Breaking free from the inner circle


By Lindsay Steele

I’d never really been part of a clique or social group. I had friends, yes, but I’d never really been part of an “inner circle,” so to speak.

A few months ago, via Instagram, I became friends with a group of women who, like me, write fiction for fun in their spare time. We are all in our 30s and have children. We come from all over the country and bonded over mutual respect for each others’ work. I don’t have a lot of people in my life who share this passion, so I relished these relationships. I felt like these women understood me. I felt supported. They promoted me and I promoted them. Although we’d never all been in the same room together, I felt an intimate connection. They gave me an extra reason to wake up in the morning. We called ourselves “The Inner Circle.”

Unfortunately, things turned sour. Our circle became a competition about who could be a better friend, who could be more supportive. If someone’s compliment wasn’t returned in a timely manner, hard feelings developed, usually the passive-aggressive type. Jealousy reared its ugly head often. Misunderstandings happened, but I rarely got the benefit of the doubt. I decided to try harder to make the other members happy. But I felt overwhelmed, many times blaming myself. At first, I tried to be a peacemaker. Then I stopped being myself and tried to mirror their actions and behaviors even though it felt robotic and fake to do so.


It became a toxic situation. However, I was scared to lose these friends. I was afraid of what they’d do if I stood up to them or left the group. I thought I needed them to be happy.

With a friend’s encouragement, I decided to leave the group. She’d been in a similar situation, so she understood what I was going through. “I felt myself doing the same thing: losing myself and adopting their behaviors and agreeing with whatever they said. Sometimes I didn’t even know what I was agreeing with,” she told me.

In the week that has passed since I left the group, I have learned a lot about myself and why, perhaps, it is so easy for people to become overwhelmed and consumed with toxic or emotionally draining friend circles. We attach our sense of self-worth to what other people think of us. We all want to be loved, so we cling to approval for dear life, even when it is bad for us.

In reality, our self-worth isn’t determined by other people and their approval. It’s much healthier to remember that our validation comes from God. That’s where our purest sense of self-worth lies.

When we recognize that truth, we can love others more selflessly because we aren’t thinking about what we can get and what we need from them. We can also have the healthy perspective needed to walk away from relationships that become toxic while continuing to pray for them.
Honestly, I think that seeking others’ approval will always be a struggle for me, but I’m trying to listen to God’s voice. For the first time in a long time, I feel free.

(Editor’s note: Lindsay Steele is a reporter for The Catholic Messenger. Contact her at or by phone at (563) 888-4248.)

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