When to End a Toxic Friendship

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It's an unfortunate reality many of us are familiar with: the moment of realization that a friendship has run its course. While it can be tough to grapple with, it's vital to recognize the signs of a toxic relationship, act on it and move forward.

You owe it to yourself.

Valencia Agnew, Ph.D., Adolescent & Family Behavioral Health Services, notes it can sometimes be tricky to pinpoint if you're in a toxic friendship, as one sign alone may not be enough to know for sure.

"Multiple signs are a true way to identify the level of toxicity," said Dr. Agnew, outlining some of the various signs that need attention:

  • Being treated differently based on mood or who is around.
  • A one-sided relationship in which you feel obligated to give and give, with little if anything given in return.
  • Being judged or feeling as though you're being manipulated.
  • When your friend talks about others and you are pretty sure you also get talked about.
  • The friend frequently makes every conversation about them.

Charmeka Newton, Ph.D., Licensed Psychologist for Pine Rest, adds that if a friendship causes you to shift your values to the backburner, take serious note.

"Compromising of one's value can result in a dissonance within the individual because they are not being true to what they hold dear," said Dr. Newton.

Communicate your concerns.

Express how you're feeling.

Set boundaries.

Learn to say "no."

"Because most people don't like being told 'no,' the friend may become upset," said Newton. "However, this may be a way to have clearer boundaries and expectations. Another strategy is to spend less time with the person or to interact with them in group situations, where one-on-one interactions may be more limited."

"Instead of texting every day, text a few times per week," said Agnew. "It's amazing how much clearer you can see a friendship when you provide some space to see what's been there all along."

What if there's no saving the friendship—and you know it's time to part ways for good?

"End the friendship. Just flat out end it," said Agnew, who recognizes not everyone has the ability to easily do so. "Create distance and be busy and not so available," she stresses. "Schedule some things in your life if you need to have an excuse as you step away; volunteer somewhere, take a class, et cetera."

The idea, Agnew notes, is to create a way to step away gradually; sometimes, it's easier to have a few excuses lined up. Still, these need to be real things, so you maintain your integrity and self-respect.

"It is paramount to draw the line in friendships like these," said Newton, "because it can negatively impact our self-worth and mental health." She emphasizes that to be a healthy individual, you must surround yourself with other healthy, positive, supportive people. Failing to do so may negatively effect your overall happiness.

Moving onward and navigating life after the friendship.

It's OK to acknowledge missing the good parts of your former friendship and the possible grief and loss you may encounter, yet it's vital that you replenish.

"Getting through it requires patience and self-compassion—don't be afraid to seek out professional help as support when needed," said Agnew.

"Stay focused and don't judge yourself for feeling bad or struggling! Implement a lot of self-nurturing, so you can make emotional deposits in your emotional bank account."

Newton suggests staying mindful of why the friendship ended and keeping your boundaries in place, to not get pulled back in.

Engage in things that build you up, Agnew adds.

"Learn something new and surround yourself with people who care and speak words of life to you."

Want to learn more?

As a helpful resource, Valencia Agnew, Ph.D., recommends the book Necessary Endings, by Henry Cloud.

Written by Sarah Suydam, Staff Writer for West Michigan Woman.

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