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Types of toxic friends… and how to handle them

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By RACHEL WAMBUI
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It is easy to dismiss toxicity in platonic relationships. But the effects can be equally distressing as in romantic settings.

THE WELL-MEANING BUT OVERBEARING FRIEND

She is condescending, patronising, controlling and passive aggressive

Shalini and Edna have been friends since high school. Today, they are both 33 and their friendship has evolved. “Edna is the type of person who takes care of everyone,” Shalini says. “When we were in university, she was the one watching that the party didn’t get out of control, the one who took charge of organising things and handing out tasks. She is extremely responsible and put together.” Shalini is the complete opposite. She refers to herself as a free-spirited and spontaneous person. “When we were younger, our relationship worked because I didn’t mind someone figuring things out for me and keeping me in check.”

But Shalini says she has ‘woken up’ to the dysfunction in that dynamic. “She questions all my life choices, down to the things I buy. She finds a reason why it’s not a good idea. For example, if I tell her about a guy I met, her reaction is almost always ‘watch out for this and that about him’, even when she hasn’t met him. Or she will smile and say, ‘don’t sleep with him!’ when what she means is to add ‘…like you always do’. I know she means well, but sometimes when I share, I don’t even want feedback. I just want to talk. Nowadays I no longer share intimate details with her because she always makes me feel like a mess or a child.”

THE SELF-DESTRUCTIVE FRIEND

Your relationship is ONLY about her drama

“Maybe this speaks about both our dysfunction,” Mercy laughs. She has known Elizabeth for close to five years. “I am a listener and Elizabeth is a talker. Then I noticed every time she told me we need to hang out, I automatically went into ‘What’s wrong’? Our relationship had ended up being about her complaining about her problems and me trying to resolve them. I don’t have a problem listening to my friends’ problems. The problem with Elizabeth is that she wasn’t interested in talking about the solution. Hanging out meant ‘let’s moan about this problem over drinks’.”

With time, Mercy pulled away from the relationship because it got exhausting. “For starters it was always about her. If I happened to turn the conversation to me, she would find a way to turn it back around to herself. Secondly, it was hard for me to be around all that negative energy. Sometimes you just need to be around healthy people.”

THE ONE YOU HAVE TO CHASE

Your interaction occurs at her convenience

Having one partner being more emotionally invested than the other is a sticking point in many romantic relationships. Is this experience as frustrating in a platonic relationship? 40-year-old Nungari says it is. “In fact I think it is worse because you expect it from men. When men do it, it is your girls who are supposed to be there for support, right? If you have to move mountains to see them, then they, like the man, are just not that into you” she shrugs.

28-year-old Sherry agrees. “I have this friend. We used to hang out a lot, but only because I would make the plans. Then when I realised it, I stopped. We went for weeks without speaking. Then she called me and asked me why I have been so quiet. I told her the truth – I felt like I was making all the effort to keep the relationship going. She apologised saying she hadn’t realised how I felt. So we arranged to meet for a coffee that Sunday afternoon. Sunday morning, she calls me and says she had to do something with her family. Then we chatted on WhatsApp and she said, ‘We have to do our coffee soon!’ A week later I asked if she was available and she said she had to work. After that, every time we chat, she says the same thing: ‘We have to do our coffee soon!’ But every time I schedule it she hasn’t been available. If someone is interested in you, carving out an afternoon off their week shouldn’t be so hard. And if someone is really your friend, they don’t meet you when ‘they are available’ – they make the time.”

Sherry says that at this moment, she is not upset that her friend isn’t available to meet. “What pisses me off is the pretence, the inauthenticity in the phrase ‘Let’s do coffee soon’. That is a polite line you throw at acquaintances. Now when we chat, I keep it at surface level. I don’t have the energy to invest emotionally with someone who will not go there with me.”

It takes two to tango: Are you to blame too?

Psychologist and human behavioural sciences specialist Dr. Arti Agarwal explains that a toxic relationship is a relationship that is not favourable to either or both parties. “The interesting thing to note is that these two people often have something they feed off each other – they are often dependent. Even though it’s not obvious, the aggrieved party might be relying on the ‘perpetrator’ for approval, support, acceptance, validation, belonging or any other similar emotional need. It is the perpetrator’s failure or inability to meet these needs, and the aggrieved party’s demands for it, that causes the problem in the relationship.”

Examining the relationship

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Shalini, whose friend Edna is the archetype of the caregiver-fixer, was letting her friend have too much say over her life, meaning that she (Shalini) wasn’t getting the space she needs to make her own decision and mistakes and therefore to grow. “The classic example is parents who don’t allow their children to fly from the nest and chart their own path. Those children don’t grow. It’s false safety.”

By her own accord, Mercy’s relationship with Elizabeth led her to notice that she (Mercy) had the knack to be a literal emotional dumping ground for a number of her girlfriends. “I discovered I am an empath – we have this extreme sensitivity and ability to feel and carry other people’s emotions.” Because of their ability to immerse themselves in someone else’s experience, empaths are known to attract narcissists and vice versa. Psychology texts often term the empath-narcissist couple as one of the most toxic mixes in the spectrum of relationships.

But Dr. Agarwal underscores that not all toxic relationships are caused by two unhealthy people. Similarly, not all toxic people are aware of their toxicity. “It takes the awareness of one party to resolve the situation.”

“Even healthy relationships are not neat,” Dr. Agarwal says, “so it is important to distinguish between a simply problematic relationship and a toxic one. Problematic relationships are not necessarily caused by either party’s unhealthy dependence but by the lack of boundaries and communication.” In both cases however, not being able to say ‘this and that is making me uncomfortable’ mostly shows a fear of the other’s reaction – be it a fear of conflict, rejection or abandonment.

“I’ll give you an example; I had someone tell me they wanted to break up with their partner because he was insensitive. I asked her if she had told him this and she said no. She just wanted out. What she was doing however was avoiding an unpleasant conversation. It was a fear of confrontation. So I gave her a script of how she could approach him. Don’t say ‘you made feel this or that’, say ‘this is how I am feeling.’ Take responsibility for your feelings. If there’s some level of emotional maturity, the other party will listen and acknowledge your feelings. In my client’s case, she said that once she had told him how she was feeling, all he said was, ‘Oh, I didn’t know that’. He became conscious. They didn’t break up.”

A UCLA study on friendships among women suggests that when females are stressed, instead of responding in the usual flight or fight mode, their stress hormones actually encourage them to tend (to children for example) or to gather with other women. Tending and befriending in turn releases more oxytocin, which has a calming effect. “This was a classic ‘aha’ moment among the women scientists in the lab at UCLA,” says Dr. Laura Klein, a professor of biobehavioural health and one of the authors of the study. “We joked that when the women were stressed, they came in cleaned the lab, had coffee and bonded. When the men were stressed, they holed up somewhere on their own.”

A famous Nurses’ Health study by Harvard Medical School revealed that the more friends women had, the less likely they were to develop physical impairments as they aged, were more likely to lead joyful lives and were more likely to cope better after a spouse’s death. In fact, the results were so significant that they concluded that not having close girlfriends was as detrimental to health as smoking or being overweight! “Yet every time we get busy with work or family, the first thing we do is let go of friendships with other women,” writes Ruthellen Josselson, author of The Pleasures and Perils of Girls’ and Women’s friendships. “That’s a mistake because women are such a source of strength to each other.”

Saving what is worth saving

Good relationships are not about treading with care or avoiding expressing emotions that might upset a friend. They are about saying what you need to say, not what the other person wants to hear.

The other party is likely to respond with the same attitude you approach them with. Compose yourself. State why you are feeling resentful and what solution you desire. Avoid an accusatory tone as this automatically turns the other party into defense mode. One way to do this is to start your sentences with ‘I’ instead of ‘You’.

Before laying blame on the other, be conscious of the role you played in exacerbating the problem. It could be that your role is simply letting the ‘injustice’ continue.

4. Watch out for your motives

Watch out that you are not trying to fix, control, dominate, convince or change them.

5. Allow the other party to have their reaction

Allow them time to speak their truth. Try as much to listen without interruption unless you need to steer that conversation back to the matter at hand. Likewise, don’t be upset by their reaction; if for example, they choose to walk away, let them.

6. Don’t compromise just to ‘end it already’

This way the issue just goes unresolved and is sure to crop up in the future, if not with them, with another of your relationships.

If for example their reaction gets out of hand (e.g. way off topic or violent), detach from the situation. If the relationship is still worth holding on to, go back to restrategising. Your choices might be revisiting the conversation later, limiting your interaction with them or choosing to end the relationship altogether.



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Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard

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Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua. [File, Standard]
In a document from Head of Public Service, Joseph Kinyua new measure have been outlined to curb the bulging spread of covid-19. Public officers with underlying health conditions and those who are over 58 years -a group that experts have classified as most vulnerable to the virus will be required to execute their duties from home.

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However, the new rule excluded personnel in the security sector and other critical and essential services.
“All State and public officers with pre-existing medical conditions and/or aged 58 years and above serving in CSG5 (job group ‘S’) and below or their equivalents should forthwith work from home,” read the document,” read the document.
To ensure that those working from home deliver, the Public Service directs that there be clear assignments and targets tasked for the period designated and a clear reporting line to monitor and review work done.
SEE ALSO: Thinking inside the cardboard box for post-lockdown work stations
Others measures outlined in the document include the provision of personal protective equipment to staff, provision of sanitizers and access to washing facilities fitted with soap and water, temperature checks for all staff and clients entering public offices regular fumigation of office premises and vehicles and minimizing of visitors except by prior appointments.
Officers who contract the virus and come back to work after quarantine or isolation period will be required to follow specific directives such as obtaining clearance from the isolation facility certified by the designated persons indicating that the public officer is free and safe from Covid-19. The officer will also be required to stay away from duty station for a period of seven days after the date of medical certification.
“The period a public officer spends in quarantine or isolation due to Covid-19, shall be treated as sick leave and shall be subject to the Provisions of the Human Resource Policy and procedures Manual for the Public Service(May,2016),” read the document.
The service has also made discrimination and stigmatization an offence and has guaranteed those affected with the virus to receive adequate access to mental health and psychosocial supported offered by the government.
The new directives targeting the Public Services come at a time when Kenyans have increasingly shown lack of strict observance of the issued guidelines even as the number of positive Covid-19 cases skyrocket to 13,771 and leaving 238 dead as of today.
SEE ALSO: Working from home could be blessing in disguise for persons with disabilities
Principal Secretaries/ Accounting Officers will be personally responsible for effective enforcement and compliance of the current guidelines and any future directives issued to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.

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Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard

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President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured) will on Friday, July 24, meet governors following the ballooning Covid-19 infections in recent days.
The session will among other things review the efficacy of the containment measures in place and review the impact of the phased easing of the restrictions, State House said in a statement.
This story is being updated.
SEE ALSO: Sakaja resigns from Covid-19 Senate committee, in court tomorrow

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Drastic life changes affecting mental health

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Kenya has been ranked 6th among African countries with the highest cases of depression, this has triggered anxiety by the World Health Organization (WHO), with 1.9 million people suffering from a form of mental conditions such as depression, substance abuse.

KBC Radio_KICD Timetable

Globally, one in four people is affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, this is according to the WHO.

Currently, around 450 million people suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.

The pandemic has also been known to cause significant distress, mostly affecting the state of one’s mental well-being.

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With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic attributed to the novel Coronavirus disease, millions have been affected globally with over 14 million infections and half a million deaths as to date. This has brought about uncertainty coupled with difficult situations, including job loss and the risk of contracting the deadly virus.

In Kenya the first Coronavirus case was reported in Nairobi by the Ministry of Health on the 12th March 2020.  It was not until the government put in place precautionary measures including a curfew and lockdown (the latter having being lifted) due to an increase in the number of infections that people began feeling its effect both economically and socially.

A study by Dr. Habil Otanga,  a Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Department of Psychology says  that such measures can in turn lead to surge in mental related illnesses including depression, feelings of confusion, anger and fear, and even substance abuse. It also brings with it a sense of boredom, loneliness, anger, isolation and frustration. In the post-quarantine/isolation period, loss of employment due to the depressed economy and the stigma around the disease are also likely to lead to mental health problems.

The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) states that at least 300,000 Kenyans have lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus pandemic between the period of January and March this year.

KNBC noted that the number of employed Kenyans plunged to 17.8 million as of March from 18.1 million people as compared to last year in December. The Report states that the unemployment rate in Kenya stands at 13.7 per cent as of March this year while it stood 12.4 per cent in December 2019.

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Mama T (not her real name) is among millions of Kenyans who have been affected by containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus, either by losing their source of income or having to work under tough guidelines put in place by the MOH.

As young mother and an event organizer, she has found it hard to explain to her children why they cannot go to school or socialize freely with their peers as before.

“Sometimes it gets difficult as they do not understand what is happening due to their age, this at times becomes hard on me as they often think I am punishing them,”

Her contract was put on hold as no event or public gatherings can take place due to the pandemic. This has brought other challenges along with it, as she has to find means of fending for her family expenditures that including rent and food.

“I often wake up in the middle of the night with worries about my next move as the pandemic does not exhibit any signs of easing up,” she says. She adds that she has been forced to sort for manual jobs to keep her family afloat.

Ms. Mary Wahome, a Counseling Psychologist and Programs Director at ‘The Reason to Hope,’ in Karen, Nairobi says that such kind of drastic life changes have an adverse effect on one’s mental status including their family members and if not addressed early can lead to depression among other issues.

“We have had cases of people indulging in substance abuse to deal with the uncertainty and stress brought about by the pandemic, this in turn leads to dependence and also domestic abuse,”

Sam Njoroge , a waiter at a local hotel in Kiambu, has found himself indulging in substance abuse due to challenges he is facing after the hotel he was working in was closed down as it has not yet met the standards required by the MOH to open.

“My day starts at 6am where I go to a local pub, here I can get a drink for as little as Sh30, It makes me suppress the frustration I feel.” he says.

Sam is among the many who have found themselves in the same predicament and resulted to substance abuse finding ways to beat strict measures put in place by the government on the sale of alcohol so as to cope.

Mary says, situations like Sam’s are dangerous and if not addressed early can lead to serious complications, including addiction and dependency, violent behavior and also early death due to health complications.

She has, however, lauded the government for encouraging mental wellness and also launching the Psychological First Aid (PFA) guide in the wake of the virus putting emphasis on the three action principal of look, listen and link. “When we follow this it will be easy to identify an individual in distress and also offer assistance”.

Mary has urged anyone feeling the weight of the virus taking a toll on them not to hesitate but look for someone to talk to.

“You should not only seek help from a specialist but also talk to a friend, let them know what you are undergoing and how you feel, this will help ease their emotional stress and also find ways of dealing with the situation they are facing,” She added

Mary continued to stress on the need to perform frequent body exercises as a form of stress relief, reading and also taking advantage of this unfortunate COVID-19 period to engage in hobbies and talent development.

“Let people take this as an opportunity to kip fit, get in touch with one’s inner self and  also engage in   reading that would  help expand their knowledge.

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