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How to End a Toxic Friendship

Quite a few of my friendships have ended over the years. The reasons why these friendships ended vary from growing apart, to having unresolved disagreements to just not keeping in-touch after one of us has moved away.

In adulthood, friendships can end naturally and sometimes for the better of both people. It happens. We are changing and growing into the best versions of ourselves during this time. In doing so, we know that there’s even opportunities to make new friends as we transition into new life phases, places and experiences.

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But every so often, we encounter a friendship that has run its course. Yet, we are still involved and showing up on-time for the negativity, excessive shade-throwing and never-ending tension. I’m talking about the dreaded toxic friendship.

A toxic friendship can include one or both friends engaging in unhealthy behaviors with one another over the course of the relationship.

A toxic friend can be a person you have known since childhood, a college buddy or fellow employee. These friends may carry their own share of invisible luggage that causes them to show up in their friendship with you in ways that are passive aggressive, hurtful or destructive.

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Following graduate school, I was in a toxic friendship that left me feeling confused and helpless. The behaviors showing up in my then-friend were heavy: she refused to communicate what she needed, but often blamed myself and others for how she was feeling. It was difficult to show up as her friend because I felt that no matter what I did, I would be hurting her. She was wasn’t supportive of my life choices and seemed focused on her own needs more than anyone else’s. In summary, she was a toxic friend.

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When friendships get to this place of helplessness and hopelessness, it may be time to think about what it would look like if you both went your separate ways. Here’s where to start when thinking about ending a toxic friendship:

Think about what life would be like for you if the friendship was over.

What comes to your mind when you think about losing this friend? Do you imagine yourself feeling less stressed? Happier? More relaxed? Less tense?

I felt relieved thinking about ending my toxic friendship. I thought about how much more drama-free and peaceful my life would be after our friendship ended.┬áIf positive and hopeful thoughts come to mind when you think of ending this friendship, there’s a good chance you are making the right decision.

Narrow down what your core concerns are.

Take some time to think about why you want the friendship to end. Reflect on what is making the friendship toxic and think of some examples. When ending my friendship, I shared specific examples of toxic moments with her and how in my attempts to resolve the problems, I noticed that I was the only one doing that work.

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Similar to ending a relationship with an intimate partner, being able to communicate what your concerns are helps the other person understand what work they need to do in future relationships (should they choose to do that work!), as well as this being your time and space to share why you are stepping out of this friendship.

Feel grounded in your decision.

While sometimes friendships fall apart simply because one person has articulated a concern (seriously, this happens really often!), feel grounded in your decision. The aftermath might not be pretty, especially if your friend has difficulty regulating their emotions, does not hold themselves accountable and, unfortunately, cannot or will not care enough about you to hear that you too have feelings involved in this friendship.

Depending on how you end the friendship, find ways to self-soothe and avoid doubting your decision. Review steps one and two above to remind yourself that you are making a decision to better your life. And you deserve to better your life.

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Knowing when to end a toxic friendship can be the most difficult part. If you are in the process of thinking about ending a toxic friendship, ask yourself:

  • Does my friend know what my concerns are?

  • Has my friend made any efforts to change?

  • How would I know if my friend is trying to change?

  • What are my fears with ending this friendship? Why do I not want to end this friendship?

  • What’s my first step in ending this friendship?

Recognize that no matter how long you have known each other, what memories and experiences you have shared or in what ways you both are connected together, no one deserves to be mistreated in their friendship with another person.

Take some time to think about how you deserve to be cared for in your friendships and what changes may need to be made so that you feel more loved.

How have you ended a toxic friendship?

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