Toxic friends. You know the ones. We’ve all had ‘em. Those friends that you dread having to see, the ones you walk on eggshells around, the ones that drain you, the ones that are downright, well, toxic. People can cling on to some friendships longer than they should, due to history, misplaced loyalty, or fear. Eventually though, most of us will get to the point where we realise that we’re in a toxic friendship that needs ending. Even if you’re better off for it, ending a friendship isn’t easy. Ending a toxic friendship can be particularly tricky to navigate, depending on your friend’s particular brand of toxic.
READ MORE: Changing Friendships in Your 30s (Opens in a new tab)
Knowing it’s time to end a toxic friendship
Story time. I allowed a lot of poor behaviour from friends for a long time. I could see when someone was treating me badly, but I often did nothing about it. With a deep aversion to confrontation, I chose not rocking the boat over standing up for myself. This came at a cost, mostly to me. I still carried the hurt and disappointment about how I was being treated, but with no healthy outlet for resolving it. The friends in question carried on unaffected, whilst it ate away at me internally and caused a lot of resentment.
Eventually, choosing to protect my mental and emotional energy became my priority over avoiding confrontation. It was as though I had absorbed so much bullshit for so long that I had hit my limit and had no room for one more ounce of it. I finally raised my standards and was ready to hold myself accountable for maintaining those standards.
I had a conversation with each of the people that had hurt me and I explained how I was feeling. Although these were hard conversations to have, finally starting to speak up about how I felt was a hugely important growth step. Their individual reactions to these conversations set the tone for the relationship going forward. Some of them were open, honest, and two-sided. Some of them…weren’t. I knew which friendships were worth repairing, and which could never be repaired.
How to go about ending a toxic friendship?
Breaking up with a friend is similar to breaking up with a romantic partner. You’re essentially just telling someone that your time together has come to a close and that your future doesn’t include them. I’ve outlined below some of the different approaches you can take to end a toxic friendship. Pick the one that feels right for you in your specific circumstance, and go out there and snip that toxic connection.
Ending a toxic friendship face to face
To sit someone down and tell them to their face that you no longer want to be their friend is a brave move. However, depending on the amount of history the friendship has, this can be the most respectful approach. Keep the conversation direct and the focus on your needs, rather than their wrongdoings. Talk about their actions only in regard to how they had made you feel, rather than in an accusatory way.
Ending a toxic friendship over text
This is a toned-down version of the approach above. You’re still giving someone the heads up that you’re no longer available for the friendship, but you don’t have to look into their eyes as you do it.
Again, the key here is being quite straight-forward without being accusatory. Don’t leave room for misinterpretation. Outline the reasons the friendship is no longer serving you and wish them well.
In my experience, toxic people don’t tend to want to hear they’re toxic so prepare for a bit of backlash. They may not hear the message you are sending, but that’s not your responsibility. All you can do is stay true to yourself. If they reply aggressively and try to draw you into a text argument – you don’t have to take the bait. You’ve said what you wanted to say, you can walk away without engaging further.
Ending a toxic friendship: the phase out approach
This is probably the most common approach to end a toxic friendship. It entails slow fading someone out bit by bit until there is no friendship left at all. It’s popular due to the total avoidance of confrontation. However, without providing a direct explanation and a defined ending, things are left a bit confusing and up in the air. They’ll end up having to write their own narrative as to why you don’t want to be friends anymore and you’ll have no control over that, no matter how inaccurate it might be. On the other hand, it might be slow and subtle enough that they might not even notice you’ve phased them out. In which case, phew and ciao.
Ending a toxic friendship: the dramatic confrontation approach
This one is normally driven by heightened emotions, bubbling tensions, and probably a bit of alcohol too. It’s a less sophisticated, planned out approach and more of a spur of the moment breaking of the camel’s back. Picture raised voices, accusations flying back and forth, maybe even a swilled drink. (If you find yourself doing this, please please please let me know how it feels).
It might have the desired affect of ending the friendship, but it’s unlikely to leave you feeling good about how you handled things.
Ending a toxic friendship: the ghosting approach
Now, I wouldn’t normally condone ghosting. In most cases I don’t like it, I don’t think it’s fair, and I don’t respect it. However, there are a handful of situations where ghosting really is the only way.
Where some toxic friends are essentially good people, some are just outright bad apples. They don’t have good intentions, they don’t care about your point of view, and any sort of criticism will fall on deaf ears. They could even be dangerous. In these situations, ghost away.
Disclaimer: It’s probably not realistic that you’ll be able to ghost your toxic bestie (they know where you live after all), but this approach works perfectly well on the more peripheral friends and mere acquaintances.
You’ll probably feel a sense of relief after ending a toxic friendship, but you’ll also feel sad. You are going through a breakup. Breakups are hard. Breakups are messy. Breakups make us cry even when we know they’re the best thing for us. Go easy on yourself, and let yourself mourn the the friendship you thought it was once, or hoped it would be one day. Snip, snip. I’m proud of you.
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