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Digital Subscriptions > Psychologies > No. 138 Double Your Energy > Rules of engagement

Rules of engagement

Do you have a friend who makes you feel bad about yourself? Toxic relationships can happen to anyone – and at any age. Charlotte Haigh seeks expert help

relationships

Many of us have been caught up in a toxic friendship at some point. For me, it happened at school. The nastiness centred around my appearance, with the classmate in question – let’s call her Nicole* – continually feeding me the message that I was ugly. Tall for my age, with a brace and an awkward haircut, I suppose I was an easy target. Nicole was pretty so, when she kept informing me that none of the boys would ever fancy me, and that everyone thought I was unattractive, I believed her.

It’s true that teenage girls aren’t noted for their kindness, and most of us suffered some teasing and sniping at school. The difference with Nicole’s behaviour was that it was insidious, and consistent. I understand now that something in me must have made me vulnerable – a less sensitive girl may have brushed it off – and, of course, Nicole must have had some issues of her own but, according to Emma Gleadhill, educational speaker and trainer, it’s not always insecurity that causes mean-girl behaviour. ‘It can also come from a person’s inability to deal with frustration,’ she says. ‘A toxic friend might feel unable to share decision-making or handle another person’s differences.’

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