Your friends are often some of the most wonderful, important people in your life. Whether they happily offer support when you need it or always make you laugh, good friendships can be some of the most fulfilling relationships you have.
Unfortunately, not every friendship is a positive or healthy one, and though it can be difficult to recognize when a relationship has become toxic, it’s important to do so. Research has shown that toxic friends can have a negative impact on your life, including your physical health. For the sake of your health and happiness, identify when your friendships have turned sour and figure out how to cope with these people in a healthy way.
Recognizing Toxic Behavior
Toxic behavior can take many forms. Some friends may be outright mean or cruel, but others may only want to see you when they need something. Even if there are red flags, you may still miss them; so instead of scrutinizing your friend’s behavior, pay attention to how you feel about them.
- Do you feel emotionally or mentally exhausted after spending time with them or talking with them? Do you feel sad or stressed? Do you feel bad, either about yourself or in general, after seeing this person?
- How do you feel before seeing them? Do you get anxious when you see their calls or texts? Do you dread the mere thought of interacting with them? Do you put off returning their calls or making plans with them? Do you feel relieved when they leave or if they cancel plans?
- Do you have physical symptoms — such as headaches or stomach pains — before, during, or after having contact with this person? Can you feel the stress of being around this person affecting you physically?
If the answer to any of these questions is yes, take some time to think about your friendship. Consider if there have been warning signs you’ve ignored or not noticed. It can be all too easy to gloss over uncomfortable feelings in order to maintain your friendship.
If you have concluded that you have a toxic friend, you’re the only person who can decide what to do next. Whether that means sitting down with them for a serious talk about your relationship or cutting them out of your life completely, it’s important for both of you to establish healthy boundaries moving forward. You shouldn’t have to live with a friendship that only brings you down.
If you attempt to talk about the problems you’ve been having in your friendship, be open and honest about what you’ve been experiencing. A true friend may feel upset or criticized to hear what you have to say, but they will still appreciate your honesty. They will make an effort to fix whatever problems you’ve been having and ensure you both feel happy and comfortable moving forward.
On the other hand, it may simply be time to end this friendship. If your friend is truly toxic and you try to have an open discussion, they may attempt to invalidate your emotions, deflect criticism back onto you, or grow angry at your words. In other words, they will make it clear that it’s time to say goodbye.
Be sure to end this relationship on your own terms; you don’t have to have a dramatic confrontation or even talk with this person about it, especially if you’re worried they may react poorly. If you want to let things fade naturally, that’s perfectly fine. Accept that this may take time to accomplish.
In the meantime, be sure to block or unfollow this person on social media. Seeing updates about their life on social media sites will likely only make you feel upset or lonely, and you won’t be truly letting go of this relationship if you keep tabs on them. Instead of agonizing over your decision to end your friendship, try to focus on other things or people in your life.
Taking Care of Yourself
Even if you choose to stop being friends with someone, you may still have to see them. Perhaps you share mutual friends or you frequent the same coffee shop. If you find yourself in a situation where you have to interact with this person, do your best to stay calm and relaxed. Be cordial and polite; you don’t need to be friends with someone to be kind to them, and there’s no reason your future interactions with them need to be unpleasant.
If you have to see this person on a regular basis — like if you’re co-workers — then do your best to prioritize yourself. Cultivate a strong work/life balance by leaving work at work and setting boundaries for yourself. Make it clear that you don’t want to discuss anything besides the task at hand and you are here to work with each other, not to socialize. If it’s important to your wellbeing, it’s worth saying.
It can be hard to separate your feelings from this situation, as friendships can have an impact on virtually all aspects of your life. Breaking up with a friend can feel similar to breaking up with a romantic partner. In fact, it may be even more painful because it’s less commonly discussed. Grieve for this loss as much as you need to, but don’t be afraid to move on. It may be hard, but when the time is right, you’ll be able to make new friends who lift you up instead of drag you down.
Madison Ann Baker is a writer, Netflix-binger, and pop culture enthusiast who lives in Idaho. Literature and linguistics are her two passions, both of which she studied in college. In her free time, she enjoys hiking with her dog and binge-reading fantasy novels.