I think we have all faced this painful question at one time or another. As friendships take time to evolve, they can also take time before we realize they’ve imploded. Many blogs and vlogs exist on ending romantic relationships, but what about friendships? Often, our friendships are longer and in some ways more complicated. Our hope is that we have friendships that are emotionally safe, that allow us to feel supported and loved unconditionally, and promotes our growth but what happens if they aren’t?
A healthy friendship is one that:
- allows you to make your own choices
- respects your opinions that might be different than their own
- don’t impede your ability to achieve your own goals
- encourage you to prioritize self-care
- they are proud of your success
- they promote your growth in any/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 is a breach of trust: theft, infidelity involving the friend and someone deemed “off limits” or any sort of abuse from the friend towards yourself. 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/should be done about it.
With slow erosion the friendship drifts apart, often time over years. You might find that you no longer feel invigorated when spending time together, you leave feeling badly about yourself, you feel shamed for your choices or interests, or you simply that spending time with that person just doesn’t cross your mind as much anymore. I believe a relationship turns from distant to toxic when the person actively works against the healthy attributes listed in the bulled points above. Signs of a toxic friendship are:
- they tell you who you can and cannot spend time with
- they make fun of your interests and/or hobbies and/or 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, desires to distance yourself from other toxic people, plans to reduce your alcohol consumption, etc.)
- they tease you about goals that you set in ways that aren’t playful or loving
- they “one up” you and cause you to dread brining up any of your successes because you have learned that they will take over the conversation and instead of being happy for you, they make it about themselves
- they never reach out to you or initiate contact
With those factors being explained, hopefully you can see the clear difference between a friendship that builds you up and one that holds you back or actively tears you down.
But how do I do it!? You may have urges to “ghost” the person (meaning just disappear from their life); however, I urge you not to do that. Learning to speak up for yourself is a huge and necessary life task. I encourage you to let them know what has been bothering you (in factual, non-blaming ways) and 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 (insert example), 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, I’ve been experiencing” etc. instead of “you” statements which tend to make the other person defensive. Now, it is true that the friend might not take this news very well; however, as you were already considering “ghosting” them, I think the skill and confidence you will gain from speaking up is worth it!
What is the cost of ending a toxic relationship:
- sadness and grieving
- vulnerability when trying to meet new people
- hypervigilance in new relationships
- second guessing yourself
What is gained when a toxic relationship ends:
- freedom to do/say/wear the things your friend made you feel shame about wanting to do/say/wear
- time for yourself
- a healthier sense of self
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 many 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!