A friend is someone you’re close to, who you know well and can relate to on some level. They should be a positive influence in your life, but this isn’t always the case. Sometimes a friend changes and becomes a hindrance to your wellbeing and sometimes they’ve always been deprecating and you somehow got tangled up with them and their negativity anyway. This kind of friend is one you don’t need and at some point you’ll start to realize it.
It’s not easy to cut a friend out of your life. They’re your friend after all, so they mean something to you. Maybe your attachment to them is even making you deny how much their presence affects you. It can help to know the signs of a toxic friendship so you can be sure that the relationship is no good.
Your time together should be uplifting; if you find your self-esteem, happiness, or stability compromised as a result of your interactions, it’s a sign that your friendship is a harmful one. You shouldn’t have to walk on eggshells around them for fear that they might lash out or because they’re intensely sensitive and become distressed easily. Occasional constructive criticism from a friend can be helpful, but frequent, harsh criticism is not beneficial in any way. If you’re often in a worse mood after seeing your friend, there’s a problem.
Your friendship also shouldn’t be overly dependent. Maybe your friend doesn’t insult you or take advantage of you, but if they rely on you too heavily it can become a burden that weighs you down. You’re not responsible for their happiness and if they treat you like you are and frequently get upset when you don’t come through, it’s another form of toxicity. The friendship still isn’t good for you and, really, it’s not good for them either.
Or maybe it’s just the opposite; maybe they’re neglectful of you. Friendship is a two-way street; it’s give and take for both sides. If you find that you’re always the one who initiates conversation, they let you down regularly, and you feel like you’re far more invested in the relationship than they are, you can come to feel unappreciated and frustrated. It can bring you down, even if it’s not intentional on their part. It’s not healthy and it’s time to stop putting so much effort into a relationship that is so unbalanced.
In some cases, it’s just their persona that impacts you and not the way they treat you. Friends who are always stressed out, depressed, or angry are taxing to be around. It’s not necessarily their fault, and patience is a reasonable response, but only to a point. It’s unfortunate that they’re having problems of their own, but you can only handle so much before it takes a toll on you. Stress can make you sick and cause you physical pain; if being around this friend is causing you distress, it’s time to let them go.
Basically, your friendship should be enjoyable and if it’s breaking you down instead, it’s probably toxic. It can be a hard thing to admit to yourself, but it’s an important realization to come to. Then you can figure out the best way to end the friendship and move on. You may not be ready to just break it off since there’s history between you and you feel an attachment to them. But you need to start accepting that letting them go is for the best. Don’t make excuses for them or try to justify your friendship; if it’s not working, it’s not working.
The best way to end a friendship is to sit down with them and tell them you need to end it. It makes your intention completely clear so there’s no way that they’ll misunderstand you. It’s also courteous; just because you’re cutting ties doesn’t mean you should treat them badly when you do it. This gives them the opportunity to fully understand the situation.
Before you have the talk, plan out what you want to say. Not necessarily word-for-word, just the general ideas you want to express. Tell them how the friendship has been affecting you and that you can’t stay in it any longer. But don’t criticise them; focus on where your needs aren’t being met or where you’ve been hurt and do your best to avoid accusing them or assigning blame. Planning out what you want to say beforehand will help you organise your thoughts so that you can focus on your feelings and not drift into picking them apart. It’ll also allow you to stay on track so you can get out everything you need to say and end the conversation.
While it’s important to be honest and tell them how you feel, you don’t have to over-share. Just give them the basics, especially if your friend has a tendency to be verbally abusive. There’s no point in pouring your heart out to someone who would probably take the opportunity to stomp on it. So let them know you’ve been affected, but there’s no need to get deep; just stick with what you’ve prepared. If they do get angry and insult you, do your best to hold yourself together emotionally. People who say hurtful things to you are often hoping to get a response out of you. Remind yourself that this is why you’re cutting them off and continue with what you have to say or choose to end the talk there and leave.
It’s also possible that they’ll be saddened by your decision. It can be hard to stay strong and carry through when they’re visibly upset, but do your best to keep moving forward. You don’t have to be heartless; tell them you’re sorry that it hurts them, but you need to take care of yourself first and that the friendship is detrimental to your wellbeing. You can tell them how much you care about them but make it clear that it doesn’t change how you’ve been impacted. Stand your ground and keep in mind that how they respond isn’t your fault; it’s your responsibility to stand up for yourself in a respectful way and it’s their responsibility to choose how they feel in reaction. You need to focus on your needs.
After you leave, it’s important to stay dedicated to the break. Don’t reach out, don’t back down, don’t doubt your decision. If you were driven to the realization that the friendship was toxic and felt sure enough to plan out how you were going to end it, it was the right decision to make. Ideally, you’ll delete their number from your phone and remove them from your social media accounts. As in romantic relationships, a clean break is more likely to stick and is easier to get through. Then you can mourn the friendship and start moving on without constant reminders of them popping up or having them contact you to try and get you to change your mind. Toxic friends are dangerous because they’ll try their best to persuade you into staying friends and then continue to mistreat you. Just cut all ties and let it be done.
This isn’t the only way to end a friendship. Slowly making yourself less and less available until they lose interest in you is a commonly used method, or cutting ties abruptly and all at once. These aren’t ideal though and have a lot of potential to backfire; slowly blocking them out will have them frustrated and could encourage their problematic behaviour to worsen, and doing it all at once could infuriate them, causing them to find ways to lash out. Not to mention, both of these are hurtful. Even if you’ve been mistreated, it’s not right to retaliate with similar behaviour. Have the courtesy to let them know what’s going on so that they understand and can, hopefully, see your side. They may be more likely to cooperate.
If you don’t feel like you can get through a break-up-style talk with your friend because you’re concerned you won’t be able to go through with it or you’re afraid of how they’ll react, write an email instead. This is an acceptable option if you don’t feel safe talking to them in person but need to get them out of your life. You can get your thoughts organized, express what you need to, and break off the friendship without being interrupted or challenged. Follow the same outline as for the in-person talk: keep it about your feelings, not their shortcomings; be respectful; be clear.
However you choose to end your toxic friendship, it will probably be difficult. But know that it’s for the best in the end and that your life will be better without it. You can then focus on the friends that are good for you and will have time in your life to welcome new ones. Removing even just one source of negativity can make a huge impact, and filling that space with positive influences will make it easier not to look back.