How to Leave a Toxic Friendship

Ending a Negative Relationship

Two girlfriends on the lake with relationship difficulties
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Ending a friendship is never easy, but if the relationship has been a toxic one, you need to take special care to move on without added drama. Because a toxic friendship can make you doubt yourself and the relationship, you need to be especially vigilant to make the right choices.

Another reason toxic friendships are hard to leave is that the thing that attracted you to them in the first place is still there. Maybe a toxic friend is fun to be around but also has a bad temper. When you get through the bad moments with the temper you'll remember the fun times, and it will make it harder to decide to leave.

Knowing When to Leave

One reason toxic friendships go on much longer than they should is that they aren't always easy to spot. Sometimes a friendship will go through ups and downs, with both friends behaving badly. This doesn't necessarily mean that the friendship is toxic.

Other times, one friend will go through a rough time and this will cause problems in the friendship. Again, it doesn't mean that the friendship has turned toxic.

So when making the decision to leave a toxic friendship, ask yourself:

  • Is the toxic nature of the friendship changing me for the negative?
  • Is this a situation that never really goes away?
  • Does my friend seem to delight in my failures?
  • Is my friend using me, and making it all about them all the time?

If you answered yes, it's time to leave the friendship.

End the Friendship Without Drama

Because toxic friendships are all about drama, ending one can be difficult. If even mentioning the end of the friendship gives you anxiety, think carefully about how you'll go about doing it. Ending a toxic friendship properly often makes a big difference in how well you're able to move on with your life.

If you see your friend occasionally, you can always avoid contact as much as possible, with just a response here and there if they contact you. You can continue saying you're busy until they take the hint and leave.

If they confront you and ask what's wrong, be honest without being hurtful. It might be tempting to say, "You're such a drama queen!" or even "It's all about you" but instead give specific examples and stress that the friendship isn't right for you. Never call them toxic or say that they aren't a good friend for you. There's a subtle but important difference there.

Tell them the times when they've made you feel bad, but do it with a calm demeanor, and stress the facts.

For example, "When you told Susie about my credit card problems, even after I asked you not to, it embarrassed me. You wouldn't have appreciated it if I had done the same thing to you."

Or, "When you get angry without warning it's scary. I can't be around that. Yesterday when you blew up at me in the mall it made me realize that this friendship isn't right for me."

Always try for in-person or over the phone contact rather than emailing. Ending a toxic friendship over email is very difficult to do. It sets up a new email fight and encourages that friend to forward your words to other people.

Don't Go Back and Forth

Toxic friendships often end and start up again and again because, by their very nature, they lead you to believe that deep down the relationship is a good one.

You'll recognize these moments when you think:

  • If my friend would just control his temper, we could be good friends.
  • If my friend wasn't so moody, we'd be great friends.
  • I don't understand why my friend acts like she hates me sometimes.
  • My friend acts so cool one minute but then behaves like a bully the next.

While the friendship might be toxic, your friend isn't. One reason why it's a bad idea to label a friend as toxic is that you make the decision to go back again and again to a friend that hurts you. You are in charge of your life and actions if you are consistently putting yourself in a situation where your friend brings out negative behavior in you, take responsibility.

Rather than going back and forth, think long and hard about whether you want to end the friendship, and when you do it, stick with your decision.

Reflect Back on What You've Learned

Never view the end of a friendship as a failure, even when it's is a toxic one. There's always something that can be learned. Reflect back on your time in this friendship and see what you learned about yourself.

Every friendship, even the negative ones, should teach us something that helps us be better people going forward. Maybe this toxic friendship helped you discover what issues press your hot buttons, or how little patience you have for certain behaviors. Maybe you realized that you became friends with this person because you were desperate, and you'll know better in the future.

Whatever the lesson, appreciate it for what it is, and then mentally forgive the friend you left behind as well as yourself. Don't hold on to the anger and resentment that might have initiated the breakup as it will only hold you back from making new friends.

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