“Envy creates silent enemies,” Robert Greene wrote in The 48 Laws of Power.
After losing her two sons to high fever, Mary Shelley, the author of the Novel Frankenstein, decided to move to Pisa, Italy with her husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley, to get away for a while.
Just a few months after being in Italy, another couple joined them.
At first, the new couple, Jane and Edward Williams were warm, accommodating, and harmless.
But as time went on, the difference between Mary Shelley — a celebrated writer who had a loving husband — and Jane became apparent. This led to a toxic friendship that will make Mary’s life a living hell.
When with Mary, Jane was friendly, but with Mary’s husband, she would deliberately give off comments about his wife, presenting it as her sincere opinion. She became everything Mary wasn’t: Simple and never asking questions.
Slowly but steadily, Mary and her husband grew apart leading to events that would cause Mary more turmoil. As Mary would later regretfully write in her diary,
“Life is not ill till we wish to forget. Jane first inspired me with that miserable feeling, staining past years as she did—taking sweetness from memory and giving it instead a serpent’s tooth.”
But a wrong relationship takes back tenfold the blessings that a good one brings. So how can we spot the bad ones? Here are six things to look out for.
1. Pleasure In Your Misfortune
A toxic friend will not tell you how they really feel about you.
Often, the only way you can tell is how they react to certain things that concern you, especially in moments of great success or extreme misfortune.
These moments lead to leaks. It’s when they let their guard down, and if you pay attention, the signs cannot be mistaken.
In his book, The Laws of Human Nature, Robert Greene recommended an exercise to tell a toxic friend from a genuine one. Since a toxic friend uncontrollably finds pleasure in your pains, he said,
“…tell them some misfortune of yours and notice the uncontrollable microexpression of joy in your pain, what is commonly known as schadenfreude. Their eyes light up for a fleeting second. People who are envious cannot help feeling some glee when they hear of the bad luck of those they envy.”
Often, a bad friendship usually emanates from those who are self-centered.
Toxic friends assume that people don’t deserve the good that they get. When you hit great fortune, they are more likely to write it off as luck. When things go wrong on the other hand, “It’s well deserved,” they think.
The necessity of circumstances,” Epictetus said, “proves friends and detects enemies.”
A friend who truly cares will naturally derive great pleasure in giving to the relationship. When we love something, we want to make it better.
This is partly why people give to charity or build their parents a large house after they’ve made it. It is the giving that satisfies them. Why? Because when you truly care, giving satisfies you more than taking.
This was why after observing how people attached themselves to successful people in politics, Seneca said,
“One who seeks friendship for favorable occasions strips it of all its nobility.”
A harmful friendship thrives because of the benefits one party is getting. And often, if for any reason, these benefits stop coming, the relationship might just go downhill.