Friends are the best…until they’re the worst – and that’s when things can get really tricky. If your friend pressures you, bullies you, says means things behind your back, or is just being an arse, you might be dealing with a toxic friendship (TF). Dealing with a TF can really suck, and it’s hard to find a way out, but there are strategies that you can try.
As we see it, there are three main ways out of a toxic friendship. If the gentlest method doesn’t work, try the next one.
1. Fade them out
If you feel like you’ve just grown apart, or you’d rather spend time with other friends, try just fading out the former friend. It’s a non-confrontational approach that’s often effective.
Here are some things to try:
- Don’t message, email or call them.
- If they get in touch with you, you could leave it a few days before you get back to them.
- Avoid hanging out with them, by saying you’re busy with school/work/family. The disadvantage of this excuse is that it sends a message that when you’re not so busy, you still want to hang out.
- Try being less accommodating than usual, so that your friend might not want to spend as much time with you. If you usually go to your friend’s house, start suggesting that you do something else instead.
- If they’re not getting the message, or if it’s tricky because you’re all in the same group, you could try limiting your catch-ups to group stuff so that your interactions are less intense.
However you do it, it isn’t easy to end a friendship. Your friend might cling to you even more if they realise that you’re trying to pull away. Or they might take some time to understand what’s going on.
If they do become clingy, or if they don’t realise what’s happening and continue to contact you, either stick to your guns and maintain the distance, or think about formally ending the friendship (see below). Ending a friendship sucks, and you should be prepared to feel not so great, or even guilty, during and after a fade-out. Although it might be hard to fade out from a TF in the short term, it’ll make room for more supportive friendships in the long term.
Remember that fading out a friendship can change the dynamics of a whole friendship group. Keep your other friends in the loop by saying something like: ‘This person and I aren’t friends anymore, but we don’t expect you to take sides.’
2. Formally end the friendship
This method involves sitting down with the person and letting them know that the friendship is over. This is a pretty tough option and requires a lot of courage from you, the same way that breaking up with a boyfriend or girlfriend would.
You might want to try this method if fading out just isn’t working, or if you’re the kind of person who prefers to have things out in the open rather than not telling the other person what’s going on and just not being available.
Think it through
Before you do or say anything, write down what you want to say. Using ‘I’ statements is an effective way to communicate your feelings. Statements that begin with ‘you’, such as ‘You never come to my house…’, are likely to create conflict, which is best avoided. Instead, try this: ‘I feel hurt that we don’t hang out at my house...’ You might want to show what you’ve written to someone else you trust, such as a sibling, parent or another friend.
Time it right
The place and time of the conversation are important. Try having it somewhere neutral, maybe in a café or a park that’s midway between the two of you. Also understand that this may come as a shock to the person, so avoid having the conversation at a time when it will spoil a special occasion for them, such as right before or after their birthday.
Look after yourself
Remember that ending friendships, even toxic ones, can be tough. Set up a plan for things you can do when you’re feeling low, or other friends you can hang out with when you need some company.
3. Completely drop them
If your friend is bullying you or pressuring you, you don’t owe them anything. Their behaviour is not okay, and you have the right to remove yourself from their company. For example, they might be physically pushing you or hitting you, or insulting you to your face or behind your back.
In order to drop them, delete them from Facebook or anywhere they might be able to contact you. If you go to school or uni with them, see if you can make sure you’re not in any classes together.
But remember, cutting off a friendship can have major consequences. Your friend could become aggressive or cruel towards you, and you might lose some of your mutual friends. Make your friends aware of the situation and have them there for you as support.
Breaking up a toxic friendship is something you have to do for yourself, and once you do, you will transform your life. When you move away from a TF, you’ll be moving on from a whole lot of negativity and will be free to be yourself.
What can I do now?
- If you haven’t already done it, suss out if your friendship definitely is toxic with this quiz.
- If you’re not ready to break up with your friend, check out some ways of dealing with a toxic friendship.
- Write down exactly what you’re feeling focusing on “I” statements – this will help when talking to your friend.