Letting Go Of A Toxic Friendship

breaking up with a friend

In a romantic relationship, it’s pretty cut and dry in terms of your status: on or off, in love or out, together or broken up. The boundaries are typically set and ‘Facebook official.’ But what about when it comes to a friendship? Particularly when a couple of once-besties begins to drift – or worse, one friend starts to drift and the other is still deeply invested in the relationship?

Multiple scenarios can exist in which you no longer desire to maintain a friendship with someone: 1. Your friend makes you feel badly about yourself (i.e. making mean comments about your weight or appearance, gossiping about you to others, pressuring you to engage in uncomfortable behaviors), 2. Your friend is unreliable or selfish (never keeps a promise, only wants to talk about herself, flirts with your romantic interests), or 3. You no longer feel you have common interests and find your friend to be more irritating as you grow up.

In all of the above scenarios, a relationship can become toxic quickly – and ultimately turn into an unhealthy and emotionally trying time for both you and the other person. But how do you end it? Should you end it? And more importantly, how do you remove yourself without a big, hateful blow out or hurt feelings? While there is no clean cut way to end a friendship, there are emotionally healthy ways to let go of a friend and attempt to minimize the damage.

1. Have a conversation in private – and in person. Avoid texting your friend about your hurt or angry feelings, or sharing via social media – and instead arrange to meet (outside of school) to discuss your relationship. Painful conversations can escalate over text, particularly when words are interpreted wrong or tone and body language are removed. It is also best to minimize the amount of prying eyes on your conversation, so choose to meet at a neutral location where others that you know can’t see the discussion unfold.

2. Be Direct, But Be Kind. Start by acknowledging that this is going to be a hard conversation, but that is important to you to share your feelings – and to also check in with how your friend is feeling about the relationship. Realize that this is a two-way conversation, and that your friend may also have negative feelings about your friendship and may need to express them in return. Take a deep breath and be prepared for discomfort, but try to remain calm and avoid name-calling or nasty cut-downs.

3. Suggest That You Take a Break. Chances are, your conversation will not be a light and conciliatory affair. Real feelings may be hurt, and it’s ok to sit with that for a while without always trying to smooth things over. It’s also ok to become incompatible at certain times in your life, and sometimes stepping back from a toxic friendship is the best option in the moment. Whether you intend to re-evaluate your friendship down the line (or not), suggesting that you both “take a break” is a positive step in discovering who you are without the other person around, and then choosing to move on once the hurt feelings have subsided a bit.

4. Don’t Make Your Grievances Public. Try to take the upper-hand here, and avoid telling your other friends the nasty details or repeating your private conversation word for word. The rumor mill is real, and you want to minimize the gossip or “taking sides” that friendship squabbles can often create. It is ok to talk about your feelings with friends, but speaking negatively about someone will usually only make your problem escalate. You may find that talking to a parent is helpful in this scenario.

5. Throw Yourself into Extracurricular Activities. Coming out of a negative friendship is emotionally draining, but can also be isolating – particularly if you used to do everything with your former friend. This is a chance to rediscover who you are without that person in your life, so jump head-first into new opportunities and friendships. Try out new activities, play sports, consider volunteering, and ask new acquaintances if they want to hang out. Keep busy, and be open minded about how life can change for the better.

6. Talk to an Adult or Counselor if You Are Concerned for Your Friend’s Well Being. If you are coming out of a particularly dangerous friendship (i.e. a friend abusing drugs and alcohol, one who is suicidal or self harming, or threatens you or others), always consult an adult or school counselor about your concerns. If your friend threatens self harm, tell a parent or counselor immediately. Sometimes, there is little you can do as a friend to help a peer get through a troubling time or behavior, and professional intervention is necessary.

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