How many of us have had a friendship that has turned toxic? We formed a close bond with someone we met at some point in our lives, only to turn things sour when our circumstances changed.
I had a very good friend that I met in college. She was great fun, always up for a party. I had many memorable nights with her and we were very close as medical students. Once we graduated, we kept in touch and saw each other regularly – she lived nearby and often dropped by unannounced. Over time, however, something changed.
She gave up medicine and got a job in another industry. She started drinking and doing drugs and I saw a different side of her. A new bitterness crept in. She was critical of mutual friends and unpleasantly gossiped about them behind their backs.
For years I struggled, felt somehow compelled to hold on to a friendship that no longer brought me joy.
I’ve been thinking about that person a lot in recent weeks in light of the endless speculation about the alleged feud between This Morning presenters Phillip Schofield and Holly Willoughby, who once famously got along.
The alleged row between This Morning presenters Phillip Schofield and Holly Willoughby appears to have cost Phil his job at the program
The unfolding drama has made me think about friendships and how painful it can be when they falter.
Many of us have had a fight with someone we once had a close relationship with. Usually it’s a soft hiss as we go through life. It’s normal for people to move, change jobs, and have kids, so their friendship groups change too.
But unfortunately, as I know all too well, some friendships end badly and in a way that can leave us feeling deeply hurt, confused, or even betrayed. It raises the inevitable question of what to do about it.
In general, I believe it’s always better to try to talk through any breakups in a friendship and find a solution – rather than cutting them out of your life altogether. But once the dynamics in a friendship get all out of whack and meanness creeps in, it’s fine—very sensible indeed—to end it.
This can be a painful process. Over the years I have had a number of patients who describe ending a friendship as a form of grieving. And I know what they mean. That’s exactly how I felt when I finally decided that I had to cut my old college friend out of my life.
I had been trying to understand what might be going on – it seemed like she was feeling unfulfilled, regretting giving up on meds, and struggling with her mental health.
I started meeting her for brunch instead of dinner to keep her from getting too drunk. But several times she showed up and hadn’t slept, and was clearly still drunk. I tried to be supportive and understanding, but over the years it just became too much. I felt more like a social worker than a friend. Then she started hurting herself and sending me pictures late at night. When I called her, she turned off her phone. I felt that I was being played with and manipulated.
She borrowed money I knew I would never see again. At other times she resented and rejected any help I offered. After brunch it occurred to me that I didn’t enjoy spending time with her – I was on edge all the time and she was bit, critical and obnoxious.
Phillip pictured himself on an emotional walk in the West Country, following a turbulent time for his family
The unfolding drama has Dr Max Pemberton, pictured, reflecting on friendships and how painful it can be when they falter
The nice person I loved in college was gone.
Of our friendship group, I was the only one who had kept in touch with her and I realized it was simply because I didn’t have the courage to end the friendship. I did the cowardly thing – next time she texted, I said I was busy and made vague plans to meet but didn’t follow through.
She soon stopped texting and it ended. Although relieved, I was always angry with myself for not being brave enough to end the friendship properly. Then, a few years later, out of the blue I ran into her on a train. I smiled and decided to take this as an opportunity to be honest with her. I felt our previous friendship deserved it.
She wasn’t angry or particularly surprised. She said she knew she was a bad friend and agreed that it had turned toxic. We wished each other well and I felt like a weight had been lifted. I’ve seen her a few times since then and we’re completely cordial and pleasant, but it’s clear we’re both different people now and there’s too much water under the bridge.
I still feel sad sometimes when I think about that friendship, but I understand it had to come to an end. It doesn’t take away from the fun we had or the fond memories I have of her.
We were important parts of each other’s lives for a while, and that’s a good thing. That’s the thing to hold on to.
Experts and MPs are demanding a restriction on vaping after a shocking rise in the number of children who have tried it. While I am horrified to think of young people vaping, I would urge caution when it comes to the law. There is no question that vaporizers are a valuable tool in helping adults to quit smoking.
Testament to the power of love. . .
Matt Willis’ wife, Emma, has been fearlessly loyal despite difficult circumstances. The Busted singer has a new documentary, Fighting Addiction, now on BBC iPlayer
If you haven’t seen Matt Willis’ documentary, Fighting Addiction, now on BBC iPlayer, check it out. The Busted singer documents his battle with booze and drugs and it’s heartbreaking. It shows the painful, agonizing toll that addiction takes on people and the impact it has on their relationships.
All too often, services designed to help people with addiction focus only on substance withdrawal and fail fully in helping them explore, understand and overcome the inner demons they seek refuge from .
I challenge anyone to watch this documentary and not be moved. And while it’s searingly honest and gloomy at times, it manages to hold onto hope. You wonder what would have become of him if it weren’t for his wife Emma, who has remained unwaveringly loyal despite difficult circumstances.
You get the sense that this really is a documentary about the lasting power of love.
Simon Cowell has revealed that the stress of his job and his obsession with TV ratings drove him ‘crazy’, so he sought out a therapist. He rightly says there is no shame in seeing a therapist and he encouraged anyone struggling to seek help.
While I fully agree with the benefits of therapy, I do want to issue a warning. Therapy is a broad term that encompasses many types of talking treatment. Most importantly, anyone can claim to be a therapist regardless of their actual qualifications.
I’ve seen people who had gone into ‘therapy’ but were still struggling, through no fault of their own – the therapist wasn’t qualified enough or the type of therapy wasn’t evidence-based for the problem they had. In general, I recommend that people go to a psychologist rather than someone who calls themselves a “therapist.” Psychologists have had years of training in different types of therapies and so are much better at tailoring treatment to specific needs.
DR MAX WRITES…
A PICNIC BLANKET
Available from Friday, £125, partnerinwine.co.uk
The weather is finally turning into summer, so get outside and enjoy – it will give your mind and body a much-needed boost.
Available from Friday, £125, partnerinwine.co.uk.