Friendships are longer and, in some ways, more complicated to end.
Your hope is that your friendships are emotionally safe, allow you to feel supported and loved unconditionally, and promote your growth.
But what happens if they aren’t? What happens if your friendship is toxic?
A healthy friend allows you to make your own choices. They respect that your opinions might be different from theirs. They don’t impede your ability to achieve your own goals.
They encourage you to prioritize self-care. They are proud of your success. They promote your growth in any and all arenas (spiritually, physically, mentally, academically, etc.).
Why might you want to end an unhealthy relationship?
The simplest and most clear-cut answer happens when there’s a breach of trust: Theft, infidelity involving the friend and someone deemed “off-limits,” or any sort of abuse from the friend towards you.
The reality is that most of the time, it isn’t that clear-cut. Rather, it’s a slow erosion over time that leaves you questioning how you got to this point and what can and should be done about it.
With slow erosion, the friendship drifts apart, often over years.
You might find that you no longer feel invigorated when spending time together, or you leave feeling bad about yourself.
You feel shamed for your choices or interests, or you simply realize spending time with that person just doesn’t cross your mind as much anymore.
A relationship turns from distant to toxic when the person actively works against the healthy attributes listed above.
A toxic friend tells you who you can and cannot spend time with.
They make fun of your interests or hobbies.
They put you down.
They refuse to have discussions about differences. Rather, they adopt a “my way or the highway” stance that shuts down a conversation and leaves you feeling as though you are walking on eggshells
They ignore your requests for self-care, such as a night in, desire to distance yourself from other toxic people, and plans to reduce your alcohol consumption.
They tease you about goals that you set, but in a playful or loving way.
They “one-up” you and cause you to dread bringing up any of your successes because you’ve learned that they will take over the conversation. Instead, of being happy for you, they make it about themselves
They never reach out to you or initiate contact.
Now, do you see the clear difference between a friendship that builds you up and one that holds you back or actively tears you down?
So, how do you end a toxic friendship?
You may have urges to “ghost” the person. However, I urge you not to do that.
Learning to speak up for yourself is a huge and necessary life task. Let them know what’s been bothering you, in a factual and non-blaming way.
Let them know that you plan to distance yourself to work on your own needs.
This might sound like, “Rob, I’ve noticed that when we spend time together, I fall into some unhealthy thinking patterns and I end up feeling really alone since we’ve grown in different directions. I’m going to take a few weeks to see if I can sort out my thoughts on the topic. I hope you can understand my need for space.”
Or, “Sara, the last few times we have hung out, I have had my feelings hurt by the comments you have made about people who want to be sober and you keep bringing wine over even though I’ve told you that I quit drinking. I need to stop having you over to my house because of this.”
Try to stick to “I” statements, such as “I feel…,” “I notice…,” and “I’ve been experiencing…” instead of “you” statements, which tend to make the other person defensive.
Now, it’s true that the friend might not take this news very well. However, as you were already considering “ghosting” them, the skill and confidence you will gain from speaking up are worth it!
What is the cost of ending a toxic relationship?
You’ll feel sad and grieve the loss. You might get bored. You’ll feel anxious. You feel vulnerable when trying to meet new people.
You are hyper-vigilant in new relationships. You will tend to second-guess yourself.
What is gained when a toxic relationship ends?
You grow more independent. You have the freedom to do, say, and wear the things your friend made you feel shame about wanting to do, say, or wear. You have time for yourself. You have a healthier sense of self.
Rebuilding yourself after a toxic friendship.
Once ending a toxic relationship of any type, it’s crucial that you take time to rebuild your sense of self and self-worth.
You may have strong urges to distract yourself away from the negative feelings you are feeling, but you need to take the time to heal.
This means that you take time for your hobbies and interests, you spend time with people that build you up, and you spend some time with yourself — rediscovering who you are and want to be!