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Beyond Blue


Toxic Friends: An Interview with Susan Shapiro Barash

posted by Beyond Blue

Toxic Friends author3.jpg
Today I have the pleasure of interviewing Susan Shapiro Barash, who teaches gender studies at Marymount Manhattan College and is the author of “Toxic Friends: The Antidote for Women Stuck in Complicated Friendships.” You can learn more about her at www.susanshapirobarash.com.

1. Why do women make more excuses for their female friends than they do for their husbands and children?

Because they have such great expectations of their female friends. They hold the bar so high that it can be impossible for the friend, with her own complicated life, to come through. Women of all ages romanticize female friendships and believe that these friendships they are the answer, a solace, in their busy, intense lives. To this end, when a female friendship gets into trouble, women resist breaking it off, and hesitate to confront the friend. Confrontation isn’t easy for many women and we’re more prone to making excuses and to engage in a powwow. Another issue is that women prefer that the friendship doesn’t end, and imagine that one day there won’t be these issues. IN the meanwhile, they continue to make excuses for the friend. A woman will explain that her friend is going through a tough time (the excuse) and then add any of the following reasons: ‘ she’s been a friend since kindergarten” , or ” she was there when my dog died”, or ” we were cheerleaders together”, — in order to avoid the end of a relationship or face that the friendship is in trouble.

2. Why can losing a female friend have more repercussions for a woman than breaking up with a boyfriend or husband?

Losing a friend is more devastating than a romantic breakup because a woman who experiences this feels so unanchored. Women expect their female friends to provide a support system: these friends understand their feelings in a way that a husband or child or one’s mother may not. Thus, when the friendship falls apart, it feels particularly unsafe, as if there is nowhere to turn. During the course of the friendship, we share so much personal information that once there’s a schism, the friend worries that she could be betrayed by her friend who is now walking around with all her secrets — her soul has been revealed. Trust has become a major issue; it’s not only a question of will the friend spill her confidences, now that they are no longer together, but what the repercussions might be. This makes the woman feel very insecure and her concerns are combined with a tremendous sense of loss over the loss of a friendship.

3. Why do women hang on to difficult friendships even when they know they’re destructive.

We hang onto difficult friendships because it’s very hard for women to let go. If we let it go, it feels like failure and it churns up guilt, pity and resentment. Often times the friend knows so many of the same people and women don’t want to lose their group or social life due to one unhappy friendship. Also, there is this need to rationalize — she wasn’t always like this, she was there when I had a crisis, we’ve been friends forever, and this keeps women there, in an unhappy friendship.

Another factor is that in our culture we are encouraged to leave an abusive romantic partner, and to discipline our children, but there isn’t much guidance when it comes to how to handle a complicated female friendship– which is a big part of a woman’s life. The concept of female friendship being so rewarding can trip us up if we have an emotionally abusive friend. Women aren’t sure how to react to this negative experience and the idea that the friendship is problematic is deeply troubling, almost haunting. At first a woman might have trouble admitting to what is actually going on. Once they come to the realization, women will remark, ” How could she have done this- she’s my friend.”. And they’re genuinely baffled and shaken.

4. You say that 80 percent of women said they are competitive with their female friends. Why?

Competition is often a part of even the most intimate female friendships. We live in a culture where female competition, envy and jealousy, are shown to us daily ( think Desperate Housewives, Madmen, Archie Comics/ news stories such as Denise Richards, Heather Locklear and Richie Sambora). Thus, women are raised to believe that only the prettiest, smartest, luckiest ‘girl’ gets the glittering prize and there isn’t enough to go around. This limited goods theory is part of the problem and seeps into female friendships. There can be jealousy in the closest of friendships. Perhaps your friend doesn’t envy you because you are a single mother, but she envies you because you have a successful career. Or there are friendships where one friend envies the other for her looks, or because she has more money or she has brilliant children, or is pregnant while the friend has been trying for years. In any of these scenarios, women tend to think that if their friend has it, somehow they’ve lost their chance. Until we stop thinking this way, competition will exist in female friendships, and even jealousy, which is a very negative emotion and can undermine a friendship.

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nillawafer

posted January 26, 2010 at 12:18 pm


i was a military kid and went to 3 grade schools in two states and 5 high schools in 4 states. it was very hard to make friends, especially with females, who tended to travel in cliques or groups. by the time i even had hope of being accepted it was already time to leave again. it was far easier to find some dudes who wanted a “sis” to party with, so most of my teenage years i relied on boyfriends and male friends for support and to confide in. also, i was not into fashion or gossip, so i had little in common with the average female.
it wasn’t until i was a few years into my twenties that i had a girl friend who i was close to over a long period of time. when i became pregnant and became a mother and then later a midwife, it was a great joy that i finally had something to connect me to women and feel a sense of bonding with them. i wanted to support them the way i was supported by women through this time. my relationship with my mother also deepened during this time.
having experienced a husband’s suicide has left me in a lonely place with no common friends of ours really around me anymore. being cut off from midwifery and that whole world also has disconnected me from women.
i have lost a couple of close female friends over the years and it was devastating. i have lost my husband’s family and male friends, too. eventually it seems it comes down to family for support for some of us. we try to reach out through the fear and pain of loss when we can, but it’s not easy to set up for more wounding or fear your presence may wound another.



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Jacqueline

posted January 26, 2010 at 12:49 pm


I couldn’t agree more with you, nillawafer.. I had a best friend for 10 years — and we were rock solid for each other. Then things changed, and I don’t know why — I never knew why — she just dumped me, and I was devastated. More devastated than I have ever been when a romantic relationship ended. 4 years later, I am just getting over it, and since then I can only let people in so close. I want to reach out and have a close friend like that — where we were even closer than sisters — but I just can’t do it. When it came down to it, the ones who were there, and I know always will be, are my twin sister and family. I miss having that close friendship with someone, but at least I feel safe with my sister and family. But the loss of that friendship still hurts…



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brenton49

posted January 26, 2010 at 4:10 pm


I AM A HUSBAND, A MAN WHO JUST IS LOSEING OR MAY EVEN HAVE LOST “A LOVE OF A LIFETIME” , AND ALSO MY “GIRL FRIEND” OR “BEST FRIEND” I AM A MESS, THEN OUT OF NOWHERE I FIND ” BEYOND BLUE “, I AM WITHOUT A DOUBT BEING GIVEN A CHANCE BY GOD TO CHANGE MANY POOR CHOICES I HAVE MADE.
BEYOND BLUE IS THERE FOR ME IN THE MORNING WHEN I WAKE, AT LUNCH WHEN I EAT, AT NIGHT WHEN I CANT SLEEP., IT FILLS OR HELPS FILL THE EMPTYNESS THAT IS THERE FROM MY LOSS, I CANT SAY ENOUGH ABOUT WHAT I FIND HERE, THE PEOPLE, THE BLOGS, IT CARRIES ME EVERYDAY.
I BELIVE THAT WE ALL HAVE THINGS WE CAN MAKE BETTER, IN OURSELFS, FOR OTHERS, AND NOT FOR ME, THE “I” HAS TO GO SO WE CAN.
THANKS EVERYONE, YOU ARE SAVING ME, AND MAYBEE, A GLIMMER OF HOPE FOR ” US”. GO BLUE, GOD BLESS



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Christian Louboutin Replica

posted January 27, 2010 at 2:14 am


However style and fashion these days are not very costly and can be made available at very affordable prices with the help of replica items. They make it possible to make luxurious items and sell them at low prices. Though it is not guaranteed that all replica items are going to provide best quality, but Christian Louboutin Replica can ensure that. They provide all their customers with best quality shoes.



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Reader

posted January 27, 2010 at 10:13 am


Thanks God I found this article. I thought I was all alone in female friendships issues. It’s really enlightening. You’ve made me understand myself more. Thank you.



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Debbie

posted January 27, 2010 at 3:28 pm


This article is so refreshing, as I too have gone thru a divorce and a bad break up and have lost many of my long time female friends. When they did not agree with my decisions to leave a bad marriage or not leave a relationship when they thought I should, they left me. My male friends have been my savior. I have joined a meet up group in my city to make new female friends, ones who know nothing about my past and are less likely to judge me. I know I have a lot to offer, but starting over again at 47 is hard. Women can be very very judgmental and jealous. Many are also dealing with their own life dilemmas and cannot support a woman who makes choices they don’t approve of. Thank you again Terese and Beyond Blue for hitting the topic that effects so many of us.



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K

posted March 4, 2012 at 1:20 am


i have to say, i only just read through both the article as well as all the comments. because i am curious to see whether christians would have this type of problems as well. while the article did not say whether Susan is a christian or not. i assume the owner of the blog posted this entry because it is a problem for the christian community too.

which is not surprising i guess… i have been in church for years i know that we christians in many ways are more nasty than many non believers out there.

and finding a trustworthy friend is no less difficult, it seems, among christians



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