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.
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