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Letting go of a toxic friendship—-gently

Here are some tips for letting go of a toxic friendship–gently.

QUESTION

How do you back away from an unhealthy, toxic friendship without hurting someone’s feelings?

ANSWER

Here are a few tips to help you handle a tricky, and often uncomfortable, situation in a way that minimizes hurt:

  • Make sure you really want to back away. Nobody’s perfect and friends, even very good ones, can say or do something wrong once in a while. If there has been a minor misunderstanding or disappointment, talk about it.
  • Never make the decision to end a friendship in anger. Give yourself a cooling off period to reconsider and also to figure out the best way to do it.
  • Consider whether you really need to end the friendship? Can you downgrade the relationship so you see each other less often or dilute it by seeing each other within the context of a group? Can you simply take a break (time off) to give each other a breather?
  • If the relationship isn’t very close to start with, you can merely drift apart. Make yourself less accessible. Tell a white lie and tell your friend how busy you are—e.g. studying, working, helping your parents, or seeing your significant other.
  • If you decide to go ahead with the breakup, develop a script and practice it—you might even want to put your thoughts in writing so you are clear to yourself and in your delivery.
  • Try to avoid blaming the other person. People change and their friendships change over time. Take responsibility for making the decision and handle the breakup with grace. After all, why would you want to hurt someone who once was your friend?

(By The Friendship Doctor; previously posted on HerCampus.com)

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Category: KEEPING FRIENDS

Comments (16)

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  1. friendlygal says:

    I hadn’t heard the term “toxic” friendship used until recently but it perfectly describes a lot of my “so called” friendships many of whom i have now downgraded to acquaintances. I’m writing this to get it off my chest because this has been hurting my heart and burdening me for many years…the friends that I used to have in college were happy, there for me, reciprocal, accessible, carefree and we had common interests, we were close. As the years have rolled by and our friendships have evolved I’ve opened my eyes and am seeing now that these friends have become selfish, never there for me, me doing 90%, them maybe 10% (in different ways) one might always hit me up for money, another constantly talk about themselves, another might be selfish, another might be a back stabber, another is a frenemy who says mean things to me but then will act nice other times and I can’t figure out her behavior…she even blamed having a bad pregnancy on ME because we weren’t speaking…way to lay guilt on someone….terrible…also their priorities are out of whack. I have a lot of health problems so i can’t “hang out” like we did in college…and they don’t seem to understand this even though I’ve tried to explain. I lost a lot of friends because they got annoyed or thought that migraines aren’t a real illness (when really they are so debilitating i can’t do anything at times for days..) I am a very understanding person….so if a friend doesn’t have money, or is sick, or has to care for a relative, i don’t get personally offended that they can’t go to the mall or a movie…i mean, PRIORITIES people…your health and your loved ones come first..and then friendships next..
    I don’t know why I keep picking these type of people….I want to choose more mature quality people who are reciprocal, who understand if i’m sick and have family responsibilities (as i would for them) and who are mature and not childish…it seems they’re very narcissistic. One friend in particular i want to defriend on facebook b/c she only posts either not nice or passive aggressive posts or will “correct” my posts so I’ve stopped bothering to post on her wall I’ve also cut her out on FB as much as possible. I don’t unfriend her only b/c we have so many friends in common and go to parties where we would both be there and i worry about looking like “the jerk” I don’t know…it’s frustrating and weighs on me. What I’ve begun to do is simply cut out the toxic old college friends and have gone online to make refreshing new friendships…little by little I’m trying to find the fulfillment that I seek…let’s see how it goes….Thank you for listening…

  2. Marion says:

    What do you do when trying to gently downgrade isn’t working? She keeps calling and if I ignore her calls she just shows up even after I texted and said I was doing something important. She literally barged in. I feel like I’m hiding in my own house as I’ve taken to keeping my house closed up so she doesn’t know I’m home. If I do confront her she will turn it around and tell everyone she can the story in a way that will make me out to be a monster, as she did the time I stood up to her for calling me ugly repeatedly and laughing about it as if it was the funniest joke. She made everyone believe I had exaggerated it. Please help with suggestions. Thank you.

    • Irida says:

      Marion, my mum used to have the same problem with a friend of hers who kept popping around uninvited when my mum started to cut her off.
      At first, we all kept quiet and pretended we weren’t there, but finally one day,my mum opened the door with a stern look, her friend said “If you dont’ want me to, I won’t come in”, my mum said “I don’t want you to” and closed the door just like that. She now calls once every three or four months and hasn’t been to our house since.

      On the other hand, I am completely confict-averse and can absolutely relate to you. I have been trying to gently cut off a friend for two years now, by not ever calling her (except on her birthday and nameday) but most of the times she called me I couldn’t say no and went out with her about once a month.

      Now, since she pretends not getting the message, I’ve started not picking up the phone and and answering her texts. I really hope she gets it and lets me drift away quietly.

      I have so much repressed anger built up against her from all her gossiping and subtle undermining comments (with a smile of course) but I really don’t want to confront her since I am sure she will never admit anything is her fault and I will come off looking as the problematic, easily-offended, hyper-sensitive one. I have been cut off too by friends, I accepted it, why can’t she?

      Sorry for not offering any real advice, but you have my full sympathy. I wish you find a way out of your toxic friendship.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I had a friend that gossiped on me and still to this very day, he doesn’t admit fault. I thought I overstepped myself when I left in anger on our friendship. I may had waited too long, but I came back two years later to just talk with him since I became a believer in Christ again and I figure grudges should be neutralized. Instead, he chose this chance to get revenge on me and blamed me for everything. I forgave him, but he is one friend I am letting go and even forgetting because he can’t seem to grow up and take responsibility for a guy who is nearing his 30’s. I admit that I did cause some toxicity in my life and maybe I deserved that gossip, but I changed and I feel what happened between two people should happen between those two. My toxic ex-friend told me to work myself, but I already did because I found Christ then. I pray for him, but everytime I hear about him, its nothing but negative comments from people. It will take a miracle from the Lord I say.

  4. Irene says:

    So sorry that this happened to you but it is always good to hear that someone is making progress and moving forward!

    Warm regards,

    Irene

  5. Anonymous says:

    wow, wish I’d found thise site 8 months ago. After dealing with a close friend’s constant anger issues at me and everyone in her life for over 2 years, I finally had to let her go. Then I was so angry for the way I had been treated, I went into therapy. It’s been a long road to recovering my equilibrium. Still had to put up with her on one occasion among a group, but managed to keep my cool and not let her get my goat. I think she was hoping for a reaction so she could “unload” on me in public. Am so thankful she is finally out of my life!! What a weight has been lifted off my back. I was so worn out with dealing with her, I was backpedaling from all my friendships!! Talk about toxic! Am still seeing the therapist and working on making new friends. And working on my boundaries too! :) thanks

  6. Julie says:

    How comforting to read this blog. I’ve decided to back off from a friendship when I realized this woman was using me as a way to get her son into a certain social group. She did this by constantly dumping him on me so that he’d be with my son all the time. We';re stuck together for a while since the kids are in middle school together which is why I wanted to back it off instead of confront her. She however wanted to confront me and showed up unnanounced at 8:30am. I wasn’t even dressed yet!! I made it clear I knew she lied to me on more than one occasion and I was aware she was using me. She denied everything which wasn’t too surprising since she’s not honest. Now I am having actually anxiety attacks! She’s contacted me a few times trying to renew the friendship and I fear being ambushed again. I was honest with her and i think she knows where I stand so how can i let this go?

  7. Sad says:

    I have a friend who is distancing herself from me. It feels really awful. The back story is that I dated one for her friends twice for short periods of time.
    The first time, I really put her in the middle, and I felt awful. We ended up being fine.
    The second time, I let her know what was up, but more sporadically, and never asking for thoughts or advise.
    Then, he and I ended things the second time (again it was brief), and I did not tell her for a month because I did not want to ask her opinion.
    So after a month, there were three incidents when she told me she was doing something with XYZ person and then through other friends, I found out she was going out with my ex.
    I felt lied to and talked about, so I called her. Now, I did not handle the conversation very well – as in I talked at her, and not with her. And it was clear, I was not really over him. I said I know they are really good friends and expect to hear about him, and I said I know that she was not purposefully lying to me. I said our friendship is important to me, and was sorry I had not mentioned it, but I did not want to put her in the middle again.
    I emailed her a couple of days later to see follow up on doing something. She emailed right back saying she wanted to see what her plans were. I said, sure, and then she emailed me on friday to say we would talk the next day.
    I did not hear from her, and then on Wed, she sent me a non-apology apology, more like an explanation. I responded, but did not engage.
    I feel awful.

  8. Shannon says:

    I would just comment on that last bullet point: where you said “after all , why would you want to hurt someone who once your friend?” I would of cut it off at “why would you want to hurt someone.” and left out the “who was once your friend.” Fact is, sometimes there are just people out there that “use” other people and pretend to be their friend, then that person when they are done with you or have gotton all they think they can get out of you , let thier true colors, personality show, and you find out from everyone else you know that , that person was NEVER your friend in the first place. True but sad. Takes a long time to get over being used. It took me a year and a half as I really had cared , loved this person until I found out what she was saying behind my back all that time., while I was giving, giving, and giving and giving and happy to do so and she was taking and taking and taking and taking and happy to do so!! Now I am very very careful who I chose to be my close friends and what to reveal and to whom. Sad that someone can take the good from you and make you realize that being overly kind and generous can sometimes be a bad thing.

  9. Anonymous says:

    I have had a very, very close friend for 5 years. In January she got promoted and then everything changed. Although I realized there would be some topics that would be off limit, she took it to the extreme. She, after 6 months, told me that she would not talk about work, or those we work with at all. As a single person my work and coworkers are very important to me, and, this was what brought the two of us together in the first place. She has become emotionally detached around me. IT seems she doesn’t know how to be a good manager and a good friend at tge same time- she had to pick one or the other. (By the way, she is not my manager, in fact she is in another office completely). When we are together she seems cold and clinical – never taking off that “manager’s hat”.. She thinks she is being respectful of her position and mine but not talking about work. I have decided to break from the friendship but she has not made this easy. The problem is she does not recognize the change she has imposed, she doesnt recognize how unemotional she has been despite me providing examples to her. I have tried to be gentle in my approach but it seems that all my tact has done is to make it look like this is my issue. She invites me to share things, but she will not expose any of her feelings to me. It is like she doesnt trust herself or she doesn’t trust me. I am tired of being saddled with the responsibility of ending the friendship and she comes out looking as though she has tried and I am the one walking away. I am the one who actually asked for the break so she takes it as me being the one to end the friendship without acknowledging that her actions have prompted me to also act. I have tried several times to dicuss my concerns with her but she just cannot see her role in this. After 7 months of trying, crying and losing sleep I have decided to walk away. I miss the friendship we had, but just cannot be her friend under the new terms she has placed on the relationship. Sometimes we have to be selfish and just do what is best for ourselves.

  10. Irene says:

    So glad that downgrading worked for you—-so much of life is looking for upgrades :-)

    Best,

    Irene

  11. Anonymous says:

    I recently decided to downgrade some friends to acquaintances. It is something I should have done a long time ago. I thought it would be difficult and I would feel so guilty. Instead, I feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders. I feel happier not worrying about these friends and how I felt I had to act around them or what they may say about be next. I still get to see them here and there but I’m just…so busy….as Dr. Irene suggests.

  12. Did I win? Going to read the article now.

  13. Anonymous says:

    I think I am currently experiencing what you wrote about–as in a friend is distancing herself from me. I don’t know if she is doing it intentionally or if it is just happening but I am not sure how to handle it.

    We used to be very close but now are less so. She used to call me every couple days and email daily. She was also the first to help me when I needed help and always remembered my kids birthdays. Now she will text me occasionally to tell me she is thinking of me but just doesn’t have time to call or email. When I was down from a surgery I never heard from her at all even though she knew I was down. And recently it was my birthday and she said she wanted to plan a night out, but she never had time to plan anything so she just told me to plan whatever I wanted and she would come –which she did, but it certainly didn’t feel like much of a celebration.

    She also has stopped doing things for my kids birthdays and has suggested that I stop doing things for her kids as well–which I don’t really want to do because I love her children and I think they expect me to do something for them since I have done it for years.

    I know her life is busy and she has also made a new friend over the past year that she is very close to, but when I mentioned to her that I thought we were not as close as we once were she just got mad at me for suggesting such a thing.

    I have really appreciated her friendship and I love her entire family, and so I have tried really hard to maintain a friendship, but after reading what you wrote above, I am wondering if I should quit trying and let things die since I think that is what she is trying to do anyway. Although I have to say that thought just about breaks my heart.

  14. Serene says:

    What a novel and useful idea for a blog!

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