Toxic Friends/True Friends: How Your Friends Can Make or Break Your Health, Happiness, Family, and Career

Toxic Friends/True Friends: How Your Friends Can Make or Break Your Health, Happiness, Family, and Career

by Florence Isaacs

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We expect friendships to be free of the static that frazzles many family relationships, and often we fail to see how deeply friendships shape our lives, work, and well-being. So much remains unspoken that when conflicts arise, they surprise, shock, even shatter us.

Florence Isaacs explores the complex interplay of affection, obligation, and competition in women's

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We expect friendships to be free of the static that frazzles many family relationships, and often we fail to see how deeply friendships shape our lives, work, and well-being. So much remains unspoken that when conflicts arise, they surprise, shock, even shatter us.

Florence Isaacs explores the complex interplay of affection, obligation, and competition in women's friendships and shows how these dynamics emerge between close, casual, or collegial friends confronting life's ups and downs — career demands, single life, marriage, divorce, retirement, and more. Isaacs explains:

  • Who's a real friend and who's a waste of time or worse.
  • How to make lasting personal and professional friends and avoid people who hurt you through jealousy, manipulation, or self-centeredness.
  • How to navigate tricky waters — friendships online, with in-laws, and with the opposite sex.
  • How the right friends can improve single life, marriage, and make you a better parent.
  • True friends are worth their weight in gold; toxic friends threaten your well-being.

This book reveals how to tell the difference.

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Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
Most women will have figured this out for themselves by age 30, but for those needing help, here are reasonable parameters for defining friendship, when it's a good thing, and when it goes bad. Isaacs (Just a Note to Say: The Perfect Words for Every Occasion and Business Notes) cites research findings to instruct us that friendship involves such elements as "mutual trust, respect, understanding, affection, compatibility, acceptance, and affirmation"; and she delineates three categories of relationships: best, good, and casual. Among the predictable sources of friction cited here are the tension between dependence and independence, unrealistic expectations, envy, rushing the friendship, and "poor friendship choices." The rest of this guide looks at particular circumstances: friendships on the job (those between peers have, not surprisingly, the best chance of success) and how friends affect marriage, parenting, singlehood, family life, health, and retirement. Isaacs has researched her subject, and her case stories are entertaining, but readers of women's magazines especially will find this mighty familiar ground. .

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Product dimensions:
6.38(w) x 9.55(h) x 0.88(d)

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Friends enrich virtually every aspect of our life. Research by psychologists and sociologists, clinical observations, and personal experiences confirm that friends advance your career and improve your job performance. Friends support your relationships with others (such as with your spouse and your child) and help you adjust to life changes like divorce and retirement. Friends are companions when you're single and family when you're far from kin. They lift your mood and your self-esteem, enhance your mental and physical health, and even influence how successfully you age. "People who get along best in life and deal with uncertainties and trials and tribulations have friends," says Man Booth, Ph.D., professor of sociology and human development at Penn State University.

Yet few of us realize the power of friends as healthy forces in our lives. We rarely understand why friendships work in such positive ways — or how problems arise and play out. Because we tend to idealize friendship, we expect it to sail effortlessly through our lives, bringing comfort and caring and fun. When bumps appear, as they do in any close relationship, we're confused and unprepared. We expect friendship to be free of the static that runs through many family relationships.

But friendship is not as simple as that. Tugging at its fabric are needs, emotions, and influences that emerge and interact in different settings and stages of your life. It's important to know your way around them.

Friendship is a journey that involves pleasure, satisfaction — and strain at times. The task is to manage it, avoiding traps along the way. Because friends really can make or break key portions of your life, thechallenge is to recognize good friendships, strengthen and protect the ones you've got, and reduce the risk of getting hurt.

Defining Friendship

So much about friendship remains unspoken. Ambiguities abound, which is one reason why misunderstandings occur and why you need to know what is really meant by the term "friendship." The answer may seem obvious; it is not. Our definitions may vary. It helps to have Paul Wright, Ph.D., a leading expert on friendship, explain, "Friendship is a relationship of voluntary interdependence where two people get together because they want to — and take a personalized interest in (and feel concern for) each other."

Friendship includes certain elements: mutual trust, intimacy, respect, understanding, affection, compatibility, acceptance, and affirmation. There are mutual obligations and responsibilities. These components vary in degree, depending on the level of friendship. Adult men and women typically have anywhere from three to more than seven friends but don't feel the same concern or trust for (or the same sense of obligation toward) all of them. They generally fall into three categories:

Best Friends

These are your intimate circle. They are people you feel very close to who unconditionally accept you, in whom you can confide, with whom you can share your secrets, and on whom you can rely. There is mutual empathy, history, and frequent contact. You see and/or talk to each other often. If either of you moved far away, both of you would make an effort to continue the relationship long-distance. There are also obligations to help each other.

Many people don't have one best friend; they have a circle of close friends. For me it's Harriet and Martha.

Good Friends

These are people to whom you tell intimacies only selectively. The degree of trust is a bit less than for best friends, either because they haven't yet earned it or because they don't show the appropriate judgment or understanding. But you like them, share activities and hobbies with them, enjoy spending time with them. They're people you socialize with, but (unless you work with them) you see and talk to them less frequently than your intimate circle. Most people with normal friendship patterns have at least one good or best friend, according to Jeffrey Young, Ph.D., a psychologist who has studied friendship.

These include transitional relationships in which the two of you have less in common than good or best friends. Casual friendships develop because of circumstances in your life and because you share a specific situation. You may be neighbors, colleagues, belong to the same professional organization, or have children in the the same school. But if conditions change — you move, change jobs or fields, for example — the friendship will end. Says a forty-eight-year-old travel agent and mother of a five-year-old, "I've developed friendships with women in the community I ordinarily never would have. They're significantly younger than me, but because we have children the same age and issues in common, they've become people I define as my friends. I don't necessarily feel intimate with them, but if there's a PTA meeting, I go with them, and if there are children's birthday parties, we invite each other."

Many casual friendships are based on shared activities, such as bowling, the health club, or volunteer work. Such relationships stimulate us and add variety to our lives. They involve obligations, too. You are expected to show up for the bridge game (or to call when you can't make it). But the obligations are generally limited to the shared situation or activity.

As one woman describes their importance. "I've had the same group of golf friends on and off for eighteen years. If not for golf I wouldn't see them. We don't go out socially. They rejoice for me that my youngest son is getting married, but they're not invited to the wedding. Yet they're vital to me. I have another friend who is available to go to the ballet anytime I want to go. Since my husband isn't interested in ballet, she's crucial to my life. Yes, I could go alone, but it's so much more pleasant to go with her."

Friends Change

It's a myth that friendship is forever. The reality is that very few friendships last a lifetime. "The inner circle is fairly stable. Not many best friends are added or deleted over time, certainly not once you're in middle age. A best friend who has moved away might become a good friend because you're in touch less often than in the past. Conversely, a good friend can grow into a best friend and move up. But the cast of casual friends constantly fluctuates. It's not that the friends have an argument; the friendships fade and they don't see each other," says Rebecca Adams, Ph.D., coauthor of Adult Friendship and sociology, University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

Your friends change when your life and your needs change. When you get divorced or return to school, for example, you tend to look for friends who share your experience. I've actively searched for and added new friends at certain transitions in my life, such as when I got married and when I had a baby. As my sons become teenagers, I moved into full-time freelance writing and longed for the companionship of others facing the same challenges. I looked for and added such friends.

Although we're all attracted to and mesh with different kinds of people and personalities, we tend to choose friends who are like us in gender, education, income levels, values, and attitudes. Friends are people who understand you. The more alike you are, the easier it is to maintain a friendship. Different views make the relationship spicier but you may also have to work harder to keep it going. Women's friendships generally involve more intimacy, nurturing, emotional expressiveness, and sharing of confidences than men's friendships, which tend to revolve around shared activities, such as sports.

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Meet the Author

Florence Isaacs is the author of Just a Note to Say: The Perfect Words for Every Occasion and Business Notes. Her articles have appeared in Good Housekeeping, McCall's, Reader's Digest and Parade. She lives in New York City.

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