The scientific reason why it's so difficult to cut off toxic relationships

25 January 2018

Everyone has encountered a toxic friendship at some point in their life, but apparently there’s a scientific reason why it can sometimes be so hard to extract yourself from a bad situation.

In a study published in the American Sociological Review, researchers came to the conclusion that the way adult human relationships are structured makes it difficult to just cut people off on a whim.

A collaboration between the University of California Berkeley and Bar-llan University took into account data from 1150 adults in the San Fran area who detailed their relationships with over 11,000 other people. 

In the study, participants were encouraged to label the relationships they found “demanding or difficult” – with family members, bosses, and colleagues being the trio of networks that people found hardest to ditch.

Why? Because the way society is stacked means that those relationships are tough (and at times near impossible) to release yourself from without added financial or personal complications.  

The research concluded that tensions “are more likely to be present in contexts where individuals have limited ability to exercise choice in selecting their associates or they are pressured to socially engage with them."

By comparison only 2-4% of people reported having friendship groups that were largely demanding or difficult, probably because it’s a much easier process to ditch an annoying pal than an actual family member.

The study also discovered that romantic relationships don’t tend to reach the same toxic stage, because one or both parties could easily “dissolve” the partnership if the situation became too strained.

All in all, the connections that are based on more than just a no-strings-attached friendship are the ones that are most challenging to leave behind.



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