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At Odds: When Friends are Frenemies



Friendships fall into various categories. Each with its own level of significance and impact on your overall level of social and emotional satisfaction. There are close friends and casual acquaintances. But there is another type of friend that you’ve probably encountered, the frenemy. First appearing in print in 1953, this term has become commonplace terminology in popular culture. The word frenemy is a combination of friend and enemy that points to relationships that are affable yet antagonistic. From the pervasiveness of this concept, it seems nearly everyone has had an encounter with one of these chums.
The relationships in your life are probably highly varied, ranging from those people you consider part of your inner circle to old friends who feel almost like family. There are also more casual friends and acquaintances in the periphery. Finally, you have a number of people you know socially, such as activity partners and colleagues. All of these associations bring some kind of value to your life. The frenemy may appear to add value, but in truth, the relationship is often hurtful and even damaging to self esteem. 
Identifying a frenemy
How do you know if you have a frenemy? You have likely had a subtle sense that things are not quite right with this person, no matter how much you like them and enjoy their company, there is a lingering sense that you can’t really trust them. Maybe you have heard that they spread gossip about you behind your back, or when you accomplish something, rather than being happy for you, they express envy. Perhaps it’s the backhanded compliments that come in place of genuine ones. Things like: “that haircut makes your face look so much less chubby!” or “wow, you actually look pretty with make-up on.” A compliment that smarts after it’s been given isn’t really a compliment at all and such statements can be indicative of a hostile friendship. It may be hard to identify your frenemy because there are times when they appear to be on your side, but then, you find that they’ve spoken poorly of you or flirted with your boyfriend. Frenemies are difficult for just this reason. There are qualities you like and enjoy, and others that make you feel awful. 
Another clue that your friend is a frenemy is a competitive attitude toward you or your accomplishments. If your friend is always comparing herself to you and competing with you, she’s could be a frenemy. Real friends tend to celebrate your accomplishments rather than behaving in a competitive manner. Frenemies are not genuinely happy for you and they let you know it. Continued encounters with frenemies can erode your confidence and self esteem. The feeling of competition can make you feel anxious and can even make hanging out with them stressful for you. Frenemies come in many shapes and sizes, chances are, if a friend frequently makes you feel bad using the subtle techniques mentioned above to undermine you, you’ve got a frenemy.
Strategies for dealing with a frenemy
Once you have identified that your friend isn’t really a friend, you will probably want to take some action. First, you may want to run your suspicions by someone you trust. This will help you put the situation into perspective.  Next, you’ll probably want to talk to your frenemy and tell them what you’ve observed. Let them know how gossip, competitiveness, and backhanded compliments make you feel. Your frenemy is probably not aware that these things have hurt you, so be calm and prepared for their surprise and even denial. After you talk, it will be easier to gauge whether the relationship is worth saving. If your frenemy seems genuinely surprised and willing to engage in a dialog about how certain behaviours have made you feel, you may want to continue to be friends. If she reacts with anger and hostility, chances are, she is not ready to acknowledge the unhealthy behaviour and you may need to make a break. Every situation is different. One thing you can count on is that you’ll feel better after sticking up for yourself and your feelings. 
Please feel free to reach out to me if you’d like help dealing with any of the relationships in your life.  I am available to new clients who are ready to overcome their challenges on a quest to transform their lives!  My website it full of blog entries and useful content to help you along your way, and I hope you find this free content useful on your journey. Feel free to reach out to me directly if have any questions or if you are interested in scheduling a private session.
Dr. Eileen Wynne
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