Mind & Body Social

How to (safely) remove yourself from a toxic friendship

Posted on 8/19/19

A series of unanswered texts eventually give way to a call in which you listen to an hour’s worth of fresh relationship drama, before you’re told that she: ‘needs to go out now k bye.’ Your birthday dinner ends in tears (yours) after he shows up an hour late and subtly puts you down the whole way through what should have been a breezy affair.

In an ideal world, the friendships you’ve made would either be constant, life-affirming joys - or work for a certain time and then slowly fizzle out, no hurt caused on either side.

The reality? Now and then, a relationship we have that should be about good nights out, lengthy chats and checking in when times are rough turns into you being undermined and a lack of respect. So, how might you recognize a toxic friendship? And, if it’s beyond repair, make an exit?

The best way of figuring the former out is to check: ‘How you feel when you leave a scenario,’ says life coach Angelika Alana. ‘Do you feel relaxed, full and supported - or stressed and low?’

But, sure - we all have off days and, like any complex, messy human relationship, friendships can go through rough stages.

‘One way of identifying a friendship gone bad is by keeping a journal,’ says Angel. ‘That way, you can work out if it’s every time you come away from seeing that person, you feel worse – or once every now and then.’

As to specific things to watch out for?

‘Language is a big one. If someone does not speak to you in a way that makes you feel good, then that is a red flag,’ advises Angel.

‘If what you’re dealing with is someone who knows that they’re abusing you, in my opinion, you do not owe them an explanation if you want to get them out of your life. But if that person is not aware – then you might want to identify that this is the case so that you can work on it.’

If it is the latter? ‘Ask that person for time to chat about your relationship. Sit down and tell them that you want to take responsibility for your feelings and how you show up with them – and that you want to share some concerns,’ advises Angel.

‘If you want them to take responsibility for their behavior, then lead from the front and make it clear that you are taking responsibility for yours,’ she adds.

The ideal situation here, of course, would be that they are shocked that you feel this way and are apologetic. ‘If this happens, work out a strategy together,’ says Angel. ‘Spell out your perspective. Explain what specifically hurts your feelings and what you’d prefer to happen in a given instance, and make change a collaboration.’

Say you do all of these and nada alters? ‘Know that sometimes friendships do not work out,’ says Angel. ‘You can love someone and not be able to have them in your life at the same time.’ 

Now, you could have a face-to-face conversation, to explain that you don’t feel like you can be in this friendship anymore. ‘But, if you have already given your time to this person, you are allowed to stop picking up their calls or messaging back,’ says Angel. ‘Millennials, in particular, need to know that you do not have to be available to everyone, all of the time.’

What might a non face-to-face solution look like? ‘Maybe you want to write them a letter or have a call. Here, you could say that you need X, Y or Z from a friendship, that this is not a good fit for you and that you hope they understand.’

The bottom line? All relationships - including friendships - take time and nurturing and work. But. You are not obliged to expand your energy and time on someone who doesn’t care about your wants and needs and treats you with the affection of a two-day old pizza box that needs to be recycled.

by Claudia Canavan & Roisín Dervish-O’Kane, @allupinyourfeelings 

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