• Handling Breakups

In the Media – Should you break up with a toxic friend? (Refinery29)

Published: February 20, 2015 | Last Updated: February 20, 2015 By | 17 Replies Continue Reading


February 19, 2015

In a new advice column on the website, Refinery29, writer Colette McIntyre answers a reader who asks how to break up with a toxic friend. McIntrye responds:

Clearly, having Amy as a friend is stressful and emotionally exhausting — but, as you said, confronting her will be just as toxic, if not more so…

McIntrye recommends what she calls “The Fade” as her preferred method of breaking up and avoiding a destructive confrontation. She quotes Dr. Levine:

“Just slip away quietly,” says Irene S. Levine, a professor of psychiatry at the NYU School of Medicine and the creator of The Friendship Blog. “There’s no reason for a dramatic showdown. You’re not going to change Amy’s personality, and you’ll just be setting yourself up for barbs, criticism, and hostility.”

If you have to spend time with her, “do it in small doses or in the company of a group.” You only have so many moments and, as Dr. Levine advises, “you owe it to yourself to spend your time on healthy friendships, not toxic ones.”

Click on the link to read the article in its entirety on Refinery29.com.

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Comments (17)

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  1. Jane says:

    I kind of disagree with Grace W re. advice in Toxic Parents by Susan Forward that its OK, and can be liberating, to CONFRONT one’s toxic parents. I did and it was good, good and clarifying for me, but I didn’t do it on an expert’s advice! I agree though on trusting one’s instincts rather than following what experts suggest.

    As for slow fade re. toxic friendship I am a supporter (in my current position) of slow fade. But agree I wish there was more written than “Sorry I’m busy”. But then again for a toxic ‘friend’ does one owe them anything else than basic civility and short and simple no. Plus that way they will get the message, phew. Plus if you bump into them in the street you can still say hello and move swiftly on.

  2. Dionne says:

    I think most people tend to move on from many friendships through the years as interests, lifestyles and locations change. And often a sign that you no longer fit is when you start getting on each other’s nerves.

    When I think back on people I used to hang out with but don’t any more, I don’t even remember how or why most of them ended. So the fade seems much more common and natural to me, regardless of why you, they or both of you decided it’s time to move on.

  3. GraceW says:

    I have ended friendships via both “the fade” (once) and by informing someone in writing that I did not want to continue the friendship (twice). It is difficult and awkward and there will be hurt feelings on both sides no matter how you end a friendship – rejection is rejection and most people are not stupid. I don’t think anyone should hang onto a toxic friendship just to spare feelings but I think how you do it will ultimately depend on what kind of “toxic” exists in the relationship and what works best for you.

    One thing I wish experts would stop recommending is “just say you’re busy.” If you don’t want to hang with someone, stop extending invitations and stop accepting invitations. You don’t need to offer reasons. You can be polite about it – “Thank you for the invitation, but I’ve decided to decline” – but I personally HATE the “sorry, I’m busy” thing. For one thing, I have friends who actually ARE busy from time to time, and sometimes I’m busy and have to decline an invitation. I want to be able to take my friends at their word and vice versa. I don’t want to always wonder whether “I’m busy” means someone is actually busy or whether it is Woman Code for “I don’t want to be friends anymore.” Second, I don’t think we have to back up our choices with some kind of outer authority. “I wish I could but I’m busy” is a lot like the “I wish I could but my parents said I have to do my homework first” from middle school. You’re an adult now, you don’t need a reason to say no. You can say no sometimes simply because YOU WANT TO. It’s a perk of being an adult.

    • Irene Covington says:

      Totally agree!

    • Lauren says:

      That’s right, GraceW. How you end the toxic friendship really does depend on the actual dynamics of the friendship. I ended one friendship by the slow fade, and the other one in person. The slow fade worked well as a gradual and then final end to the miserable, toxic friendship (at a time when I was not feeling well and fighting cancer). The other one I ended in person. I had read an article saying that this was “the right” way to do it. Anyway, I arranged to meet her in a cafe I was cool and trying to talk to her gently, but she started shouting and yelling, and just when it looked like she was going to throw her hot coffee over me, I made a quick getaway, and considered it a very narrow escape! Now I believe that the slow fade, or an email is definitely the way to go. Thanks for sharing your experiences, and I just wanted to share my experiences in this area too.

      • GraceW says:

        Lauren, you were brave to attempt the face-to-face break up. I think too often we put ourselves in harm’s way because some expert somewhere said it was “the right way” to do things. There is a book Toxic Parents by Susan Forward – first published in the eighties? – with advice to confront one’s toxic parents with their abusive behavior. From my recollection, the book is pretty insistent that confrontation must sooner or later occur. It turns out that’s a really bad idea in cases where the parents are so dysfunctional that physical danger during confrontation becomes a possibility.

        Thanks for sharing your experience!

        • Lauren says:

          Thanks, Grace. You’re right again, and also it is so good to share experiences and gain wisdom from others on this site. I also agree that we have to try to use our own knowledge and wisdom to decide how we individually handle relationships that are not working and are broken beyond repair. In a perfect world, we could sit down and tell someone what is wrong, and they would promise to do better, but as we know, thru hard experience, this is far from a perfect world. I thought about what you said, and I wonder if some of those pedantic “experts” have had extensive (or even any experience) in the areas where they urge us strongly to take certain actions which could actually be very harmful to us. By the way, I love reading your posts.

  4. LaTrice says:

    I enjoyed reading the article, and it was a constant reminder that friendships should be supportive and positive. I refuse to maintain friendships with those that continue to keep hurting and challenging me, and honestly, life is too short for drama. Recently, I had to end a friendship with someone that I have known for twenty years, and yes, it was a difficult decision for me to make. I don’t enjoy being disrespected, as well as being the target of someone else’s insecurities (which wasn’t my fault).

    Anyone can be the “toxic” person-whether it’s a best friend or a relative. I find it challenging to remain cordial with someone who doesn’t respect me and my boundaries, so it’s best for me to stay away from that relative. I’m NOT obligated to be around them-yet explaining myself to them, because that’s a waste of time for me to do that.

    • Lauren says:

      Hi LaTrice,
      I agree 100% with your post!

    • LA says:

      @LaTrice, I love what you wrote. Well spoken. I am going through that now. I don’t feel obligated to keep explaining myself to a friend, because they don’t like listening. It’s like they are bored & just like to talk & ask questions but not listen. Draining on me & Frankly a boring friendship, not having someone who understands you or is supportive. So tasking to be constantly challenged or bullied because I think differently than the other person.

  5. Lauren says:

    This is a wonderful article. I had a friend who was pleasant initially, but in time she became mean spirited and quite cruel to me in her remarks, her judgement of me and her behavior to me.

    I spoke up to her when she insulted my character, when she insulted my cousin’s character and when she said or did egregious things to me and about me , when we were alone or when we were in a group.

    Her comments were insulting and humiliating, and I addressed them on the spot with her, but it only became worse. I am a cancer survivor and she said some outrageously mean things to me at that time.

    So I did the slow fade, and my family and other friends agreed that there was no point in having a “meaningful chat” with her. I had done that in the past, and it only made things worse. The thing is, she knew *exactly* what she was doing to me, and I am not her teacher or her therapist. I do not believe that I owed it to her to point out (again) all of the mean things that she did and said to me, so I did the slow fade.

    • LaTrice says:

      I’m going to be brutally honest with you, Lauren. It seems that your friend enjoys the luxury of hurting you, and insulting you-just because. Although I don’t know what your friend’s problem is, her behavior is unacceptable, and she needs to be ashamed of herself. Besides, I don’t blame you for ending the friendship-since she’s nothing but a negative friend. I have to give you props for standing up for yourself, and you’re definitely one of a kind. 🙂

      • Lauren says:

        Thanks, LaTrice, you’ve got this situation nailed. I realize NOW that I was an enabler to her mean behavior.You’re right, she enjoyed hurting me and she got a bang out of it. Schadenfreude…getting joy from another’s emotional pain. I thought I was being open and forgiving at the time, but I was actually enabling her behavior, big time, and letting it go on for too long. Now I know better. I am a very giving person, but I always have to watch now that selfish, mean ppl don’t take advantage of that, or transfer their aggression to me. Never again, now that I know, I am on alert for this, and if it happens, that’s a deal breaker for me. I also have to say that when I finished my “friendship” with her, I felt a huge wave of relief flooding over me. We live and we learn. Best to you, LaTrice.

  6. Irene Covington says:

    A coward is a person who lacks the courage to do or endure dangerous or unpleasant things. I’ve tried to stop walking on eggshells and get the courage to walk away. This “fading away” makes me feel I lack authenticity; therefore, causing me stress. I don’t walk away mad, I just walk away…I don’t fade away. I don’t leave any “question” of where I stand and neither do the “toxic friend”. Real friends and loved ones appreciate you as you are and wouldn’t never make you feel unworthy or insignificant. The only thing that might be worthless is continuing to expose yourself to toxic people. However, I believe people do better when they know better.

    That being said, I think America uses this word “toxic” to place on anyone that is “different” from them. People are so quick to judge. People don’t take the time to think that someone just may think they are toxic – not really knowing anything about them. If I have an inkling that someone thinks negatively about me (saying I’m toxic, etc), I will do them a favor and walk away. A friend is open and honest. Before, when I thought someone was being dishonest with me, I would cling and try to make them like me, which caused me to become “off-balance”. Now, I’ve found the courage to walk away – not fade away.

    I’ve never heard so many people use this term, “toxic” until lately. It’s like a fad. If someone don’t possess the “apathy” or compassion for someone, they want to “write them off as being deficient”, toxic, too much baggage. Everyone thinks they are oh so perfect…it’s the other person that’s screwed up. “It’s all about me.me.me.”

    I am too old to play games…I have more years behind me than in front of me. I try to live a life of authenticity. Not there yet! Let’s face it, we all possess a limited amount of energy. Let the person know, then walk away and don’t go back. A seed may have been planted, that may grow. I believe the best way to grow is through relationships.

    • Laura says:

      It’s not necessarily the person that’s toxic, it’s the friendship. In the quote above, Irene refers to a “toxic friendship” which means to me that the 2 people don’t work well together anymore, which to me means, the friendship no longer enriches either person’s life. Referring to the friendship as toxic rather than the people doesn’t put blame. I find it an appropriate description.

    • Sally V says:

      Sometimes the best way to grow is without relationships. My point being is everyone needs to grow in whatever way they need to grow.

  7. Anna G says:

    Great article, and a reminder that our friendships should be supportive or nurturing, at least on some level. Life is too short to spend it with people who continually hurt or challenge us all the time. Over the years I’ve had to distance myself from a couple of friends who always left me feeling drained, used, exhausted, or disappointed. As Irene suggests in this article, I used the “slow fade” for these problem friends – and felt so much healthier for doing so.

    Sometimes, though, the “toxic” person is a family friend, or a relative you can’t totally avoid. (Would love to see Dr. Irene write about that one!) In that case, it’s almost impossible to cut things off or “fade” away. I have a situation like that, and it’s really painful at times. But I still try to distance myself as much as possible while remaining cordial, and I stopped making plans with the toxic relative outside obligatory family events. Much easier on my soul!

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