Friendship Gone Wrong

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The Bible records many marvelous stories about friendships to inspire and encourage us on the benefits of having loyal, uplifting and helpful friends—Ruth and Naomi, David and Jonathan, Abraham and Lot, Paul and Timothy, just to name a few. Yet not all relationship stories have a happy ending, so this issue of Vertical Thought would be incomplete without some information about friendships that go wrong. Consider the story of Ahithophel, told in 2 Samuel 15 through 17. He was a close adviser and high official of King David. He gave such outstanding advice that his words were regarded almost as though they came straight from God (2 Samuel 16:23). Yet when David's son Absalom usurped the throne and David had to flee his capital city of Jerusalem, Ahithophel defected to Absalom. The crushing sense of betrayal David felt from having a trusted friend turn on him to become his enemy is expressed in Psalm 55:12-14. David describes his view of the smooth words of his former friend that now feel like daggers stabbing him in the back (verses 20-21). These same concepts are used in the New Testament to describe Judas Iscariot, one of Jesus' trusted 12 disciples who betrayed Him (John 13:18). So, in addition to our personal experiences, we have historical, biblical proof that not all friendships end on a positive note. In fact, vertical thinkers who want to think ahead to avoid some of the heartaches that come from less productive choices (see Proverbs 22:3) will pay close attention to whom they have as close friends. The Bible tells us we should be concerned about everyone and not show partiality by paying attention to only the rich, famous or those we think can do something to help us. However, the Bible also tells us to be careful whom we choose as our best friends—those we spend more time with. Biblical instruction Proverbs 22:24 warns us, "Make no friends with those given to anger, and do not associate with hotheads" (New Revised Standard Version). The next verse shows this advice is for our own good: "You might learn their habits and not be able to change" (Today's English Version). It's natural for us to think we're strong enough to not let someone else's habits rub off on us, but the reality is that bad behavior always rubs off more easily than good behavior. And bad behavior is called a "snare" to us because when it gets us in its grip, we have a hard time breaking free. Just ask yourself how easy it is to break any bad habit you may have started in your life. But what if you have already built a friendship with someone not involved in glaring bad habits, but who has since begun to drift into them? What if someone betrays you and still wants to be your friend? After all, few of us will ever face a situation like King David where a friend and adviser defects to an opposing army's leader. But almost all of us have felt betrayed by a friend at one time or another—or we've experienced some other negative relationship issue, such as gossip. Proverbs 16:28 says a whisperer (someone who spreads private or embarrassing information) can separate the best of friends. How do you deal with such issues? These are some of the "hard issues" in life and require a lot of serious thought, heartfelt prayer to God for help in making the right decisions, and often getting counsel from someone—such as a parent, pastor or other counselor—who can help you sort through the variety of issues and concerns. Smaller concerns in a friendship can often be resolved by applying the principle of going to your brother (Matthew 18:15). This means going to your friend to openly and humbly discuss the issue that is causing problems in the relationship. This is an important subject covered in "Friends Don't Let Friends . . ." on page 6. When friendships turn toxic What if you've talked to your friend with no positive result—the issue is not resolved or even becomes worse? What if your friend begins to change—starts to become an angry hothead, for example, and won't change? What if your friend begins using illegal drugs, or starts some other serious negative behavior, and won't respond to your loving, concerned efforts encouraging him to change? What if the friendship has begun to turn "toxic," as it is sometimes called—detrimental to you? How should you respond? What are your options and what is expected of you? What determines if it's really a "toxic friendship" in the first place? A subject this large is impossible to cover completely in a short article, but here are some important, general points to consider and apply: • Toxic friendships are those that are consistently negative or hold potentially serious negative consequences for you. A friend getting into drug use is easily recognized as toxic. It is more difficult to recognize that a friend who is always needy, negative, emotionally draining, controlling, gossiping, self-absorbed or overly critical can also be a toxic friend. • The more subtle emotional issues require much thought, and often counsel from someone else, to help you recognize if a friend is just struggling with a problem (where you would want to be a supportive and helpful friend), or if he or she has no interest in changing and is becoming an emotional "black hole" that will swallow and consume you. • If you are a true friend, you will try to help your friend change his or her bad behavior. • If the wrong behavior of a friend is an immediate safety or health danger to you (physically or emotionally), you need to express your concern to your friend and put some space between you (literally and emotionally) for your own protection. You don't have to stop caring about the person, but you must withdraw from a close friendship in such instances. The distinction between the last two points is the hardest and most challenging because it requires us to think and analyze our friendships. That's hard work! Often it's also difficult to see clearly when we're close to a situation, which is why getting advice from other trusted, wiser and often older people is so important. As Proverbs 11:14 says, "Where there is no counsel, the people fall; but in the multitude of counselors there is safety." A wise person will monitor his friendships, even as he enjoys all the wonderful benefits of having close friends. If you feel there is any chance a relationship is becoming toxic, find a wise counselor to help you decide the best course of action. It may be that your friend really needs your help at that time to overcome a bad behavior, and you need to be that friend who is there through thick and thin, who sticks closer than a brother (see Proverbs 18:24). It could also be that the friendship has become "toxic," meaning you need to withdraw and build other, better friendships. As you look for answers in dealing with a friendship gone wrong, always remember to ask God for guidance to help you with this tough issue. VT


  • Sabrina Peabody
    Also, depending on the nature of their struggle, I recommend writing for a more personal in-depth response.
  • Sabrina Peabody
    Hi Abby1137s It seems if you are becoming emotionally damaged and getting hurt in the end in this relationship, there is something wrong. You need to consider if you are truly helping or enabling this person. Does this person have other support systems available? Can you reach out to them to see if they can help? I encourage you to rethink about your responses to this person. Do they even ask for you to help or are you stepping in because you see a need? Be careful if you are the one being proactive, because sometimes people do not want to truly change and don’t really want help. If that is the case, you are hurting yourself by trying to help someone who doesn’t want help. Regardless, I would absolutely suggest praying for them every day. Another thought--You have the freewill to decide how and when you interact with this person, so make wise choices. Perhaps you could try interacting on terms where you do not end up getting hurt? Try a phone call or email perhaps? Hang out in a group of people? On the flip side of all this, try to hang out with people who do uplift you. Maybe you just need a little boost and you can continue to help this other person through their struggle?
  • abby1137s
    I've been friends with this guy for about three years now, and it's only now I realize how much it's emotionally damaging me. Literally every three nights somethings wrong, and I want to help! But when I do I end up hurt in the end. I realized I had enough last night when I almost left it in tears. I don't know if I can help anymore, maybe it's something he'll have to deal with by praying. But I don't know how to back away! For three years, this is the closest I've gotten to any person I've ever met! So its hard and hurts. I don't know what to do, any advice?
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