A Toxic Friendship: The Story of “Frienemies”

The TV called for attention.

Tonight on CNN: When friends become bullies. The taunts began in second grade when Ally Del Monte started taking medication for a thyroid disorder and gained 60 pounds. The boys at her elementary school in Westchester County, New York, banned her from the jungle gym because they said she would break it. The girls made fun of her large jackets and told her she was fat, ugly and weird.

I looked down at the open bag of potato chips sitting in my lap and the curves of my body, unflatteringly folded into rolls from my relaxed position. How many pounds have I put on in the past year? I didn’t even have a medication to blame. My friends have never said anything, I think.

Dr. Franca Mancini, Director of Counseling and Psychological Services, said, “Having friends is such an important part of our lives, and the desire to belong  is so strong that it’s often difficult to understand when the comments and interactions that occur between friends become toxic destructive to the person involved.  Generally speaking, if being with certain friends makes you feel anxious, insecure or fearful of making a mistake or expressing your opinion, or if you find that you are often the target of negative comments or if others are laughing at your expense, it’s important to take a look at the relationship.”

“To me, it was normal because that’s what I was used to. At first I didn’t consider it bullying because the people treating me like this were supposed to be my friends. That’s how I perceived myself because that’s what they were telling me.”

As she spoke, I looked for the flaws that her friends pointed out to her. Her face was plump and rosy. Her collarbone was not at all visible. I reached for my own clavicle, suddenly realizing how much skin was layered over it. I suddenly felt like the TV was mirroring my reflection five years earlier. I’ve battled with body image before, but never did I attribute those struggles to my friends.

“They called me a fat pathetic bitch, told me I was worthless, I was ugly, my mom should have aborted me, I should just kill myself, no one likes me, they all want me gone,’ she said. ‘I felt hopeless. They could reach me everywhere I went. I couldn’t escape.”

I had a friend once when I was in sixth grade who told me there were multiple people who wished I was dead. I remember thanking her for telling me. Not with sarcasm, but with sincerity. I thought her honesty was a sign of true friendship. We ate lunch together the next day at school, like always. I wonder if she even remembers the look on my face when she told me, because her sly smile from that moment is forever ingrained in my memory. Since then, I’ve never had a friend who tormented me that way. The CNN reporter introduces to the audience, Ally’s mother, Wendy.

…She also didn’t know Ally had an account on the blogging tool Tumblr until she found her daughter balled up and sobbing on her bed, trying to open a bottle of her father’s blood pressure medication. She was planning to attempt a drug overdose. That’s when she saw dozens of messages on Ally’s phone, telling her to kill herself.

The reporter flashed her sympathetic eyes and concerned pout. The interviews went on, using words like alone, hopeless, worthless and disgusting to describe how Ally felt. Ally’s friends were making me feel disgusting.

Mancini advised seeking help outside of the potent relationship. “If someone is feeling bad about a relationship or friendship (and bullying can occur in romantic relationships as well) they should share the information with someone safe outside of the friendship/relationship and get perspective,” said Mancini. “Speaking with a counselor or a faculty member or with someone in Residential Life if they are resident students, would be a good start.”

I thought of my own friends who have been out of middle school for quite some time. They are all gorgeous, but they never made me feel like I wasn’t. I understood now that everything my friends said was genuine. Any bullying I had experienced after middle school had been only from me. However, cases like Ally’s do happen, and sometimes the way our friends see us is the way we see ourselves.

According to CNN, 30 percent of 18-year-olds have been bullied by the people they call their friends. I looked at Ally on my TV screen again, no longer hyperaware of my own image. She had very pretty eyes framed by long lashes, and her hair fell just-so over her shoulders. I bet her “friends” never told her that. The reporter began her happy conclusion about Ally emerging from such a dark place and inspiring others in similar situations. But was that really the end of Ally’s story?

Bullies don’t stop because you start a motivational blog, or speak publicly against the issue. Ally said on the CNN report that there is no such thing as a success story for anyone who has been bullied. The best you can do is survive it.

Mancini added, “Fear of looking weak may lead some individuals to remain friends with the bully. Most often the bullying will continue and the person will continue to feel bad about themselves.  Those feelings lead to low self-esteem, sadness and depression, and we’ve heard and read about the effects of these situations.”

On the other hand, Mancini said that people often overlook the fact that the bullies are the ones who have the self-esteem issues. She said that they many times try to reassure themselves by harassing others.

I remembered the friends who made me feel so awful in sixth grade. To this day, they are shadows over my self-esteem. Of course, there came a time where I learned to stand up for myself and with support from parents and real friends, removed the toxic influences from my life. The entire experience was one of the most important lessons I’ve learned. However, I was lucky enough to escape the harmful situation.

In every relationship I’ve been in since then, I’ve made myself aware of how I treated others in fear of becoming that so-called friend. Think about your words and actions in every conversation you have. Be honest with friends about how they are influencing others and ask them to tell you the same. Shadows can be destroyed by emitting light on a situation, but for many who are not honest and aware, there are still too many candles that will keep burning out.

IMAGE TAKEN from losergurl.com