Ending A Toxic Friendship: Knowing When to Hold 'Em or Fold 'Em
In the immortal words of Kenny Rogers, you've got to know when to hold 'em and know when to fold 'em.
No, we're not giving you unasked poker advice, we're talking about friendships.
Not all friendships are sunshine and rainbows.
Just like knowing when to cut your losses in poker, it's crucial to know when ending a toxic friendship is your best move.
This article is your guide to navigating the murky waters of toxic friendships. We'll explore how to spot the signs of a souring camaraderie, determine whether it's salvageable, or if it's time to say 'Adios, amigo!'
And the best part? We'll also guide you through the 'cutting ties' part, because we know breaking up (with a friend) is hard to do.
What is A Toxic Friendship, Exactly?
A toxic friendship is a relationship that consistently exerts emotional, psychological, or even physical harm on one or both individuals involved, characterized by manipulative, unhealthy dynamics, and a pervasive sense of negativity and detriment to one's well-being.
Now, you've certainly heard of poisonous spiders, toxic waste, and maybe even toxic shock syndrome.
But toxic friendship? What's that all about?
Well, my people, a toxic friendship is a bit like a plant with a serious bug infestation. It sucks the life out of you, leaving you wilted and wondering why you're not blooming.
In more plain terms, a toxic friendship is one that drains your energy, breeds negativity, and consistently leaves you feeling lower than a snake's belly in a wagon rut.
It's the kind of friendship that, instead of lifting you up, constantly pulls you down.
The warning bells of a toxic friendship are there if you listen closely. Stick around, and we'll show you how to spot these pesky critters and, more importantly, how to deal with them.
Signs of a Toxic Friend: When to Fold 'Em
Just like a persistently grating karaoke rendition of Britney Spear's "Toxic" can ruin the best of parties, a toxic friend can turn your life into a constant refrain of negativity and stress.
Here are seven key signs your bff might be less "champagne and laughter" and more "expired Brussels sprouts":
1. They're the Constant Critic
If your friend seems to have channeled their inner Simon Cowell, constantly belittling your life choices, fashion sense, or job prospects, you might be in a toxic friendship.
Giving feedback through constructive criticism is one thing, but a never-ending stream of negativity is quite another.
2. Emotional Vampirism
Feel like your energy levels take a nosedive every time you hang out with your friend? They might be an emotional vampire, draining you of positive energy and leaving you feeling depleted.
This is one of the first red flags of toxic people, when you can't explain why you're drained but you hear that internal alarm going off. When it sounds off, listen to it.
3. One-Sided Relationships
A friendship should be like a good waltz, with both parties contributing equally to the dance. If your friend is hogging the dance floor, always centering conversations around their issues or interests, it's a sign of imbalance.
Healthy friendships consist of both parties putting in an equal balance of effort.
4. They Spread Rumors
If your so-called friend seems to enjoy spreading rumors or sharing your secrets like they're the latest tabloid gossip, that's a clear indication of toxicity.
Friendships should be built on trust, not juicy tittle-tattle. If you find that your conversation with a best friend is completely centered on bringing down you or others, it's definitely one of the red flags.
5. Unreliable and Unavailable
Friends are supposed to be there for each other. If your friend is as reliable as airplane Wi-Fi, frequently cancelling plans or failing to be there when you need them, it's a red flag.
If you realize that a friend constantly prioritizes other relationships versus spending time with you, or always flakes, it may be time to break free.
6. They're a Green-Eyed Monster
Jealousy can extinguish the brightest of friendships. If your friend can't be genuinely happy for your successes, and instead, displays envy or bitterness, it might be time to rethink your bond.
Jealousy might not affect you hard at first, in fact it may come off as flattery, but it compounds over time and will eventually have a negative impact in the future.
7. Happiness Predators
A toxic friend can often be a happiness predator, finding joy in your struggles and downplaying your triumphs. If they seem to rain on your parade every chance they get, well, that's not just uncool, it's toxic.
If your friend always tries to hurt your feelings it's a sign that ending the friendship is probably the best move. And if it becomes overbearing and borderlines bullying, consider seeking professional help.
How Toxic Friends Affect your Mental Health
Friendships should be your safe harbor, not the stormy sea. But when you're saddled with a controlling amigo, you might find yourself navigating turbulent waters more often than you'd like.
Here are four ways a toxic friendship can serve as an anchor on your mental health, dragging you down into the deep abyss.
1. Erosion of Self-Esteem
A toxic person is like a termite, slowly and surreptitiously chipping away at your self-esteem until you're left with a shell of your confident self.
Constant criticism, belittlement, and comparison can make you question your worth. Remember, you're a priceless Picasso, not a garage sale hand-me-down.
2. Anxiety and Stress
With a toxic person, every hangout feels like a walk across a minefield. You're perpetually on edge, anticipating the next burst of negativity or conflict.
This chronic stress and anxiety can take a toll on your overall mental well being. Friends should be stress-busters, not stress-creators.
Toxic friends often resort to manipulation and control, leading you to distance yourself from other friends and family to avoid conflict.
This isolation can usher in feelings of loneliness and depression. Forget the 'it's them or me' ultimatums; your social circle should be a buffet, not a one-choice menu.
This isolation is exacerbated on Sundays, when the Sunday Scaries kick it. This fear is caused by hangovers, self-doubt and work responsibilities, but when toxic people are thrown in the mix it heightens the negative emotions.
4. Hampered Personal Growth
In the shadow of a toxic friend, your personal growth can take a backseat. Their negativity and constant need for attention can stifle your progress, shake your focus, distract you from your goals, and keep you stuck in a perpetual state of dissatisfaction.
Remember, a good friend helps you grow and doesn't keep you tethered to their level.
Determining when a Toxic Friendship is Salvageable: When to Hold 'Em
Friendships, even the contaminated ones, aren't always disposable coffee cups. Sometimes they're more like stained mugs — a little battered and worn, but worth cleaning up because of the connection they hold.
Here are seven moments when you might want to put on some gloves and start scrubbing, rather than tossing the mug away.
1. When They're Going Through a Tough Time
We all have our off days, weeks, or even years. If your friend is usually supportive and caring, but has recently turned into a Grumpy Cat meme, they might be dealing with some personal issues.
Patience, honest conversation, and understanding is the first step and can go a long way here.
2. If They're Open to Feedback
Toxicity often stems from a lack of self-awareness. If your friend is open to receiving feedback and shows genuine remorse for their actions, there's hope for transformation.
Positive people will actually listen when you talk and want to spend time learning how to develop and improve.
Give those types of people a second chance before you end a toxic friendship. After all, nobody's perfect.
3. When Their Good Qualities Outweigh the Bad
If your friendship scale still tips towards positive despite the toxic elements, it's probably worth holding on to and mending.
Remember, we all come with our quirks so don't expect perfection and end a toxic friendship because of a couple of flaws.
4. If There's a Long History
You've shared laughs, tears, and tubs of ice cream. If the friendship has a history that's richer than Ben & Jerry's, it might be worth the effort of navigating through the current hiccups.
Don't be quick to end a friendship with a ride-or-die friend that's been with you since day 1 and is basically family. Support them first so they can, in turn, support you.
5. When You Can Set Boundaries
Toxicity often thrives on blurry lines. If you can point out, establish and maintain clear boundaries, and your friend respects them, you can turn the tide on toxicity.
Ending the friendship without spending time to throw up some guard rails is an injustice to you and your friend.
6. If They Apologize and Make Amends
An apology is good, but actions speak louder. If your friend makes a genuine effort to correct their toxic behavior and make amends, they're showing their commitment to the friendship.
If you realize they're putting up a front and just apologize to get out of a bind, that's a completely different story.
7. When You Still Enjoy Their Company
Sometimes, beneath the layers of negativity, the fun and companionship that drew you together still exists.
If you feel a spark of happiness when you're spending time with them, it might be worth fanning those embers back into a flame before ending a toxic friendship.
4 Ways to Break Away from a Toxic Relationship with a Friend
1. Slowly Pulling Back
Gradual distancing can be an effective and less confrontational approach to severing ties with a toxic friend.
Start by declining invitations occasionally, keeping conversations brief, and emotionally insulating yourself from their negativity.
You can also tell them that you want to spend time with yourself right now, and that self-care is your top priority.
This will make it seem like it's on you, not them, so you don't make a friend feel as rejected.
This slow retreat will eventually signal an end to the friendship without a dramatic showdown.
2. Setting Clear Boundaries
Establishing firm boundaries is crucial when dealing with toxic friends.
Clearly communicate what behaviors you won't tolerate. If they continue to disrespect these boundaries, it solidifies your decision to break ties.
A great tip is to write down what exactly is leading to your ill will, that way you can focus the boundaries on specific scenarios that trigger you.
If the person doesn't change, these boundaries will hinder future interaction and eventually the relationship will fizzle out on it's own.
3. The Assertive Approach: Giving Them The Boot
Sometimes, you need to fasten your boots, gather your courage, and directly confront the toxicity.
Have a frank conversation about how their behavior affects you and that you've decided to end the friendship.
It's okay to prioritize your mental health over preserving a harmful relationship, but there is no need to hurt the other person's feelings or cause a fight if your decision has been made.
Just cut straight to the chase, be honest, and let them know that you don't feel that it's best for you two to have any future contact.
If you're uncomfortable doing this in person, you can write them a hand-written note, text or email.
4. Ghosting Them
When a direct confrontation feels impossible or unsafe, disappearing from a toxic friend's life — or "ghosting" — can be an option.
This means completely stopping all forms of communication abruptly without an explanation.
Ghosting should be a last resort, used when other strategies have failed or aren't viable. It's obviously going to hurt your friend no matter what, and that person may end up constantly worrying about you, so this is a worst case scenario.
But again, you matter most, so do what is best for you and your former friend will just have to accept it.
5 Ways to Build Nontoxic Friendships
Building healthy, nontoxic friendships is essential for our growth and happiness.
Here are six ways to nurture a positive and fulfilling relationship with new people.
1. Be Open and Authentic
In any relationship, authenticity is key. Be who you truly are and let others appreciate you for it. Openness invites genuine connections and trust, providing the foundations for a healthy friendship.
If you hide who you are from the onset, the other person will have no idea who they are trying to connect with, creating problems in the future.
2. Find Mutual Friends
Birds of a feather flock together. If you have a friend that is near-and-dear to you who you trust and is a person who adds value to your life, then ask them to introduce you to other friends in their network.
3. Join A Group With Similar Interests
A great way to form a positive relationship is to seek those who share your interests. Join a group or club. It could be anything from a book club, cooking class, hiking group, to a sports team.
It's an opportunity to bond over something you enjoy and discover new friendships based on shared passions.
4. Put Yourself Out There in Public
When waiting in an elevator or in line at a local coffee shop, say something unique or funny to the person next to you. You never know what kind of relationship can sprout.
If you're an introvert who prefers to stay off the grid, or you have social anxiety, this may be a little harder for you.
But don't worry, there are many ways in person and online that allow you to connect with new people without having to be super outgoing.
Take these steps with an open heart and a positive mindset. After all, building nontoxic friendships isn't just about avoiding the negative, but promoting the positive.
And in this journey, remember, you are worthy of meaningful, loving relationships. Go out there and find your tribe.
3 Expert Quotes on Toxic Friendships
Mandy Hale, a blogger turned New York Times Best Selling Author said:
"It is necessary, and even vital, to set standards for your life and the people you allow in it."
"You don't love friends, because real friends can never be lost. You lost people masquerading as friends, and you're better for it."
This reflects the emotional toll that a toxic relationship can take on an individual.
Dr. Steve Maraboli, a life-changing Speaker and Behavioral Science Academic said:
"Let go of the people who dull your shine, poison your spirit, and bring your drama."
This quote underlines the importance of self-awareness in identifying and addressing toxic relationships in one's life.
Mike Sill, an Anxiety guru and mental health advocate said:
"You know the old saying that you're the sum of the 5 people you hang out with the most? Well, it's true. Ditching a toxic relationship will not only free you from stress, it will make room for you to introduce good friends into your life who will provide value and help you grow."
This quote outlines how when a former friend leaves your life, a door will open for a new relationship that better serves you.
In a Nutshell: Promote Healthy Relationships
In short, friendships are like underwear: some are supportive, some are flashy, and some have frankly seen better days.
But when your briefs start becoming more toxic than a nuclear waste site, it's time to toss 'em out and invest in a new set.
From clear-cut boundaries to assertive booting, and even the ol' ghosting trick, we've got you covered on how to navigate the murky waters of toxicity.
Don't forget, while you're saying sayonara to those hazardous hangouts, you've also got a golden ticket to form a fabulous new 'family' of non-toxic mates that will add to your lives.
Be open, authentic, and show off your wacky self. Whether it's through mutual friends, shared interests, or making a fool of yourself in public, there's a world full of potential BFFs waiting.
So, put on your best pair of social underwear and go find your tribe.