Toxic Friends: When & How to Break Up With a Friend

Friendships are a unique kind of relationship. They fall into a unique gray area between family and romantic relationships. 

Think about it: You can pick your friends (unlike family) and, usually, friendships aren’t as intense as romantic relationships–at least on some levels. But, friendships are often a support system during family turmoil and failed romantic relationships.  

Like any relationship, friendships need to be dynamic and adjust to each individual’s personal journey. If not, they suffer the same strains and struggles of other relationships. 

And those struggles can turn into toxic friendships. 

Identifying Toxic Friendships

How do we know when a friendship turns toxic? Here are some things to look for:

  • Way too much drama. Interactions are more chaotic than mutual respect and support.
  • You’re giving more than you’re getting. Everything is about them. They monopolize conversations and disappear when you need support.
  • Trust is lost. You catch them in lies. They flirt with your partner. Plans you make together never come to fruition. It doesn’t feel like they have your back anymore. 
  • You make excuses not to hang out. Going out together seems like a chore. You catch yourself lying or making excuses not to see your friend.
  • Your friend is holding back your progress. Getting criticism for making positive changes in your life and feeling guilty for things not being like the “good old days.” 
  • You can’t be yourself when together. You don’t like how you act when you are with your friend.  
  • It’s more of a competition than a friendship. Feeling your friend is trying to minimize your successes and boast about their accomplishments. When you enjoy success, your friend always tries to one-up you. 

Not every friendship will turn toxic before it ends. Sometimes a friendship’s shelf life simply expires. Ever heard the phrase, friends for a reason, friends for a season, friends for a lifetime? Not every friendship is meant to last throughout your life. 

How to Save a Friendship

Some friendships can be salvaged. It’s essential to assess if the friendship is suitable for where you are right now–and how you plan to move forward. 

Suppose it is a strained or toxic friendship. In that case, you need to understand why and determine if continuing the friendship is in both individuals’ best interests. If so, see if a reconciliation is possible.

Identify Your Role in the Toxic Friendship

Start by examining the friendship. Was there anything you did in the past to put a strain on the friendship? 

It may not be something you consider significant. Remember: we all perceive things differently. You may think something you did wasn’t a big deal, but it might have really hurt your friend. 

Apologize if you wronged your friend. Those simple but profound acts of apology and forgiveness may clear the air and refresh the friendship. 

Openly Communicate About the Struggling Friendship

Communicating friendship issues may be challenging, but it makes a huge difference. Find a neutral location where you can calmly talk about what’s going on in the friendship.  

If talking about it seems too hard, write your friend a note. 

A note? Who does that? Exactly…Writing a letter takes more effort than an email or DM. It shows you put time and thought into what you wanted to communicate to your friend.

And sometimes, while writing the letter, you may come across new insights and ideas about saving the friendship.  

Set Aside Time & Try New Things

A little excitement and quality time can rekindle a friendship just like it does for romantic relationships. 

Find a mutual interest or activity and explore it with your friend. Have fun. Enjoy laughter. This could help diminish the past issues and pave the way to a new chapter in the friendship.

Still Struggling?

Even if the friendship is in trouble, breaking up with a friend may be painful. 

But it may be for the best. 

How to Break Up with a Friend

While it may seem easiest to completely cut off the communication without any explanation, remember, this is another human being we are talking about. More importantly, this was once one of your close friends. Your friend deserves just as much respect and honesty as you do. 

Agree on a Cooling Off Period

Start by taking a break. Maybe you both need some time to heal the wound or infection. Be mindful of how you feel during this cooling-off period. Do you miss your friend? Do you feel relieved you don’t have to deal with the drama? 

Consider journaling your thoughts and feelings during the break. Journaling is a great way to get thoughts out of your head and put things into better perspective. It may help you decide to break up with your friend. 

Also, during the “break” time, get some support. Talk to someone who has been through something similar. Make sure your chat is fair, though. Don’t spend the whole time talking negatively about your friend. 

Instead, use “I” statements when mentioning your friend. Here are examples of “I” statements:

  • I get so frustrated when he always shows up so late.
  • I felt betrayed when I found out she was lying to me about…
  • I was embarrassed when she called me out in front of our other friends.

After the break, sit down with your friend–in person, preferably if there is no risk involved. If you feel like the conversation may get out of hand, consider trying to find a neutral third person to help keep things civil.

See if you can talk it out. 

If the friendship seems unsalvageable, end it on a good note. This isn’t time to get into a screaming match and say something you may regret. Instead, say something good about your friend and the friendship. Then acknowledge that there have been struggles–remember to use those “I” statements. 

Don’t point fingers. Don’t blame. Just acknowledge. Then let your friend know that things aren’t working and it is best to end the friendship.

You can’t control how your friend reacts to the breakup. You can control how you respond to your friend. In the perfect world, you will both calmly agree to part ways and get on with your lives. 

But if emotions flare up, let your friend express feelings. Respectfully answer any questions they have. You don’t have to be a punching bag, but do your best to keep your cool. 

Moving Forward with Grace

When friendships end, it can be particularly painful. A once-trusted ally is now out of your life. It may seem like a giant void to fill. 

Every life experience is a chance to learn and grow.

Take a little time to reflect on the friendship. What did you learn about yourself? What lessons did you learn? How is this experience going to help shape your future?

Just like ending a romantic relationship, you may experience difficult emotions. You may feel like you need to immediately replace your friend with someone else.

Let things happen naturally. Experience your emotions. Grow through the experience. See who walks into your life. 

It’s amazing how we get the things we need when we don’t force it.


About the author: Lisane Basquiat is not only an entrepreneur but a community leader who leads with compassion and purpose.

Most recently, she led important conversation on social justice, mental and emotional health during crisis, and empowered action to repairing generational traumas through her platform and virtual programs via Shaping Freedom®

Shaping Freedom® With Lisane Basquiat

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