There are toxic people in every environment – toxic lovers, spouses, parents, children, relatives, bosses and coworkers.  Many people let bullying friends continue abusing them because they want to maintain the friendship.  They won’t disagree with or hurt the feelings of the pseudo-friend even if he or she’s a righteous, narcissistic control-freak.

However, if you don’t stop these bossy, self-centered bullies, they’ll increase your anxiety and stress, harass you and make your life miserable, take over your life and eventually turn other friends against you.

Joan had a problem with her friend Shelly.  Shelly was sure that she knew what’s right about everything and was intent on straightening out Jane.  She told Jane that Jane was a failure because of numerous character flaws; that’s why Jane’s children were not as successful as Shelly’s.  She said that if Jane didn’t do things the way Shelly told her, Jane’s part-time business would fail and Jane would be a failure her whole life.

Shelly corrected Jane about every detail; how Jane dressed, what she ate, who she talked to, what she read and where she went to church.  She also knew how Jane should behave to prove she was a true friend to Shelly.  If Jane didn’t change, Shelly either cried or got very indignant and angry.

Shelly was always convinced she was absolutely right and perceptive enough to recognize Jane’s hidden fears.  Faced with Shelly’s certainty and a few accurate remarks by her, Jane was thrown into self-questioning and self-doubt.  She agonized that maybe Shelly was right.  It was hard to argue against Shelly’s righteousness and total conviction.  As soon as Jane started, Shelly got angry and rebutted every one of Jane’s objections with reasonable sounding answers.  Or Shelly changed the subject and verbally attacked Jane.  Jane could never convince Shelly that she was wrong or that she was a self-righteous bully.

Also, selfish Shelly was the center of attention.  Most of their conversation was about Shelly’s emotional melodrama.  Only at the very end did Shelly pause to tell Jane where she was wrong.

The few times Jane has brought up a problem of Shelly’s, Shelly attacked Jane, claiming that Jane was jealous of Shelly or that Jane once did what she didn’t want Shelly to do.

After every conversation with Shelly, Jane felt discouraged, depressed and defeated.  She was afraid that if she told Shelly what she really felt, she’d lose her best friend.

Every situation is different; every situation has complications that limit possible solutions.  Solutions to each situation will have to be designed specifically for the people involved.  For example, in Jane’s case, she was afraid that if she argued or disagreed with Shelly, Shelly would sabotage Jane to all their friends.

However, there is a general rule: The longer you accept the righteous put-downs and control by a bullying, abusive pseudo-friend, the more your confidence and self-esteem will be battered.  You must gather the will and determination to act.  You must learn skills of planning and successfully executing effective tactics.

The key to Jane’s breaking free was to see that Shelly was an abusive bully, not a true friend.  Jane realized that true friends don’t act the way Shelly did.  That realization gave Jane the will – the determination, perseverance and grit – to be honest with Shelly.  Jane realized that the friendship she might lose was one that hurt, even though Shelly called it “best friends.”  Jane also prepared herself and her other friends for what Shelly was likely to do in retaliation.

Jane didn’t argue, debate or try to prove to Shelly that she was a bully.  Jane simply stated how people had to act in order to be her friend and to be in her personal space.  Shelly was shocked that Jane finally found the backbone.  Of course, Shelly was convinced that Jane was wrong.  Shelly tried to turn their friends against Jane, but Jane’s preparation paid off.  The friends had had similar experiences with Shelly.

Toxic, righteous, controlling, bullying, abusive pseudo-friends usually don’t change.  The relief and freedom you feel when you clear them out of your environment tells you that it was worth the effort.  You’ve reclaimed your spirit and your life.

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Ben Leichtling, Ph.D. is author of the books and CDs “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks,” “Parenting Bully-Proof Kids” and “Eliminate the High cost of Low Attitudes.” He is available for coaching, consulting and speaking.  To find practical, real-world tactics to stop bullies and bullying at home, school, work and in relationships, see his web site (http://www.BulliesBeGone.com) and blog (http://www.BulliesBeGoneBlog.com).

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