Social commentary and think pieces

15 April 2019

I will always be grateful for my toxic friendship; it led me to my closest friends

Few things stand as prominent and consuming in the mind of a young girl as friendship.  
In your primary school years those platonic relationships are far more likely measured in quantity rather than quality and with cliques being a regular occurrence, the dynamic of female friendship groups are often seen as the most important things in the minds of pre-pubescent girls. It certainly seemed soul consuming to me.

Being a shy child in a primary school class largely dominated by much louder, confident characters, friendship was something I very much struggled with. Being much quieter than the rest of my class automatically made me less heard, and the typical school dynamic didn’t appeal to me in the slightest. 
My best friend  - lets call her Sophie - was a particularly confident character, and one who was very much put on a pedestal by the rest of the girls in the class. She was heavily admired and ultimately that resulted in her becoming the ring leader of the friendship group.

Among the girls in this group there was a particular mentality that was shared between them all; they were all desperate to be Sophie’s favourite. Every one of them was as desperate as the next to win her approval and to a certain extent I think I was too. 
We’d go to extremes to be deemed her best friend and would often take to ripping each other to shreds just to be liked by her. And, as you would expect, that made it a particularly unhealthy group to be a part of. 

The question that I ask myself now, looking back, is why I was drawn to that group? The answer is simple; I had limited choice in friends. 
Primary school - and secondary school for that matter - have such strange dynamics in comparison to the outside world. At that time, it very much felt to me as though my only option would be to be considered an outcast or be friends with those deemed popular, and ultimately make life easier for myself. My intense insecurity meant that I chose to be a part of this abhorrent group simply because it was easier than being on my own. 

Thats not to say I didn’t try to make new friends. I did. 
When things within the group and with Sophie became extreme. When she was bullying others or when she was bullying me, I would take to forcing myself into other groups. 
I spent a long time in Primary School trying to convince four girls that girls bands with five members did exist so that they would let me hang out with them whilst they did ‘band rehearsals’ - this mostly consisted of singing Little Mix songs from printed out lyrics, behind the trees in the playground. 
Whilst I felt more valued in that friendship group, it transpired that we had very little in common and within a week I was making a crappy excuse for why I could no longer partake in ‘band rehearsals’ and rekindling my friendship with Sophie. 

By this point Sophie had lost a lot of friends. The group of girls who had once admired her so was slowly but surely reducing in size. 
This would have been the perfect time for me to call it quits on the friendship, but I didn’t. 
Because the difference between my relationship with Sophie and the other girls relationship with Sophie was that Sophie was my best friend. Not only was she my best friend but I was hers - probably because I was the only person who didn’t deem her more important than myself.
We went on family holidays together to Cornwall, we put on plays for our parents every time we were at each others houses (usually something Shakespearian - we were classy like that), we spent many a day in Brent Cross Shopping Centre buying clothes and art supplies. We even attempted to make our own DIY tutorials for youtube. 
We knew almost everything about each other, which was why I found the situation so difficult; I was torn.

She could be a really manipulative person, both to me and others who she considered ‘easy targets' and in being friends with her I gained myself a reputation based on her actions simply because people assumed I was the same. 

 I distinctly remember the upset and confusion I felt all those lunch times when for no particular reason her and the rest of the group would run away from me, and hide behind the trees. Being the confused, and slightly naive eight year old I was, I ran after them whilst they ran away in fits of laughter. Somehow, it never occurred to me that maybe Sophie wasn’t as good a friend as I had fooled myself into believing she was.

Despite all of this, I was one of the only people to really know Sophie. I mean, really know her.
I was the only person who had seen her cry, with exception of her immediate family. And, in knowing her so well it was clear to me that the manipulative side of her was very much a front. It was a mask she put on when she felt vulnerable, to hide her insecurities. The more she relied on that mask as her safety blanket, the less she was able to cope with her insecurities without it and the more manipulative she became. It all came out of her own sadness.

To this day, I don’t know what caused her to feel that immense amount of self-hatred. Perhaps, the fact that she was so heavily idolised by so many girls? That’s bound to come with pressure. Or, as many people have since said; she just isn't happy in her own skin.

Underneath all of this, she was a really nice person. Underneath that mask was the person who was really my best friend. 
Thats why I didn't initially identify the friendship as toxic. Because I was so torn between the real her and the front she put on.

However, once we started secondary school the situation worsened. Or, more likely, the pressure of starting a new school made Sophie’s insecurities worsen and so she was even more dependent on the manipulative front as her safety blanket, making her nastier. 
In this period, the manipulation towards me and others deemed an ‘easy target’ escalated from petty comments to fully fledged bullying.
I was particularly vulnerable to this because in the past I had been a loyal friend to her in spite of the way she treated me, because like I said, I knew the real her and I was aware that the way she had treated me was just a part of that front. 
Because of the way I had reacted to her in the past, she had the idea she could treat me any way she wanted and I would willingly stick around. 

But, by this point I was better at calling her out. I no longer hesitated to stand up for myself - something I had never done before despite knowing that what she was doing was beyond unacceptable. 

An occasion that sticks in mind was a time in the canteen when she and the rest of the group started to shout continuously at a girl in the year above simply because she was wearing a blue headband that Sophie didn’t like. In fact, it wasn't even that Sophie didn’t like the headband (she had bought it herself about two years prior to this on one of our many trips to Brent Cross) it was because the girl in the year above was someone who would be considered an outcast and that made her an easy target to Sophie, who needed to put others down in order to feel good about herself.
So, I said something. Partly because it was so obviously a horrible thing for them to do and partly because I was mortified to be seen with them whilst they were behaving in this way (though evidently not as mortified as the poor girl they were shouting at). 
I told them to stop what they were doing (it didn’t work ) and I then approached the girl they were shouting at to apologise for what had happened. 

When I returned to the table, the conversation had taken a turn and instead they were talking about how terrible a person I was, rather than how terrible the other girl was. 
In the end, one of the nicer girls - who I suspect much like me, didn't enjoy being a part of the group but also didn't know where else to go - asked me if I wanted to go outside, leaving the rest of them behind. I did. 

We walked around the playground, talking about what had just happened. We ended up confiding a lot in each other. I told her how I really felt about the group and she ended up admitting that she too wasn’t the biggest fan of Sophie.

Our heart-to-heart was interrupted by the bell, signalling our last lesson of the day, where outside the classroom they continued to shout at me. It all became a bit much and, feeling the tears building up in my eyes, I turned a walked to the toilets where I burst into tears. This lasted a mere thirty seconds before I told myself to get it together, turned and left, returning to Geography.

When I emerged from the toilets, puffy eyed and mascara streaming down my cheeks, Sophie approached and followed behind me down the corridor, asking me if I was okay after what everyone had just done, but never once acknowledging the fact that she was very much involved.
I turned to her and told her what I thought. I told her that she was the ringleader and that she was the one who had started it, so not to shift the blame onto everyone else. 

That was when the friendship significantly changed. From then on we grew further and further apart and that year, for the first time in seven years, I didn’t invite her to my birthday.
Instead, I invited two better friends to Brighton for the day. I didn’t tell Sophie I was going. Instead, took her out to dinner the Wednesday of my actual birthday, so that she felt we’d celebrated in some way at least. But, I wanted to go to Brighton without her so I could be certain that I would enjoy myself.
However, walking across Brighton pier, my phone pinged.I looked to find a passive aggressive text from her, saying she hoped I had a good time in Brighton. And just like that I was sent into a frenzy of panic, wondering wether or not she would be angry that I hadn’t invited her. In fact, I think at some point I apologised for doing it without her. 

The friendship continued for another year or so - despite the fact that I spent almost every evening crying over how much I hated the group dynamic -  until another occasion similar to that of the one with the girl in the year above took pace and I could no longer stand being around her.
But, I even failed to leave the friendship on my own. I had to make it their decision somehow, despite it being clear to everyone that I wasn’t happy in the group.
It was the sort of situation where you do the unexpected. When you feel something so strongly that without thought, you just say what you’ve so long wanted to say. And so I did. I told them that if they didn't want me to be their friend then I would much rather them just say so, rather than being so nasty to me. “Fine, fuck off then” one of them said. And so I did. Gladly.

With exception of a small group of friends I had at the beginning of Primary school (a group that very much proved that three really is a crowd) I’d never been good friends with anyone else but Sophie. 
Sophie and I had been best friends for the best part of ten years almost exclusively, so biting the bullet and finally ending that friendship that had so quickly turned toxic was incredibly daunting. 

Having not been friends with anyone else and being so desperate not to appear a ‘loner’, I had to actively seek out new friends. 
The minute I walked away from Sophie in the school corridor, I approached Zara, a girl I knew from Primary school, although admittedly not very well. Certainly not well enough that my approach wasn't a surprise.

The conversation that followed was excruciating on my side. I believe my exact words were “I know  this is forward, but i’m sick of Sophie and I was wondering if we could be friends?” She took it surprisingly well and simply said “Sure, you can meet Annie.”

On meeting Annie - who is now my closest friend - I tried to win her over by sharing my Pizza rolls, which I’d just made in the home economics class. They were disgusting, and I now know that in a bid not to offend me, Annie was secretly throwing them in the bin, which isn’t surprising really - they were verging on inedible.

Having been in a toxic friendship for so long and having been constantly manipulated for years on end, its not surprising that I didn’t have a clue what it was like to have someone reciprocate the feelings of a good friend. 
So, when after knowing Annie for approximately twenty-four hours she invited me to her birthday, I was over the moon with excitement, albeit very surprised. We still laugh about how shocked I was when she handed me the invite and how I kept asking if she was sure and saying “Oh my god, thank you so much!” after she had told me for the umpteenth time that she really did want me to come. 
I was equally as surprised when my now good friend, Celeste, made plans with me after only having met me two minutes before hand. Though, this time I’d managed to play it cool. 

If I’d never taken the plunge and left that toxic friendship, I wouldn’t have met the girls who are now my closest friends. They are the ones I confide in with everything, the ones I get on best with and the ones I’ve made my fondest of memories alongside. 
And, as it turns out, when we all met, we were all feeling out of place within our friendship groups in some way. The timing couldn’t have been better. Our failure to fit in with our old friends is what bought us together in the first place and why Annie has taken to calling us ‘The Misfits’.
So, when a couple of months after leaving the toxic friendship, Sophie approached me and asked if  we could be friends again, I wasn’t lying when I told her I was happier with my new group.

Leaving the friendship in which I was bullied and manipulated was one of the hardest, yet best decisions I’ve ever made. 
Not only has leaving resulted in me meeting and making some of my best friends, its taught me a number of valuable lessons. Its helped me gain perspective and I truly believe that having that experience when I did has made me far more grown. 
Now, I’m especially careful with what I say and do to the people close to me. I think that comes out of my fear of ever being perceived in any way resembling the way Sophie was perceived. But ultimately, thats made me a better friend. 

In hindsight, I can see the extent of how unhappy I was at that time. Unbeknown to me my unhappiness in that friendship was taking its toll on all the other aspects of my life. But, I will always be grateful for my toxic friendship; it led me to my closest friends.


  1. I could definitely relate to this post! And I'm sure lots of other girls who have been in similiar situations will be able to as well. I definitely had a 'Sophie' growing up. She was very manipluative, attention seeking and controlling. She used to get so annoyed at me when I formed other friendships with people and would turn the whole friendship group against you if you ever did any small thing that upset her. It was such a toxic friendship and one I was so glad to get out of after I had left high school after over 10 years of having to deal with it! It never made me feel good enough and those feelings I still carry around today xx

    Lauren |

  2. wow wow wow this article is so well written and I know how this makes you feel

  3. I lllove how honestly you told this story. And you have no idea how many out here can relate to this :) I could've written every word (although in my case the group of "friends" weren't quite so mean and nasty). I hope people who are now in Primary school struggling with these issues read this! Because this is such a common issue among girls in Primary school everywhere. It's weird and awful, but it definitely teaches you a lot. x

    Teresa Maria | Outlandish Blog

  4. It saddens me to see the behaviours and relationships we accept when we are young. Looking back I can also see how I used to let people in who were not worth my time, and I wish I could go back and make little Isa realise that she's worth more than that. I am glad you are able to see the bright side now, and that you got something positive out of a negative experience.


  5. I can definitely relate to this post. When we're younger we don't realize how negative certain relationships are. I'm glad you got something positive out of it though!!

  6. Such a great post and I could totally relate too! SO glad it led to true friends at the end!
    xoxo, Vanessa

  7. Interesting write-up. Friendship is about showing a friend the greatness in him. And let him know that he can affect the world for the better...

  8. Sooo beautifully written. So many lessons to learn from this. Thanks for sharing dear!

    Jessica |


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