Toxic friends at university

For many, university can be a lonely experience. A study in the Independent from 2019 revealed that one out of six university students felt they did not have any “true friends” that they felt connected to. In addition to this, almost a third of students reported feeling lonely on a weekly basis. Feelings of isolation are extremely common – and completely understandable for those who may have never been so far away from home before. Many will never have spent so much time away from their families and will have never had the experience of living with flatmates. If you did not like somebody in college, you could leave class for the day knowing that you will not have to see them at home.

Your flatmates are the people you will be seeing every day for at least a year and are usually your first considerations when you’re thinking about student housing shares. This is a good time to brush up on things like communication skills and to remember that patience is a virtue with adjusting to a whole new relationship dynamic. It is important to do things like give others the benefit of the doubt and to show a genuine interest in getting to know them if you would like that interest, and kindness, returned to you.

There is, however, a difference between reasonable compromises and a feeling that no matter what or how much you give to a relationship, it is not reciprocated. It is very easy for feelings of loneliness to push us into the arms of friends who are not even that fun to be around. Nobody wants to be alone, after all, and bad friends can be seen as better than no friends. That fear of isolation can make it easy to let people off the hook who may be taking advantage of you or treating you badly.

Maybe your friend is always fixated on their own problems, while yours go largely unseen and they are nowhere to be found when you need them. They may also have a lack of respect for your boundaries – they push at your boundaries in small increments until you realise that they have stepped so far over the line, that neither of you can see it anymore. They may be constantly demanding your attention regardless of whether you feel able to give it, or they may constantly feel entitled to your belongings. Whenever you try to maintain these boundaries, you are ignored and this can leave you feeling exhausted, emotionally, and physically. Maybe they are also just always at the centre of big dramatic situations. Everyone against them is the bad guy, while they’re always the helpless victim who “hates drama”. They always seem to be under attack, and you also seem to be the only person they have. Even if you do not particularly like them as a person anymore, you are finding it difficult to convince yourself to tell them this.

It is normal for at least one of these patterns to occur in a friendship. People are not perfect, and they can mess up. It becomes a subject of concern when they are hitting all these red flags and more, and you feel that your relationship with this person is hurting you more than helping you. It is important that no matter how guilty you may feel for asserting your boundaries, you are allowed to have them and if a friend is not respecting them then they really are not worth keeping around. There will always be other people you get along with who really do care about your feelings and respect the boundaries you set. University is a time of becoming a mature, more independent person, and you should take care not to allow people who make you feel bad about yourself ruin this brand-new experience for you.

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