If you are a trauma survivor who struggles to cultivate healthy friendships, you are not alone! So many of us struggle or have struggled with not being able to recognize the red flags of toxicity. It can be a challenge to validate our own experiences and know when to walk away.
Once upon a time, I had a spiritual friendship that seemed healthy because of the personal growth I experienced early on. However, over time the other person displayed patterns of random withdrawal, passive aggressive gaslighting, manipulation and other toxic traits. Eventually, through doing HRV biofeedback, I recognized it for what it was and was able to back away and focus on healthier friendships.
If you’re in a friendship that involves a lot of ups and downs and you’re not sure if it’s healthy or not, see if one or more of these 12 signs of spiritually toxic friendships seems to fit the bill:
- Saying “no” doesn’t work: Spiritually toxic friends do not respond well when people say “no” or disagree with them. They’ll either lash out, or go into covert manipulation mode and turn it into an issue of spiritual growth, often with a dose of Bible verses, a serving of concern, and a huge helping of prayer.
- Double standards: Spiritually toxic friends say, believe or act as if there are two sets of rules: one for you and one for them. It’s okay for them to do certain things, but not for you. They can disappear randomly, but you can’t. They can decide to check out new interests, but you can’t, etc.
- Gaslighting: Spiritually toxic friends will minimize, deny or spiritualize the hurt you feel as a result of their actions. They will either offer empty apologies or act innocent and like there is no problem, even though you’re so miserable you can hardly stand it. This causes you to question your sanity and feel it’s your fault.
- Manipulation: Spiritually toxic friends are manipulative. They might engage in random patterns of withdrawal, love bombing, breaking promises, subtle guilt tripping, or trying to spiritually one-up you. Even if they don’t come right out and say it, you feel like you’re always the one in the wrong.
- Patterns of unhealthy relating: Spiritually toxic friends respond to others with the same toxic behaviors, either publicly or secretly. They also tend to share the specifics of others’ stories or circumstances without their permission, in the name of prayer requests.
- Inability to reciprocate: Spiritually toxic friends want to know everything about you and pray for you. They sometimes use this information against you later. When you think about it, you don’t know nearly as much about them and see patterns of them directing attention back to you if you ask for more information.
- Isolation: You might notice that you have lost or let go of other significant relationships due to this friendship, especially if those people have different spiritual beliefs than the spiritually toxic friendship prescribes.
- Lack of empathy: When spiritually toxic friends hurt you, they demonstrate no recognition or understanding about the level of pain you are in. Toxic people often use others as a source of narcissistic supply, rather than truly relating deeply.
- Feeding on negativity: Spiritually toxic friends will often magically reappear from a period of withdrawal when you are in crisis. They get a high or sense of self from swooping in for these moments.
- Spiritualizing: Spiritually toxic friends tend to spiritualize any struggles you are having. They say or imply these issues could be improved by more radically following Jesus, letting the Holy Spirit work in you more boldly, or keeping your eyes more on God. This makes your problems your own fault and lets them off the hook.
- You feel used: Spiritually toxic friends will often use spirituality to hook others in for their own personal gain. This happens a lot in churches when someone wants to look like a savior, in direct sales organizations when they want to make sales, on social media when they want to be seen as the philanthropic ultra-loving type, and in many other situations. It can be confusing when everyone else seems to think this other person is the most remarkable person they’ve ever met, yet you feel used.
- Cycles of Toxicity: Spiritually toxic friends can seem like the most incredible, caring and loving people you’ve ever met, at times. When they seem this way, you might feel crazy for being upset about the negative stuff, but you’re not. Indeed, these friends tend to operate with cycles of negative behavior and love bombing behavior.
When any of these traits of toxic friendships are at play in a relationship, you might find yourself feeling hurt, confused, ashamed, angry, fearful or sad. It might even feel like everything is caving in on you or you cannot cope. Please reach out for help and rest assured that you are not alone. Your pain is real and you don’t have to continue in a friendship that is not healthy. You do not need the other person’s permission to set boundaries, take a step back and choose something new.
Choosing something new can be exciting, but also scary. Lots of trauma survivors do not have a whole lot of experience with healthy spiritual friendships. Thankfully, we can learn what to look for in a healthy friend and then practice focusing on the relationships where we see these healthy traits. None of us are healthy 100% of the time, but a friendship is spiritually healthy when it fits this picture for the most part. Check out these 12 traits of healthy spiritual friendships:
- Healthy boundaries: Healthy spiritual friendships recognize that each person is on their own spiritual journey and has needs, wants, desires and boundaries different from their own. Both people are able to set boundaries and have them respected in love instead of resentment or manipulation.
- Clear communication: Healthy spiritual friendships create an atmosphere where it’s safe to communicate and where both people are committed to clear communication. This keeps anyone from guessing about what’s going on. It’s safe to ask, share and seek understanding.
- Respect: Healthy spiritual friendships are characterized by respect. This means there is respect for each person’s needs, time, emotions, experience and individual spiritual journey.
- Allowance for difference: Healthy spiritual friendships allow for difference of opinion, political views, body type, experience, family composition, spiritual views etc, etc, etc. Being different is okay, is not perceived as a threat, and is not seen as being wrong or deceived.
- Connectedness: Healthy spiritual friendships encourage connectedness. This means that the other safe relationships in your life are better (not strained) because of this healthy spiritual relationship.
- Amends and relational repair: People are not perfect and healthy spiritual friendships allow for safe communication about concerns. More than saying you’re sorry, you both change your unhealthy behaviors toward each other, when you recognize them. Ongoing cycles of hurt are not seen as acceptable.
- Cultivating empathy and compassion: When you share what is happening in your life, or your concerns, the healthy spiritual friend empathizes with you, asks questions and is interested. They also share freely of their own experiences and allow themselves to be cared for by you. You both feel seen, heard, safe and validated.
- Reliability: Healthy spiritual friends are generally true to their word. They show up, prioritize the friendship in similar ways, and do what they say they are going to do.
- Honesty: Healthy spiritual friends are honest about their motives, feelings and desires. You believe that what you see is the real them.
- Commitment: Healthy spiritual friendship is characterized by mutual commitment. You both value each other and the friendship enough to make it a priority.
- Openness: Healthy spiritual friendship creates an atmosphere of openness. It’s okay to be you. It’s okay to explore different ways of thinking and doing things. Healthy spiritual friendship leaves room for your spiritual walk to blossom into just what it was meant to be. This openness can help us to feel affirmed, free and worthy.
- Safety: You feel safe with a healthy spiritual friend. You know that what you share is held in confidence and that the other person truly has your best interests at heart. Healthy spiritual friends are there to help and not to hurt.
Finding and cultivating these healthy spiritual friendships is often vital to feeling truly fulfilled in life, yet it can sometimes be hard to know where to start. If you feel stuck, are struggling with a friendship, don’t really understand what you feel, or are wondering how to find and sow into new friendships, HRV biofeedback can help.
The Freeze Frame technique from HeartMath can help us tap into what we actually think, feel, and need. Once we know that, it’s easier to make healthier friendship choices moving forward. In my case, I was able to make choices about ending an unhealthy spiritual friendship that I had struggled with for a long time, and then recognize the friendships I wanted to focus on instead. Doing so gave me immediate relief and freedom, even as I grieved the loss of the other friendship.
You are worthy of techniques and tools that you can learn and then use for a lifetime. If you want to know more about how HRV biofeedback can help you navigate the waters of friendship, contact me today.
In the meantime, please know that you are lovable and worthy of healthy friendships. It’s not your fault if you are a trauma survivor who struggles in this area. Healing is possible and life-giving friendships are possible, too. You are worth it!