Telling the difference between good friends and toxic friends is especially important for caregivers. Caregivers simply don't have the dual luxuries of boundless time and energy to invest in friendships that are not reciprocal. So, here's a quick guide to recognising good friends and toxic friends.
For caregivers, there are two common types of toxic friends; the troll and the narcissist. The troll is someone who calls and visits often. He or she will ask many questions about your loved one and may even visit in hospital to chat over coffee or lunch. They will appear warm and concerned, while inquiring into the minutiae of your loved one's symptoms and treatments. This type of toxic friend does not offer help of any kind. They simply want to know. The human drama of a caregiver's life provides vicarious interest and fodder for their dinner table chat, but that is all. This type of friend cannot make the intellectual leap between listening to your experience and offering to sit with your loved one or doing your grocery shopping.
The second type of toxic friend is the narcissist.
Narcissists rarely, if ever, ask how you or your loved is doing. They are bored by others' experiences, so constantly direct the conversation back to themselves. No matter how difficult a caregiver's situation may be, it will always be worse for a narcissist - and despite their healthy family status, they will want you to listen and sympathise.
Caregivers soon find out that longstanding friendships don't necessarily translate into good friendships when the going gets tough. Some lifelong friends do show their loyalty and generosity, while others suddenly become too busy to call or drop by. The messy and often sad events in caregivers' lives may be too difficult for some people to witness and absorb. The fact is, not everyone is cut out for helping others through the toughest times. The trick is to determine quickly who will be a good friend for the long haul and who may be limited in their ability to walk with you through your caregiving journey. Wise and experienced caregivers will advise forgiveness in the case of friends who disappear upon hearing your loved one's diagnosis. Holding on to bitter feelings will only make it more difficult to spot new friends who genuinely want to help.
The extraordinary friend is one who intuits your needs, listens without judgement, visits often and always brings food. The new friend is an acquaintance who, upon hearing that you are giving care, offers help that is truly helpful. The kindness of new friends is always a surprise - often the most helpful friends are those you would least expect. Whether a good friend is old or new, it is clear that your friends are those who truly want to help. Friends will want to give what they can. Some may not cook, but their keen wit can suddenly flip fear into hilarity - that is a gift to a caregiver.
Caregivers have the obligation of reciprocating friendship, too. Most often, this means saying thank you. The sincere expression of gratitude is not a sign of weakness or evidence that the caregiver is miserably incapable of handling a loved one's needs independently. The gracious acceptance of help and friendship in the full knowledge that love flows both ways, is the key here. Good friends say, "You look tired. Here, let me help you." That's just what good friends do.
My book, 'The Four Walls of My Freedom: Lessons I've Learned From a Life of Caregiving' (House of Anansi Press) is now available from all major booksellers in the USA and Canada