July 11, 2022

How to spot a Narcissistic Frenemy: Identifying & Recovering from Toxic Relationships.

Most of us are familiar with the concepts of “narcissism” and “frenemy.”

Both are dysfunctional and often abusive ways of experiencing relationships with people. They often co-exist with each other because of the common denominator: toxicity. Not healthy. Not functional. Not supportive.

Not friendly.

In fact, many times, many of us have experienced some version of a narcissistic frenemy, some form of “friendly fire.” Junior high school, the workplace, long-term relationships, and even marriages can create situations rife with this toxicity.

“Friendly fire” can blindside us when it takes the form of the frenemy. On some level, we were led to believe they loved us, they were trustworthy. They would never betray us. And then they did.

Mental abuse, gaslighting, and passive-aggressiveness are just a few examples of their tactics.

And here are a few frenemies that may show up in our lives. See if you recognize anyone familiar for yourself.

Narcissistic Frenemy Number One: We’ll be saying “I’m sorry” to them for all eternity.

We mess up and hurt someone. We apologize. And we move on with the relationship. Ideally, that’s how it should go, right? Well, with frenemy number one, it’s not that simple.

When it comes to this dysfunctional dynamic, the foundation of the relationship is a one-way street of groveling—us to them.

All the time. Nonstop. Never good enough. It’s humiliating and soul-sucking.

Sounds like a fun way to hang out and connect, doesn’t it?

This frenemy can often operate from their need to feel superior, sought after, chased, and, of course, always “right”—with us always being the inferior, begging, wrong party.

Like the abuse cycle, there is a continual repetition of explosion, tension-building, honeymoon, and a so-called return to “normalcy.” This kind of frenemy enjoys keeping us off-kilter, constantly anxious, and insecure. And, whether it’s obvious or subtle, being a friend to this kind of frenemy grooms us into believing the message that our only recourse to maintain the relationship, to “make good,” and to fulfill our purpose on this earth is to apologize, reassure, and help puff up the frenemy so they feel they are one-up and we are one-down.

That’s not equality. There’s no mutual respect. Subservience and a complete focus on them is the name of the game.

At its most extreme, we can find ourselves confused and uncertain about what we’re apologizing for. We don’t understand what we did wrong—we only know that we are wrong, constantly.

The “be our own best friend” remedy:

Reality check: no one can be constantly right, or constantly wrong. And if someone is demanding that it’s normal, that’s an indicator of unhealthy control and manipulation. It has a harmful agenda and ulterior motive attached to it.

Normal communication is not constant apologizing! 

Repeat: normal communication is not constant apologizing!

If this dynamic is going on, more than likely, the other person is enjoying its power inequity. It’s not healthy, and you and I deserve more.

Narcissistic Frenemy Number Two: Cue the sound of squealed tires or crickets—they’ve left! 

Abandonment. Ah, yes, an old favorite.

Sometimes, it’s blatant: our frenemy literally leaves us stranded at a party, a restaurant, or any other event. Maybe they were our ride and then, poof! They’re gone!

But, more often, it’s the more passive and emotional kind of abandonment. They may know there’s something important happening and we need them there; we’d like their support and presence. Maybe we believe they’ll come through for us. Maybe we believe they’ll celebrate us. Somehow, perhaps, we believe they regard us as important. After all, we’re there for them, right? So, of course, they’ll be there for us, right?

I think you know the answer: wrong.

Often, this kind of frenemy thrives on us believing their deceptive attitudes and promises. We’re caught many times in the cycle of “Well, I know they let me know before, but I hope they come through this time.”

We give them another chance and the benefit of the doubt. The thing is, usually, this kind of frenemy had no intention, whatsoever, of executing their promises to us. Perhaps they specifically wanted us to believe their commitment to us, all while savoring our abject disappointment at the physical, emotional, or mental no-show. They enjoy the pain, heartache, and embarrassment displayed on our faces, or in our life circumstances. They revel in our personal squirm.

The “be our own best friend” remedy:

We are the ones who need to show up for ourselves.

It’s easier said than done and not ideal, because we should be able to have friends who are there for us. We should be able to count on someone when we grieve, celebrate, or go through any life moment. And to place our vulnerable selves in a position for someone who has no qualms about being MIA., or who loves to know we’ve felt abandoned by them, it’s devastating.

Regardless, we need to do our best to not self-abandon. And this is complicated, at best.

How many of us are far too good at abandoning or betraying ourselves? And then how many of us are expert-level at shaming and flogging ourselves mercilessly? Yeah.

Self-compassion: the thorny, tricky, windy path we can find ourselves on, especially after toxic relationships. It is easier said than practiced. It is imperfect and filled with missteps. But it is a conscious decision we can make—choosing to stay true to ourselves, instead of sacrificing something that is too costly to us.

It’s ongoing. It repeated. It’s on a scale of large and small victories and disappointments. We will not get it right consistently. But, in making the decision to imperfectly choose ourselves, to show up, no matter who else decides they are going to opt out, we respect and value ourselves.

Narcissistic Frenemy Number Three: “I was trying to be nice!”

Just when we thought it was safe out there, hello passive-aggressive, snarky digs!

This frenemy? Well, they may play the martyr, the victim, the altruistic St. Teresa, gracing us with their presence, which is, according to them, better than we deserve. They may passively go along, participating as friends, “phoning it in.” They may offer constant excuses for putting us off, not getting back to us, not being there. They are not available…ever.

And it’s not about busyness, emergencies, or other life circumstances keeping them from us. No, this is different. This is about how we are not their priority. We don’t rate as important.

And waters may be calm with a relationship with this frenemy, so long as we don’t press the issue. However, the second the press, when we make the “one-too-many-phone-calls-or-texts,” all of sudden, we get rage from them. We find out how they truly feel. It’s usually something along the lines of them letting us know they don’t really like us, and they’re just trying to be nice, but we are now making that impossible for them to keep this up. They assert we are the reason the friendship failed, even though they were never into it in the first place.

They may do this to avoid confrontation, to preserve some image that they are a wonderful “ride-or-die” friend, or who knows whatever other possible reasons. It’s a maddening rabbit hole to descend into and try to figure out.

The bottom line: they’re not invested. At least, not to the same degree we are.

The “be our own best friend” remedy:

Another difficult practice to put into play: we need to accept we’ll never know why other people “can’t” when it comes to us. Reasons. Excuses. Dysfunctions. Personality quirks and disorders. We may never know the “why.” And, knowing and accepting that, we need to accept we are still valid and valuable. We are not irrelevant, bad, defective, “not good enough.”

We deserve mutual reciprocity when it comes to friendships. If that is not happening with any person, that person is not our friend. And we’re better off knowing that reality before any future investment of time, energy, thought, love, or money is wasted on them.

Pay Attention To the Frenemy Clues:

Sooner or later, most of us will encounter a frenemy. High school, college, the workplace, a “mommy and me” group are just a few target-rich examples of where. So, knowing what to look for will be helpful. We need to know how to spot ‘em.

Generally speaking, frenemies have this in common: it requires us doing most of the work in the relationship with them.

We find ourselves doing most of…

The calling.
The apologizing.
The scrambling.
The chasing.
The investing.

If it’s not completely one-sided, then it certainly is lopsided, and those terms benefit the frenemy, not us.

The deciding factor, something so many of us are not used to, needs to be the necessary, tangible benefit that is happening to and for us, too. It’s not selfish or greedy. It’s balanced and healthy.

And that’s what we deserve, not a frenemy.


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