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Fickle friends: how to deal with frenemies

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Fickle Friends: How to Deal with Frenemies

 

By Kirsten Weir Scientific American June 16, 2011

 

....To scientists, these problematic pals are known as ambivalent friends. To a more slang-savvy crowd, they are called “frenemies.”

 

Either term has come to describe a range of complicated relationships--those that boost you up and bring you down, for any of a variety of reasons. They include the well-meaning friend who is overly competitive, the pal who is a pillar of support when times are tough but cannot quite take pleasure in your successes, and the college buddy who drops everything to lend you a hand when you need one but gossips about you later.

 

In these troublesome relationships, qualities such as warmth and understanding go hand-in-hand with criticism, jealousy or rejection. “It’s a friend who drives you nuts,” says Karen Fingerman, a psychologist at Purdue University. “You love them, you don’t want to lose them, but they’re really a pain.”

 

Researchers have only recently begun examining these mixed-emotion associations. So far they are finding that such ties have negative effects on mental and physical well-being, boosting blood pressure and risk of depression while lowering resistance to stress. But if you want to keep your frenemies—and most people do—you can minimize these effects by buffering your interactions with the mixed-weather friends and con­sidering impartial reasons for their hurtful behavior.

 

Quality over Quantity

Humans are an extremely social species, and a friendless existence has many drawbacks, including depression, hypertension and cognitive decline. But if you want to be happy (and by extension, healthy), having lots of friends is much less important than having good ones. In a 2006 study psychologists Meliksah Demir and Lesley Weitekamp, then both at Wayne State University, gave 423 college students questionnaires about their personality, their happiness level, and the quality and number of their friendships. The researchers defined quality friendships as those scoring high on help, intimacy, self-validation, reliable alliance, emotional security and stimulating companionship. Fifty-eight percent of the variance in happiness could be attributed to the quality of a person’s friendships, compared with 55 percent for personality. The number of friends, on the other hand, had no significant effect on how happy a subject was.

 

From this angle, frenemies are problematic. No friendship is perfect, of course. But frenemies are consistently imperfect, scoring low on factors such as reliable alliance and self-validation, for example. And once you develop ambivalent feelings for a person....you are less able to overlook a thoughtless comment made by a frenemy than one made by someone you think of as supportive.

 

Our lives are riddled with frenemies. From surveys asking people to assess their relationships, Holt-Lunstad and University of Utah psychologist Bert Uchino have found that, on average, about half a person’s social network is made up of ambivalent ties. Many are in the family. Fingerman has found that people are likely to view spouses, parents, children and siblings with more ambivalence than friends and acquaintances. One reason: it is much harder to swap out a family member than a friend, no matter how troublesome he or she is. In addition, even irritating family members often provide support and warmth you cannot afford to give up.

 

Unhealthy Ties

Ambivalent relationships may do more than dishearten. In a study published in 2003 Holt-Lunstad and Uchino asked 102 male and female volunteers to wear blood pressure monitors for three days. Every time a subject had a social interaction lasting more than five minutes, he or she would describe it in a diary and rate the quality of that relationship. Not surprisingly, blood pressure readings were typically higher when individuals encountered ambivalent friends than when they saw supportive friends. But intriguingly, blood pressure was also more elevated in the presence of ambivalent friends than it was with people the subjects disliked but could not avoid (such as classmates or co-workers). You expect very little from someone you loathe, Holt-Lunstad surmises, whereas ambivalent friends, unpredictable as they are, often raise your hopes only to dash them. And that disappointment, or fear of it, can negatively affect your health.

 

Other research suggests that ambivalent friends can lower resistance to stress. In 2001 Holt-Lunstad and Uchino reported asking 133 individuals aged 30 to 70 to rate important members of their social networks according to how helpful or upsetting they were. Then the volunteers completed two stressful exercises: a mental arithmetic task and a speech defend­ing themselves against a false accusation. The more ambivalent friends a person had, the higher his or her heart rate and blood pressure were, in general, during these activities. The result suggests that supportive relationships buffer the body against stress but that ambivalent friends have the opposite effect. Consistent with that conclusion, the individuals with a greater number of ambivalent friends were more likely to suffer from depression.

 

If such friends make us unhappy, why do we keep them? In a 2009 study Holt-Lunstad and graduate student Briahna Bigelow Bushman found that people hang onto ­difficult friendships deliberately—because the relationship has a long history, because the good in the relationship outweighs the bad or because, for whatever reason, they just do not want to give up on the person.

 

Indeed, you may not need to give up on your frenemies if you know how to manage these relationships to minimize the pain they produce....As Holt-Lunstad says, “Start with controlling your own behavior and being the kind of friend you’d want others to be.”

 

Coping with Frenemies

You can limit the heartache of troublesome—but valuable—friendships and family ties using a couple of simple strategies. Psychologist Julianne Holt-Lunstad of Brigham Young University recommends avoiding previously problematic subjects or situations. If your frenemy tends to cancel at the last minute, for example, create backup plans. If talking about politics or religion has led to snide remarks, steer clear of that subject.

 

In addition, give your frenemy’s motives a positive, or at least neutral, spin. If a friend often calls you at work, you might be tempted to think, “She has no respect for my job or my time.” But perhaps she is the type who needs to share her news right away. “The latter way of thinking is not as personal,” explains psychologist Karen Fin­german of Purdue University. “That’s the kind of social cognition that contributes to better ­relationships.”

 

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Phil

Its good to know that its quality and not quantity that counts.

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alexjuice

I've realized that I have frenemies among me. I'm not currently speaking with my father. I have another friend who I cant talk to about much.

 

The problem I have is that I don't have any better folks on deck. I've struggled with loneliness and isolation over the past month. And often I'm not feeling well enough to make 'new friends'.

 

I plan to try to find a few, 'quality', people to share my struggles and goals.

 

I'll probably put a blog, video blog because writing is hard, and link to it from this forum so that people in my shoes can find me. In the real world, finding understanding is that needle and all the people are straws of hay. It's too challenging to find it, understanding.

 

I often think I was born too soon or too late, considering certain events in my life are timed to the rise of the internet and it's effect of my family of origin's finances. However, one thing that's great about the internet is that it's easy for all the needles to find each other.

 

Alex

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Pandora

The research on Frenemies is interesting but there isn't anything in there about communicating with these people about how we feel (about lateness, calling at work, not stepping up to the plate, etc.) and if we can't do that, are they really worth having in our lives?

 

I'm not saying people don't have flaws - we all do - but when relationships get to the point of having to be managed, what is that really about? Are we that afraid to let others know what our needs are in a friendship/partnership that instead of honesty we put up with their nonsense so as not to offend?

 

I just realized I've done nothing here but ask questions.

 

To whom, I'm not sure. Just new to the toxic people dumping I guess, and testing the waters :)

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DrugSlave

Interesting article. It has reinforced a recent decision I've made to give the boot to a "frenemie" of mine. He is causing me far more stress than the friendship is worth. Simply making the decision has given me relief.

 

I just finished watching the first part of the documentary "This Emotional Life" which investigates how closely our happiness is tied to relationships. Very interesting. I'm so lucky that I have a fantastic relationship with my wife. It's so important.

 

One of the most significant symptoms of the withdrawal for me has been my lack of interest in socializing. The last few days I've been feeling a little better and I find that I'm starting to crave social interaction. Also, it has been a while and I guess I'm getting tired of the relative isolation.

 

This website is so great. The people on here are so supportive. I'm used to going on political blogs which is such a hostile environment. Kudos to the founder and staff members. :)

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Barbarannamated

 

The problem I have is that I don't have any better folks on deck. I've struggled with loneliness and isolation over the past month. And often I'm not feeling well enough to make 'new friends'.

I plan to try to find a few, 'quality', people to share my struggles and goals.

 

First, i can't believe i missed this article earlier. Very validating.

 

Secondly, I'm in a similar situation as Alex with limited opportunity to develop new friendships. I do have some healthy friendships, but most are very long distance. None understand my family dynamics and i read judgment into their limited input.

 

B

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Altostrata

Thanks, DrugSlave.

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alexjuice

The research on Frenemies is interesting but there isn't anything in there about communicating with these people about how we feel (about lateness, calling at work, not stepping up to the plate, etc.) and if we can't do that, are they really worth having in our lives?

 

I've been realizing lately that sometimes there is no way to talk it out and that the healthiest thing is sometimes to fire the people who are manipulative, selfish, blackmailing, exploitative and so on.

 

My father had this idea, that we can fix everything by 'having a dialogue', but it turned out he just wanted to say his side and not change anything. He's sort of shifted the 'blame' to me because he 'tried to have a dialogue' but the whole thing was just a manipulation.

 

Sucks to have untrustworthy people in one's life. They do more damage than most realize and, I've realized, cutting ties is sometimes necessary, wise and self-protecting.

 

A lot of people are only willing to do what's best for themselves and that's as far as they can see. Because of this, they don't even realize all the damage they cause others and usually see themselves as the victim or the martyr or the honest broker. Horrible manipulation is how I ended up turning to therapists/psychiatry in the first place

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Barbarannamated

Alex,

I'm glad that you recognized the pattern and manipulation at a relatively young age though sad you have suffered as much as you have. B

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alexjuice

Probably the saddest thing I've ever realized was that the people who failed me in my life largely didn't mean to. My psychiatrist. My parents. Self-absorbed friends. Bad relationships.

 

Looking back, the counter-party in every instance doesn't act guilty or apologetic. They did their life and were lousy at visualizing living in another's shoes. Some bad luck hit me. Misfortune, poor choices, whatever.

 

I have this feeling and it feels like I'm damaged. Because, no matter who I meet, I always fear that 'he doesn't know what he is doing' yet 'he thinks he does' and I am going to suffer as a result. Compounded with the circumstances of my life, I worry constantly that nobody is listening to me. Such horrific things have occurred in my life due to failures of the people close to me when I was a child and teen, that I will never recover, I don't think.

 

If I was healthy, maybe I'd see it differently. Right now, I am often overwhelmed, feel like all is lost and spend time looking backwards feeling overwhelmed.

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DrugSlave

I wish you well alexejice, I hope things improve for you.

 

I watched part 3 of "This Emotional Life" which deals with what makes humans happy. They interviewed loads of people and presented the lives of two people who were able to overcome incredible adversity. One was paralyzed and ended up in a wheelchair and the other was a prisoner of war for 8 years, tortured, and left in solitary confinement for 3 years. Both of these guys were able to find happiness despite their circumstances. Amazing really.

 

The professor who hosted the film series, said that when people are in dire circumstances that they have no control over, the brain adapts to this new reality and often people are able to achieve happiness despite the circumstances. In less extreme circumstances where a person has the opportunity to improve their current situation, often people struggle even more because they focus on the fight to make change and always find themselves "fighting" the situation.

 

Anyway, the show is on US netflix if anyone wants to check it out...

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Pandora

Awesome. That makes so much sense. Thanks for sharing that.

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alexjuice

I just wrote an email confronting my frenemy for turning our friendship into a one-way street where I got all the emotional baggage dumped on me.

 

This was in response to an email from the guy. He said he missed our conversations, I haven't been in telephone contact since I moved due to mold, because they were like therapy for him. That our relationshsip developed a one-sidedness is the primary reason I have had little to do with him of late.

 

I think he is the true definition of a frenemy. I think he wants me to do well so long as he's doing better and should he be doing poorly, he's only happy if I'm doing worse.

 

I am curious how he will respond. Also, with the added benzo anxiety, the idea of my email resulting in a confrontational email exchange is sort of triggering me a bit.

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areyouthere

 

I think he is the true definition of a frenemy. I think he wants me to do well so long as he's doing better and should he be doing poorly, he's only happy if I'm doing worse.

We don't need this kind of dysfunctional relationship. It drains us of the very positive energy we need for healing ourselves. Good for you for figuring him out. Sometimes a little distance is all it takes to see it most clearly.

 

I am curious how he will respond. Also, with the added benzo anxiety, the idea of my email resulting in a confrontational email exchange is sort of triggering me a bit.

 

Are you apprehensive that he will be angry or hurt or both... Are you questioning your response to HIS response? Just curious Alex. You seem like a very empathetic person and I would encourage you to listen to your instinct as you have identified the relationship as "frenemy" . Is he manipulative? Hope not. YOU are your first priority and although helping others can be a positive , helpful and mutually beneficial phenomenon.... one has to pick for oneself which are good and which not so.

 

Really I don't know what the heck I'm talking about but it sounds good doesn't it???? You'll do the right thing Alex. Are you currently tapering the benzo a bit?

 

RU :)

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Meimeiquest

Reading this thread in the night because a "friend" called my husband at 10pm, angry at something my husband posted on FB making fun a bit of the Ohio State bball game. This guy is obviously from Ohio. Stupid, but my husband removed the post. Then the friend accidentally sent him the message he composed before deciding to phone, calling my husband an -ss, pompous at that. These men are in their late 40's...unbelievable. I was lying next to my husband, we were just getting ready to go to sleep. I'm doing pretty well, but throw that at me and I am stuck in sympathetic overdrive. I could seriously be up all night, with company coming tomorrow. What do you all do in those instances?

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Barbarannamated

Having a really tough time right now and know this issue is playing in. It seems the *friends* who are the most available (I hesitate to say "supportive") are the most antagonistic to me. Ive been commhncating alot with my oldest friend from childhood who lives within 3 miles of my family. I said go her that I feel like I will never see any of them (friends) again if it's not ME making the effort to travel. Her response was "That's depressing... you're gonna have to venture this way then". I think all she gets from our communications is knowing that someone is more unhappy and worse off than she imagines herself to be.

 

If I knew that a close friend was going through such a hard time, I'd make every effort possible to be with them or at least ask how I could help. It didnt even dawn on her to leave her little comfort zone.

 

And like Alex said, "i have no better ones on deck.."

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Nikki

Barb I have a few friends who over the last few years have taught me that people do what they do because of who they are, not because of me.

 

In your situation, support means so much I am sure. With some people it's like going to the hardware store looking for a loaf of bread.

 

You are loved here and held in high esteem because you provide marvelous insight and caring.

You have friends here.

 

If contact or conversations are stressful for you, maybe you need to detach a bit or be up front and tell them the truth. The truth in your situation is that you are struggling with your health and need and would so much appreciate loving concern.

 

Another friend once told me this about my former spouse "He can't give what he doesn't have."

You can be truthful, just remember it may not go anywhere.

 

Come here and talk to us ;)

 

Consider yourself hugged tightly today

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Barbarannamated

Thanks, Nikki.

 

Had another interaction with this person today and she attempted to equate her personal situation with mine. She is part of a huge, close Italian family all living in the same hometown. She's employed at her brother's company. Still scratching my head on that one..

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Nikki

Barb this weekend I saw the news about Brad Pitt having 'face blindness' and last week we found out about Angelina's surgery.

 

I thought they had it all, fame, money a marvelous relationship and lots of adorable children, and they do. With all of that they are dealing with serious health issues.

 

Sounds like your friend has family, friends and a job, and health......so equating her situation with yours may not be in your best interest to have to listen to.

 

Hugs

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Barbarannamated

Yep. This played over in my head several times today and was quite enlightening in a sad way. I don't think this person is capable of empathy and not being the center of attention.

 

I was thinking about how frequently people say "I know (exactly) how you feel" and proceed to tell their own tale in an attempt to offer support.

But... we can never know exactly what others are going through or how they experience it and end up hurting and alienating more than anything.

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MaryKA

Darlings All

 

All this chimes with me. Wonderful/awesome/naa aweful... The stupidity/thoughtfulness/sheer ignorance we all face. Even though I was brought up a vicar's daughter  (C of E UK, yeah!) and ostracized (cos I was), I've still not spotted the silly games that people can play. So I'm going through the divorce mill for the second time. And it's only been in the last 2 years or so (I'm now 46 years old) that I start thinking 'who needs enemies with friends like you?'!!! Ditto 'family like you ...'

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Coleen

I have a frenemy like that. I have always been so supportive of her, but whenever I face a crisis, she disappears, or finds it incumbent to criticize me.This affects me greatly, and I believe it is part of my whole problem of self esteem. I have always been a kind of servant to her. Isn't it strange that it took 45 years to come to this realization. If I were to be honest, I don't enjoy her company or even really like her. Now that I am going through withdrawal, she has of course retreated, and I may just leave it at that. My anxiety levels are much better when she is not in my life.

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AliG

I had a "frenemy", once.  We had been best friends for about 15 years.  She was my  "confidante".  I talked to her about everything.


I mean " everything.   Life, love, kids , sex, husbands , spirituality,   etc, etc .  I knew there was some competition between us. I always felt


like she was copying me, and competing in some way, but I let it go.  The thing is , looking back, is she was always trying to bring me down,


for some reason, which I can't explain.  Anyway, one night it came to a conclusion.  We have never spoken since, and I do wonder how she's


going, but she was toxic.   


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Prestorb

This is an interesting topic, no doubt. I think quality friendships are just hard to come by. I can think of only one friend (including family and outside of SA friends) at this moment that has actually been faithful with checking in on me weekly or so. And she is a trained therapist, so go figure. But I am very thankful for her, and really appreciate it because she is a busy, single mom and we have only known each other for a couple of years. She is just a kind person.

 

I must say that I have been pretty disappointed with the lack of support given by the few family and friends that are aware of what I am going through right now. Even my husband seems especially clueless and insensitive. I could write a lot more about how invalidating this has been, but I will spare you that pity party. On th positive side, I am thankful to have found this site and even a couple of local SA folks, and am praying a LOT more than I have in years. For now, this is sustaining me and I try to be thankful for it.

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antidepressantsNoMore

During the last 5 yrs of my life, I lost a lot of my friends, others, lost touch with them. I hated some of my friends and had falling out's with some of them over dumb stuff. I realize being angry is natural but the worst thing. Angry, hate and bitterness is a bad thing. Learn to forgive these people and let it go, not just for them but for yourself.

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ChessieCat

Just found this topic and thought others might be interested in it.

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kirby

In my experience, which is pretty limited but just to share, some relationships are best to stick out, some are best to watch from a distance, some refreshed, and some best thrown to the wind.

 

For an example of the ones to stick out, when I was a teenager I was had some angst, but my parents let me be grumpy. Then, when my sister had angst at the same age, I learned to be tolerant. If my parents were less tolerant of me, it might be tough for me to learn to be tolerant today. This is for people who might be hard to deal with, but have goodwill and are learning. 

 

Then there is the ones to watch from afar. I am the worst at these - these are past friends who's lives had changed too much to relate and are uninterested in reconnecting. They may have different values, wants, and needs from when you first met them, and being yourself in terms of the past could make you feel forgotten, and sad, as they are focused on other things besides the past you see. These are best to just stay on the side of the bank, letting them know you are there in case they want to reconnect. I guess some frenemies fall into this category, because they might be less nice about the feeling of wanting to reconnect.

 

The ones to renew are those that are from the past, but you meet, both of you want to reconnect, and you both lead different lives and accept it, therefore try to make friends in the context of your new lives. This is the awkward family member or friend, who is awkward, or really different, but makes things lively (the fun uncle or neighbor).

 

Lastly there are some that are just best let go of - these are the ones that use you as a punching bag for the sake of because they can. For example, lets assume I had a friend that was super nice to me when I was around. Then, one day, brought over a group of people to tease me because its fun: although it feels terrible, fault cannot be found because you want to understand them, and it hurts to cut relations with anyone. I feel for this it is best to let go to wait until they have a better attitude to be friends with again, because there's nothing else to do about it and being hurt hurts.

 

I feel like in certain times in my life, I was the frenemy. Many times, when I was the frenemy, people would talk about me and form groups to go against me. It made me feel terrible because sometimes I didn't know that is how I made them feel. Therefore, I like to think that frenemies are people that can change to be better, but are dealt with at the moment according to the current need of yourself. That way, you are healthy and don't think you are the frenemy and your frenemy gets space to learn about what happened.

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Orangeblossom77

Sometimes you can just slowly extract yourself from these types of 'frenemies'...not so easy with family sometimes.

Trying to make an effort to see the few who are different and understanding and have your back (and you them)

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LilyBridget
On 2/7/2019 at 6:33 AM, kirby said:

 

For an example of the ones to stick out, when I was a teenager I was had some angst, but my parents let me be grumpy. Then, when my sister had angst at the same age, I learned to be tolerant. If my parents were less tolerant of me, it might be tough for me to learn to be tolerant today. This is for people who might be hard to deal with, but have goodwill and are learning. 

 

 

 

I love this! What a great parenting approach. I like how you look back and appreciate it. 

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