What Does the Term Frenemy Really Mean?

Do you feel like someone might not have your best interests at heart?

A new study published in the Southern Communication Journal offers a succinct definition of a term that has become commonplace in pop culture over the past decade: What it means to be a ‘frenemy.’
“Despite the prevalence of frenemies in popular culture and the significant effect these relationships can have on our lives, frenemy scholarship is limited and contradictory,” says Dr. Jenna Abetz, the lead author of the study. “Developing an in-vivo definition of the frenemy relationship portrays the realities of these relationships as they are lived.”
To land on such a definition, Abetz and her team interviewed 29 adults between the ages of 19 and 62 to get a better sense of how individuals who have had a frenemy define and understand the term.
They found that many of the interviewees shared similar feelings about frenemy relationships, leading the researchers to land on the following definition: “Relationships, often negative, steeped in situational ties and shared social connections that outwardly appear friendly but are fraught with underlying competition, jealousy, or distrust.”
Unlike genuine friendships, the researchers found that frenemy relationships displayed three prominent characteristics:

1.Competitiveness (viewing the other more as a rival to outdo than a friend to support)
2.Jealousy (either in terms of social connections or material possessions)
3.Distrust (a lack of respect and care in the friendship)
The dynamic was described by some interviewees as ‘hot and cold,’ with the frenemy repeatedly giving mixed signals as they shifted between friend-like and foe-like mentalities.
While many of these relationships were found embedded in unavoidable social circles and networks like family, school, and work, some participants stated that frenemy relationships evolved from seemingly true friendships that became pressured due to external circumstances.
Interestingly, having a frenemy was more of a ‘felt’ experience than a verbally defined label. In other words, frenemy relationships have an element of ‘unspokenness’ in them.
This is not to say that frenemy relationships don’t come with their own silver linings. Some interviewees shared positive outcomes amidst the dark cloud of a frenemy relationship.
“For some, the outcome of having a frenemy was better awareness of what they wanted and deserved in a true friendship,” explains Abetz. “Others reflected on those teachable life lessons — and that having a frenemy highlighted future relational red flags for them."
Here are two thoughts shared by interviewees that highlight the positive side of their experience with frenemies:

* “I’m more cautious, I see how they treat others before I get close to them.”
* “You learn how people are and what signs to look out for in a friend. It helps you reconsider all the earlier signs.”
Experience with frenemies or frenemy-like relationships underscores the importance of learning what a good friendship looks and feels like by having experience with a wide range of social relationships. This is especially important for children and adolescents to understand as they learn how to navigate the social world. They need to know that while no friendship is perfect, frenemy dynamics are not genuine friendships and they should not feel compelled to maintain them if there is a clear undercurrent of distrust.
“It is important for parents and educators to be able to assist adolescents in identifying unhealthy relational patterns and how they manifest in friendships,” says Abetz. “While learning how to make and be a friend is one of the central developmental tasks of elementary school, as children age they still need guidance and support navigating challenging friendship dynamics.”
Abetz hopes that her research not only helps people define a somewhat indescribable relationship feeling but that it can be used to teach young adults how to seek out more positive relationships in their own lives.

psychology today


The Surprising Role of Empathy in Traumatic Bonding

Research examines the relationship between traumatic abuse and bonding.

A recent study by Effiong et al. suggests empathy intensifies traumatic bonding—the formation of a strong bond between the victim and his/her abuser. Published in Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, the study is discussed below.
But first, a few definitions.
What is empathy?
Empathy is defined in a number of ways. Depending on the definition chosen, its meaning may overlap with similar concepts, such as empathic concern, emotional empathy, cognitive empathy, sympathy, care, and compassion.
According to a commonly used definition, empathy is composed of affective and cognitive empathy:
Affective/emotional empathy refers to the ability to generate an appropriate emotional response to another person’s emotions. Affective empathy overlaps with sympathy and compassion.
Cognitive/intellectual empathy refers to the ability to understand another person’s psychological state and point of view (to put oneself in another’s shoes). Cognitive empathy is related to theory of mind.
In the study by Effiong and colleagues, empathy was assessed using the Basic Empathy Scale, which measures both affective and cognitive empathy.
What is traumatic bonding?
Traumatic bonding refers to the formation of a powerful emotional attachment, due to repeated cycles of violence, between the victim and the abuser (whether a boyfriend/girlfriend, spouse, or complete stranger).
The fact that the abuse often comes in cycles—meaning that the violence is interspersed with positive reinforcement—also explains, in part, why victims find it difficult to leave their abusers.
For instance, after harming the victim, the abuser may (in an apparent reversal of power) apologize profusely, beg for forgiveness, or behave with great love and surprising tenderness.
Nevertheless, sooner or later, the next cycle of violence occurs, confusing the victim.
Another reason victims of abuse don’t leave has to do with their low self-worth. As the maltreatment continues, the victims—with their self-esteem eroded—find themselves in an increasingly powerless and dependent position.
In fact, they may no longer even believe that they deserve to be treated with kindness, dignity, and respect. This makes it much harder to stand up to the abuser and risk more rejection and humiliation.
The three dimensions of traumatic bonding
Traumatic bonding has three dimensions:
1. Core Stockholm syndrome: Associated with interpersonal trauma, cognitive distortions (e.g., rationalization, self-blame, seeing the abuser as a victim), unrealistic hope for things getting better on their own, believing love will prevent the abuser’s aggression, etc. Many of these behaviors are essentially (dysfunctional) coping mechanisms.
2. Psychological damage: Associated with depression, interpersonal difficulties, low self-esteem, the loss of sense of self, and many symptoms commonly seen in borderline personality disorder, like fear of abandonment or never finding a loving partner after leaving the abusive relationship.
3. Love dependency: Associated with assuming that one’s survival is dependent on the abusive partner’s love and protection, thinking the abuser’s love would be worth any pain, experiencing a loss of identity when alone, and believing that one would have nothing to live for without the partner.
Let us now turn to the new research on the link between empathy and traumatic bonding.
Investigating traumatic bonding in victims of intimate partner violence
Sample: 345 women from the Sexual Assault Referral Centre (n = 145) and the Lagos State Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team (n = 200) in Nigeria; average age of 36 years old (18-61 range); married an average of 10 years.

1. Intimate partner violence: Measured with the short version of the Composite Abuse Scale (30 items). Participants were asked about the frequency of emotionally or physically abusive behavior by an intimate partner. Sample items: “Slapped me”; “Told me that I wasn’t good enough”; “Harassed me at work”; or “Tried to rape me.”
2. Empathy: Measured with the Basic Empathy Scale (20 items). For example: “After being with a friend who is sad about something, I usually feel sad,” and “I can often understand how people are feeling even before they tell me.”
3. Traumatic bonding: Assessed with the Stockholm Syndrome Scale (49 items). For instance: “Without my partner, I have nothing to live for”; “I cannot make decisions”; “When others ask me how I feel about something, I do not know”; “I both love and fear my partner”; and “If I give my partner enough love, he will stop getting so angry at me.”
Analysis of the data showed empathy was a mediator of the relationship between intimate partner violence and traumatic bonding, including core Stockholm syndrome, psychological damage, and love dependency.
So, for all three aspects of traumatic bonding, empathy appears to be a path through which intimate partner violence is “translated and intensified” into traumatic bonding.
Empathy, particularly cognitive empathy—meaning the ability to understand another person’s psychological state—appears to be a pathway through which intimate partner violence intensifies traumatic bonding.
One way of explaining this finding is that victims use their empathic ability to rationalize the mistreatment they endure.
For instance, they may view the perpetrator as a victim, a victim who needs their help or one who cannot be held responsible for the aggression or abuse.
Such rationalizations are not surprising. After all, with their self-esteem and sense of self eroded by abuse, these women find it difficult to generate self-compassion and are instead prone to guilt, self-blame, and self-sacrifice.
Not only do victims of intimate partner violence tend to feel unworthy of respect, kindness, and love, but many also feel they will never find someone who treats them well.
Since victims additionally believe they cannot survive on their own (due to impaired autonomy), they find it extremely difficult to leave the toxic relationship, and as a result continue to suffer terribly. Unless, of course, they seek therapy and try to break this vicious cycle.

psychology today


A New Hope for Building Your Emotional Intelligence

New research shows the skill that can make you more emotionally intelligent.

Do you ever wonder whether it’s better to show your emotions or to keep them hidden? Perhaps your hairstylist cuts your hair much shorter than you asked for. Do you decide it’s better just to wait till it grows back in (and find a different stylist), or should you let the manager know how infuriated you are? Either strategy has pros and cons, so which is the lesser of the two evils?
According to a recent study by the University of Catania’s Maria Quattropani and colleagues (2022), most situations present two starkly different alternatives for managing your emotions, and it is indeed often hard to know which way to react. The key to healthy adjustment, they argued, isn’t always being right about your choice but being able to see that there is indeed a choice.
They noted that “flexibility in emotion regulation represents a central tenet for overall psychological adjustment” (p. 698). In other words, some situations call for expression, and some for suppression. Even if you take the wrong turn in this dilemma, at least you’re able to see that life often presents more gray than black-and-white areas when it comes to handling your emotions.
Emotional Flexibility and Its Measurement
You might think that all of these choices would depend on the quality of your emotional intelligence. But what if your emotional intelligence isn’t all that high? Are you stuck in an endless loop of constantly saying and doing the wrong thing?
The idea of emotional flexibility can become your saving grace. Even if you don’t top out at the positive end of the emotional intelligence curve, Quattropani et al.’s research suggested using emotional flexibility as your go-to alternative skill.
You can get an idea of what this quality looks like by seeing where you rate on the measure the Italian research team used, the “Flexible Regulation of Emotional Expression” scale, abbreviated as “FREE” (Burton & Bonanno, 2016). To complete this scale, you put yourself into 16 situations that fall into four categories based on the emotion involved in the situation (positive or negative) and your reaction to that emotion (express or conceal). For each, you are to rate yourself from “unable” to “very able” to be even more expressive of how you were feeling.
See how you would do on these four sample items:

See how you would do on these four sample items:
Positive-Expressive: You receive a gift from a family member, but it’s a shirt you dislike.
Negative-Expressive: Your friend is telling you about what a terrible day they had.
Positive-Conceal: You are in a training session and see an accidentally funny typo in the presenter’s slideshow.
Negative-Conceal: You are at a social event, and the person you’re talking to frequently spits while they speak.

psychology today