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Toxic Friends: Is It Time to Break Up?

Woman whispering secret to surprised woman

Toxic friends come in many forms—they can take much more than they add to the friendship; they can be chronically negative; they can tear you down—but the bottom line is that when you walk away from time spent with a toxic friend, you probably feel worse for the wear. If you think you might have a toxic friend in your life, take a moment to reflect on how you usually feel after being with this friend; if what you come up with includes words like drained, tired, unmotivated, worthless, or even downright depressed, you quite likely have a toxic friend. While it might be easy to identify the toxic friends in your life, it is often difficult, and sometimes painful, to decide what you want to do about them and even more difficult to actually do it.

Consider what this person has added to your life over the course of the friendship. Perhaps you will realize that this person was once a pretty good friend, but at some point that changed. If this is the case, it might be worth bringing this observation to your friend. You might try something like, “We’ve been friends for a long time, we’ve had a lot of fun together, and you’ve really been there for me through some tough times in life. I so appreciate and value that, but it seems like lately, you expect a lot from me, but you aren’t really there when I need you.”  It might be helpful to insert some specific examples of the good and the bad to help your friend see that this is something you have given considerable thought.

Hopefully, your friend will be open to discussing what is going on in the friendship. If so, be prepared to hear both positive and negative feedback from your friend about how he/she views you; if you are asking a friend to take a closer look at himself/herself, you need to be ready and willing to do the same introspection. Engaging in this kind of honest, constructive exploration of your friendship might deepen the sense of empathy and connectedness in the relationship.

Unfortunately, when you reflect on what a potentially toxic friend has added to your life, you might come up empty. If this is the case, try digging just a little deeper. There is probably a reason that this person is still in your life. For example, if you have a friend who takes and takes, offering nothing in return, it could be because you are more comfortable being there for others than examining your own life. Having a friend who requires a lot may enable you to avoid addressing your need for personal growth. Or perhaps you have a friend who tears you down and makes you feel bad about yourself, but you feel concerned about walking away for fear of hurting your friend’s feelings. Consider asking yourself why your friend’s feelings are more important than your own.

Once you have spent some time reflecting on your relationship with a potentially toxic friend, you will likely have greater clarity on whether you want to keep him/her in your life, as it is, try to change it for the better, or end it altogether. If you’ve identified the friendship to be toxic and still want to keep it, as it is, you might not be ready to take a deeper look at why you want to keep this toxicity in your life—and that is OK. You have taken steps toward awareness, and when you are ready to take the next steps, you will.

If you decide you want to try to repair or change the relationship for the better, start with the kind of open conversation suggested above, and see where it goes from there. If you decide to end the relationship, you will also have to decide how to end it: Will you cease all communication immediately; will you be too busy to get together all the time and hope your friend takes the hint; or will you honestly tell your friend that he is not good for you and you no longer wish to be friends?

These are very difficult decisions to make and should not be made without examining the possible consequences, both positive and negative, that could result. It might be helpful to enlist the support and guidance of a strong, nontoxic friend, or a therapist, to help you sort through your options and be there for the outcome. Ultimately, whatever decision you make will be yours, and you will have taken steps towards creating the kind of healthy, supportive, and nurturing environment necessary to grow and thrive in your own life.

© Copyright 2012 by Sarah Noel, MS, LMHC, therapist in Brooklyn, NY. All Rights Reserved.

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Comments
  • Robbie February 3rd, 2012 at 3:48 PM #1

    Sometimes we keep people in our lives because it feels safe and comfortable. But what if this is someone who quite literally tears you down? Don’t you think that you are better than having to live with that?

  • Katerina February 3rd, 2012 at 8:05 PM #2

    I’ve had a toxic friend in the past. We’d been friends for a long time but somewhere along the way she changed and it become a host-parasite relationship. Took some time for me to realize this but once I did it was not long before I spoke to her.

    I listed a few undeniable facts that held no doubts about how she was treating me and all she said in return was “whatever” and walked away. Well the loss is hers, because I only lost a toxic ‘friend’.

  • Jay February 3rd, 2012 at 9:35 PM #3

    This is pure selfishness. Psychology teaches selfishness and hatred. God teaches LOVE and self denial, and not to expect anything in return. Toxic? Everyone has a so called toxic trait…they are SELFISH!

  • coby February 4th, 2012 at 5:38 AM #4

    For me this is a quick fix- if someone is consistently making you feel bad about yourself no matter what you do, then it is probably time to cut them loose and tell them to get out of your life.

  • Beth b February 5th, 2012 at 5:30 AM #5

    We have all hadsome toxic friendships in our lives, and then again maybe we have been a toxic friend ourselves. But I would hope that as time goes by and we get older that most of us would grow out of some of that pettiness and backstabbing and learn to be the kind of friend that we desire others to be for us. Sometimes you can change someone and sometimes you can’t but you have to know when and where to draw the line. Life is too short and too precious to allow this to sideline your goals and make you feel bad all of the time.

  • Doris September 28th, 2013 at 5:36 AM #6

    I hear a lot of this toxic friend business, Yes there may well be people who abuse a friendship by deliberately making their friends feel bad about themselves. But I have been on the other side of this of been dumped by so-called friends for been toxic simply because for years I’ve given them support in their lives and the moment I need some in return its all too heavy for them and their therapist says they need to cut me out as I’m too demanding. Jeez. I think we attract certain things into our lives that we need and often they are to teach something about ourselves, as humans we are sometimes involved in learning and teaching those lessons and as everybody knows skipping lessons never put you ahead of the class.
    I have a group of diverse friends some with directly opposing views I feel its important to have those people in my lives cause they have something to offer and I lead by example. Yes sometimes they can be hard work, in the same way I can but cutting them out of your life doesn’t really address the reason what it was that attracted you both to one and another. I think it would make my life less challenging and I’d have less opportunity to grow if I only had fluffy easygoing friends all patting me on the back offering up positive affirmations.

  • shereen September 28th, 2013 at 10:06 AM #7

    I have to agree that lifeais too precious to allow a toxic friend to hold u back. Even though it is hard to break away sometimes one must be selfish at times when the relationship drains u of all your energy and keeps u negative most of the time. It’s just not healthy.

  • shereen September 28th, 2013 at 10:09 AM #8

    God also teaches us to be wise as serpents. When you are depressed and depleted u can’t give what u don’t have.

  • Angela February 17th, 2014 at 5:47 AM #9

    With over 7 billion people on the planet, we can’t all get along with everyone. If you feel less than happy in someone’s company, for whatever reason, you have three choices: 1. do nothing. 2. talk about it and act accordingly. 3. Leave the relationship. Sometimes it’s a combination of two of these or even all three as you try to negotiate your way through the friendship. No one is making you be friends with someone. Toxic friends offer very little, but take emotionally, physically, mentally, leaving you drained,depressed and resentful. I’m not at an age (nearly 57) when I don’t have time to waste on people who really don’t care about anyone but themselves. It’s not about being selfish, but being self-centered. The world does not revolve around any single individual, but toxic people think it does, and it’s them. The thing is, I’ll bet a toxic person thinks they are okay and that it’s everyone else… and perhaps it is. I guess we all have the potential to be that toxic friend.

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