IS.

Often, we stay in toxic friendships because we don’t know what genuine friendship is. So how do we identify true friends?

WHAT A TRUE FRIEND IS
Long before Taylor Swift and Martin Johnson wrote the song “Two Is Better Than One,” the writer (often called Qoheleth) of Ecclesiastes penned the words that inspired the song as he painted a beautiful picture of what true friendship could be. According to Qoheleth, “two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labour” (Ecc 4:9). With two or more true friends, you can achieve far more than going alone. This is because true friends don’t put down each another or vie for glory as they work as a team. Did you know that Kallos was started by three teenage friends who wanted to do something for the young women in Singapore? Do you have spiritual friends with whom to achieve something for God and His kingdom too? If not, pray and seek out such friends!

On top of that, a true friend picks you up if you fall down (Ecc 4:10). While I was in university, a friend shared a tale of her past relationship, in which she was being pressured to have sex with her boyfriend. Thankfully, before that could happen, her grandfather suddenly entered the house, which caused her to realise the gravity of what she had been about to do. As she confessed her guilt to me, her burden was lifted. Through the years, I have rejoiced with her as she picked up the pieces of her past and found healing through prayer. True friends can pull one up from the pit and help one find hope again.

Qoheleth added that two are better than one because they can keep warm together (Ecc 4:11). When I was in New Zealand with my family, my one-year-old baby girl couldn’t sleep at night unless she cuddled next to me to keep warm. In terms of relationships, many are left out in the cold when they are betrayed or bullied. A true friend keeps you warm by staying close when no one else does.

Finally, true friends defend one another against attacks (Ecc 4:12). We are not always aware that we have an enemy, the devil, who is prowling around like a lion, seeking a chance to attack us in our weakest moments (1 Pet 5:8). For Amanda Teo, who wrote abouther struggles with masturbation in the Kallos book Real Talk: Exposing 10 Myths About Love and Sexuality, it helped to text her friends whenever she needed strength to resist spiritual attacks. Would you be a true friend for someone and be a ‘’sheltering tree’’ for them too?

FINDING THE TRUEST FRIEND
I recall the time I had to adjust to a new class in secondary school. I missed my old friends, who seemed to have found cooler friends. I spent recess time hiding in the toilet, sobbing as I avoided being alone in the canteen.

WHILE I WAS ALONE, I DID NOT NEED TO BE LONELY. JESUS WANTED TO BE MY TRUE FRIEND.

Those painful times became precious when I realised that while I was alone, I did not need to be lonely. Jesus wanted to be my true friend (John 15:15), and until I made Him my best friend, I would always be insecure. As I spent time reading the Bible, listening to worship songs, and getting to know Him, I realised that He would never leave me in the cold. Whether you are currently entangled in toxic friendships or struggling to find a true friend, remember that you always have a best friend in Jesus!

BEST FRIENDS FOREVER
When I was ten, one of the girls in our trio moved to Canada, and I lost touch with the other girl when we went to secondary school. A decade later, I met the first friend while on a trip to Canada, and another decade later, I reconnected with the second at a friend’s wedding. All our friendship toxicity melted away as we realised that we were now God-lovers trying to honour Him with our relationship and career choices. Our friendships had once centred on ourselves, but our renewed friendships centred on God and how we could encourage one another on this journey. Our toxic friendships have been replaced by true spiritual friendships, and I am all the more better for it.

Quek Shiwei
Shi Wei loves organic teas, hearing her son sing and watching her baby girl take her first steps.

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