Breaking Free from Sour Relationships

Jun 8 , 2024
By Eden Sahle

We all seek friends who inspire us. But what happens when admiration takes a toxic turn?

This was my experience with two individuals who initially offered guidance and support. But, beneath the surface, lurked a constant negativity, particularly towards the achievements of others.

They cast doubt on everyone's success, from local acquaintances to prominent figures. Whenever I admired someone, they'd weave tales to diminish their accomplishments. These stories, demonstrably untrue, revealed a deeper issue – a need to tear down others to feel superior.

Although I tried confronting them on multiple occasions, their negativity persisted. In the end, I had to end both friendships because it made me exhausted and distrustful. Ironically, after introducing them, I received a final email – a tirade of negativity directed at each other. It was a fitting end, showing their true nature.

The desire to feel valued is a fundamental human need, a seed sown in our childhood as we seek recognition and validation from authority figures like teachers. Psychologists explain that when this positive reinforcement fades in adulthood, some individuals retain a longing to recapture that feeling of significance. Unfortunately, this can manifest in negative ways, influencing their behaviour and aspirations towards others. The potential pitfalls of these behaviours compel them to do whatever it takes to feel validated and appreciated, at the expense of others' achievements.

Insecurity plays a role in this dynamics. Witnessing someone else's success can trigger feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt, a gnawing sense of "Why not me?" This vulnerability fuels a need to diminish the achievements of others, creating a distorted reality where another's triumph somehow diminishes their own. Envy can also arise when individuals compare themselves to those who have achieved something. They may feel a sense of unfairness or frustration about their circumstances, even if they lack a valid reason.

Fear of being left out contributes to negative and unsettling emotions. They may assume that their negative opinions about others can elevate their own perceived importance, making them feel superior.

Past negative experiences with successful individuals can also contribute to this negativity. Perhaps they encountered someone who achieved success through questionable means, leading them to develop a cynical view of achievement in general. Cultural tendencies to criticise those who excel fuel resentment towards others' achievements. In some cultures, there may be societal pressure to maintain a sense of egalitarianism, leading to disapproval of those who rise above the perceived norm.

Not everyone harbours these sentiments. However, these factors can contribute to disliking or discounting the success of others. It leads them to engage in negative talk, spread rumours, and position themselves as authorities through criticism and lies. They continue this behaviour even if it costs them relationships, making them untrustworthy.

In my own experience, I witnessed firsthand how this unrelenting need for validation can manifest. Their initial praise and mentorship slowly morphed into a constant barrage of negativity, particularly directed towards the achievements of others. Looking back, I can see how their insecurities and perhaps past negative experiences fueled their cynicism. Their behaviour ultimately led to the demise of our friendships, a reminder of the destructive power of negativity.

PUBLISHED ON Jun 08,2024 [ VOL 25 , NO 1258]

Eden Sahle is founder and CEO of Yada Technology Plc. She has studied law with a focus on international economic law. She can be reached at

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