Friend Or Foe: The Difference Between Caring & Controlling Friendships

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Throughout our lives, we acquire friendships of varying degrees. From childhood chums whose common bond is a favorite candy to college roommates who expose the depths of their souls as they cry over the shared experience of a heartbreak, the magnitude with which we connect with others ideally continues to increase over our lifetimes.

However, throughout that evolution, our best intentions with regard to those cherished friendships can become our friends’ worst nightmares. What we wish to be an expression of love and concern or sound advice comes across as controlling behavior. And, unfortunately, we typically won’t know how we are received until we find ourselves losing one friend after another.

Of course, that isn’t to say that offering care and solicited advice is unwarranted within a friendship. Conversely, it’s expected and quite needed, as is careful confrontation. The difference, however, is typically in the delivery.

Intentions Vs. Delivery

Generally speaking, our intentions are to protect our friends from pain and suffering. We want to help them heal and love themselves as much as we love them. In other words, our intentions are good, and our hearts are in the right place.

However, just as the difference in an ordinary meal and a gourmet one is typically in the presentation, the line between codependent styles of nurturing or caring and truly supporting and uplifting is in the delivery. And, for the record, the distinction between delivering a message of control versus concern is determined by whether the path we walk is based in fear or love. Ultimately, the latter is what decides if we will be received as a friend or foe.

The Foe

A foe presents as a toxic element, regardless of intent. As such, even a well-intentioned friend can easily find themselves in this category simply by forgetting that everyone goes through pain and that we cannot protect others from the experiences that are designed to help them grow, nor do we know the path God has in mind for them. In other words, laced with controlling, dismissive, shaming, belittling and overbearing behavior, the delivery of good intentions – to protect a friend – is a tainted one.

For example, if your desire is to protect a friend from a relationship that is obviously painful and destructive, but the ways in which you address the matter are equally as painful and destructive, you only add to the disempowering experience. Additionally, you quickly add yourself to the list of people who cannot be trusted. Your judgement of the situation and your friend for being in it categorizes you as a foe, rather than a friend.

The Friend

Friends, on the other hand, present as nurturing elements in someone’s life. They are supportive, encouraging, trusting and trustworthy. Moreover, they are accepting of the differences individuals from differing families, backgrounds and perspectives present. As such, they are capable of expressing any concern in a careful, rather than controlling, way.

This gentle expression is known as careful confrontation. The emphasis, of course, is on the word “careful,” or full of care.

Since the opposite of love is fear (which breeds hate), voicing concerns that are rooted in a need to control or prevent certain circumstances from presenting – like a move, a marriage or another form of perceived personal loss – will certainly be received negatively. Even valid concerns not born of selfishness, like a friend entering or remaining in an abusive relationship, need to be addressed from a place of love and a knowing that each of us has a different path to peace.

Any act or expression that is derived from a place of love can be received in a loving way. Therefore, even confrontation – something that is typically quite difficult for people to employ – can be graciously accepted and considered supportive, as long as the underlying cause for concern is not based in fear.

A Fine Line

With all of this said, it is important to remember that though fear-based, controlling communication certainly qualifies as codependent and toxic, friendship is a relationship just like any other. As such, a healthy one requires open, direct and honest communication, careful confrontation, assertiveness, boundaries and accountability. In other words, friends are not to be confused with enablers. Their purpose is to assist with and encourage growth, not stagnation or continued self-sabotage.

Though the lines drawn between caring and controlling can be quite fine, the road to Hell is paved with good intentions and, as such, close friendship are tricky to navigate for even the wisest of souls. To keep your friendship on track, try to apply the formula we Christians know by heart: faith, hope and love. Within it, fear (and the foe it creates) does not and cannot exist.

You may also be interested in When Is It Time To Move On From An Unhealthy Friendship?

Toshia Humphries is a freelance writer, talk show radio host, life coach and artist in Lubbock, Texas. She possesses three degrees in counseling and psychology with a focus on addictions and has written feature articles on addiction, recovery and mental health for several publications, including Stages of Recovery, Solo Parent Magazine and Recovery Brands. She is the author of the book - Today Is the Day to Sparkle: Daily Affirmations for Those Who Need to Find Their Shine - and co-author of a curriculum for life skills programs for teens. She has been a guest speaker on Transformation Talk Radio, discussing personal growth, addiction, mental health and wellness and currently hosts Girl Power Hour – a talk radio show geared toward personal empowerment, spirituality, healing and growth.