Growing up, I would every so often hear from my mum “I don’t think you should be friends with X” or “X isn’t the right friend for you”.
The thought of this was unbearable!!
**insert teenage rant voice**
“You don’t know what you’re talking about Mum!”
The wise woman my Mum is knew that at some point, usually not long after the discussion, X would break my heart in some way or another. She knew that regardless of the laughs, mischievous moments and memories, X would not be able to meet my emotional needs as a long term friend. She would always see it coming a lot sooner than I did – X was in the friendship to get their needs met and would not allow the relationship to be a two way street.
X was what we consider a toxic friend. We’ve all had them; no one can escape them. They’re the friends that bring out the worst in us. They’re emotionally demanding, controlling of the situation, and don’t attempt to meet you equally. Many of us hold onto these toxic friendships for habitual reasons – length of friendship (“I’ve been friends with X since primary school”), mutual connections (“We share the same friends”), and even convenience (“I work with X”), but as we grow older and our spare time becomes limited and more valuable, it’s important to work out what our needs and expectations are when it comes to friendships.
According to Psychology Today there are common signs in a toxic friend:
- They only seem to like you or want to spend time with you when they need something from you.
- They try to isolate you from other relationships in your life, perhaps by badmouthing romantic partners or other friends.
- You find yourself trying to make excuses for their behaviour or to defend them from other friends who more clearly see their shortcomings or poor treatment of you.
- While friendships are based on social exchange, they typically draw more resources from the “friendship bank” than they ever put into.
- If they are a new friend, they can claim too much of your time or share too much personal information too soon.
- They call you only when something is wrong in their lives.
- They take control of planning outings without respect for your interests.
- They monopolize conversations or only want to discuss their own lives and experiences, without giving you time to share your perspectives or feelings.
- They complain that you are not available enough, active enough, or understanding enough
- They view you as “competition”.
Surrounding yourself with positive people who have good intentions is vital. According to US research, having a good circle of friends can increase your chances of living longer by 50 percent. Good friendships also contribute to cancer survival, reductions in illness and lowering of cardiovascular disease (Holt-Lunstad, Smith & Layton, 2010). This is because, unlike toxic relationships, healthy friendships are there to support you through stressful times, not contribute to them.
The process of culling a friendship in person is difficult – we can’t just click an unfriend button like on social media. It’s awkward, it can be emotionally draining and it’s something that can get worse before it gets better. Long term, however, the benefits of removing negative energy from your life outweigh the unpleasant experience of breaking up with a friend. I’m of the mindset of using the band aid rule, rip it off and do it quickly. Don’t drag anything out longer than it needs to be, and keep these in mind when approaching X about the friendship.
Be honest – It’s important to be mature about ending a friendship. Cutting someone off without an explanation sends the message that you are being cowardly. Take the opportunity to approach X and communicate your decision and explain why you feel it’s important to end the friendship. It not only gives them the direct message so they stop pursuing you, but also means they are less likely to engage in gossip due to hurt feelings.
Set boundaries – Not everyone is able to cut the cord completely, so working on setting boundaries is key. You might decide to dilute the friendship to a once in a while interaction, not respond to their texts immediately, or only meet with them under group settings. Work with what you feel comfortable with, and don’t take any signs of anger or manipulation from friend X to heart. Stand your ground and know that it’s right for you.
You can’t do all the leg work – If you find that you’re the one initiating the communication, catch ups and accommodating to their busy schedule, it’s time to look at what they’re bringing to the table. Friendship is a two way street, so you both need to work at prioritising each other or call it quits.
Ignore the drama – Sometimes X friends have this magical radar that detects when you are in a happier place and moving on. That’s usually when they pop their head out and make themselves known again, sniffing out the latest on what’s going on in your life. Another scenario is that you may find that mutual friends are informing you that X has been talking about you, usually in an unpleasant manner. The bottom line is they want a reaction from you, so it’s important to ignore and not engage in their behaviour.
Make new friends – Building friendships as an adult is difficult. Be sure to spend time with your friends whilst going through the grieving stage with X, so as not to fill that void with just anyone. Take the opportunity to know what you want and don’t want in a friendship before seeking out new friendships. You can have a read of my previous blog, Making Friends as an Adult for suggestions on getting the ball rolling.
Friendships can be hard to let go of for sentimental reasons. However, not all friends are meant to be for a lifetime. Letting go of a toxic friendship gives you room to take on a healthier friendship with someone new. Remember, if you’ve tried everything you can to salvage the friendship and still don’t feel you’ve been met halfway, it’s okay to let go of X.